“Well, I guess that’s that. It’s over.” The bridge of our friendship was crossed and set aflame. Raw emotions and bruised feelings put us on opposite sides of a river that could no longer be crossed.
I’m no saint. Four decades of walking through life has left a graveyard of dead friendships behind me. Some are clearly because of my own recklessness with the hearts that have been entrusted to my care. With some, perhaps I’m not so clearly the only one at fault. When we draw near to others, our broken places always end up clashing. Too often it’s too much to bear so we cross a bridge and light a match.
Some days the weight of those burned bridges is overwhelming. I gaze over my shoulder at the graveyard of dead friendships and grieve. It doesn’t matter who lit the match, the gap is now too wide to cross. Although the world throws around words like forgiveness and reconciliation, they are quickly followed by demands for a pound of flesh. Somebody must pay. It’s easier to stay on our own side of the river, wandering alone down the shore. The message we hear is clear…forgiveness is impossible. Roads that split never reconnect.
As I wander alone, I stumble into chapter 15 of the book of Luke. Although this story is about family, the principle carries through. Words were said. Or perhaps the words were left unsaid. “You’re dead to me,” was communicated. The paths diverged for the two who had cherished each other. One stood firm, the other wandered off. Both were without the other. The relationship was over. Forever.
The wanderer soon learned that life alone was miserable. Others merely saw him as a means to an end and walked away as soon as his usefulness was gone. He looked up from rock bottom, gazing past his shattered hopes and remembered the one who truly loved him. But that bridge was burned. The inferno consumed it quickly and it was gone forever. Even if he could find his way back, he could never repay all he owed. He would never deserve that love again.
Even so, he wandered back toward the one who had never left… Toward the one who had firmly stood at the gate…first watching the prodigal wander away with the father’s money and heart…then watching for any sign of his return. His faithfulness was rewarded when a lone figure emerged on the horizon. The familiar silhouette in the distance brought a flood of joy. Arms outstretched, he ran to reunite with his son. The one who had wandered had the courage to return. The one who remained behind faithfully anticipated the glorious day of his return.
Honestly, bridges are a horrible metaphor for relationships. Our emotions and desires are not matches setting the world ablaze. True and treasured friendships are never burned beyond reconciliation. Like the parable of the prodigal son, humility and love on both sides of that river build new bridges on which we stand. Love says “you are more important than my pride.” Love is quick to forgive and runs toward reconciliation.
Take a look back at your own friendship graveyard. Can these dry bones live again? Jesus teaches us that as long as we’re living, reconciliation is possible. He models it for us. He stands firmly and unwavering upon the truth, arms open wide and ready for us to return. The past remains in the past. We step into our future pure and fully forgiven. We can run to Him, and then we can run to each other.
Who you need to run to? I bet those arms are open wide, waiting for you to take the first step. Run, and let the celebration begin.
My mom recently celebrated her 70th birthday. Being a writer, I wrote this for her and narrated it at the party. She spend her life immersed in children’s literature so I thought it would be fun to use some of my most treasured quotes to emphasize the feelings in the text. See how many you recognize.
In a great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.
My memories of books and stories are among my oldest and most cherished. This is a side-effect of a life spent with Becky. Growing up the son of a librarian, books were plentiful and reading was something we did together.
I remember our adventures at the public library. Maybe we went every week. Maybe it was more often than that. I don’t remember how many books I would leave there with on every single visit, but I’m certain it was right at the legal limit. She’d help me carry out my stack of 15 or 20 books, knowing full well it would be impossible to read them all before they were due. That wasn’t important. What was important was that curiosity. The love of learning. Finding both adventure and wisdom between the title page and back cover.
To tell you the truth, Becky is known as a no-nonsense person who gets stuff done. She’s a go-getter, having been highly successful in starting and building multiple libraries in diverse school districts and circumstances. She’s always been willing to take a stand against the powers that be in order to do what is right. And what is right generally happens to mean defending both books and children. The two are inextricably intertwined.
Even more, she always has fought for “the one.” Her life and career have been punctuated by the hundreds of stories of little ones who had the trajectory of their lives changed by a librarian with a puppet and a book. She has consistently given people hope when they had never known it was an option for them. She changed their perspectives and helped them embrace a life of significance and meaning. Books generally were the means…they were a tool to help the kids to understand and embrace a vision for their lives that was much grander than they ever would have imagined on their own. It was the vision she knew was possible. She knew because she had lived it. But that’s not my story to tell.
To me, she was always mom. She was the person who walked me to first grade having filled my head with things like these from Winnie the Pooh:
“Promise me you’ll remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.”
