37 Days

Starting today

I’m older than my father.

Yesterday I was as old

As he was when he climbed a mountain

All the way to heaven

And never came home.

It was 37 days before his birthday

And he didn’t want to see it.

He wanted to stay the age that

People say is the answer to life

Yet, my father had no answers.

He only had questions, and that

Didn’t seem to be enough for 42 years.

Legacy of a Mountain Climber

She was a girl with a mountain to climb.

-Markus Zusak


My daddy taught me to climb mountains. I was born in Texas while Dad was in the Army, but as soon as his time was served, he headed straight back for the mountains. I really can’t blame him. He was raised in Detroit, moved to the mountains when he was 10, and then he found himself in the desert for years. Once his time in the desert was finished, it was logical to go back to the mountains. It’s even biblical. There are a lot of verses in the Bible talking about fleeing to the mountains. Growing up I thought of the mountains as comfort, like the topographical macaroni and cheese. This week my daddy, the mountain climber, would have been 61.

When I went to visit my grandparents, and it didn’t matter which ones, we headed for the mountains. One lived nearby in the heart of a region that is known for sweeping rivers, wildflowers, and fly-fishing. There I learned to pick the sassafras leaves off the tree and smell them, and I ran through the sprinkler while the train whistled as it came around the mountain down the bend in the road. I learned about snakes and owls. My granddaddy would play the guitar as my granny rocked me to sleep. My dad’s parents were a state away. Our extended family settled in the mountains so high I got car sick each time we traveled there. In those mountains I learned to dance in the rain, caught my first fish, learned to snap green beans, and climbed the crab apple trees. Mountains were my friends.

My family could always see the mountains in the distance. We could visit the mountain and live in the valley in the shadow of the mountains. My father took us on afternoon drives for most of my childhood right up until the day mountains started having a completely different meaning to me. I always loved the part of the mountains where we reached the end of a wall of mountains on each side and the blue sky opened up. We spent our weekends on walking trails hiking to waterfalls with various friends, seeing creatures in the woods, and being taught to leave nature where it was. Flowers were there for everyone. There, the rocks were made for skipping. Life was tangibly more abundant there in the mountains.

The day my father ended his life it was at the top of one of his beloved mountains. That was the first day I thought of mountains as something huge to get over. My playground was now a graveyard. I had to find a way to sort all the wonderful memories I had in those mountains that were now mingled with the pain on the worst day of my life. I swore I’d never drive past that place again. Then I moved to the mountains. I had to drive past that mountain each time I came home for the holidays. When your mountain is visible, it makes for a much harder journey to get around it.

When you are raised climbing mountains, it makes it harder to identify mountains that are problems. If you like challenges, you might not notice your mountain until it starts to feel like a desert. Once I lived through losing my father, all other mountains seemed like hills. I eventually came upon a time in my life it was clear I was in the desert. This was a totally different kind of mountain. Desert air sucks the life out of you. It demands your attention. It gives no mercy. Deserts are not known for their mercy to life. Deserts are…well, deserts.

You never really consider life in the desert. Everyone knows cacti live there, but if someone had told me to name desert animals I’d likely have said, “tumbleweed?” I started understanding why a cactus is prickly. I was pretty prickly myself. I started to feel forgotten by the God that I knew made all my beloved mountains. I started praying that God would move a very specific mountain. I was working three jobs while battling this mountain, and one day I was sitting praying watching the front door of a retail establishment, and it hit me. The store I worked had “mountain outfitters” in the name. God had somehow placed me smack in the middle of the biggest clue that sometimes He moves the mountain, but some mountains are meant to be climbed.

While in my metaphorical desert, I did a little research. There is a rain shadow effect that happens in some areas that cause little water to get to an area because of…you guessed it, a MOUNTAIN. In the rain shadow effect, water comes up with wind up one side of the mountain, and moist air rises. By the time it gets to the top, the moisture is gone. The other side of the mountain has a rain shadow effect that causes desert like conditions.

     Something I never considered was even though the rain was not reaching my desert, I was being sheltered from the wind by being on the other side of the mountain. But things still grow in the desert, and I was no different. In a rain shadow effect, it still rains, and when it does, the desert the next day is abloom. The plants there have just enough rain to live until the next rain. Sometimes that is how we live in the desert. We just have to get the rain when we can, and somehow it is enough until the next rainfall.

Even though I no longer am in my “desert”, I still have a few mountains. I have decided that some of them will not be moving, and one day I will be prepared for the hike to get to the top of them. I am grateful for the legacy of mountains my father left to me. I don’t have to hike the mountains alone. Just like God provides rain to a desert in need, He has not failed to provide exactly whatever and whomever I need in my life through each mountain, valley, and even desert. Mountains are inevitable. I’m glad my daddy knew the way to the top.

