I could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of someone behind me. I turned to offer a courtesy nod to the passing hiker. A trim, perfectly coiffed blond smiled. Nodding at my four children ahead and my littlest one in tow, she exclaimed, “Wow! Are all these children yours?”
“Yes,” I smiled — used to the question by now. “They sure are.”
“My goodness! Do you all come here often?”
“No, but today is a special day,” spilled out.
Her inquisitive look begged a more thorough response.
I sighed. I wrestled. I gulped. I chose honesty. “Our son passed away nine years ago,” I said of our beautiful boy, Leyton. “On this day, we try to do something he might have enjoyed.” I smiled again trying to ease the discomfort of an awkward topic.
A terrified, familiar look crossed her face. “I’m sorry for your loss.” Just as abruptly, her face brightened to forced cheerfulness and she motioned towards our crew, “Well, it looks like you more than made up for it.”
Though not a newly expressed sentiment, it’s one that still stings. I hope it always will.
“Thank you,” I said, opting for as much grace as I could muster. “They are all so unique and each such a blessing.” I tousled my 2-year old’s chestnut hair. My Annie’s face glowed in the amber light of the sunset.
And off our fellow hiker hiked.
What remained was a subtle lie. My 11-year old was quick to spot it. “Mom, is it true that Annie makes up for Leyton being gone?”
Her question struck to the heart of her own identity. “Can I be easily replaced? Does it matter that I am here. Am I just another warm body on this earth?”
I attacked the lie like a pit-bull after meat. God saw us and knit our bodies together in the womb. He knows when we sit, stand up, and lie down. He even knows the words on our tongues before we say them. He counts every hair on our head and every heartache we feel. Far from being replaceable entities that fill another’s perception of a desirable quota, we are personally beloved, individually bought with a price, always seen and engraved on the palm of His hands.
How can we believe otherwise when He has sent His own son to rescue us from sin and destruction — including the destruction of such penetrating lies?
I breathed in the truth with the mountain air and breathed out, “We know and believe the truth no matter what the rest of the world thinks. Right, sweetheart?”
We continued crunch, crunch, crunching along the red, gravel trail.
Not too much further came a young couple with their dog. Very fit and intent on keeping their pace. They barely looked up. When they did, they didn’t attempt to hide a smirk. You know. The kind you often see when you dare bring a child into an upscale coffee establishment where everyone is professionally, frenetically working away (Nothing against coffee establishments or frenetically working, mind you.). A look flavored with a shot of pure annoyance.
Their message was loud and clear. “Don’t bother us. Don’t get in our way.”
The world often labels our presence and certainly our struggles a source of irritation. But Scripture continuously speaks of a God who counts both an opportunity for a closer relationship.
As the last slivers of gold sunk behind the mountain crest, a bicyclist flew by. His speed was impressive. So was his sweat. I’m not even sure he saw us. The obvious comparison illustrating a world racing past both our significance and our need.
And yet, Jesus beckons. “Come to me. Be with me. I will give you rest. I will heal your wounds. I will delight in you. I will tell you who you really are.”
Our identity can only survive the lies of this world when it rests firmly upon the blood-bought truth of another one. Truth we must believe and live for ourselves. Truth we must teach and model for our children.
I love what priest and author Henri Nouwen wrote, “The truth is that God loves us, has loved us from all eternity and holds us safe. God has molded us in the depths of the earth, has knitted us together in our mother’s womb, and we really belong in God’s arms. In that embrace, we can hear again and again, ‘You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son. You are my beloved child.'”
Wonderful truths that melted into reality when we finished our hike and arrived at our favorite ice cream shop. There, waiting for a vanilla cone, was the gentle, kind face of a man with Down syndrome.
Unspeakable, pure, one-of-a-kind beauty at the end of the day’s road.