all we can see


    Ginger’s on her way to Birmingham and I’m sitting in Panera, trying to get my post written before I go home to console Schnauzers, which will take up the rest of the evening. They hate suitcases.

    When we moved from Texas to Massachusetts sixteen and a half years ago, one of the biggest adjustments was the difference in landscape. There are places in Texas where you can wake up in the morning, look west, and see what people are doing on their porches in Tucson. The reason the stars at night are big and bright is you have a 360-degree view of the horizon: you can see them all. Massachusetts is a little more claustrophobic. If there aren’t hills, there are trees preventing you from seeing what’s around the bend. Though things – and people – are packed much closer together, there’s no place to get a clear view of it all.

    If life is a highway, then it’s a lot more like Massachusetts than Texas. The other thing about Massachusetts that makes that statement even more true is we don’t believe in street signs. If you are new here, you never know where you are.

    Ginger is flying across America without being able to see over the next hill, which for our family is called Thursday. She has yet to talk to the doctor or get a clear picture of what the surgery is going to entail, but, even if she knew that, we still can’t see beyond Thursday. Some time, probably in the afternoon, we will top the hill and see what the next stretch of life looks like. More than likely, there will be another obstacle keeping us from seeing too far down the road.

    Sunday after church, I was talking with someone about the things I had written about Darfur. She said she didn’t know what to feel other than overwhelmed. I said what I’m trying to figure out is what lies beyond overwhelmed and helpless. The more we talk and pray together, the more we will be able to come to a place we cannot now see.

    I remember hearing Bonnie Hunt on Letterman several years ago talking about writing comedy. She said the challenge is to get past the easy stuff, which is the sexual and vulgar stuff. So, when she goes into a writing meeting, they take the topic or idea and let themselves get all the vulgarity out of their systems, understanding they have not yet really begun to write until they get over that.

    I’ve always imagined some of the first white people to get to the Grand Canyon coming over a small rise and all of a sudden being at the edge of that giant rift. In my mind, the old timer turns to his wife and says, “Well, Martha, I think we’re going to have to go around.” Either that, or they settled there and opened a bed and breakfast for the others they knew would be coming.

    I resigned from my job as a minister because I believed I was answering God’s call on my life to follow my passion to make good food for people. Twelve weeks later I got laid off. Two weeks after that, I went back to work with a raise. All the planning in the world couldn’t have gotten me ready for that turn of events.

    If such is the topography of life, we have to choose how we are going to navigate and travel. Last night coming home from work, I got behind a car going thirty-five on a road where the speed limit is forty-five and the Massachusetts drivers add on another ten miles per hour. Let me be clear: thirty-five was their top speed. Every time the road curved in the least, they hit their brakes, as though that somehow made them safer. What they didn’t realize is they turned themselves into a hazard. The other extreme is to go pedal to the metal until we top one hill too many and end up going all Thelma and Louise into the canyon below.

    Both approaches are based on fallacies. Being overly cautious doesn’t change the truth that life is not safe; being cautious is not the same as being intentional. Living without caution doesn’t change the truth that freedom is not the same thing as license.

    One of the things I love about Mark’s account of Jesus’ life is most of Jesus’ contact with people happens in the context of interruptions. When he got up in the morning, the disciples didn’t greet him with a schedule for the day: “First, you heal the blind man. Then on the way to lunch, a woman is going to touch the hem of your garment and be healed, and then you will feed the Five Thousand.” Jesus just started walking and as he topped each rise he dealt with what was in front of him – all the way to Golgotha.

    Eighteen years ago last Sunday was my first date with Ginger. I took her to see Lyle Lovett back when Lyle had one record and played really small rooms. When I took her back to her apartment, I said, “I really like you and want to see you some more, but this next month is crazy and I don’t know when we’ll be able to get together.” By the end of February – twenty-four days later – I had seen her everyday but two. If life is a highway, I started taking a new way home – past her house. Now, eighteen years later, I don’t know how to think about life without her in it.

    Rachel and Reuben have been married for fifty years.

    We talk about “getting over” illnesses and problems as though getting over means getting past. Sometimes, like this Thursday, getting over means coming to terms with what’s ahead on this journey without maps. The significant markers are those John used to describe Jesus: “Knowing he had come from God and was going to God . . .” With those brackets around our lives, we know there is love beyond whatever is over the hill.



    1. This.Is.An.Amazing.Post.

      Newspaper readers across America should be opening their local sections this morning to read this; it should be three inches, nestled nest to the fold. Milton, your words remind me of a better, simpler time – a fallacy, no doubt, but an ideal worth pursuing.

      Praying for you and the family through the day.

      Thank you for writing.

    2. This is the most encouraging, true thing I have read in quite some time. Thank you for sharing your gifts of insight and writing. I’ll pray for your family and remember your words.


    3. Milton, I have been lurking on your blog for months…and I read it to my husband a lot – I’d say I’m sorry for lurking but we’ve gotten too much from it to really be sorry. :^) (We are both praying for Ginger and you and her family.) We are rapidly careening towards the next hill in our lives, called Tuesday, which is a meeting with u.s. immigration – and your words could not have come at a better time. You have been such an encouragement to us. Thank you.

    4. I’ve been out of town and am just now catching up. This spoke to me from the beginning–schnauzers and suitcases, Texas’s wide open spaces and Massachusetts’s lack of street signs and big skies. And, having faced a significant and recurring disappointment today, the rest of it spoke deeply to me. Thank you.

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