Expanse II

I have been spending the weekend on the edge of a salt marsh, a tidal inlet from the ocean. It’s a constantly changing ecosystem with the seawater coming and going every moment of the day. It can be entirely filled so that it looks like a lake, or an infinite number of variations of grasses, shrubs, wildlife, and twisting furrows as the water comes and goes. I’ve seen coyotes, a red-tailed hawk, rabbits, geese, ducks.

On Friday night, I took the dogs out before bed, and the sky was crystal clear without a cloud or a moon. It was simply stars. As I gazed up across the marsh, I thought how amazing the view. I felt a sense of welcome and wonder. I took the dogs in, and they curled up into their spots, and I remembered that I had bought some binoculars. I thought they probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference. But what the heck? I’ll just step out the front door and take a peak.

I could not believe it. Honestly, I had never seen anything like that sky before. Where maybe there were 500 stars, I was now seeing 5,000. When I looked at Venus (my iPhone Planets app said that’s what it was), it was almost too bright to look at. Another bright star turned out to be two very close stars. Another bright star wasn’t a star at all because it looked like a galaxy I’ve seen in so many space pictures.

I had a horizon to horizon view. For 30 minutes I just gazed. Until, with the wind and the cold, I had to go back inside. I was unsettled, in a way. And so I sat in front of the fire that was almost out, stirred the remaining embers, and regenerated some flames and sat to take it in. I realized that the fire was a little star in itself. Burning fuel and giving off light and heat. Of course, it was not a star.

I reflected, if we are just on this very little planet compared to that immense night sky and we are the only ones here in the universe, then that is very scary. We are so tiny, and if our planet ceases to exist the universe will not notice. Whole galaxies collide and are destroyed, and the universe continues on. If nothing is binding all the universe together, giving it meaning and sense of order, then all I have is the little fire, my dogs, my wife, my sons, family, friends, work, and some hobbies. And then I will go away, forever, and the universe will not care or acknowledge anything of my brief time here.

As I was about to go to sleep, I went outside for just a minute more. As I looked up, I felt the comfort of my unaided, familiar view of the night sky. Then a quick sweep with the binoculars. I was reminded of a verse from Job of how God “made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south.” I closed my eyes, and I let that sink in. Yes, I am a believer, and yes, God did have a reason for making all of this.

And yes, we are not alone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have immense moments of awe in His presence and His creation. The overwhelming sense at that moment was of His great love for me and His great interest in who I am even in the middle of the immensity of the stars and planets and galaxies around me. The Creator was showing me for the first time His bigger creation. To take it in with humility and to know I am a part of it. To rest in the peace of His beauty and awe.


It’s so rare

I just came back from a meeting of rare disease patients. These are the people who have few treatment options, and who have few medicines and therapies being pursued on their behalf. It’s an incredibly complicated issue, and sometimes when there is a glimmer of hope that something might work, there’s an insurmountable safety issue or the stability of a compound can’t be achieved. In other words, the drug might have some serious side effects, or it can’t be made consistently.

On the last night of the event, there was an art show of paintings by artists who had captured children living with these diseases. This group of artists exists to bring to the world’s attention the suffering and hope of the estimated 350 million people worldwide who have them. Of the 7,000 known diseases, only about 150 have treatments.

One painting caught my attention so firmly. Colorful, of a boy, standing and laughing. It invited me in. And made me feel the wonder of life from the eyes of someone young and seemingly living his life with a degree of joy captured in hues and texture that must have taken weeks to create.

After walking around in the crowded room, I struck up a conversation with a man looking at another painting, and he observed to me its subtle mystery of hope and whimsy. And we talked about the event, and the challenges of living with these rare diseases, our families, and life in general.

At one point, I asked him if he had seen a picture of a laughing boy, and he said that he had. So I shared my thoughts on this work and talked more about how the painting conveyed so much zest and openness. After a few minutes of talking about this picture, the man said, “Thank you.” I said ‘You’re welcome.” He said, “No, you don’t understand, I am the artist, and the boy is over there.”

But the boy was not walking. And he was having a lot of trouble sitting up. But he was laughing. The artist explained that when he painted the picture about six months ago, the boy could stand, but his disease was slowly killing off his white brain cells, and he was gradually slipping away. At age 6, he would not live beyond 10. There is no cure.

There are only 200 known people in the world with this condition. I had the honor of talking with the man who painted life, and I was also honored to see that the boy was surrounded by a loving family who was playing with him, while he laughed, and clapped his hands, and looked with the deepest, most expressive eyes at the world around him. This family loved him unconditionally. As I listened and watched, there wasn’t regret and sadness. There was life and a real presence that the moment was now. Not tomorrow.

I have been reflecting on the age of the universe. It’s 14 billion years old. Galaxies and solar systems formed, stars came to life, planets found their orbits, and life emerged on at least one of these places, and now this moment with the artist and the boy and his family came and went. It was 14 billion years in the making. And I was there.

What an incredibly blessed day I had. In a crowd of hundreds of people, at the right place and time, I encountered creativity and love coming together.

I have been praying that God would make these moments happen more for me. I want to know that His love is real and that there is a hope that is greater and bigger than anything I know. I want to live life in renewed ways and be open to the mystery of a creator, a redeemer and a sustainer who is as concerned with the forming of a planet as he is with a single life in a single moment. It’s a simple prayer. Give me your eyes and ears.