She Has My Delight

It all started with one shimmering pair of pink cowgirl boots.

My then two-year-old princess, clothed in her leotard, would tug them on with a grin, then twirl with delight. And melt this daddy-heart of mine.

A tradition began, inspired by a row of cowgirl boots I’d seen in the home of a mentor years before. Each Valentine’s Day, my Abigail and I now head out on a date for her to select a new pair of cowgirl boots for the year. This last trip, I shared with her my request that when the day comes for her to leave our nest, she is welcome to take with her all the pairs that still fit. But the ones she has outgrown—those she’ll leave for me so that I might savor the years long passed, treasuring our memories of daddy and daughter in my heart. To relish with both ache and longing the reminder C.S. Lewis offers to us parents:

“Children are not a distraction from work. They are the most important work.”

Today there are already more outgrown cowgirl boots on the shelf than my heart can readily bear.

As a wise elder once said,

The days are long, but the years are short.

Never has a truer word been spoken.

It’s been said we only become the fathers we long to be by fathering. In the wise words of Dan Allender, it’s children, after all, who raise parents.

I’m not yet the father I long to be. But I am the father she has today. And I choose to be here.

On this day, I still have her. She is nearly 10, and radiant. Brimming with life, beauty, wonder, questions, and emerging shoots of wisdom set to burst forth.

Several months ago, Abigail confided in Cherie that she wanted a “promise ring.” We are still not sure whence the inspiration came to her. Though I too had a ring in mind, my original intention was for this day to wait a few years. But I have learned too slowly,

“Many are the plans in the heart of a man. But is is the purposes of God that prevail.” Proverbs 19:21

To be a student of her heart is one of the great invitations and sacred trusts of my life, and the life of every dad.

Her heart is now asking deeper questions, wondering deeper things about the heart of her dad and the heart of her Father in Heaven. So this day has come upon me. And I choose again to roll the dice of parenting and venture along the frontier of mystery and risk. Perhaps, in the words of Roosevelt, I may fail as I often do—but at least I will fail by daring greatly.

Father, come.

What is the promise this ring is intended by Heaven to signify? I have heard of girls who are given a “purity ring” when they come of age. A ring that seems to carry a sense of their pledge to keep themselves sexually pure until they are married.

But that is not the ring I have in mind for Abigail.

The ring that I want to bestow upon her is not an effort to make her promise something to me. Rather, I want to give her a ring that would communicate my promise to her. What am I promising? After prayer and inquiring of my wife’s wisdom born of the decades, I sensed this was my promise:

I choose to never, ever revoke my delight in her.

No matter what. I will not conditionally wield my delight in an effort to conform her choices to my will. No, I offer her my delight and extend to her a sacred place in my heart without condition. I promise that my favor and delight will always be hers.

The day came for me to present this ring to her. And as I looked into her not-yet-10-year-old eyes, I glimpsed a flash of future moments reflecting back to me. I felt warm tears on my face. Then, with the rush of whitewater rapids, the scenes cascaded through my imagination:

The first was her driving away in a car with a young man I barely knew, heading off to a school dance.

The next was an aisle at a wedding. Her wedding…and an aisle the end of which I never wanted to come.

Then I saw her at my bedside. I was an old man. She was radiant, the splendor of her maturity altogether lovely, offering me care beyond words.

I was nearly overwhelmed by the emotion of these unexpected glimpses around the bend of time. I did everything to come back to the present moment. Storing these up as treasures in my heart, I endeavored to simply offer the portion that was for this moment on this day.

Abigail, this ring is the symbol of my promise and devotion.

You are the delight of my heart,

and I promise that I will never withdraw my delight from you.

Nothing you do or don’t do,

nothing you say or don’t say

will ever justify me withdrawing my delight from you

or closing my heart to you.

With this ring, I give you the promise of my delight.

You are the delight of your father’s heart.

And with this ring, I give you permission and invitation.

I invite you to tell me if you ever experience me withdrawing my delight.

I promise to listen to you and to respond.

It is my hope that God will one day provide a husband for you who will nourish and cultivate your feminine heart in all its depth and wonder.

Yet today this is my promise:

With my sword and my strength,

I am with you to the very end.

I will always protect and always provide.

You are safe.

You are loved.

You are known.

And you will never be alone.

You are the delight of your daddy’s heart.

Though my flesh and my heart at times will fail,

Our Father will always be the strength of our hearts and our portion forever.

May this ring be to you a symbol of my enduring delight and the place you have in my heart that is yours and yours alone.

And with it, I pledge to always point you to our Father, who is the Father of us all.

May you experience Him chasing after you.

He has you, Abigail.

