Sitting thirty-five feet off the snowy ground with the kindergarten version of my son, John Harry, I found myself comparing and contrasting the vacation we had taken just a year earlier in Disneyworld. All the rides on that vacation required passengers to be buckled and latched before any movement took place. Each and every Disney experience came with an implicit promise to keep my kids safe. A year later, on the ski slopes of a very high mountain in Colorado, no straps, no latches, and no promises were made that my kids would be okay. Earlier in the week, Annalise and John Harry graduated to chair lifts from tow-ropes, from bunny hills to mountain slopes. My anxiety levels scaled the mountains along with my children. As a way of calming myself, I kept reciting a line from an Easter Psalm: “You will show me the path of life, and guide me to joy forever.” Whenever I would picture the worst-case-scenario, externally I would shout out a safety directive to the kids while internally I would be breathing in and out: “You will show me the path of life….”
I can recall my feeling of exhilaration at 4:45p.m. Wednesday evening when I realized that this was the last run of the day, and everyone was safe and sound. My kids had conquered a difficult skill, and I kept them quarantined from my own fear that kept me from doing cool things like this when I was their age. I caught myself actually singing my mountain theme song out loud in gratitude and triumph as we ascended the mountain for the last run (You will show me the path of life…”).
On that final run, in an attempt to keep up with his cousins, John Harry (who is fifteen now, but was five-years-old then), went out of control and hit a snow bank. His skis failed to release, which caused his shinbone to snap like a green branch.
One rescue toboggan, two ambulance rides, one full-leg cast, twenty-four hours in Denver’s Children’s Hospital, and untold number of card games later, the line from that Easter psalm somehow popped into my head. During one of my son’s pain-medication-induced naps, I found myself shaking my fist at God, and throwing the line from my psalm in His face. “Some path of life you’ve shown my son!” But then, over the course of the week, I slowly began to reflect that perhaps this song was given to me, not so much as a promise that no one would come to harm. It occurred to me that “the path of life” was all about walking with my son through this difficult circumstance to find the gifts in it. The question that began to show up around our house over and over again was this, “How can this be the best accident that ever happened to us?”
When John Harry was bummed out that he could not play baseball with his friends in a full leg cast, we signed up for a math program that involved competing with himself to gain speed and accuracy in math drills. Years later, as John Harry completes his Freshman year, I am able to appreciate how the path of life took some unexpected twists. This year, my son, who developed a love for math all of those years ago, was able to enjoy the challenge and honor of taking an accelerated math class. He thrived in it.
When his full-length cast was shortened to a walking cast, he was invited to his first baseball practice. At first, he stood with his walker looking like somebody let the air out of his emotional balloon. I asked him if he could focus on what it is he could do rather than on what his leg would not allow him to do. His face got that, “I have an idea!” look. “I can play catcher!” When he got the nod, he turned to me and asked the question that gave me the opportunity to knock one out of the park.
“With my bad leg, I might miss a lot of pitches,” he said, “Daddy, will you back me up?” I turned to him and said, “Yes son, I’ll back you up!” A moment passed and I added, “Son, I’ll always back you up.”
A broken leg taught my son important lessons about determination. His bone wasn’t the only thing that got stronger. A nine-year-old sister, who frequently enjoyed tormenting her younger brother, regularly volunteered to assist him. The time helping our son slowed our family down and caused more than a shinbone to get stronger. Our relationships solidified through this accident.
In retrospect, I realize that the question, “How can this be the best accident that ever happened to us?” is a peculiarly Pentecost kind of question. The Feast of Pentecost carries a conviction with it. The Spirit of God is shot through everything. In each moment we can ask a Pentecost question, “How is the Kingdom of God trying to show up in this moment?” “What gift is God trying to give me here and now?” “How can this be the best problem I ever had?”
I know that God doesn’t cause little boys to break their bones anymore than God causes people to get cancer or fall off ladders, or have heart attacks. But what I am learning is that God’s Spirit is always there to back us up and help us retrieve the gifts available just below the surface of even the most broken of things.