JO's Letter To Jens
A single. Mighty. Syllable. Four letters that align so solidly beside one another, providing a foundation on which to build a life, develop character, cultivate relationship, grow ever more in integrity.
A name woven deep into the tapestry of my soul, your fibers reinforcing my own at their weakest places and adding depth and beauty to my places of strength.
Jens. Jens. Jens.
I hear your name with each beat of your heart and with it I am transported, whisked away to cold, foggy early mornings in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone, peering with anticipation through darkness as we wait for the first signs of dawn to show itself. Another heartbeat and I sit in the passenger seat of the 4Runner as we bounce along dirt roads of Montana, nowhere to be but right where we are. My heart beats again and I find us snuggled in the tent perched high in the mountains, your face lit up as clear as day with each bolt of lightning that cracks above us, your eyes gleaming, awed by the display of power and beauty of our God. Another thump of my heart and I look over my shoulder to see you flex your strength against the waters, navigating the raft down the river or the canoe through the lake, you tirelessly paddle and steer as you smile back at me. My heart beats and we wake up and our eyes meet – we both smirk and shake our heads in wonder of the ball of black and white fur that so masterfully weaseled his way between us in the night – Peyto Dog was ever faithful in keeping tabs on his pack, even as he slumbered. Another beat and you’re making popcorn, pouring copious amounts of butter over the top. The next beat sends me to the garage where I serve as your third and fourth hands as you skillfully craft another beautiful wooden piece with those rough, weathered, hard- working Yensie hands. Another beat and we’re gathered around the table at your parent’s house, everyone talks and eats and talks some more. I find you on the couch or in the hammock reading, another Ivan Doig book down, another rich classic finished. I find myself on skis, skinning up a glistening, iridescent blanket of snow off the Teton Pass, following you and Peyto Dog up, up, up… and surfing the deeps back down again. I see you crawling around endlessly on your hands and knees, a thick furry blanket over your back as you delight Allistaire with your bear grunts and tickles. I walk around beside you around the park at night in the cold, your big red hat covering your head, every now and then a wisp of smoke rises as you puff your pipe. I find you lying on your back, head in a cupboard, fixing a leaking pipe, repairing the garbage disposal, troubleshooting the dishwasher that’s on the fritz. You come to bed late the night before a backcountry venture, waxing skis, ensuring you’ve packed appropriately, pouring over weather forecasts, condition reports, and the next day’s terrain on google earth just one more time before you rest. Another heartbeat and you ‘re in your fleece trout pajamas being the goofy guy I so love, making up silly dance moves and striking poses, all to see my face light up and hear laughter pour out. Another beat and we’re sitting around the fire, watching for hours as the embers dance their way to the inky, star studded sky. I blink and the night sky is still there, but the dancing embers have been replaced by the mesmerizing green + gold + white dance of the Northern Lights in Norway…
These heartbeats and moments in time continue on and on and on, filling me with memory of you. Other heartbeats are shocking, excruciatingly painful, visions of what could have been, working through the complexities and beauties of this life as would have grown older together… these beats are unavoidable and meaningful, our unfulfilled dreams that will hang in the balance.
I press my ear to your chest, hoping to hear and feel our heartbeats align. Yours is a mighty, sure rhythm, the metronome stomping out a rhythm for your life. Oh how I marveled at it… this steady beat was at the center of all other creative rhythms you so incredibly pounded out – whether on pots and pans as a young boy, the steering wheel on road trips, the drum set in the northeast corner of the house, or as you poured out yourself on Sundays. Days you played at church I would intentionally show up after the music had already begun as I so loved pulling into that parking lot and stepping out of the car and hearing the only audible noise from inside filling air: Yens stomping out a rhythm on the bass drum, an extension of your wildly loving heart, pumping life through your body, through our family, through this community and beyond as you gave yourself with abandon to worship the Giver of all Life.
My heart has been privy to gentle whispers over the last decade of life… the first, before I knew you well, was God’s soft nudge and raising of my eyes to see you as he said, “That’s HIM”, something I never told you until 4 years later and we were husband and wife. My heart also endured a recurring dream over the last couple of years… I was always speared details about what took your life, but found myself widowed due to a ski accident, a burden that always fell to Peder to relay to me. I had this dream, this preview of life to be lived out without you by my side, and though it pained me so, it brought no anxiety. We would talk about it and you always refocused my vision, for you firmly believed that your task was to live fully vested in each day, deeply committed to taking responsibility for your actions to best preserve your life + the lives of others. The rest was up to the Giver of Life, who numbered your days before he fashioned your large cranium, wavy blonde locks, green eyes, and heart of gold in your momma’s womb… when this day came, it would matter not what you were doing, you would be ushered swiftly from this earthly realm to the feet of our Christ, our King. When the avalanche report came out detailing your accident and producing the exceptionally rare statement that there is, essentially, not a single explanation for what occurred on April 11th, my heart somehow found rest in that this was the day I had been prepared for over the last couple of years.
Your above and beyond efforts to be safe in the backcountry – from obtaining your Wilderness First Responder and Avy 1 certifications and rereading through your course materials a couple times every season to the so called “over packing” of extra first aid and survival items – has preserved the lives of your brothers and friends over the years, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.
As my heart beats on, flashing through fifty-some treasured memories and painful dreams a minute, I have yet to hear it muster “Why God?? Why now? Why my Yens??” …Instead, all I hear is the persistent inquiry, with a tone of expectation, “What are you up to, my King?” For God, you still sit enthroned in my heart and in the heavens and beckon me to love you more deeply… and you even sweetened the deal, at Yens’ request, I’m sure, by gifting me with seasonal favorites of mine, heaps of spring snow followed by blue skies and radiant spring sun, both of which bring such promise of renewed LIFE. I’m on to you, Lord, I see you moving and shaking, and extending such Love, that same wild love that brought such vigor to the heart of my grizzly bear.
So… I implore you who listen in today, on behalf of my best friend, my love, my sweet honey: slow your selves long enough to picture the four chambered organ just beneath your sternum, a perfect + harmonious balance of electricity, chemistry, pressure, and tone, a gift with at, without any conscious effort on your behalf, send the gift of life throughout your body to sustain you. WONDER. MARVEL.
Jens’ big, giving, powerful heart beckons me and you to march onward in his wake, embracing the grace and freedom he wrapped his life around, to continue to stomp out that rhythm that we’ll hear the most loudly when the thunder clouds roll in and Yens takes to his drum set in the sky and makes a mighty ruckus with THE KING.
You are dearly loved, deeply revered, immensely missed by a greater group of people that you would have ever fathomed… I cannot wait to look you in the eyes again, see you smile, and fall on my face beside you in worship at the Throne of Grace.