Your soul will always be safe in Him.

Boots and Ring-4

Hours later, I came into the house from a project in the garage to find her at her art table, creating another piece of beauty. I caught a sparkle from her ring in the afternoon light. Its shimmer compelled me upstairs to her childhood room to look at her collection of outgrown boots yet again.

IMG_2154 (1)

I felt the paradox of grief of years lost and the hope of what time I do have. I consecrated my life to God again, quietly and simply, as a daddy. And I asked Him to lead me, as if He were me, living my life. Asked His life to flow into me and through me to my daughter’s heart.

On this day and in this decade, I ask you, Father, would you guide me in bringing Your heart as Father to the heart of my little girl?

Father, I confess how often I blow it as a dad.  Father, I ask that where I lack maturity I might excel in affection and pursuit of her heart. I am deeply in need of growing as a student of her heart. Cultivate in me an increasing capacity to see her as You see her, to delight in her. Father, apprentice me to become the kind of father who is no longer capable of withdrawing my delight.

So that she might receive time and time again the miracle of validation—the gift of being known and received for who she truly is.

So that through me she might know You as Father, and in every circumstance, find rest and restoration for her vast and ever-expanding feminine soul.

Through my pursuit and my delight, by day and by decade, may her heart grow to know,

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring to a flourishing finish on the very day God appears again in his fullness…” (Philippians 1:6 MSG)

Abigail, may you and every daughter be able to say, from the depths of your being, far deeper than words,

I am the daughter of a King.

My Father is with me

And goes before me.

I will not fear.

Because

I am His.

IamHis-02

<a
Snyder 1

We are not yet who we will one day become. Yet we are the fathers they have today.

What will you do to communicate, to model your unconditional delight in your daughter?

What will you do to become the kind of father in a decade who offers even deeper delight to your daughter?


Justin – A special thanks to you for making these pictures possible. You capture soul with your camera and work in the unseen spaces in the lives of so many to bring light into darkness and to give voice to the sacred in all things. Thanks for your strength. It’s changing the world…

A Celebration of Boyhood

It wasn’t at all what I expected.

A long driveway meandered up a gentle rise under an extensive canopy of Colorado ponderosa pines. On my left, a creek drainage harbored a well-worn treehouse. Early evening light highlighted bikes, skateboards, paintball guns, and other boyhood accessories, all of which testified to a world of adventure and play.

I was a young man, fresh out of college and brimming with questions that were only assuaged by the lives and stories of older men. I tried intently to put words to my questions and to risk the vulnerability of seeking proximity to older men to whom I could bring my curiosity.

Now 20 years later, I recognize the bedrock of my desire for proximity to elders was the longing to be initiated by a Father into the world of men.  

The longing for masculine initiation is common and unquenchable in men, not by accident or cultural imposition: it is our common desire because it is for this we were made.

The elder I sought out that long-ago evening was named Mark. He was the father of five young boys and an executive for the same company where I was low man on the totem pole. Every time I ran into him, he stood out from the crowd, generating a larger-than-life atmosphere around him.  

He had something. Better said, he had become something, someone. Someone whose masculinity inspired me and to whom my soul desired to be near.

It has taken me years to articulate what drew me to Mark. Now I have words for it: Mark was a man who had been effectively initiated into the world of men. He was a man who had faced the specter of death and passed through into a Life greater than his own. From that place of initiation, Mark was connected with the life of God in a measure that was unhinged from circumstances and unable to be destroyed by the things of this world.

When Mark invited me to his home, I had no idea where he actually lived. His directions had me leaving the city behind and traveling into a little pocket of nearby wild. Finally arriving at his driveway, my first thought was of the length of Mark’s commute; my second, of the length of his driveway and how much shoveling it would take to dig out after a winter storm.

Mark’s joyful greeting interrupted my shortsighted inner calculating.

After a brief exchange, I had to ask.

“Mark, what caused you to move way out here?”

He paused, considering my question with soulful sincerity before slowly responding.

“By moving here, I bought my five sons two more years of childhood.”

The substance of his response steadied my young heart. He was articulating a portion of Reality in God’s Kingdom that the world around me had all but forgotten: boyhood in all its wonder is an invaluable stage of masculinity that is worth fighting for. And it is a stage that every boy must experience and every man must recover if he is ever going to take the full journey into manhood.

So it began.

Again. Yet another category of divine disruption as Father continued the apprenticeship of my masculine soul.

In over two decades of proximity to men, I have observed a handful of themes that run through the stories of most men I encounter. No theme is more consistent—and few are more tragic—than the premature end of the stage of boyhood. For so many men, boyhood was cut painfully short as they grew up too fast and too soon.

