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Pharrell Williams had a hit a few years back called “Happy.” Now that you’ve read that you’ve got that catchy little tune in your head again, haven’t you! Well for me it is not the tune that runs around in my head, but the feeling. I am happy. I am probably the happiest I have been in my entire life. The school where I teach is a happy place to work. The kids are nice, the admin is supportive, and the teaching staff are among the most accomplished colleagues I have ever worked with. After two years of going flat out at the peak of my capacity and endurance, I have finally mastered the IB Diploma Literature curriculum and just now finished what was for me the easiest and most successful term since I got here.

I have a very nice classroom that is well equipped with shelves and cupboards. I have my own little coffee bar set up, and a sink to clean the desks. I have a nice large desk myself with a decent computer, fast internet and easy access to my files through a central server. I have a state of the art SmartBoard which I use constantly, and down the hall a tech lab to help with the video recording I have to do for IB. Just further down the hall is a well-stocked library for the novels and plays that I must teach. I have a view of the soccer field from my desk, and a courtyard outside my door where I can listen to the parrots and mockingbirds in the trees. And finally! after near freezing to death in Malaysian classrooms, full control over the aircon in my own room, which I keep at a comfortable 25.

After some initial trepidation, Pam is pretty much up to speed on the teaching aspect of her ‘School Nurse’ responsibilities. I even had the joy of helping her this week on a student activity she wanted to run in her class. With the cooler weather it is now possible to walk to work again, and with Pam driving the car, I can get a ride home at the end of the day. I have lost some weight as a consequence, and am feeling a little lighter in my body, as well as my spirit. I even got a very nice hit on the ‘Welcome Friends’ portion of this website recently from a former student at Locke’s, where I last taught ten years ago now, expressing his appreciation for my “unique” approach to teaching which still resonates in his life. These notes, as anyone in this profession will tell you, are the sweetest words a teacher can hear. And after two years of touch and go, our finances here have finally come to grips with the cost of living on this island now that Pam is making an income. And despite the creaks and groans of late middle age (I flatter myself, I know), I am still in good health. I am a happy man.

I read a while ago about a Princeton study in which Nobel Economist Angus Deaton sought to find a link between happiness and wealth. It was a large study, 450 thousand respondents, and it indicated that above a certain family income – $75,000 for Americans – people were no happier even if their wealth ran to the millions. Lower incomes did increase stress and impacted happiness, but above a certain threshold, it apparently doesn’t matter.

While acknowledging that a certain level of income is important in reducing stress, I would argue that a sense of fulfilment, of doing what you feel called to do in life, is equally, if not more important. Frederick Buechner a most insightful Christian writer put it this way: Happiness is finding the place where your deep gladness (giftedness and passion) meets the world’s hunger (need, longing). I was fortunate. I found that place early in life, and have tried my best to remain there through a long and winding path of teaching in six countries on four continents. Now, as my career starts to wind down, I must tell you, it has been a life of increasing happiness with every passing year. May I encourage you, dear reader. Find the thing that a loving God has called and equipped you to do. Do it, and be happy.

My father was born in 1917. Earlier that year an officer in the German Foreign Office by the name of Arthur Zimmerman sent a coded message to the German ambassador in Mexico instructing him to offer military aid to Mexico if they would attack the United States. In return, Mexico was to be offered the states of New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas after the Germans had won the First World War. The telegram was intercepted by Britain and decoded. The Americans were informed and declared war on Germany three months later. In October of that same year the Bolsheviks overthrew Kerensky’s democratic government in Russia and promptly withdrew from the war effort by prior arrangement with the Germans who helped bring them to power. It was a turbulent and uncertain time in which to be born, but on October 12 of that year, thirty-four year old Louisa Townend gave birth to my father, Wyndham Townend Wise.

