January 6, 2019
I share the last post of a blogging era in which I published on average once a week for seven years. I tell you I’m scaling back because it is time to write a little bit less about my family and to live a little more within it. This is me hanging my ambition—which is to say my ego, in its most benign form—up on a cross.
While we are living, we have a thousand chances to die.
A Friday evening before Valentine’s Day, and another Daddy-Daughter Dance. A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about the whole experience. In other words, while I was dancing with my daughter, my mind was dancing with ideas. This year, we don’t dance very much because we spend most of the evening bouncing balloons around the gym. This year, my thoughts don’t bounce around with the balloons. I am truly with my daughter, rather than my ideas.
Every death already has, within it, the seed of a resurrection.
A speaking event is cancelled because of low registration, and I discover my ambition, my ego, has not died completely upon that January cross, because something truly dead cannot feel newly wounded.
A second speaking event is cancelled due to low registration.
One thousand chances to die.
We find out my eldest son Aidan has been cast as one of the leads in his first high school spring musical, as a freshman. In the space of one week, two small stages had been taken from me. Now, a big stage has been given to him.
The blessed ebb and flow of death and resurrection.
Aidan texts me: the musical has been scheduled for April 26-28, the weekend I’m hosting a Loveable Retreat in Utah. My heart doesn’t sink, it implodes. I consider missing his high school debut. Then I try to figure out how to bend time and space so I can do both. For a while, I refuse to admit to myself that I’m human and can’t be in two places at once. My ambition has climbed off its cross and is raging against the dying of its dangerous light. Finally, over four long days, I hang it back up there again. I postpone the weekend until October.
Our physical death is rarely up to us; almost every other death is a choice.
One morning, while contemplating my suddenly empty calendar, resurrection happens. It’s been exactly two months since I announced I want to be right here with my family, a witness to this life we are traveling through together. And suddenly it dawns upon me: through no doing of my own, I’ve gotten exactly what I hoped for. Sometimes resurrection isn’t a new way of living.
Sometimes resurrection is simply a new way of seeing.
I pull off the bike path because it’s getting hard to see through the tears.
I’m on a writing retreat and taking an afternoon for exercise, listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for the first time. In other words, I’m listening to a story about a man’s ambition, which culminated in the tragic death of his beloved son, the unimaginable which finally brought him to his knees. Not totally comprehending the anguish I’m feeling as I listen, I pull over and let myself feel it, until I understand.
It’s my ambition dying a little more.
It’s me wondering, what is it doing to take to let go of all your grand plans and great aspirations? What is it going to take for you to finally and fully embrace these ordinary moments with your children and your wife as the whole point of the whole thing? Is it going to take something unimaginable for you too? And wouldn’t it be lovely if you could surrender to the grace of it all without first being brought to your knees by loss and reckoning?
One thousand chances to die.
But sometimes, one death more painful than the others.
Springtime is in full bloom on Aidan’s opening night.
We are front and center for it. He is not in the first scene, or the second. Then, suddenly, he is there. His voice is strong and rich and it reaches the back rows far behind us and he hits a note with so much power his mother gasps and grabs my leg. We were supposed to be in Utah. I actually considered missing this. Had I done so, I’d never have known what I was missing. Now I know, and the death from two months earlier is fully overcome. The stone is rolled away. No tomb can contain it.
I got to be Dad. I got to be around.
The day dawns cold and gray. On the doorstep of May, temperatures plunge below freezing. A frigid drizzle morphs into snow. Soccer games are cancelled. Springtime is pushed back into a tomb of its own. We hunker down. So does everyone else. Attendance is down for the second night of Aidan’s play because the roads are bad and it’s too late in the season to think about salting them. Death and resurrection and death again.
One thousand times.
The cold mist of springtime has persisted through another week of youth soccer. More practices cancelled. More games postponed. Finally, on a damp, gray Friday evening, the games go on as scheduled. The field is mostly mud and slop, but the kids play their hearts out and slowly, oh so slowly, the creation around us begins to honor their effort.
The rain slowly recedes.
On the western horizon, the setting sun drops below the cloud line and light blankets the fields for the first time in days. It illuminates budding trees on the eastern horizon, and it mingles with the moisture in the air. A rainbow appears, arching its promise above the soccer fields as Quinn, covered in mud and sweat, makes his way to the parking lot. Weeks of darkness followed by a splintered light.
The next day dawns warm and clear for the fourth annual running of a family 5k. It will benefit struggling families and kids with disabilities. Those who can run, run. Those who can only cheer, cheer.
Snow comes and goes. Warmth comes and goes. Ego comes and goes. Ambition comes and goes. Happiness comes and goes. Health comes and goes. Everything comes and goes and comes again.
Death and resurrection, one thousand times.
It’s the way the whole thing works and surrendering to the truth of this is the only kind of hope that does not come and go. With this kind of faith, we can begin to find the promise of resurrection in every death, and the promise is this:
One thousand chances to die,
but always, always,
one-thousand-and-one chances for resurrection.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable, and his next book, True Companions, will be published in 2021.