This premature end of boyhood often happens as the result of one of two forces. The first is the agony of the unanswered question of his masculine soul, “Do I have what it takes?” For many boys, the quest to answer this essential question compels them to forsake boyhood and seek early entrance into world of men in hopes of finding an answer there.

The intolerable agony of an unanswered question is what drove my good friend Bart to lie about his age in order to be hired for a demolition job on a construction site at the age of 14. The ruthless foreman did everything he could to drive the little boy off the site. During one of Bart’s first weeks on the job, he took a fall from the top of a 10-foot ladder while removing ceiling insulation. Bart ended up in the emergency room because of a nail that had punctured his boot when he hit the ground, driving its way up through his foot until it protruded menacingly from the top. Bent on proving himself as a man, Bart was back on the job site later that afternoon; nothing would stop him from proving to his boss, to the world, and mostly to his dad, that he had what it takes.

For other men, the premature loss of boyhood is imposed upon them by abruptly changing circumstances in their family of origin. This was Greg’s story. When Greg was 12, his dad was caught having sex with the church secretary, a woman barely half his age. At the time, Greg’s dad was a pastor in their small town, and the rumors of the scandal quickly took their toll. Both their family and their place in the community began to unravel overnight. Within days, Dad fled the house and the town, choosing a new life with this younger woman, leaving Greg’s mom alone with two young daughters and a son. On his way out the door, Greg’s dad said these final words to his young son:

“You’re the man of the house now.”   

Greg is 44 and has spent the past 32 years reaching to recover the boyhood he abruptly lost that afternoon on the front steps of his childhood home.

Whether at the hands of unfathered fathers or through a personal search for validation from an unanswered question, the stories of many men follow a similar narrative:

The reality of Boyhood is cut violently short.

With the loss of boyhood comes the loss of the ancient path, the tried and true road, of masculine initiation that alone provides rest for the masculine soul.

It took me almost a decade to begin to identify with why Mark chose the long commute to work: preserving and relishing in boyhood was one of Mark’s greatest aims as a father. And our Father was inviting me to make it one of mine as well.

I suppose that’s why Joshua’s first formal rite of passage in ManScouts was celebrated with mounds of Chick-fil-A nuggets, limitless cans of regular Coke, and pictures highlighting his boyhood adventures.

IMG_2737

I rolled the dice.

As much as we might learn, there is no detailed roadmap for masculine initiation. Though the themes are similar, each man must walk his own path and lead his son as only he can, given their particular context and narrative. Yet there are ancient signposts and universal themes—and a Father who precedes us in order to illuminate a path to lead the soul of the boy into life as an initiated man.

Cherie dropped Joshua off on a winter night, leaving him to walk into a warm room filled with celebration and masculine love. His smile said it all, as he looked beyond the mounds of Chick-fil-A nuggets to the handful of the men who love me and him and with whom we share life.

I said,

“Son, tonight is for you. It is a celebration of your boyhood. You are welcome here.”

In time we shared a short film of images from his first 10 years of life, classic shots of boyhood adventure and play.

IMG_2560

We then gathered in a circle, one of the most sacred circles of which I’ve ever been a part. My son at the center, seated on the top of a ManScouts treasure chest he would soon learn was part of the gift of the evening for his next decade.

IMG_6867

On this night we participated in a contemporary expression of an ancient rite contiguous with preceding cultures and epochs of human history. Each man spoke words of blessing over Joshua, and together we presented him with gifts, inviting him into communion with a company of men and with a Father who orchestrates it all.

But something even more fundamental than a passage into the company of men was taking place.

Before it was a passage, it was first a celebration of boyhood. The central message we communicated was this:

“Joshua you are a boy, a delightful and radiant boy.  

Tonight we celebrate your boyhood. We welcome it, bless it, and invite you to savor every bit of what the Father has for you as a boy.

And also, we begin tonight with your welcoming into the fellowship of men. I have been entrusted with only a portion of what you need as a man. But look around this room. Each man brings a different expression, a different portion of Father’s heart. Only together can you see the Father and experience His love, and only together, in a fellowship, can you cultivate a knowing of what it means to be a man. And through that discovery, you will come to know the uniqueness of the man God fashioned when He fashioned you.

You are welcome here. As a boy, you are welcome among men.

In time, you will embark on a Vision Quest and enter the trials and challenges of masculine initiation.

But today, we invite you to savor boyhood. And today we celebrate boyhood with you.”


IMG_2734

The gifts we gave were meant as an outward expression of what we carried in our heart.