Love Without Fences

  The world tells us a lot of things about love. It tells us that it makes the world go round, is a many splendored thing, means never having to say you’re sorry, conquers all, and is blind. As we all know, most of that is not even close to being true. It doesn’t even matter what kind of love we are talking about. Whether we are talking about love for our parents, love for our children, or love for our partners, or even the many other kinds of love we file under that four letter word, we can surmise it’s a lot more complicated than the trite sayings the media throws at us. I’ve come to the realization that there are two very specific kinds of love. There are people that love you with fences and those that love you without fences.

All of us know that a fence is a divider. It can designate property lines. It can create a barrier between two things. It keeps something separate. Fences can avoid giving direct access to something. We can even tell people they are on the fence. More importantly than whether a fence is pretty or ugly, above or below ground, or made of material that one of the three little pigs would have used is that the fence exists. In order for a fence to exist, someone had to build it. I’ve discovered that when people claim they love people it is too often that their love includes a fence preinstalled.

A fence can be something as simple as expectations given to someone without their knowledge. It can be a test with no rubric that a loved one has no choice but to fail since they didn’t know what was on the test. It might be something they have made up in their mind about you that may or may not be true about you. A fence could be a box they have put you in inside their brain. In my personal life many fences were placed emotionally both for my protection, as well as other people’s protection. What a fence really adds up to in a relationship is conditional love. I will love you when, I will love you if, and I will love you if you don’t – those are all conditional love. Perhaps those exact words aren’t spoken, but implied.

When I first had my daughter I realized quickly that a parent’s love is different from any love I had ever experienced. If someone had told me the moment that she was born that she was going to grow into something disappointing to me I would still love her just as much. In the almost 13 years since then I can still say the same. My child might disappoint me sometimes in her choices, but my love today for her is 13 years larger than when she came into the world and I held her for the first time. That was the first time I think I ever understood love without fences.

Because of this, my view of love changed entirely. I began understanding about this reckless form of love that is all encompassing. It is consuming. It is combustable. It can cause arguments because of the deep level of caring, but those are solved by remembering who that person is to you. Love with wide open spaces to roam is beautiful. That kind of love is the only kind of love that has no boundaries. When you place a fence, you limit love.

Is this kind of scary? Absolutely, it is terrifying. You could lose everything in this kind of relentless, reckless love. You can even lose yourself. This is the kind of love that you want to never stop giving more of it. You wish you could paint a picture of it and use the whole box of crayons. It’s what makes you look at a photo and cry. It’s what changes the way you see a sunset or a sunrise. It makes you fear death. It makes you value life. Love without fences puts beauty in the world that held nothing for you before. It’s honest, wholesome, art, and it can cut you like a knife at a moment’s notice.

It’s a safer world when you love with a fence up. Once I loved my brother with a fence up. He is gay, and we were raised in the South where people tolerate a lot of things with a “bless your heart,” when they really aren’t meaning anything but “glad it’s not me.” My brother is amazing. I never saw him as gay growing up. That was a label and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to label him as anything but awesome. We built forts together out of pilfered landscaping beams,and we tried to swing all the way around the swing set. We listened to New Kids on the Block and Poison in the front yard while took turns on the tire swing. My brother was not just my brother. My brother was my friend. Then we grew up. People placed labels on him and all of a sudden I had a fence between us. I didn’t understand the fence, want the fence, or even like the fence. It took me a decade to tear the fence down. One day I realized sometimes the best gift we can give someone is to let them be who they are and not just the parts we agree with or understand. I don’t have to understand someone to love them.

Something funny happened when I tore the fence down. I got my brother back. I got my funny, amazing sense of humor, kindest person on the planet but WILL kick your butt if you are mean to me brother back. I will never put the fence up again. See, this love with no fences is hard at first, but once you do it, it’s addictive. You want to let everyone be themselves. You start finding things in people you never dreamed were there. If we only loved people for the parts of ourselves we see in them, then that isn’t really love, is it? That’s just you seeing yourself and putting your stamp of approval on it. You put the heart in your relationship with people when you remove your boundaries. You are free to love with all your heart because there is a heart. What people forget is you aren’t going to change a person just because you disagree with them or don’t understand their viewpoint. You will only hurt them, and hurt the relationship. Giving someone permission to be themselves is not just a plain gift, it’s a “tucked behind the Christmas tree, biggest bow you’ve ever seen, beautifully wrapped gift when you think you’ve opened your last one” gift.

I have had friendships and a marriage where boundaries were placed for me. The typical response once a boundary is placed on someone is they place a boundary too. Because if you aren’t willing to be relentless and reckless with love, they won’t either. They won’t assume risks for you, and they won’t ever have the relationship with you that you could have if you’d just let go and love. Boundaries create more boundaries. Wars are fought over boundaries in relationships, just as they are among countries.

My hope for everyone is they can find people to love that love them in the stupid, careless, amazing way that we can love without a fence. I know some of the best times I ever had were the times I erased the line between good and bad, right and wrong, and just was a human with another human. Mistakes will be made, but when you love with no holds barred, rest assured that love will come back around to you and you won’t be sorry you made the choice. Fences might multiply, but so does a love with no boundaries.