The roads going home from those woods wound deep beneath the tires and the tears on my face were making tracks of their own.
I may have over-watered the pepper plants three days ago that I promised our older three I would keep alive, but I put them back in the garden window where the sun shines strongest…
they may perk back up.
It’s been thirteen years since I said yes to that job – the one I accepted for all the wrong reasons. But you know that by now. You know that I only said yes because I knew that you would be there too, and despite my resolve of just being your friend, you had captured me all the way down to my broken and beat-up heart.
I look back at the two of us in my mind – under that dark prairie sky and I wonder: Two college kids tentatively moving towards the other while balancing school work and youth ministry and was there an inkling – the tiniest bit of one – at what was ahead?
I find it hard to look back and pinpoint what it was about you that captured me so. I find it hard to separate what i know now from what I just dreamed about then, but if there was one thing that bridges my now to my then it is this:
You have a strength that is gentle and good.
I used to think it was your humor – the way you could capture a group and have them laughing at some outlandish thing. Or the confidence that exuded from you – the way you stepped in front of my fears and gave me sure and strong footsteps to follow. It’s always been the look of your face, the broadness of your shoulders, the arms that hold me close – all of these, deepening and maturing through the years, but it’s the strength tempered with the fierce gentleness that draws out the deep places in others.
And you take this job because God burned in your heart and you are white and you are 38 and you don’t speak any Spanish beyond the basics, but God burns and you have Him and so you go down across the tracks because He leads you there.
And you let me come with you. You invite me in to this sacred space.
Those red-brick walls, that cracked sidewalk, those pillars on either side of those stairs – that ground is holy ground and God is there and Tony?
I never knew you could love so deeply.
Oh, I knew you could love me,
could love our four…
But when your dad died, when my family fell apart, when I fought His plan with everything in me, we both began to protect our hearts from the outside in and those years when grief was fresh? We fought to even breathe.
I’ve known that healing has crept in for a while now, that what encased your heart and mine has cracked free and somehow these hearts of ours have grown bigger, beat harder, burn with a passion for Jesus and for those kids that filled that lodge this week.
And I struggle to get out these words because they are swelling up my heart that used to be so shriveled-small, but they’ve been swirling in my chest since i watched you this morning and you have to know how proud I am of the man that you are.
I didn’t know that you could love so deeply.
I didn’t know that when you took this job, that it could make you even better then who you already were. I couldn’t know that when you turned at me during that annual meeting and gave me that look that God would be using you to change the both of us completely.
I didn’t know that our hearts, already full with love for our four could be busted wide open, but not broken, and filled with such love for a bunch of kids who feel like family and home.
I didn’t know the passion that would fill both of us for the lost and the forgotten – the ones that society withholds time from and throws “why bother?” at instead.
I didn’t know how your heart would remain so unsettled until you followed His leading and kept seeking out the one that didn’t want to be found.
Can I say to the deep-soul places in you, that I think if your dad could have seen you today – could have stood in the back with me and watched you speak life and hope and the love of Jesus into each volunteer and staff member today that he would have nearly busted open with pride over his son.
You miss him. I know that has weighed heavily on you this week. But Tony? Your Heavenly Father was standing right there, right there with you pouring His love into your heart that still breaks over your loss. And all those broken heart-places? They let His Love spill His glory all over that room, over each person sitting there.
God was in that space this morning – the Holy Spirit was moving in that place and when I think back to those two college kids, trying to navigate through the small beginnings of is it worth the risk?
I want to shout across the years at them, Yes!!! But don’t wait so long! Don’t wait until crisis shatters the numbness that comfort and ease brings.
I want them to know that life will wind unexpected and the loss and the shock will feel like they will kill you, but that God is good, all of the time…in the good moments yes, but more importantly in the worst of those moments.
But then I remember, you’ve been whispering that to me all along, because your strength knows its Source and your heart belongs to Jesus and loving you has made my world so much larger.
I love you, my Tony.