  • A set of Legos to continue to cultivate play, adventure, and imagination
  • A wooden sword handcrafted by master craftsmen at Bastian Woodworking—both real and also playful—as a symbol of the boyhood warrior who carries a practice sword but will one day brandish steel
  • A ManScouts treasure chest to hold the symbols and story of this decade set before him, adorned with the names of God’s chosen men who will participate in portions of the initiation of his soul

IMG_2722

Lingering. Permission. Delight.

With our bodies, our words, we said what only the Father can say:

You are my beloved son, my favorite son, in whom my soul is well pleased.

We did everything in our power to celebrate boyhood. To savor it. And through our love, to remove pressure on the masculine soul to grow up too fast and too far.

Everything is beautiful in its time, Solomon once said.

That day, the celebration was boyhood. And with both my repentance and my strength, I was able to pledge my fiercest commitment to preserve, protect, and supernaturally partner with the Father to lengthen boyhood, as long as we both shall live.

“Thanks, Dad.  I’ve never felt more loved in my whole life.”

Those were the words of my son as we drove home on that snowy night.

Those were nearly the identical words spoken by Alex’s son and JD’s son as they followed suit in their own time and in their own way, fighting to celebrate boyhood for their ever-maturing sons in the months to come.

The boy needs permission and possibility to be a boy if he is ever to become a wholehearted man.

IMG_2227

Jesus makes the impossible possible.

In the same way we too need permission and possibility to recover what was lost in our own soul as a boy.

The loss of boyhood is one of the great destructive realities that keeps most of us from ever becoming wholehearted and true. And the recovery and restoration of boyhood, for us and for our sons, is one of the great promises of the Kingdom of God. Whether at 12, 22, or 62, we are invited to turn to the Father and ask Him to restore the boy in us and to teach us to celebrate the boy in the hearts of our sons and the men we love.

We are reminded of the scandal of the Gospel in Paul’s letter to Galatians: through the Life of Jesus, we have full access to everything the Father has:

  • If you are a son, you are also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance… (The Message)
  • Because we are His, we can access everything He has…(The Passion Translation)
  • Through this bold redemption, we have received full rights of sonship… (NIV)

And now, one of our central tasks is to practice receiving this reality and to mature into the more that is being made available in this day and in this decade.

It’s been over two years since that joyous celebration of boyhood.

We are now poised on the eve of Joshua’s Vision Quest. From the foundation of boyhood, we can now set our hearts on pilgrimage to the deeper frontier of the masculine soul.

Mark chose to move to the edge of town to recover two more years of boyhood for his sons.

What will you do for the boy entrusted to your care?

What will you do for the boy within your soul?

You are not alone.

And it matters more than we have been led to believe.

Strength and Honor,

Morgan


IMG_2666




 

 

 

What Is the Way In?

A young man once asked Dallas Willard this question:

On normal days, what does your prayer life and daily rhythm look like?

After that quintessential and thoughtful pause of his, Dallas carefully offered this response:

There are very few normal days for anyone, especially in our world. So you have to be careful with that question. Let me say what is a constant that I can do everyday no matter what’s happening. Normally when I wake, I will work through the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm one or more times. By work through it, I mean not just rattling it off. I start with “Our Father who art in Heaven.” Now I just stay there a while, letting that soak in. I think about what Our Father is like. He isn’t “my boss who art in in Heaven” or “my eternal scrutinizer who art in heaven.”  No, He is our loving Father in Heaven. Finally, when I sit to get out of bed, I proclaim, “God is here.” I announce that.  I recognize (and take heart) in the presence of God… 

There are indeed very few normal days. Yet there is a constant available to me every day: the intentional recognition of the Goodness and Greatness of God, our Father and Teacher.

God, my True, Generous, and Loving Father,

I ask for one thing, only one thing:

To live this day and my whole life long at Your Side, in Your House, and within Your Story.

I remember what You are like.

I contemplate Your beauty, Your provision, and Your Reality.

I proclaim I am Your student and You are my teacher.

I am Your son and You are my Good, Good Father. (paraphrase, Psalm 27:4)

Dallas goes on in The Renovation of the Heart to offer this thought:

Jesus invites us to leave our way of heavy labor, especially religious ones. And step into the yoke of training with Him…The easy yoke is the way of inner transformation…The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that the way in is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it.

Take a moment to read this sentence again: “The easy yoke of Jesus is the way of inner transformation. The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that the way in is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it.”

What is your reaction to this sentence?

How would you answer the question: Why does entering fully into the divine world and its life seem to be so hard and unattainable?