The father of that child, forty-three year old Wyndham Kent Wise was not married to Louisa for the simple reason that he was already married to another woman, Gertrude. There were no children of that marriage, so my father was my grandfather’s only child. Apparently that didn’t count for much, for a few years after the war ended my grandfather sailed off to Shanghai leaving his wife, mistress and child behind. Undeterred, Louisa and her son sailed after him to Shanghai in late 1925 or early 1926 when Dad would have been eight.

Shanghai was booming at that time as Britain was determined to restore and even enlarge its overseas empire now that Germany had been defeated. Shanghai boasted a defensible harbour and cheap labour. My grandfather was a building foreman, which was likely a valuable asset, despite having no Mandarin. He was also a scoundrel of the first order, and by the time Louisa and her young charge had arrived, my grandfather had already acquired a Chinese ‘wife’ and wanted nothing to do with his former mistress or the burdens of fatherhood. After a few weeks of pleading for him to return to England, Louisa accepted the inevitable and returned with young Wyndham from Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

By May of 1926 my father was back in England, and was enrolled at the Perse School in Cambridge where he remained for the next six years. Perse is one of the oldest and most highly regarded schools in all of Britain. It also offered free tuition to needy families at that time, which is likely what drew my grandmother. After graduating from Perse in 1932, my father, now 14, went Loughborough College in Leicester to study engineering. Loughborough was famous for its apprenticeship programs, which is likely where my father developed his mechanical competence. However, in September, 1935 my grandmother passed away in Cambridge, leaving my father without support and forced to leave school and find a job.

Dad went to work at the Savoy Hotel in London as a bellhop. One of the guests, Raymond Mays, took a liking to young Wyndham, and offered him a job as an apprentice mechanic with his firm. Mays, fresh off his 1935 win at the German Grand Prix, was pre-war Britain’s most famous driver and racing entrepreneur, and the two car companies he founded, ERA and BRM are legendary in England. Mays was pretty legendary himself, a swashbuckling character who once drove from John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End in a single day, crossing the whole of England long before there were motorways. Dad thrived at ERA, and saw out his apprenticeship with the firm, developing a life-long passion for racing and race cars that he passed on to his two sons.

However, this growing success was about to be interrupted by Hitler, as Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and England immediately declared war on Germany. Three months later, now 22 years old, my father volunteered in the war effort, joining the Territorial Army as an enlisted man. Within the year he was promoted to Second Lieutenant and his unit was ordered to Dorset in preparation for assignment to East Africa. The Green Howards, as his unit was called, were massed near the militarily significant British town of Worth Matravers, site of one of the top secret radar installations that ringed Britain’s southern coast. It was here that my Dad met my Mom.

The German Blitz on London began in September 1940 resulting in widespread destruction and disruption. Planning and even communication became constrained, if not impossible. The military intelligentsia, known collectively to the British as ‘The Boffins,’ regularly met in Worth Matravers in a bunker carved out of an old beer cellar in The Square and Compass Inn. Locals, including my parents, spoke of having a pint of an evening when a motorcade would draw up outside and several high ranking military and political men would stroll in, grab a few pints, and then disappear into the basement for the rest of the evening. By morning they would be gone. It was in this pub, following a two month courtship, and a marriage ceremony at the nine hundred year old St. Nicholas, that my parents spent their wedding night. It was to be the only night of their newly married lives as Dad and his regiment shipped overseas to Africa the following day. He would not get back to England and my Mom until 1945 when the war in Europe was over.

Dad did not speak much about the war. He told me of the young cheetah cub he kept as a pet in Kenya after its mother was killed for raiding their camp one night. Dad liked Kenya, and often spoke of wanting to retire there. He was by now in charge of a Kikuyu regiment of the King’s African Rifles. Mom would speak of Dad barking orders in Swahili as he slept and of his recurring bouts of malaria long after he returned to England. He told me of tracking some Italian prisoners who had escaped. They found their boots on the banks of a crocodile infested river. He told me that he had watched helplessly as a friend of his died from drowning after the boat they were in capsized in the Indian Ocean off the coast of what is now Bangladesh.

