Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The magnifying glass of youth

Everything seemed more intense when we were young. The joys and highs were so much more extreme and great, the pain and lows seemed like a bottomless pit from which we would never recover.

The excitement of accomplishment; hitting a grand slam, dunking a basketball, catching a big fish or crab. Relationships lifted us to new heights; holding hands and kissing a girl for the first time, writing her name all over my notebook. There was genuine wonder in our life when we looked at the stars, got close to a wild animal or peered over a cliff.

Life was carefree and we felt like everything was going to turn out great. Yes we made mistakes, but we could recover – or so I thought.

I was playing “astronaut” in the backyard with my friend Dante. I had a toy Mercury space capsule that came inside a box of Matey (a kid’s bubble bath that claimed to “soak children clean automatically” through a lethal combination of bubbles and chemicals – which is the subject of an entirely separate blog.)

Anyway, my mom had left the house to pick up some groceries while we were shooting this thing high up into orbit. Flinging it as high as our pre-pubescent bodies would allow, we then employed our highly advanced math calculating abilities to guess where we could catch it for a mid-air recovery before crashing to the ground. We were having a lot of fun with this three-cent toy when the wind carried it onto the roof and it got stuck in the gutter.

Not wanting to stop having so much fun; I was determined to solve this problem. My dad’s ladder was too heavy to move even with Dante’s help, so I came up with a very creative solution. Running into the house and racing upstairs to my room, I slid a chair over to the window and opened it. Carefully unlocking the screen, I slid it up and crawled onto the roof. Moving slowly to the toy capsule, I reached into the gutter and threw it down to Dante. We both breathed a sigh of relief that the toy was recovered safe and sound.

The simple solution would be to crawl back to the window and let myself back in. I knew how to get out so getting back in should be simple. But in a moment of what seemed like clarity at the time, the window option seemed like a lot of trouble while the ground below didn't look all that far away. I mean after all, how much trouble could I get into if I just gradually let myself off the roof and gently landed on the ground?

Dante offered his heartfelt encouragement in this “direct approach” saying that it wasn't all that high to begin with. So, armed with this new found insight I began the process of slipping over the edge of the roof. I put one leg over, then the other while hanging onto the gutter. I was now fully outstretched, dangling in the wind by both hands. Thinking to myself, “See, this wasn't so bad” I let go and dropped ever so gently to the ground. By ever so gently I mean that I fell like a sack of potatoes, a boat anchor, a cinder-block.

My head was spinning and it took a little while for me to come to my senses after impact. I came to realize two very important things while lying on the ground;

First – Looking up, I could see that all the blood had drained out of Dante’s face as he screamed, “What in the world were you thinking?” His face was only a momentary image followed by watching his back as he ran home, thinking that my insanity that drove me to jump off the roof was somehow contagious.

Second – there was a new, searing pain in my right hip that wasn't there a moment ago. I wondered where that had come from as I got up and hobbled into the house. Collapsing into my dad’s TV chair, I stretched out and fell asleep.

I've come to realize that while this was the genesis of my hip problems, it taught me an important life lesson. Yes, this “giant leap for mankind” eventually led to my hip replacement surgery years later. But it was more than that; it was my personal wake-up call that life for people, even for kids like me, included pain.

While I never jumped off a roof again, more pain came flooding into my life. As it came, I went looking for comfort and relief. Finding none, I retreated into myself and built an impenetrable wall. No one was going to hurt me, I wouldn't let them.

Looking back at my childhood pain, I now see that I needed to connect with my creator and God. This is why Jesus said “"Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children" [1].

Jesus reaches out to children even today, wanting them to come. His arms are open wide to comfort, protect and bless. We may think that this is OK for children to reach out to Jesus, but it’s not for us adults. After all, we’re self-sufficient; we can take care of ourselves.

Oh really? Just look at the people all around us, the broken landscape of humanity that cries out in pain from brokenness, fear and loneliness. Perhaps you see this every day in the mirror?

As Jesus calls for little children, he calls for you and me. While a little bit older, we are his children none-the-less. He is the only one that can comfort our hurts and brokenness.

He’s right there beside you. Now is the time to reach out and ask him. We don’t need to jump off a roof to find Jesus.

Blessings – Chet

Chet Gladkowski speaks and writes on topics that touch on culture, life and faith. This article is taken from a chapter in his upcoming book.

[1] Matthew 19:14

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