What do you think about Dallas’s suggestion that the reason it seems so unattainable is because we have failed to understand that the way “in” is the way of pervasive inner transformation? How have you been trying to get “into the divine world and its life”? How has that been working for you? Why would inner transformation be an easy yoke? What is your reaction to the idea that there could be “small steps” that you could readily take that would quietly and certainly lead you into the world of God and His life?

For me, I realize how hard I have been trying to get “in” in a myriad of other ways. But what if the primary way in is simply, joyously, and soberly stepping into the easy yoke of training with Jesus and taking the slow and steady steps of learning from Him how to live in His Kingdom in dependence upon Our Father and receiving His powerful action to effectively and pervasively transform my inmost being to resemble His?

One of the small steps Jesus leads me to is immersion in the great writing of good people.

Now and then I have offered a handful of books I recommend as you continue your journey of consent to our Father as His son to be His student. While there are many more I could suggest (see some previous book recommendations at Become Good Soil), here are a few books that have been particularly nourishing and re-informing in this past year. May these recommendations strengthen you in the easy yoke with Jesus as  you take, in His power, the “small steps that quietly and certainly lead to [inner transformation].”


 

This collection builds upon the foundation of our treasure chest of great resources at Ransomed Heart. Now through December 9th, 2016, every order at RansomedHeart.com you place will automatically be 50 percent off.

Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

Renovation of the Heart, a bestseller by Dallas Willard, explains the common misunderstandings about human nature and the discipleship process by outlining the general pattern of personal spiritual transformation…” (more detail here)

The Social Animal by David Brooks

“David Brooks has written an absolutely fascinating book about how we form our emotions and character. Standing at the intersection of brain science and sociology, and writing with the wry wit of a James Thurber, he explores the unconscious mind and how it shapes the way we eat, love, live, vacation, and relate to other people…” (more detail here)

BO Cover

Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge

Reading the Gospels without knowing the personality of Jesus is like watching television with the sound turned off. The result is a dry, two-dimensional person doing strange, undecipherable things. But when we discover his true character—this man who made the wind, music and flying squirrels—suddenly all of the remarkable qualities of Jesus burst forth with color and brilliance like fireworks. Breaking Jesus out of the typical stereotypes, Beautiful Outlaw welcomes readers into the rich emotional life of Christ, showing how they can experience the actual personality of Jesus in their daily lives in ways that will deepen their faith. (Amazon description)

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, Tribe explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning… (more detail here)

Preparing for Heaven by Gary Black Jr.

C.S. Lewis once said, “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often, I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”

In his acclaimed books, renowned writer, speaker, and philosophy professor Dallas Willard explored the nature of Christian life in God’s Kingdom… (more detail here)

 

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Social scientist Brené Brown has ignited a global conversation on courage, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness. Her pioneering work uncovered a profound truth… (more detail here)

Living in Christ’s Presence by Dallas Willard

In these pages Dallas Willard explores what it means to live well now in light of God’s kingdom… (more detail here)

 

Life’s Golden Ticket by Brendon Burchard

What if you were handed a golden ticket that could magically start your life anew?… (more detail here)

 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

In this inspirational work which seamlessly weaves keen clinical observation, neuroscience, historical analysis, the arts, and personal narrative, Dr. van der Kolk has created an authoritative guide to the effects of trauma, and pathways to recovery… (more detail here)

War by Sebastian Junger

In War, Sebastian Junger turns his brilliant and empathetic eye to the reality of combat—the fear, the honor, and the trust among men in an extreme situation whose survival depends on their absolute commitment to one another… (more detail here)

Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians by James Gilchrist Lawson

Recommended by John Eldredge and Dallas Willard, this book is a collection of stories from man of ages past who have recovered the Ancient Path. It provides story after story of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of ordinary people and inviting them up to an extraordinary life as they take their place in the Kingdom of God. (more detail here)

JUST FOR JOY…

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (video)

It was Lewis who said, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” Mentor Richard Foster further adds, “Joy, not grit, is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be light-hearted in what we do to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride.”

This is the Movie of the Year in the Snyder household.  May it bring some joy to your clan in this season.

Chasing Wild – Long Form

Since the inception of this blog over six years ago, my deep and sincere hope has been to strengthen the hearts and souls of men who are choosing the long, costly, and thrilling road of internal transformation to become the kind of kings to whom God can entrust His Kingdom.  

I’ve experimented with form and content with a three-fold intent: first, to offer worthwhile ideas and stories as invitations to explore the deeper realities of God and His Kingdom; second, to give myself permission to explore where my strength is; and finally, to uncover through experimentation what is actually helpful to you, my like-hearted allies fighting courageously on various fronts of the battle.