After the African campaign was over, now acting major in charge of the motor pool, Dad was reassigned to the Burmese front, seeking to keep the Japanese from coming over the Burmese Hills into India. All the British airfields in Burma had been destroyed by the Japanese, so the forward base was in Cheringa, in the southern panhandle of Bangladesh. The British built a railroad bridge across the Karnaphuli River to connect the port at Chittagong to the airbase in Cheringa to move supplies to this forward base where Dad was stationed. Both the bridge and the airstrip still stand, as does the tiny cemetery in Chittagong where many of my father’s regiment are buried. Dad hated Cheringa and called it the armpit of the world. But he was tough and resourceful, and survived that assignment, as he had survived so much in his young life.

Returning to England after the war, now 28 and retired from the army with medals and honours, Dad was able to finally take up married life. He and Mom settled in Colchester, where there was an engineering firm and the prospect of stability, and began a family. Five years, two miscarriages and one infant death later, Mom and Dad with their three surviving children were established at 52 Turner Road in Colchester just across the street from the General Hospital and not far from High Woods Country Park. It was, and still is, a lovely place to grow up.

But it was not cheap. And promotions and opportunities were slow in coming. Looking to support his young family, Dad undertook to move us all to Canada when I was six. He has been offered a job with Dorman Diesels, a British firm with a growing presence in North America. Dad rode the success of that expansion to General Manager and a very comfortable lifestyle that I enjoyed throughout my teenage years. He worked long hours on the way up, travelling to remote locations in Eliot Lake and even further north to sell diesel engines. But he was not an absent father.

Dad was a kind and genial man. I can’t think of a single picture of him where he doesn’t have a lopsided, optimistic grin. Life had thrown a lot of mud in his direction, but he had learned to make pies of it, and was comfortable in his competence. Nor was he much of a man to complain. He had his first heart attack when he was 39. We were driving down Eglington Ave in Toronto at the time, all five of us in the car when he suddenly groaned and clutched his chest. He calmly pulled over to the side of the road, recovered his breath, assured us that everything was alright, then eased back into traffic and drove on as if nothing had happened. He never did go to the hospital. That’s the kind of man he was.

He was also a very careful man. He worked on this one model of the Cutty Sark for about six months. He carved masts from dowels, fashioned rigging from string, turned miniature pulley wheels into turnbuckles. He was inventive and he was patient. Everything had to be to scale, and painted in the correct colours. I would read in the living room while he worked, absorbing his attentive manner by osmosis and stealing furtive looks at his craftsmanship. Ask anyone who knows me how attentive to detail I am. This is where it comes from.

But model boats weren’t his passion, model trains were. He built his layout from scratch in the basement of our house on 19 Larabee Crescent. It was only four by eight, but it was built in ‘O’ gauge so there was plenty of room for several tracks and stations. He built ramps, and formed hills. He built the station yards from balsa wood. All of the switches were electrically wired and brought back to a control panel with dozens of switches and relays. I remember staring up at the maze of colour wires and marveling at the capacity my father had for detail. When we sold our house on Larabee and moved to Weston, there were three buyers from the crescent lined up and bidding for the layout. In England, in a smaller house, he moved to ‘N’ gauge, and continued his same care for authentic detail to the end of his life.

Dad was also a very literate man. Not fond of novels, he read the Globe and Mail from cover to cover every night, and the New York Times on the weekend, finishing with their famous crossword. Perhaps the latter explained his prodigious vocabulary. When he scolded us, it was an education in itself. When he was pleased with us, he would recite entire poems by heart, and had a quirky sense of humour and a talent for accents that would come out when recounting old Stanley Holloway monologues like ‘Albert and the Lion.’ He also had a fondness for drama, which he and Mom exercised as members of the Don Mills Players, which garnered some attention in Toronto in its day. I remember one night he and his good friend Dino Voyatzis coming into the rec room one evening asking my brother and I which one of us could belch on demand for an upcoming role. I don’t think that production ever saw the light of day.

