Celebrating 27 years

Celebrating 27 years


We're on a night train to Paris – a marathon journey that starts in Venice, the City of Bridges, stops at a handful of Italian centers – Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Milan – before heading into the Alps and ending, almost 14 hours later, in the heart of Paris, the City of Lights.

Our 12 days in Italy have been amazing – from the spectacular coastline of southern Italy, to the lush vineyards of Tuscany, to the magic of Venice's canals and gondoliers.

Best of all, Cheryl and I celebrated 27 years of marriage today. We began with breakfast on the Grand Canal of Venice and finished in a dining car somewhere between Padua and Milan. In between, we threaded through a maze of Venetian streets and wandered in and out of shops of handcrafted glassworks and Italian leather and silk.

I'm a blessed man, to walk with Cheryl by my side these past three decades – it's been that long if you count our courtship. Every year gets better – we get more playful, more thoughtful, less reactive. We value the other more deeply. I think we are more hopeful. We've been through a lot – glories and messes, breakthroughs and let downs, tragedies and windfalls. Such things either season you or shrivel you. Mostly, I'd say, it's seasoned us.

It's not that we don't have our episodes – crankiness, testiness, wondering when this person will finally fully get with the program. But those moments get further apart and shorter in duration. And what more and more rises to the surface is deep abiding thankfulness, to God and for each other.

I'm on a night train to Paris, and think I'm the luckiest man alive.

To the lady of my life, all my love, always.



A Wave I’d like to Catch


I'm reading about waves. 
I brought along on my sabbatical Susan Casey's book The Wave, her sweeping and riveting account of mammoth waves from Tahiti to northern Scotland, from Hawaii to Alaska, From Cape Town to Lisbon, and her collage of portraits of the scientists who study them, the underwriters who insure against them, and above all the half-mad adventurers called big-wave surfers who chase them around the globe to fling themselves headlong into their wild unforgiving hearts. I had, last year, read Casey's The Devil's Teeth, her equally riveting account of the great white sharks off California's Farallon Islands, and found it wondrous and terrifying enough to pick up her most recent volume. I'm not disappointed.
I never knew there was so much to know about bumps in the water – or how big those bumps can get (in 1958, in Lituya Bay, Alaska, a wave roused up by a massive earthquake which set off a massive landslide rose to an astonishing 1,740 feet; as astonishing, four of the people on two of the three small fishing vessels harbored in the bay lived to tell the tale). 
All of it makes for a compelling read – a kind of whodunit joined to an espionage thriller joined to a life-at-the-edge dispatch. What I find most gripping – it's the story Casey keeps circling back to – are the portraits of the big-wave surfers. These are not the stereotypical air-head party-boys often associated with the ilk. Off the water, they are philosopher-poets of the mysteries of storm and ocean. But on the water, they are aquatic daredevils. Tsunami warriors. They are men (and a few women) who run for the sea when all others are running from it. They are those for whom the pulsing magenta blob in the centre of a storm reading is good news of great joy: it means somewhere, soon, monster waves 60, 70, 80 feet at their crest will crash on some breakwater, and if they fly through the night and care nothing about sleep, they might just be there to meet it and ride it. 
This is the story, really, of a small band of death-defiers who play at the edge of destruction. They spare no expense. They fly in the face of terror. They risk life and limb. It would be easy to dismiss it all as juvenile testosterone-fueled frivolity, except it is so downright awe-inspiring. 
Frankly, it's convicting. I would love to think I have given myself this unreservedly to the cause of the gospel, but really? I can get put off by the smallest obstacle, intimidated by the least resistance. My heart can quaver at the first sign of disturbance. But to actually see the worst the devil or the earth can throw at you, to actually go looking for it, and then to aim straight for it? 
It's a wave I'd love to catch.

Because You Say So

Sometimes the only motivation for doing anything is that Jesus says so. Otherwise, we’re bankrupt. We simply can’t muster up the vision or energy to try one more time, to care for one more second. The only resolve we can make is to quit. In our eyes, this thing – this ministry, this marriage, this family, this friendship, this job – has come to a shuddering halt. It is over. It is dead. It is a black hole. All our efforts to change it have failed.

It’s those times when all that can keep us keeping on is that Jesus says so.

Luke records this encounter:

Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:4-5).

But because you say so. That moment can stand for so many of our own: Master, I’ve worked hard all night, all week, all year, all this decade, and haven’t caught a thing. I’ve accomplished zip. My spouse is still unkind. My finances are still a mess. My friendships are still shallow. My faith is still flimsy. My sobriety is still sketchy.

Master, this isn’t working.

And everything in us wants to walk away.

Except Jesus standing there, looking at us with those eyes. And he says, “Try one more time.”

Weariness floods us. Frustration grips us. Anger overwhelms us. Instantly in our mind, rising quickly to our lips, is bitter complaint: “Are you kidding? Do you know how hard I’ve tried? Why would you treat me this way? Why would you even ask?”

But he just keeps standing there, looking.

“Alright. Alright. Okay. This is useless. This is futile. But because you say so, I will.”

You know how this story goes: suddenly, the effort is not futile. At long last, and all at once, letting down the nets accomplishes what it’s supposed to. Effort produces results, abundantly:

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.

So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink (Luke 5:6-7)

Now they’ve got good problems to deal with – breaking nets, sinking boats, more work to do than hands to help; success has its own set of complications.

But they’d never have experienced that success except, against all instinct, they did what Jesus said.

Have you given up on something? Maybe you’ve invested heroic, repeated effort, but have nothing to show for it. Does the thought of trying again fill you with weariness? Does it just seem easier to admit defeat and move on?

But what if Jesus is asking you to try again? Try to make this marriage work one more time. Try to reconcile with your father one more time. Try to connect with your daughter one more time. Try trusting one more time. Try forgiving one more time?

Because he says so, will you? What if this is the time the nets actually fill?