December 23, 2019
This past October found the Watson Six once again on an RV, in search of beauty and adventure. There was plenty of both to be found on the 2-week path we traveled, which took us to places like Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills and Capitol Reef — places which have rightfully earned their fame and which provide equal doses of deep peace and overwhelming splendor.
Even the children were moved by all that peace and splendor, and we don’t take it for granted when our technology-loving boys pause to comment on the beauty of the landscape. They embraced this particular adventure with all the enthusiasm and perspective unique to their own personalities. Will (age 4), was a complete and utter delight, bursting with energy and joy whether we were hiking or visiting with old friends. Until recently, he was a cute but demanding tyrant, bent (apparently) on driving us all bonkers. But he started preschool this fall and I don’t know if his teacher is a miracle-worker or if he’s just developmentally more ready to be pleasant, but he has become a hilarious, sweet kid, whose presence brings far more fun than frustration.
He and Foss (age 7) are becoming more and more attached as partners in crime and sharers of giggles over all things ridiculous. Foss has an artist’s mind, full of lovely, strange, moody ideas, which he expresses by drawing lovely, strange, moody pictures or writing lovely, strange, moody little songs. Throughout our trip he kept asking when he was going to get to climb a mountain, and I’m not sure where this supposed passion for mountain-hiking sprang from, but when we finally went on a somewhat mountain-y hike, he was overjoyed. As we walked, he suddenly noticed our shadows on the path ahead of us. “Mom!” he said. “Do we each have a million shadows, or do we all have just one shadow that follows us everywhere?” These are the kinds of questions that get asked when there’s a Foss around.
Cooper (age 12) is very driven and likes to have a purpose, and he doesn’t waste much time wondering about shadows. He likes to have something to do, and he likes to do it well and quickly. He’s the kind of kid who was made to thrive in a traditional school setting, but this doesn’t mean he’s opposed to leaving that setting in favor of visiting wide open spaces. It just means he’s more of a trailblazer than a stop-to-smell-the-roses type. He’s not unmoved by beauty, though, and on more than one occasion during our travels he could be heard somewhere ahead, hollering over his shoulder, “You guys, it’s so pretty up here!” His opinion is one I find myself trusting more and more.
Kiefer (age 15) is a tall, deep-voiced man-type person, who misses his friends when we drag him across the country in an RV but who also loves his family and is always up for an adventure. He and Cooper are as close as close can be, but Kiefer is also very much his own person, and more than once during our trip he went wandering off on his own mini adventure. One time he left the path we were hiking and shimmied his way up a fissure in some rocks, hoping his path and ours would meet at the top. When he discovered he couldn’t go further and was more than a little stuck, he didn’t panic. He worked his way back down, bit by bit, following the sound of our concerned voices. Even when he lost both his shoes, watching them ricochet down the rocks to a spot far below, he never lost his cool, and he found his way back down to the designated path, dirty and scratched but totally unperturbed. And that’s him. No matter how tricky life gets, he continues on, unperturbed.
Not one single person will be surprised to hear that Todd (age 40, hip hip hooray!) was signed up for a half-IRONMAN that took place shortly after we returned home. During our trip I’d say “Look at all this fresh air we’re getting! And the lovely hikes we’re taking! It’s like you’re training for an IRONMAN!” and he’d say “No it isn’t,” but he kept hanging out with us anyway and going on lovely hikes with us, and when he completed the half-IRONMAN (which was his third) a couple weeks later he was hurting and exhausted but friends, he did it. Whatever that man is doing, he’s all in, whether he’s driving an RV, persevering through a race, or running a business.
I (age nevermind, thank you very much) left our trip a tiny bit early to catch a flight to Nashville TN for the Hutchmoot conference in Franklin. Hutchmoot is a conference for people seeking to honor God through creative endeavors such as writing and art and music, and I don’t have the room or time to explain here how much it meant to me to be there, but coming on the heels of having just visited beautiful places like Yellowstone and the Black Hills, my time at the conference was almost unspeakably precious. I crave the beauty of words and of nature, and this year I experienced both in abundance.
In a house full of boys, “beautiful” isn’t a word that gets tossed around super often. I mean, they all tell me I’m beautiful (seriously), but it’s not like they’re walking around talking about how beautiful their toys are, or their clothes or their nail polish, and people don’t look at them the way they look at girls and say “aren’t you beautiful?” But they’ve learned to see beauty all the same, and this year it was a joy to watch them come alive in its presence. They all said this trip was one of their favorites. “Why?” we’d ask them, and they’d shrug. “I dunno,” they’d answer. “It’s fun being outside and exploring. And it was just really really beautiful.”
I’m glad they know how to appreciate beauty. In places like Yellowstone, it’s hard to miss. Beauty like that is the kind that makes you want to laugh and then cry and then go be a better person, for reasons you could never quite articulate. But seeing beauty on a grand scale can train us to see beauty in more ordinary things — things like brothers and shadows and music and running races well.
The world’s a beautiful place, and that’s because a beautiful God made it. It’s also a broken place, but the beauty of the Gospel is that our perfect God stepped in to our broken world and promised life to those who love him. Jesus came to earth in the simplest way, and the simplicity of his coming marked the simplicity of his message – that God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Merry beautiful Christmas.