When we moved to Etobicoke, he built a model car set for his two boys from scratch. He carved out the track on Masonite with a router, and laid down aluminum strips that he wired to conduct electricity. It would back on itself with ramps and overpasses and my brother and I were the envy of the neighbourhood. The three of us would go off to track meets with our race cars with their custom tires that Dad had a business contact make for him. We invariably won; my brother more often than I. We were older then and looking forward to driving for real. Dad insisted that he teach us, for driving was what he loved best.

And man could he drive! He never raced, and he was certainly never careless, but he brought that same attention to detail to driving as he did to everything else. He hated automatics, and thought them useless in the cold weathers of Canada. But if you sat in the back, you would never know he was going through the gears, he was so smooth. He logged every mile, and every drop of gas. He could tell you to within a fraction his gas mileage for every mile he drove. He knew every road in Toronto and the easiest way from any two points in town. He was never flustered, and never had a single accident in his entire driving life.

He said as he was teaching me to drive that if I didn’t know what every driver was doing or was about to do for a mile up the road and half a mile behind that I had no business being at the wheel. Once, as he was teaching me to drive, we passed a line of parked cars and he asked if I had looked under the wheels to see if I could see the legs of any children running onto the street. I shamefacedly admitted that I had not looked. He had me pull over and drove home himself. If I wasn’t going to listen to his instruction, what was the point of him teaching me? He taught me to set the outside mirrors as cars passed so there was never a blind spot, and that the straightest distance between two points was a straight line whatever the white paint might say.

When Dorman Diesels closed its North American operation, Dad was forced to move back to England to keep his pension. They settled in Lincoln, which I loved to visit. Dad thrived in the ten years he had before retirement, and worked hard to meet the needs of the company’s clients. After he passed away, Mom showed me letters he had received on his retirement from all over the world; dozens of them, all thanking him for his courtesy and helpfulness. He and Mom enjoyed their retirement, traveling throughout England on the back roads, staying at little inns they found and enjoying their time together.

He had loved his children as we were growing up, but perhaps his desire to see us grow up right might have constrained that love from flowering. He had no such constraints with his grandchildren. When he and Mom visited us in St. Thomas, Liz was almost two, and well able to walk. She never got a chance to while he was with us. She was in his arms the entire time, walking or sitting with a big silly grin on his face. He only put her down to eat and sleep.

He died like he lived, an absolute gentleman. Racked with pain from the cancer that was ravaging his body, his only thought was that I should seek to bring about reconciliation between my brother and my mother, something I was never able to do. He never spoke about himself; he never spoke about his pain. We were living in Europe that year, so our children got to visit a couple of times, the last during the March Break. Dad was in a wheelchair by then, only able to walk a short distance. But he fully enjoyed that visit. He passed away the following month, just after Mom’s birthday. Just like him to wait.

On my last visit with him, just days before he passed away I finally got a chance to speak to him of my faith, and ask his permission to allow a Christian pastor I had come to know to visit him in the hospital. Perhaps his time in a Christian hospice during his final few months had softened his heart to God, for he agreed. I learned later that this pastor had brought about his reconciliation with God, and that my Dad died trusting Him. I trust that this may be so. I would like to think that in heaven I would get the chance to see again the man that has so shaped my life. If I have any civility in character, any forbearance in the face of pain, any kindness to strangers, any courtesy to women, any determination to never settle for anything less than the absolute best in everything I attempt, I owe that to my father, who was born on this day, October 12, 100 years ago.

  

Our summer visit now half done, we flew direct out of London to Calgary, and were met by our darling daughter Liz and her irrepressible children Russ and Layla, who chatted happily all the way home. Layla seemed all grown up, and no longer the baby that we knew. Russ was his sweet chatty self, so full of projects and adventures. It was so sweet to see them both again. However, I must confess that I was overwhelmed when I saw the size of the project facing me at their home. Two years of the kind of sedentary life I have been required to live to get up to speed on planning IB Diploma English had not prepared me physically for what lay quite visibly in their front yard.