And then she walked home, alone, with another Pooh-bear thought… “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
After school, I would hang out with some friends. Once I had a group, I felt like a king. It’s good to be king. But then another feeling would hit, perhaps best described by Maurice Sendak.
“Then from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat, so he gave up being king of the wild things.” (from: Where the Wild Things Are)
I’d walk home.
She would be waiting for me on the front porch swing. She’d be singing “Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.” I didn’t even know what shortnin’ bread was, but I have since learned that I do indeed love it. But it wasn’t her wisdom, guidance, cooking, or singing that was so special. It was her presence. Looking back, I can appreciate it quite a bit. So many of my friends simply didn’t have that. I did. Always. And I still do.
When she returned to teaching, I went with her. This meant transferring to a school where I didn’t know anyone. It meant a school with kids from a different echelon of society than I had been with previously. It was worth it. It was important. Not only did I learn valuable lessons about a person’s worth meaning so much more than their family situation or social standing, I also got to spend a bunch of time with my mom. I got to see her build a library and transform lives. And I got to play Oregon trail on the Apple IIe. And watch Superfriends in the library after school. These were all incredibly important events in my life! Oh, and I got to see the look on my dad’s face when she locked her keys in her car one morning. With the engine running. All day. Priceless.
Throughout life…through the ups and downs… going to schools where I didn’t know anyone… the first girlfriend and first breakup. Changing majors. Getting married. Changing jobs. Having kids. Through it all, she’s there. She’s present. And no matter what, she believes in me. That doesn’t mean she’s always silent. Love never is. She always has advice, wisdom, and guidance. But even when I go down my own path, she believes in me.
As I fought to carve out my place in this world, the wisdom from my past would come back to me…
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child, listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves. Then listen close to me — anything can happen, child, anything can be.” –Shel Silverstein
Oh, but it can be so hard. There are so many doubts to deal with, so many conflicting priorities pulling in so many different directions… how can I find my way?
And then the wisdom from my past would speak…
“Believing takes practice.” –Madeleine L’Engle
And it did. I wasn’t good at it at first. There were critical voices always telling me I was doing it wrong. Telling me to take the safe route through life. Telling me not to take a risk. But into that, love would speak.
“Man does not simply exist, but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.” “What a man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” –Viktor Frankl.
I’d find myself stopping by the woods on a snowy evening, considering turning down the road not taken…. And there she would be, reminding me that we didn’t go to the moon because it was easy, but because it was hard. And it was worth the journey.
So, just like the other kids she helped, she managed to get a grander vision into my life. Unlike the others, I have been fortunate enough to have it infused consistently for 42 years. I guess I needed the extra attention. But in spite of those things…the vision, the presence, the most important thing is love. And love is something I learned about from an old and tattered rabbit, who said:
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (The Velveteen Rabbit)
When we love deeply, we risk deeply too. Deep love risks deep loss and pain. And all of us who have loved deeply have felt it. And we think it’s worth it. Atul Gawande (Being Mortal) said “courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped. Wisdom is prudent strength.” That prudent strength tells us that “The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” –Lois Lowry, The Giver
So we share. We share life. We share love. We rejoice with each other when things go well…new babies, new jobs, new dreams coming true. And we cling to each other in the hard times, when we lose a family member or dear friend. And I’m sure each of us has had one of those moments when we look up and say this…
“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’” (Charlotte’s Web)
It all goes back to those books. Books, in the hand of the right person, change lives. It has been said that “sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars) Becky had lots of books like that. She used them to change lives. She has made a difference in this world and continues to do so today, though not just her devotion to the next generation of family members, but through her volunteer work as well.
Although her story is still coming true, this speech is winding down. This is the point where I tell Becky, my mom, how thankful I am for who she is and all she has done. I’m both extremely thankful and proud of her. And so on this, her 70th birthday, I must say…
As long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be. I’ll love you forever. (Love you Forever)
Goodnight stars, goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.
Just like autumn, this season cycles by regularly. Missing you.
I remember the journey…the months our paths crossed. I tried so hard to make it work. We all did.
But I was missing you. Even though I tried to love without expectation…to fully accept who you are and where you were at…I see now the impossibility. I did have expectations. I tried so hard to love with my whole heart…to pray with my whole spirit…to cling to you with all I had.
I see it now…we didn’t meet you where you were. We were missing you. We tried to meet the needs we perceived, which were different than the needs you actually had. Although we thought we were walking together down the same path, our journeys never really intersected did they? Were we one family? In my heart we were. And we continue to be. But I was missing you.
