The Empty Chair

I met Evi (like Chevy, she’ll tell you) at the JumpingTandem Retreat last year. Then, a few months after that retreat, Evi and I happened to attend the same retreat led by Kathleen Norris and hosted at the Benedictine Monastery, about an hour north of Lincoln. I’m excited about introducing her to you today. Evi is a deep thinker, a mom, and a bit of an adventurer. In May, she’ll lead a night hike at the JumpingTandem Retreat, and you won’t want to miss it. Evi writes regularly at Gratitude Gal, and this month, she’s inviting us to join her in giving thanks. Today is Day 29. Enjoy!

chair

It was breathtaking. . . I was at a conference, high on thought-shifting conversations and coffee much buzzier in the big city than at home in small town, Nebraska. I was skipping through life, jazzed by the fun of the 30-day gratitude thingy I was doing at my blog (which I was trying to quit downplaying by calling it a thingy). In the middle of all that life rhythm, pulsing, on pace, lively, breath in and out. . . no breath.

The blue seat in the center back of the bus with a vibrant pattern stopped me short.

My last vision of that seat is one filled with a young man, around 14, his feet propped on a red cooler of our mission-trip snacks, joking with friends as they tussled each others’ hair. I remember them roughhousing—just being kids—in between checking their phones, all swimming in the noise bustle that is adolescence, this time of not quite yet. This young man, thin, with dark hair, was the epitome of not quite yet. He was quirky, smart, interesting, one maybe seen more truly by adults than his peers at this stage.

As I sat in that empty bus seat, I teared at the sitting and tried to compose myself, pretending to listen to my friend’s story. Why would a loving God allow that young man to get so low? I wonder why this seat—so formerly full of life—now sits empty. Why? The why question was most thick as I sat in the back of his funeral, swamped by the swath that runs deep and wide after suicide, like a cornfield battered and whipped by a storm in the night. I sat there trying to keep my toddler from wiggling and for the first time I can remember, I firmly disagreed with the pastor.

Normally soft spoken, he boomed, “This is not an option.”

I understand why he said this, but it is and has been throughout human history a choice that people make. Even this week I heard of two more young people in Lincoln. When my breath stops short hearing of yet another one, it’s hard to put on my normal smily face and write blog posts about dance parties.

But actually, that’s why I do.

I wish that our lessons could be licked on by kittens (just as Rachel refers to getting her tattoo on Friends), but instead I see over and over the pattern of pain being our teacher. I don’t know why that is, but I do know the dark place is for something. Pain can be our gasoline.

At that very bottom, there is still a choice, an option—an important one. Can we dare to see that choice as the purest of gifts? Gifts require thanks and a gift suggests a Giver. So, Thanksgiving might seem simplistic, count your blessings, right? But for me, one year after this young man took his life, it’s something much deeper, a daring shift to say that death does not get the last word.

I hear over and over to “slow down”, “savor the moment”, “put down our phones so you don’t miss it,” but it’s more than savoring. It’s living the thanks. Because yes, there are joy-fun-dance-parties waiting for us most days, and even on the days with no dance, we still have this blessed and most important option. When we choose to live thanks—even in the dark places, we’re strangely gifted again and again by the grace that always rushes in. . . breathtaking.

Day 29 Challenge:
Tell someone in your life, “Thanks, I’m glad you’re here.”
*This post is part of Evi’s 30-day gratitude challenge. Click through to visit Evi and post a gratitude for your chance to WIN A PIE!

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