I knew some facing stone had fallen. I did not reckon on the width, thickness, or weight of each stone, nor on the depth of the mortar still clinging to each. It took two days to clean the stone from the wall, and sort the stone from the mortar. It took Pam another half day to move the stone into the garage while I worked on the gate on the other side of the house necessary to keep their new dog in the back yard. The gate required repurposing the existing metal posts by cladding them in wood and tying the gate into the new wooden fence that Greg and his crew had built earlier that summer. It took me two days, far longer than I would have figured, but then these things usually do.

We did get time to go to Liz’s new retirement home to see where she now works. She had arranged for some of Russ’ friend from nursery school to visit at the home, and I played and sang a few songs that were geared to both kids and seniors. The kids danced and the seniors clapped and smiled and a good time was had by all. It was great to see Pam interact with her grandchildren. She has such natural way with young children, who seem to know not only that she loves them unconditionally, but will not tolerate nonsense. They feel safe in her company, and relax.

 

My son Dave and I got in a few visits together. He is now working for McEllhanney, who were recently awarded the contract for completing the ring road around Calgary. It is an important company in Canada, with good salary, benefits, and opportunities for promotion and professional development. We caught a movie, grilled some steaks, and chatted about phones and trucks. He is an easy guy to talk to, and I always enjoy our times together. Greg and Liz got an evening alone while we babysat the kids, but no trips to the Rockies this summer, despite the free entrance to all federal parks in recognition of Canada’s 150 th birthday.

With our typical crowded schedule, once again we had to leave the day before Russ’s birthday but we did have a little party and got to see him open the pulleys and levers he had requested for his birthday.

The flight home was uneventful, and for once traveling through the States was blessedly smooth. We arrived home to our new apartment on the second floor, which we had made sure was properly sorted and cleaned before we left. We will miss our old digs next door, and certainly there is no doubt that this place is considerably darker and less inviting. But it was a welcome respite all the same, after another three weeks of living on the road, and I fell into bed with great relief and gratitude. Another year in Cayman awaits, and though Pam faces an uphill climb of preparation and adjustment to her new responsibilities, the bulk of my angst and preparation is behind me, and I face a new year with great expectation and satisfaction for where the last two years has brought me.

Going home to Canada from the Cayman Islands is a whole lot easier that going home from Malaysia. By a factor of about 20. You can fly from here direct to Toronto on either West Jet or Air Canada in just under four hours. Given the increasingly belligerent rhetoric coming out of Washington regarding us ‘foreigners,’ direct is definitely the way to go. That said, we were less than impressed with the train from Pearson Airport downtown. We got off at Bloor and had to haul suitcases up and down stairs and across busy streets to get to the subway. People coming from the airport are on that train. That is why there is a train. People coming from the airport will have luggage. It seems redundant to point this out, but clearly not to the brain trust responsible for that lack of planning.

Once again Jane and Joe were happy to let us stay at Joe’s house during our stay in Toronto, but we didn’t get to see either Tessa or Sarah-Jane. We did get to shop at UniGlo, our favourite Asian store, and I did some much needed shoe shopping for my poor dysfunctional feet. We got in a quick visit to Toronto’s fabulous AGO, an annual pilgrimage and saw the stunning Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, then we rented a car for a leisurely drive east along the north shore of Lake Ontario. We stopped for lunch at Jane and Joe’s cottage in Prince Edward County, and arrived in Ottawa around supper time to visit with friends and former colleagues in Malaysia, Jim and Karen Leonard.