I’ve been working on a piece titled Chasing Wild I think you will enjoy. I released Part I some time ago with the intent of making it available in a series of several blogs. However, several iterations later, it’s evident that it has become a long-form piece whose content doesn’t fit well in a blog. Rather than forcing the proverbial round peg into a square hole, I’ve chosen to release it as a single long-form piece.

Simply put, the content doesn’t fit on a digital device. If you feel led, I invite you to print off this PDF and tuck it away in your journal. When you choose some time away from the distractions of the plugged-in world to nourish your masculine soul, my hope is that Chasing Wild could be a means of God’s heart and His Kingdom strengthening you and beckoning you further down the narrow road.

Chasing Wild – Long Form

Morgan-sig-Gray-100

Trapper

 

“[Grieving] requires a lot of love, and love is a harsh comforter, because only love makes genuine loss possible. You can’t lose what you never loved.”
Richard Lischer, Stations of the Heart

“There is a hole in the world now. A center like no other of memory and hope and knowledge and affection which once inhabited this earth is gone. A perspective on this world unique in this world is gone. The world is emptier.”
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son


 

I felt like I was giving an elephant a prostate exam.

Other than a few crumbling, quarter-size chunks of drywall, the light fixture and the plastic junction box came out without incident. After that, it got a little hairy. Within moments, I was balanced on top of a ladder with my arm inserted almost up to my shoulder through a narrow opening in McConnell’s ceiling, burrowing hopelessly through mounds of 20-year-old pink insulation.  

It could’ve been such a simple project.

But, damn—leave it to McConnell to stick me on this end of the only home improvement project he boasted of completing from start to finish.

3zCraig_31

It was years ago that McConnell poked his head into my office to ask me if I wanted to hear how he had, once again, rescued the beauty. I knew by the gleam in his eye that he was baiting me as he had countless times before; for as much as Craig was a masterful husband and father and friend, he was most surely a masterful storyteller. And it was his narratives and keen eye for holy irony that unfailingly led me again and again back into the glad atmosphere of Heaven.

So I pushed my chair back from my desk and took the bait, inviting him to share another one of his tall tales with me.

He took a seat and began:

“So, Lori was sick of the access panel door to the attic crawl space. She’s been nagging me for years to make it disappear so the wall would look better. Of course, I came to the rescue. Cut some drywall, mudded, taped, and voilá: no more door, no more nagging. Who’s the stallion now?!”

“McConnell, well done!” I responded, “I never knew you were both a romantic and a skilled handyman.”

“Well, unfortunately, that’s not all. That was two weeks ago. Last week is when I heard them.”

“Heard what?” I asked.

He paused for dramatic effect, looking out my office window, as if remembering a far-off land filled with pirates and treasure.

“The squirrels.”

“The squirrels, Morgan. They’ve moved into the attic. And if all the running around is any indication, they must be storing a hell of a lot of nuts up there.”

I smiled, realizing exactly where this was going, and offered the punchline on his behalf:  

“And the one way to get after them is—or was—the attic door.”

“Precisely,” he replied, offering that subtle wink that always beckoned a person deeper into his tale.

McConnell’s “successful” seal-off-the-attic-access-home-improvement project soon gave way to four-plus years of turf war with the rogue squirrels who decided to lay siege to his attic and prepare for the end times right above his favorite reading chair. Truth be told, he might have been able to bring about a cease-fire simply by patching the rather small hole that the squirrels had torn in the stucco right at the eaves and were using to get inside the attic. But he elected for another tactic, because, in his own words,

“There are always two games to play. You’ve got to know which game you’re playing and which one you want to win the most.”  

And for Craig, it was always the prize of the story that he was after.

So war it was. Think Eisenhower at the helm of the D-Day invasion, or Roosevelt leading the charge of Rough Riders in Panama. The strategy and stories never ceased to flow into my office.

His first strategy involved a BB gun.

Week after week, he relayed his epic wilderness stalks through his quarter-acre yard, ducking behind bird feeders, judging the wind, analyzing the barometric pressure, and always consulting the solunar tables. He would purposefully allude to every methodology and nugget of vernacular he’d heard over the years from our own stories of chasing actual big game in Colorado wilderness with our bows.

Looking back, in all his reported escapades with his Red Ryder lever action, I know of only one confirmed round that he ever fired. I heard that story one day when he offered this sheepish confession with a very red face:

“It was just after shooting light on a Saturday morning. After having executed a daring spot-stalk-and-ambush around my house, I sent a round right at the squirrel’s vitals. As I went to reload, I noticed something else moving out of the corner of my eye. And that something was looking right at me. Turns out it was my  robe-clad neighbor out picking up his newspaper while sipping on a cappuccino. Suddenly I realized what he was seeing: me, armed, crawling in his bushes.”

