Folks say I take after my mom’s side of the family— that I have the Latham nose and smile. But Dad and I are alike in a lot of ways too, though they tend to be unseen things, like tendencies. For one, Dad and I both crave a good, stretching view of the horizon. Since we kids were little (and no matter how long the trip), he’s pulled the van off at the roadside overlook, where we all found our shoes and scrambled out to take in the span of sky. We’d stand there long enough to breathe it in.
But we live in Missouri, and between our back porch and the horizon stand leggy oaks, honeysuckle, and a telephone pole. Winter is the one time in the year when we’re reminded there’s a sunrise, silhouetting the skeletons of all our trees.
Yet there is one place, not too far from here, where we can always find the horizon. We call it the Hill.
Growing up, I remember Dad pulling up the driveway as the sunrise cooled into daylight, and I’d be eating oatmeal in my pajamas. I’d ask where he’d been, though I knew the answer:
“On the Hill.”
He studied for his sermons there, he prayed there, and there, he watched the sun come to life over the houses and highway below. I’m bad at directions and could never pinpoint where the place was, though Mom said we drove past it all the time. So the Hill settled itself in my mind as a peak high above our town, where my dad met with God. It was another Eden, another Temple Mount, and it just happened to sit on the shoulder of Platt’s Nursery and Schweissguth Brothers’ Farm Equipment.
At seventeen, I got my driver’s license so I could run to town for Mom, and suddenly, I had a choice to make: Take the wide and easy Highway 50, or take the old, winding route that crested the Hill. I’m like my dad, so I chose the Hill.
But I’m like my dad in other, sinful ways, and 2021 was a valley for both of us. Instead of looking for hills or horizons that overshadowed us with God’s glory, our prideful introspection kept us looking down, into ourselves, for too long. Dad’s story of sin and grace isn’t mine to tell, but I can bear witness to the renewal I’ve seen in him this past year. I’ve watched Aslan tear away the dragon skin of the old man and something like a boy come up out of the water.
“He’s changed,” I wrote in my journal back in July, “I think he’s more alive than he’s ever been, and it breathes fresh air into me, I know it does, even when I resist it and would rather gulp down the recycled air of my self-absorption.”
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that “the natural life in each of us is something self-centered… it wants to be left to itself: to keep well away from anything better or stronger or higher than it, anything that might make it feel small.”[i]
Sinclair Ferguson says that “we are far better at looking inward than we are at looking outward.”[ii]
If you think about it, that’s how the Snake ruined us. He took Eve’s eyes off the God she was made to desire and settled them on something else— something less. She didn’t just listen to the Snake with her ears; she “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6), because every sin starts by looking down and away from God— and most days, into our own little, deceived hearts.
Adam and Eve wanted to be high and mighty “like God,” and in dark irony, God threw on them a curse that chained them to the ground. They would sweat over it, scrounge food up from it, then die and be buried beneath it. When they tried to look up and back at God, the glorious view was barred by the flaming sword of their own bad desire.
And they carried that desire with them when they left the Garden. Eve had a son who wanted to be like God and rule over his brother, and generations later, John Melton had a daughter, and she wanted to be like God, and she’d fight tooth and nail to grab at the things she desired. She knew that somewhere, not too far away, there was a Hill lit by the heavens, but she didn’t know where to find it; and even if she did, she’d probably stand there looking at her shoes anyway.
I ran the old highway one morning last month and crested the Hill, only for the view to be halfway blocked by steel dumpsters and utility trucks with big buckets. I could hardly see the horizon, trees, or sun. The Hill had become one more desecrated place on earth— a Temple Mount turned into a place of trade; an Eden barred by swords.
I don’t think folks realize that in a town swamped by trees and houses, that Hill is a window into the truth that the world is far bigger than what we can see. There’s a sky up there that stretches into the West, over Missouri’s rivers and woods, Kansas’s flats, Colorado’s peaks, Southwestern deserts, to the sea and beyond. There’s an entire planet of sky and water, and to stay holed up and never look for a break in the trees or the crest of a hill is the most smallminded thing I could do.
I’ve been cursed to the ground, and so probably, the Snake doesn’t want me standing on the only hill in my town, shrinking under the sunlight, remembering there’s a God beyond the shores of my imagination, and that to keep looking at my shoes is to die the slow death of pride. “As long as you are looking down,” Lewis writes, “you cannot see something that is above you.”[iii]
If ever I’m going to live, I’ve got to look up. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote, for every look at myself, I need to take ten more looks at Christ— Christ who climbed a hill like this one and humbled himself to the point of death on a cross, so that Dad and I could look up-– over the dumpsters of our sin and self-absorption— and live.
“Christians are those who have had their eyes opened to the glory of God,” Jared Mellinger writes, “We are those who are being pulled out of ourselves, into a world charged with grandeur…
“All beauty is a reminder that life is bigger than self.” [iv]
The glory of the Hill is that it makes me small, and when I’m small, Jesus is big and beautiful, and so I’m deeply thankful for my dad, who taught me to look up in 2021, just as he showed me where to find the Hill.
“When I look at your heavens, the works of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
~ Psalm 8:3-4
[i] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. (HarperCollins, 1952: New York, NY)
[iii] Ibid, 124
[iv] Mellinger, Jared, Think Again: Relief from the Burden of Introspection. (New Growth Press: Greensboro, NC, 2017), 136