Jim and Karen brought a ton of furniture back from Asia, and there apartment was most tastefully decorated with pieces that seemed to be very comfortable in their transplanted home. We were joined at dinner with Shelley Smith-Dale, another colleague from Taylor’s CPU program, and had a most pleasant evening reminiscing about our adventures in Southeast Asia. After another pleasant drive back along number 7 highway, we dropped the car and took the train down to London. Although we invariable stay with Pam’s brother and wife Syl, her brother was visiting from out West, and we ended up at the Ivey-Spencer Leadership Centre instead. The choice was fortunate, for the place was well-equipped and included a buffet breakfast for a very affordable price.

Syl’s brother and wife from the West were good company, and made a welcome addition to our regular games of rook and euchre when we are home. We even met up with Joe and Lorrie at the Playhouse in Blythe and all eight of us had a nice dinner afterwards in Exeter. We squeezed in as many other visits as we could while we were in the area, with friends from church, but time was particularly tight on this trip, and did not afford us much time to reconnect with our former lives. We did manage to get in a breakfast with Matt and Kate, and a lovely lunch with dear friends Al and Shelley.

I also responded to what I perceived to be an urging from the Holy Spirit to see an old Christian friend and teaching colleague Bill Turford, and I am glad I did. Now living in Stratford, he had finally come to terms with the tragic death of his oldest son, Scott, many years ago. It was good to see how Christ had healed that wound, and to finally see on Bill’s face a peace and reconciliation that had been missing for so many years. It was a good visit, and a reminder that God’s healing is for the heart and soul primarily. It is we frail humans that only see the body as important. God sees deeper.

Here it is nearing the end of an incredibly busy summer and September is almost behind us. Our blog has suffered considerably due to the whirlwind of the past three months but over the next few days, we will attempt to capture what we missed. I returned from a week with Jon and Nicole and the kids in Orlando to complete the cleaning and packing for our move out of the condo that has been our home for the two years we have been in Grand Cayman. We loved that condo and will certainly miss it, but we will be able to keep a close eye on the scheduled renovations since we have moved next door.

We basically just dropped our belongings as the weekend had been set aside for the joy of seeing our dear young friend, Cherilyn marry the love of her life, Taylor. Cherilyn, the Grade 3 teacher at CIS arrive here at the same time as we did and has been an encouragement to us as well as others in our Community Group. Taylor’s move to the island was a slow process as he worked his way through the interviews and mounds of paperwork required to land a job and a work permit on this island. Everything came together for Taylor to move here in early June, with less than three weeks until their island wedding. With Taylor and Cherilyn safely here, the family began to arrive from various parts of North and South America.

It was a beautifully, God honouring ceremony, on an amazing day on a spectacular stretch of beach. Following the ceremony the guests loaded on to two boats for a forty five minute ride across the North Sound. The dinner at Rum Point was a scrumptious beach BBQ with gelato in place of a wedding cake. Local musicians provided the music for a very spirited dance and provided the back drop for the tributes and speeches. It was a wonderful celebration from beginning to end and it was a very joyful crowd that loaded up for the ride back across the Sound under the stars.

 

 

It was fun to have had a small part in the planning organizing of the day and Steve even had the joy of playing his guitar and singing some songs of love as the guests gathered on the beach. He had organized all of the sound equipment and for the processional and for the ceremony itself. It is a privilege and a joy to see this sweet young couple begin their journey together.

Sometime in August, when I was 27, I encountered God. It wasn’t entirely a surprise, though the nature of that encounter and its impact on me still strikes me as extraordinary. I had, after all, been looking for God for about 15 years. I had gone looking for him in drugs, in churches, in music, in literature, in obscure and arcane practices, and relationships with the wild and the willful. But in August of that year my search had turned serious.

I had just finished my first year teaching in a small Ontario town, and had finally achieved a measure of financial and professional security after a decade of upheaval. I had finally grown tired of my dissolute and deceitful ways with women and the world, and was looking for a fresh start. I wanted that fresh start to include an understanding of the Infinite that I had glimpsed in the lives of others and heard of through the testimony of those who had encountered It/Him. I had read finally read enough and seen enough to know that an Infinite Being did exist, and that there were those who had lived and were living in the presence of that Infinite Being. But I never thought I would ever have a personal encounter myself. I was about to.