After that incident, Craig retired his only firearm, packing it away next to his electric chainsaw, which was padded carefully with his collection of retired flip flops from decades of beach life in SoCal.

It was then that he chose to take his squirrel-hunting obsession to the next level.

He became McConnell, the Trapper.

2zCraig_2

At his peak, Craig was working several traps around his suburban yard, and he’d happily describe long sessions of chumming the traps. (Not only the specifics regarding the type of peanut butter, but also his procedure for maximum effective application at the end of meticulously arranged trails of bird seed, cunningly designed to lure unsuspecting bushy tailed vermin to imminent death.)

I began to notice a resonance between his trapping tactics and his preference for scrupulous liturgy in random things. For example, when making a Manhattan, he insisted that it is always to be poured over clear ice and never cloudy. It is never shaken, always stirred, while facing west (as a salute to the great sea). And when pouring the finest rye, one must pour for a count of one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. And then, with dramatic pause while still pouring, “and this is for the pope.”

IMG_0871 (1)

With little success, I offered him squirrel recipes and walked him through the basics of home taxidermy, encouraging him to put up some skins for homespun apparel that would appropriately complement his new name, for by then he was insisting that I refer to him only as Trapper.

But he would have none of it. He told me his ethos was purely catch-and-release.

It was months into his extensive catch-and-release ventures that I decided to set some bait of my own. I asked Craig how he was handling the commonly known and uncanny ability of squirrels to cover long distances and instinctively return to their home range once released. He looked at me incredulously, realizing he had been outsmarted by vermin, and asked me to say more. Evidently I had enough currency to convince him that I knew what I was talking about.

Before long, my years of being a padawan to this master storyteller finally paid off: he took my bait and became paranoid that the squirrels he released over five miles away were actually beating him back to his suburban home to fortify their collection of winter vittles in his attic. After that, every squirrel he saw unnerved him, and he endeavored to identify each one based on unique markings and behaviors to determine if they were really coming back or not.

Then came level three.

It was a chilly spring Friday morning when McConnell showed up in my office, looking a bit rattled. He explained rather sheepishly that “a big-ass black ball of fur with a white strip, fangs, and claws” was stuck in his squirrel trap. He needed help.

We dug into the internet and watched one video after another on how to remove live skunks from squirrel traps. Interestingly, most were filmed on location in Arkansas or West Virginia and nearly always included broad, sweeping soundtracks and minimally clothed assistants. It was the heavyset man in the beekeeper suit and motorcycle helmet who won our allegiance; we looked to him as our sensei to train us for level three.

We followed his every directive, pulling out our very best skunk trapping attire, asking our friends to accompany us, not only to play a fitting soundtrack, but also to provide moral support in the event that we heard, as the videos say, the two most feared words in skunk-trapping:

“Tail’s up.”

“Tail’s up.”

Who would’ve thought suburban life could be so fraught with daring and delight?

I’ll never forget stalking, synchronized with McConnell, gently and step by meticulous step, tarp in hand, toward the skunk. It was at that moment that I knew the best stories can only be written once they have been truly lived.

To the dismay of onlookers, we were remarkably successful on our first attempt, eluding all spray and acquiring my very most favorite skin for our collection.

The stories, oh, the stories.

It was yesterday, somewhere between shoving my hand up the orifice in his ceiling and the subsequent shower of spray-insulation that poured from overhead, that I began to weep.

Lori, Craig’s bride of 40 years, was downstairs. It was the day after he crossed over into the fullness of Life after 64 heroic years in this world and a seven-year battle against cancer. The Spirit led me to swing by Lori and Craig’s home in the early morning hours for the second day in a row, this time to honor my fallen comrade by checking on his bride. I had no idea what to say or what to do. The day before, I had carried one of my closest friends and a brother to my heart out of his home in a body bag. It was my second experience of carrying a man I love out the front door of his own home, leaving behind weeping and wailing hearts. It is two too many for this soul to comprehend.

After an unanswered knock, I found my way upstairs and beheld Lori, radiant as ever, in the early morning light. Could it be that just 36 hours before we had all huddled in their master bedroom, holding Craig’s weakened, broken, blessed body, speaking words, offering tears and stories and worship and silence?

As I gazed at Lori, her beauty moved me, and my first thought was,

This is a woman who has been well loved for 40 years.

My second thought:

Damn. What I would give to have Craig back. Right now. Right here.

Lori and I were granted a few hours of sacred conversation in that morning’s hush, a fresh round of stories of agony and hilarity, both of which, Norm Maclean reminds us, are necessary for salvation.