To some degree, maybe I was enamored by the potential of you. The potential of us. God had given me the daughter I had longed for but never knew I wanted. With my eyes wide open, I recognized your past, faults, and personal limitations and didn’t care about any of it. I accepted you exactly as you were. As much as I hated the abandonment and hurt you had suffered, I thanked God it led you to us. To me. Together, I knew you could finding healing. You could recover. And then you could thrive. That’s what I expected. But I was missing you.
You didn’t need transformation. You weren’t after recovery. You didn’t want a forever family. You never asked us to be one. And yet we tried to be that for you. You aren’t to blame. We were simply missing you. We missed who you really were. We missed getting to know the real person inside the young woman trying to survive. I didn’t understand that your life experiences did not prepare you for the life we threw you into. You had no context for what we offered. And yet we expected you to embrace us. We expected you to appreciate us. We expected you to love us. We expected you to try. But we were missing you.
That you managed to stick with us so long is a testament to your persistence. Or maybe it’s your stubbornness. The life we made for you was a gilded cage, though. It had peace, but you don’t crave peace. It had space, but you don’t need space. It had stability, but you’ve never known stability. It had us, but you’ve never needed us
This isn’t a right or wrong thing. You are who you are, as am I. I still treasure your heart. I still accept you as you are. The jagged and broken pieces of me tear against yours. I grieve because I lost you. And I grieve because I lost the potential of you. And I grieve because I failed to see the real you, and that is a true tragedy.
Perhaps you’ve met my sweet princess, Christy Bouchard.
Today is our 21st anniversary. Our story sounds sappy at first glance. She taught me how to tie shoelaces when we were in preschool. We met again in High School, becoming acquaintances at 15 and dating at 16. Sticking together like glue through college, we went on to careers, babies, houses, and grander adventures. By any outward measure, it has been a charmed life. It’s enough to make some people sick. It seems like there has always been a “Christy & Dave.”
A look behind the curtain reveals the full story. Buckets of tears have been shed…a few times caused by each other, and often due to the circumstances life brings our way. There have been profound times of loss…loved ones, jobs, money, pets. Sick kiddos. Sick spouses. There have been nights we have spent wondering if us will make it through this. But we have pushed through those times. We keep persistently moving forward through those dark times until we reemerge in the light.
A good marriage takes work, and some days it feels like the world has deemed this kind of work unworthy of the time and effort. What kind of person does this?
Let me tell you about my sweetie…
First…she’s got the biggest heart of anyone you could hope to meet. She comes by it quite naturally, too. I’ve met her family. That heart not only allows her to persist through the hard times and rejoice in the good time, but it is also the kind of heart that you want to treat with tenderness when she turns it over to you. It would be a tragedy to damage something so pure and beautiful.
Second…she’s the ground to my stars. That may not sound all that romantic, but we all need counterbalance…but I’m a wild-eyed dreamer with my head in the clouds. My vision is always focused on tomorrow and I tend to neglect today. When I’m running off to conferences or early breakfasts, she helps me keep perspective on the here and now…the important things. Like showing up to work or calling the doctor when I’ve been dizzy for weeks on end. Family. Friends. Vacation. That stuff matters.
I could sing my wife’s praises all day long…
The last thing I want to mention is perhaps the most overlooked. You’ve heard about the importance of endurance, persistence, faithfulness, forgiveness, and tolerance. Those are all vital. But the one thing that has been a linchpin is fearlessness. In 21 years, she has frequently heard statements like: “let’s build a chapel in Brazil” or “let’s move to Houston” or “let’s move back to Tulsa.” We have found ourselves kissing in front of Rodin’s “The Kiss” and whipping through small towns in the French countryside in a stranger’s Volvo. Sunrises on the beaches of Brazil and rainy mountaintops on slick dirt roads in that same beautiful country. She’s discovered she has a knack for holding both chickens and babies in foreign lands. And we have both shed tears of joy while watching Christ melt hearts and transform lives in front of our eyes. There have been all those times when we have fearlessly said “yes” when everyone else told us we were crazy. We’ve seen the trajectory of lives change during those times, even as our own hearts broke.
Even more…fearlessness isn’t just about adventure. It isn’t just the things you do. It’s also a way to love. It’s risky. Looking someone in the eyes and handing them your heart unconditionally will lead to hurt. Every time. It takes someone fearless to surrender themselves fully to someone else, trusting that even if there are dings and scrapes, we will both be better in the end because we have loved. We have loved fully and been fully loved. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s hard. But it’s worth it. My goodness, it is worth it.