I packed up my car with my worldly belongings. They didn’t amount to much. Among them were three books of special note. There was a zippered leather Bible that my grandmother had given me at my confirmation, a Good News Bible that I had picked up at the Sally Ann in town, and a copy of the I Ching that I had been following for about a year. I parked on the campus of Brescia College in London and got out for a cigarette. It was two in the morning and not a soul around. The sky was achingly clear and the Milky Way was spread out across it like a diamond carpet beyond the pines that rimmed the parking lot.

After all the turmoil of the past ten years of my life, the moment was a pool of serenity. I thought it might be a good time to cast some coins and read what the I Ching had to say about the road ahead. The first three tosses of the coins all yielded solid lines, an auspicious beginning for the hexagram. The next two throws were also solid lines, and I became very excited. Six solid lines are the most favourable reading in the entire book. I had never cast a perfect hexagram, and here I was facing the distinct possibility with my last throw.

I paused, bowed my head and prayed to God to allow these coins to fall tails. All three did. A perfect hexagram. The best possible throw. The best possible future. But that is not what struck me. What struck me was that Someone had answered my prayer. I had not prayed to the Chinese god of the I Ching. There is no such god. Those who follow the I Ching believe that fate and wisdom determine our earthly outcomes, not some Infinite Being that cares for us personally.

No, when I had prayed, I had prayed to the God that I had known as a child. The God that had once walked on this earth and left instructions on how to find Him. The God that I had sought and not found at my confirmation. That is the God I prayed to, and He, ignoring a decade of personal failure and weakness, ignoring even that I was looking for answers in the practice of ancient superstitions, He had graciously answered that wistful prayer for guidance.

I was overcome with gratitude, and confess that not knowing how to express my thanks, I looked up into the heavens. Those who are familiar with the Hitchcock Effect, or dolly zoom, will best understand what came next. Hitchcock pioneered the dolly zoom in Vertigo by moving the camera away from the object while simultaneously zooming in. The effect is disconcerting, and a good analogy for what happened next. I thought as I looked that Someone beyond the pines, beyond the stars, beyond the universe itself had heard my insignificant prayer for guidance and had heard me.

In an instant, in a breath, that entire distance seemed to collapse in a rush of vertigo that brought the Infinite beside me. I know that this cannot sound anything but foolish, and there is no other way to express it than this. I felt the presence of the Infinite beside me. There was no electricity in the air, no sudden change of temperature. I did not hear an audible voice. I felt no reassuring hand on my shoulder. But the Infinite stood beside me, and it was overwhelming. I gasped in wonder. The Bible speaks of a God who is able to do “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). I know what that means. I know what that feels like. It lasted less than a minute. It has stayed with me for a lifetime and completely altered my life.

Yes, I did read through the Bible, or at least the four gospels, until I understood what I needed to do to accept that God as lord of my life and begin living according to His precepts. But that outcome was a dead certainty after that moment in the presence of God. I have talked to hundreds of Christians about their encounters with God since that day. In North America my experience is still considered unusual, and I typically don’t mention it for that reason. When we lived in Asia we heard plenty of stories like mine, and others far more compelling. I do not believe that such experiences are unique. Nor do I think that they are necessary. My wife has had a vital relationship with Christ for her entire life and has never experienced an encounter with God such as mine.

I am not offering this as a template or a prescription, but rather a reflection on my own journey from the vantage of age. Like all who have walked with God in the daily grind of life, I have had my troubles and woes. I have tasted both success and failure. I am far from perfect, as anyone who knows me will testify. But beyond all my weakness, beyond all my trials, beyond anything that this life can offer or deny, this one thing I will know to my last breath. I have stood in the presence of God. And will again someday.