It was a glorious May Friday in Amarillo, Texas, and it just happened to also be the last day of school for our young children. You know the scene: The excitement, the last day of school pictures, the farewells to friends, and that coveted early release from the building that had held them back from a world of fun for the past nine months. Our rental van was loaded down and ready to roll when Piper got off work. Fifteen hours of driving and one hotel stay in Cheyenne later, we made it to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was a fabulous start to an epic family adventure in and around Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.
We stayed in a cabin in Coulter Bay Village on Saturday night, and drove straight to Old Faithful first thing the next morning. Our timing was such that we landed in the parking lot just minutes before the next estimated spewing of Old Faithful. In the spirit of discovery, we all ran from the parking lot to the viewing area in an attempt to get there in time to see in real life what we all had previously only seen in videos. We laughed at ourselves as we ran in a hurried quest to get there on time. We made it and loved it, and then proceeded to spend the next few days taking in vistas and wildlife that exceeded our expectations in America’s first and foremost National Park.
Old Faithful. There were other stories along the way, but I want to skip to the time when the fun of our trip came to a screeching halt. The context of this story started on an afternoon backroad jaunt near Slough Creek in the famous Lamar Valley. We went there in hopes of spotting wolves. That never happened, but we did find a hiking trail to tackle. In the parking lot at the trailhead, Paxton got out and did what comes natural to ten-year-old boys; he started throwing rocks. Piper and I quickly jumped his case – not because he was throwing rocks, but because he was obviously not paying attention to other vehicles that were parked beyond the water puddles for which he was aiming. We gave him a good speech about looking around and thinking about what could happen before launching off and throwing rocks. We went on with our hike and our night, and all was well.
Paxton hanging out somewhere near Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.
The next morning was the start of our last full day before heading home to Texas. The plan was to spend some time in Grand Teton National Park and end up in Jackson for food and fun. One of our first stops that morning was Mormon Row to capture photos of the historic Moulton Barns with the Teton Range in the background. We stopped first at the T. A. Moulton barn; which is claimed to be the most photographed barn in America. We did our part to keep that claim to fame going, and had a lot of fun scoping out the place. We then headed over to the John Moulton barn just up the road for a quick stop to snap some shots there. This was going to be a five minute or less stop. Piper and the girls did not even get out of the van to come take photographs.
T. A. Moulton BarnThis is the most photographed barn in America. It is found within Grand Tetons National Park. The John Moulton Barn
Paxton got out of the van with me. I proceeded to the barn about 200 yards away, enjoying the views. I took time out to take a photo of a family so they could all be in the picture, and then I snapped off two of my own photos of the barn. That’s when it happened. That’s when I noticed Piper coming at me hot under the collar with a look that told me something had just gone way wrong.
Paxton had been throwing rocks in the parking lot. In one fateful throw his rock hit the desired target but then ricocheted off and straight through the back glass of a 2016 Acadia SUV. The glass shattered in terrific fashion. The vacations of two families were instantly turned upside down. The man driving the Acadia was, understandably, very upset. I was thinking thoughts such as, “We’re in the middle of a National Park, how will we even fix this?” and “I cannot believe that we just talked about this kind of thing yesterday with Paxton and the very next morning he shatters someone’s window!”
Thankfully, there was actually a fairly quick solution. The Acadia was a rental car, and we followed the family to the Jackson Hole airport where they swapped out that vehicle for a new one. Unfortunately, it was a costly mistake.
I was so angry with Paxton and the situation that I did not say a whole lot from the time it happened until after going to the airport. Paxton was upset and scared already, and I knew that if I said what was on my mind in the heat of the moment it would not be good. It was such a tense time. On the drive to the airport, I was silently praying for wisdom about how to handle this situation and what to say to Paxton. When we left the airport, we drove in silence for another ten or so minutes until I stopped at a scenic pull-out on the road. Piper and I told the girls we needed to speak with Paxton and made them get out of the van, much to their chagrin. We told Paxton we were disappointed in his actions and we talked about what we hoped he learned from all of this. One of the handful of lessons we hoped he had learned was that our actions have consequences, even if we didn’t mean to cause harm. I explained to Paxton that his actions negatively affected the vacations of our family and another family and that there was also a financial cost associated with his mistake. We told him that our expectation was that he would work for us around the house in order to earn money to pay for the replacement of the broken window. He withstood all of our talking and the outlining of consequences with a lot of respect and understanding.
All of that information was just so that I could get to this part, the part about the lesson I learned – the part that I really wanted to tell you about. What got me, was my reaction when talking to Paxton. I cried. I couldn’t help it. I knew that Paxton had not been trying to break someone’s car window on purpose, yet he had disobeyed and he had cost our family time, frustration, and a chunk of money. There had to be consequences. He had to make things right. I hated it for him. I hated that we had to be the enforcers of his punishment. That’s when it all hit me. That’s when I realized that, that is how God feels towards all of us, His kids, when we disobey and mess things up. Yes, He’s frustrated with us, but more than that He just hates that we’ve put ourselves in a bad spot and must suffer the consequences. It was a different view of God’s love, grace, and commandments that I had never before understood.
The rest of the story…
We agreed to go on and not let this ruin the rest of our vacation – we would deal with those consequences later when we got back home. I nearly cried again a couple of hours later when we were walking around the town of Jackson and Paxton reached up and took me by the hand.
Paxton power washing the fence in preparation to stain it.
Paxton has taken his consequences like a man. His primary project has been to help power wash and stain our fence. It has been a task that has taken much more effort and time than either one of us anticipated.
As Paxton’s dad, I’ve been right there with him with the power washing and staining. I didn’t leave him alone to complete those tasks all on his own. I wanted to help him through it. I wanted to give him companionship and share in the hard work. God does that for us, too. In the midst of suffering our own consequences for our actions, as well as the general hard times this life brings, God says in the Bible that He will always stick with us and help us through those tough times.1,2,3,4
As I reflected on this experience with Paxton and the idea of a kid making things right with his dad, I realized that there is a larger debt that we all owe our Heavenly Father that we are absolutely unable to pay. Our sin has separated us from God, but God provided the payment of our sin through his Son, Jesus. For a more detailed explanation of this, click here. In that transaction, Jesus paid it all. It is His free gift to us.5 It is where true freedom and redemption happen.
Through the early morning starts and the heat of this Texas summer sun, Paxton is no worse for the wear. He still loves to throw rocks, but we have noticed he sure knows what is around him before letting one fly.
1 “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:8
2 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6
3 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
4 “…fear not, for I am with you: be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’” – Isaiah 41:10-13
5 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9