There was a man. He liked rocks. He was walking. He saw a big rock. He sat on it and he picked a few pieces. The rock started to roll. He jumped off.
"I am sad," said the man.
"What is wrong?" said another man.
"I made a rock mad," said the man.
"Too bad," said the other man, "Will you be ok?"
"Yes," said the man.
"Have fun!" said the other man, and they played together, so the sad man was happy again and they found another rock. This time he did not pick pieces off the rock.
They lived happily ever after.
- A story written by my young son Shade, who's birthday is today
This past Sunday morning I spoke in front of a large crowd of Christ followers. I spoke of the heart’s desires…life, light, love...and where they each cross with eternity.
Simply put, I spoke of Heaven.
This was part 4 of 6 teachings based on the book Epic by John Eldridge, which is his summary of the "Story of God" found in the Bible.
My son Shade wrote the little story above and gave it to his mother and me a couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, and for no particular reason. When I saw the words, "They lived happily ever after," I asked him if I could read his story on the week that I would speak on the "happily ever after" found in Scripture...Heaven.
He said yes.
So this past Sunday morning, as my friend Doyle led our church in lively song about Heaven, I sat next to my son with my little Bible in hand, and his little story-page tucked in it. Shade saw it.
"Is today the day you're reading my story?" Shade asked. I told him it was.
He said that was cool, and then sat for a while as we sang, with a somewhat distant look. After a few minutes, he grabbed my Bible and pulled the story-page out. He looked up at me and boldly said, "I wanna read it to ‘em."
I'm sad to report that the words "Are you sure? In front of everyone?" leapt out of my mouth before I realized how discouraging they sounded. As unintentional as it was, I was highlighting the fear in his idea more than the courage.
"Yes," he said, with a tone and downcast eyes that betrayed that my words had shaken him. I tried to recover with the excitement that I was really feeling about the idea…
Pause. A few days ago as I was reading something, Shade came to me with seriousness in his eyes. "Dad?" he said to me, "I think I'm supposed to tell stories to people. How can I get started doing that?"
He already had some ideas: "Mom's about to start teaching Callie's class, maybe I could help her if she needed it. I could tell some stories, you know, from my life and stuff that would teach the kids about how to treat people. Or I could tell that story about you and Kenneth* (*I’m working on a post with that one) that you told." I couldn't have been more excited. When he saw my approval, he added, "Maybe I can help you sometimes when you're tellin' stories at church." I told him that would be a great idea.
Little did I know that in that pew this past Sunday morning, without any help from me, mind you, he was seeing an opportunity tucked in the pages of my Bible. His young heart was putting this moment together with what he had already identified as something he is “supposed” to do…and all on his own he reached for it. That little bit of silence between his noticing that I was using his story and his asking to be the one to tell it contained that all-too-familiar struggle of the heart between fear and courage. And isn’t that the struggle that always comes when the opportunity of doing what we feel called to do presents itself?
Back in the church pew, now, Shade's whole demeanor had changed because of what he had volunteered for. “How long?” he kept asking, nervously. As a preacher, I know the anxiety of which he speaks. And since I was in my own little weekly anxious world, I was little more help to him than to say, "In a minute! Shhh!"
Shortly before time for me to head up to the microphone, Shade grabbed my Bible again. He folded up his story-paper and put it back into the pages and set the closed Book down next to me. I leaned over to him, "Have you changed your mind?"
"I really want to do it, but I'm afraid. You just do it," Shade said. This time, his head-hanging was betraying the decision not to do it. He wanted to.
We were in the final approach. Doyle was worshipping through the song that also served as my cue. I knew that I was just about to need to go, but I finally tuned in completely to my boy's heart, and helped him delay the decision.
"Okay, buddy. Listen. I'm going to speak a little bit, and then pray. Right after I pray, I'm planning on reading your story. When I finish praying, as I'm introducing your story, I'll look at you. If you shake your head no, I'll read it. But if you nod yes, I'll call you up. Okay?"
He seemed relieved to have a little more time to decide (aren't we all?). But also relieved that there was a deadline, a time when he had to decide, and his dilemma would be over, one way or the other, and in the past (we often need that too, don't we?).
I added that he can be proud either way...that he is telling a story be it through his written or spoken words (That was my way of saying, "Be at peace, son. You are free. And you are already victorious. And I'm already proud of you”). I then did for him what he and all my kids do for me every week...I prayed in his ear for him and his "sermon".
So, I got up there, made some introductory remarks, and then bowed to pray.
I can only imagine what was going on in my son's head down there on that pew as I prayed. He knew that I would look at him right when it was over...that it would be decision time…the moment of truth.
I wonder how loudly the fear was speaking? You don't have to do this, Shade. You already wrote the story. It's enough for you to have it read by him. Just say no and the fear and nervousness is gone. No one will ever know the difference.
I wonder how loudly the courage was speaking? You don't have to do this, Shade, you get to. You already have identified a sense of desire for telling stories. You've already asked the really good question of how to go about getting started on that. Here it is before you. Right here. Right now. Don't be afraid. Just say yes. Walk into it.
I raised my head from the prayer, unfolded the notebook paper, and spoke the words "My son wrote a story..." as I looked over to my left to see the nodding head of my courageous son.
And with a secret, fatherly pride in my heart, I gladly continued my sentence with, "...a story that he is going to come up and read for you."
Afterwards, I went on making the points I wanted to make that related to the lesson, but I might as well have went on home. This was enough for me today. More than enough. A taste, methinks, of the very subject I was speaking of…Heaven.
The church family, loving family that they are to me and my family, applauded my son as he finished and sat down. I love them for that. For doing out loud what I was doing inside. Thanks to all of you who are reading this...for that.
At lunch, I spoke to my wife across the table within earshot of Shade. "Hey Babe, wasn't that awesome how Shade read his story this morning?"
"It was way awesome. And it was such a great story. I'm so proud of him for being so brave," she responded.
"Through the dark mountains," Shade interrupted.
He had my undivided attention. "'Through the dark mountains'?” I asked. “What do you mean by 'through the dark mountains'?"
You and I both know what he meant. He used his words, but he went on to explain the “dark mountains” of fear. The dark mountains beyond which are our truest heart’s desires…life, light, and love. They are the dark mountains that all must go through if they intend faithfulness to a calling. They are the dark mountains that are only conquered by walking courageously into your fears...like Shade did that morning. And I might add that it is a particularly special sort of courage at work when you have the option not to go, but go still.
As it turns out, Shade had read a story at school that had captured this simple, but deep, quandary common to us all. He had an image and a vocabulary with which to explain the feelings he was feeling, the battle he was inwardly fighting, and the opposition that stood between him and the life that his heart is longing for.
And this past Sunday morning, he went walked into them. The result? Yes, there was applause, affirmation, encouragement, approval, and even usefulness. And those are all great rewards when we go through the dark mountains, but beyond all that is the even sweeter satisfaction of knowing there is life on the other side of them. I'm not speaking of survival here. Mere survival is available on this side of the dark mountains. But life...life to the full...life that brings joy and satisfaction and adventure...that is only available for those precious few who go through.
Through the Dark Mountains.
Happy Birthday, Buddy!