Only after that did I ask Lori if there was anything I could do for her.

“Morgs, you know, my friend is flying in and will be here in a few hours to stay in this bedroom. I’ve had this ceiling fan, still in the box, forever. Do you know anyone who could install it?”

How grateful I was in that moment for having installed several in my own home only a year before.

“You bet.” And as Lori and her family made their way downstairs, I began to assess the situation.

The room was wired for an overhead light but lacked the proper support to mount the metal junction box for the fan.

What I needed was access to the attic.

McConnell, you dirty dog…

The one project you boasted about.

I laughed to myself, and I cried.  

Yet again, the narrative of this man’s life flooded my soul. The irony that I would be here, yet again, taking the bait, on the butt end of one of his great stories.

The tears, while quiet, became heavier and heavier.

A home filled with grieving family was not the place to pull out a drywall saw and undo McConnell’s plastered masterpiece that brilliantly blocked the only access to the attic.

I headed to the hardware store and explored plans B, C, and D before deciding on a retro install bar that apparently was well-suited when your buddy drywalls over the only access panel to the Squirrel Shangri-la.

A few hours later the fan was installed, and I turned on the breaker, savoring that moment of amazement that touches the soul of any man who has done any sort of electrical work:

And then there was light.

I watched the fan blades turn and felt the warm air of summer begin to move through the McConnells’ second-story guest bedroom.

I listened to the sounds of his grandchildren running around the house below, playing as if it were any other summer day.

I wept for my friend.

And then I wept for much more.

I was flooded with grief. First for Craig, and then for my brother Lance, and then for every place I have fallen short in my relating to all the people I so dearly love. I wept for the poor, the broken, and the needy. I wept for all the not-yet in this world. I wept for all the unfinished in me.

I wept.

And I wept.

And I wept.

And watching the fan blades slide gracefully around and around, I prayed.

I asked God for those blades to turn and turn in the days and decades to come, and in their turning to call forth through their momentary perseverance the very breath of God.  

The breath of God into this home.

Into these hearts.

And as I walked out of the house moments later, I imagined that in some season to come, another family will one day turn this house into a home as the McConnells have. And some unknown man will also hear the pitter-patter of squirrels in his attic packing away a feast of winter’s provisions up in the eaves. And he will look all over the house and call out to his wife,

“Honey, I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find the damn access panel to the attic.”

At that moment, I laughed out loud, thinking of how hilarious that moment will be to Craig. Holy Spirit, quicken me with joy precisely when that future moment comes.

And on that day I’ll mix myself a Manhattan of which McConnell would be proud. And I’ll remember when I was covered in insulation and giving an elephant a prostate exam in his home.

And I’ll think of the thousand stories I wish I could live with him again.

I’ll remember the pints we shared at the Whitehorse in England and the Scarborough Hotel in Australia, and countless more.

I’ll call to mind the campfires around which we sat shoulder to shoulder at Bart’s Globe and Anchor ranch in the Colorado Rockies, at Konka in South Africa, and at Mount Snowdon in Wales. Too many to name.

And I’ll remember his raunchy baseball-cap with the attached gray ponytail that always seemed to show up just when I was taking life too seriously.

I’ll think of the countless missions we shared, partnering in battles for the hearts of men.

And I will likely weep again.

I pray on that day I will have the faith to believe more deeply that all is not lost, that the best is yet to come.

That I will become the kind of person who has made peace in my soul with the reality that we must die so that we might truly live.

That we are eternal souls who are on pilgrimage.

That we are being made ready for a world that whispers to us with the blowing air of every ceiling fan.

And a marvelous Reality that will envelope each of us who is willing to give it our consent.

As for this moment, the summer sun has tucked behind the rocky bluffs of Ute Valley Park behind my home. I watch evening’s last light slip away, and I look at pencil and paper and a empty glass that once held the best damn Manhattan I’ve ever made.

Trapper,

Thank you.

Thank you for teaching me that to give the gift of my time and my presence toward loving another soul is the greatest gift of all.

Thank you for teaching me much more about loving people than you did about squirrels.

And I will see you again.

But not yet.

Not yet.

10CTurtle


 

Endnotes

C.S. Lewis said of his own grief,

“If I knew any way of escape, I would crawl through the sewers to find it.”

Where and what is the Father inviting you to grieve?

I want to encourage you to risk grieving, in every way the Father would winsomely want to lead you. Below are some more suggestions that might help you in the process:

Blogs

Suffering

And We Will See You Again

Good Friday

What Do I Need To Grieve

Who Will Carry Your Casket?

 

Books

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

Stations of the Heart by Richar Lischer

A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser

Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff