The ache of ephemeral experiences

by Steve Brock on May 4, 2015

Murrow Drawing

Good Friday has come and gone this year. What I take from it is a story both overly recognizable and endlessly new.

What made this story of suffering, death and greater love so powerful this year was the use of sand painting during the Good Friday service at our church. As various pastors and elders read each of the final seven sayings of Christ on the cross, an artist created images of each scene using only her hands and sand. She poured and then spread the sand around a large glass plate while the image was projected onto a larger screen for the audience to see. Her “paintings” displayed great depth, texture and nuance.

The most powerful moment, to me, came when each reader finished his or her narration. The sand artist would then take this incredible work of art and, with a wave of her hand, erase it. One moment we were looking at a rendering of Jesus and the thief, side by side on their respective crosses. The next, steaks of sand shadowing the bright background.


Last week, I read about an artist, Ethan Murrow, whose drawings in graphite on paper were on display at the Winston Wachter Fine Art gallery in Seattle. My two sons and I were in the area, so we drove to the gallery to view the drawings. Phenomenal, both in technique and concept.

My favorite image of all was one called Wagon Train (shown above). I loved the subject matter but when I looked closely, I realized that Murrow hadn’t drawn this one on paper. Instead, according to our guide there, he had spent four days with a Sharpie drawing the image on one of the gallery walls. And when the show is over, they will, amazingly, just paint over this image (which, if on paper, would likely be sold in the $15,000 to $20,000 range).

One day, beautiful art. The next day, another painted wall.


I want to hold on to things of beauty. Make them last. Enjoy them over and over. But these two experiences, like certain moments on trips, inform me that there is another way.

Sometimes our greatest experiences are ephemeral. They are momentary, one-of-a-kind wonders that do not, cannot and were never meant to last.

For example, have you ever sat in a lovely restaurant or at a sidewalk café or on a bench overlooking some landscape and you find your heart catching in your throat because the scene, the moment is so beautiful? I have literally ached with a joyful sorrow in places where I never wanted to leave even as I knew I never could stay.

These ephemeral experiences are often some of our most poignant and meaningful. I find myself desperately wanting them to last even as I know that if they did, they would cease to be as special.

And so when confronted with art that disappears in minutes or days, a meal that lasts only as long as it takes to eat, a place where I can visit but not tarry or a person I can meet but not know deeply, I can simply give thanks and appreciate what I have experienced.

We need not possess something to be changed by it.




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Being in a different place for Christmas

by Steve Brock on December 25, 2014

Christmas at church near hospitalI write this on Christmas Eve in a setting I’ve grown not just tired of, but burdened by this year: a hospital.

First, between surgeries and treatments for my wife’s breast cancer over the last year, I spend more time than I care to think about in or near hospitals. She’s doing great now and just finished her last treatment a week ago, but still, it has been a long year.

Then, in May, I spend several days in a hospital down in Bend, OR with my mom who broke her arm and had a pacemaker put in.

Now, it’s my youngest son, Connor.

Yesterday, December 23rd, we leave our home at 6:00 a.m. for a 7:50 a.m. flight to spend Christmas with family in California. On the drive to the airport, Connor, 17, suddenly cries out in agony. He has a piercing pain in his abdomen. We don’t even make it as far as the airport.

A few miles short of there, we pull into an empty parking lot. Connor rolls out of the car and onto the asphalt writhing in pain. We call 911 and soon after the EMT arrives, Connor is in an ambulance to the nearest hospital and I’m frantically racing to drop my wife and other son off at the airport. We figure there’s nothing they can do, so reluctantly they agree to catch the flight that Connor and I will never make.

I rush to the ER, find Connor and wait for doctors to give him pain medication and carry out some tests. A few hours later, they tell us that Connor has acute pancreatitis and must spend several days in the hospital.

We move him to the nearest children’s hospital (I never knew that most hospitals cannot admit minors) and eventually learn that the cause is unknown (which happens about a third of the time with this inflammation of the pancreas). However, the treatment is known: hydration through IV, no food or water, and rest along with medication for the intense pain.

So here I am, the next day, waiting with Connor, grateful for wonderful doctors and nurses, friends who have stopped by during this busy time of year and the news that Connor is feeling a bit better and that we might be able to go home tomorrow.

But here’s the odd thing: When we didn’t know what was going on, one doctor warned this could be serious, even life-threatening. So I prayed desperately for my son. And in return, you’d think through all this I would feel especially close to God. I’ve got plenty of quiet time here in the hospital and a heart filled with gratitude. And yet, where’s that warm glow and intimate sense of God’s presence, especially now at Christmas? I’m not sure.

You know the old saying, “If it feels like God is distant, guess who moved?” So this evening, I choose to try and scoot a bit closer to the Divine. I find out there is a Christmas Eve service at a church a few blocks from the hospital. I decide to go while Connor rests.

The church I visit is old (see photo above). The services, contemporary. The people are welcoming. The music, classic carols done to rock arrangements. A woman with a lovely voice reads a new but touching rendition of the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2. The pastor delivers a short, but poignant message. We pass the light of our candles to each other as we celebrate the coming of Light into our world.

And somewhere along the way, Jesus and I get reconnected in a powerful way. Was it the music? The lighting? The words spoken? Likely all the above. But most of all – apart from the sheer grace of God – it was that I was in a different place: physically, emotionally and spiritually.

This is a good reminder at Christmas that God came to a different place – our world – just to be with us. He moved closer even as we, in our proneness to wander, drift away.

Movement and place affect us more than we realize in ways both subtle and profound. But the Christmas message tonight makes me realize that no matter where that place is – even a hospital room on Christmas – we are never, ever alone.

Emmanuel. God with us. Wherever we find ourselves.

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A fortunate trip

by Steve Brock on July 17, 2014

Deschutes at NightWhen our sons were small, they loved the book, Fortunately by Remy Charlip. I pay homage to that book using his format here to tell you of a trip that didn’t go exactly as planned…

Fortunately, I had another chance just six months after my last trip down there, to visit Redmond and Bend, Oregon.

Unfortunately, my wife and youngest son couldn’t get away from school to join me.

Fortunately, my oldest son met me and my parents (who were fortunately able to get a timeshare condo in Redmond) on his drive home from college.

Unfortunately, as I was packing up my parents’ van to drive down to Oregon, my enthusiastic Labrador Retriever knocked my mom over.

Fortunately, my mom was sore but able to continue on the trip.

Unfortunately, she had a hard time getting around the whole time we were in Oregon.

Fortunately, she didn’t mind. She was happy to have all of us together. While she rested, my son and I took advantage of the luscious mountain biking trails in Bend and we went fishing several times with my dad as well.

Unfortunately, when fishing with my dad, we never caught anything.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter. Three generations together on rivers and lakes was reward enough.

Unfortunately, even though she took it easy, my mom’s pain got worse.

Fortunately, she was able to schedule an appointment that week with her doctor back home.

Unfortunately, her appointment meant leaving earlier than planned, but we all agreed that was for the best.

Fortunately, the night before we were to leave, there was a gorgeous full moon out. So after a late dinner, I grabbed my camera and tripod and drove down to the river to get some nighttime photos of the moon (see above and yes, that is the moon, not the sun).

Unfortunately, when I returned around 10:30 p.m. there was an ambulance in front of our condo. My mom had fallen when opening a window. She broke her arm and had to be taken to the emergency room.

Fortunately, they were wonderful there at the hospital. They took x-rays and ran tests.

Unfortunately, her arm was broken in three places.

Fortunately, the x-rays also showed no broken bones in her hips or back from the encounter with my dog Ginger. In fact, the pain she’d had before that in her right leg was now gone. Ginger had healed her!

Unfortunately, my mom passed out twice in the ER. More tests revealed a critical heart issue.

Fortunately, they moved her to a larger hospital in Bend (the ER was in Redmond, 2o minutes north of Bend) and were able to get her into surgery for a pacemaker that evening.

Unfortunately, the pacemaker surgery was on the same side as her broken arm (near the shoulder) and the doctors all agreed the arm needed surgery as well.

Fortunately, they were able to do the arm surgery the next day.

Unfortunately, all of this took longer than we had planned for our trip. We had to check out of the condo, find a hotel and move our stuff not knowing when we’d be able to go home.

Fortunately, the arm surgery went well and they released my mom the next day. We drove home exhausted from four days in the ER and hospital, but otherwise grateful to be home.

Unfortunately, this “vacation” became a bit of a nightmare. Trips don’t always go as planned and some are so far outside your realm of expectations as to be almost unreal.

Fortunately, had my mom not fallen (caused, apparently by passing out due to her heart), we’d never have known about her heart condition. The doctor told us that without the immediate surgery, she could be dead by now.

Funny how God uses our “unfortunatelys” for reasons that end up being fortunate indeed…

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When your trip goes awry – Part 4

by Steve Brock January 25, 2013

When I finally make it to my destination after many missed flights, gratitude should be my first response. But why isn’t it?

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Another chance to remember

by Steve Brock August 3, 2012

Stop. Right now. What aren’t you grateful for that you should be? Take a minute. Remember moss and other things that aren’t all that visible right now. You don’t have to wait for that next trip. Give thanks. Right now.

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Gratitude and the slippery slope – Part 2

by Steve Brock June 6, 2012

Big surprise: I didn’t die on the icy trail to Annette Lake. But I did remember, then forget, then remember again the reason why I came there.

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Gratitude and the slippery slope – Part 1

by Steve Brock May 30, 2012

A hiking trip to the mountains that starts with whining and an ungrateful heart changes when I come face-to-face with the possibility of great loss

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