Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Unspeakable Evil and Amazing Grace

On Monday, Virginia Tech was shaken by an unthinkable tragedy--the worst shooting in American History. In the last 36 hours, the whole nation has rallied to support the school in prayer, vigils and in remembrance of the lives lost. Police and many others are only beginning to determine just what motivated that young man to committ such a terrible act--in an angry and lengthy note written prior to the shootings, he blamed "rich kids and religion." The indictment of religion, in particular, left me with an indescribable chill of dread. Creation has been thoroughly saturated with sin, and we ourselves are no exception. But to reject the very idea of God, to outright deny that innate sense of a divine creator to the point of taking 32 lives? That is the embodiment of evil. That, friends, is Satan at work.

However, just as the fall is a recurring truth in History, a greater truth is that of redemption. God uses even the most despicable sins and tragedies as He works out His plan. This shooting is no exception. Even in the midst of death, sorrow and confusion, there is a story of grace to be found, and that is the story which I will briefly relate here:

Liviu Librescu taught engineering and math at VA Tech. A 76-year old Romanian Jew, Librescu had survived the Holocaust, fled Communist Romania, and forged a career as an aeronautical engineer & educator. On Monday, the elderly Librescu had blocked the door to his class, enabling his students to escape by jumping out the windows, before he, himself was shot and killed. This act of grace and sacrifice is a beacon at such a dark time. I can only hope that Librescu's students will live the rest of their lives in eternal gratitude to his sacrifice; that they will show such grace and selflessness in everything they do.

Even when Satan strikes a devastating blow, God's saving grace endures. It may not always be obvious, especially when grief clouds our vision and the thick fog of despair gathers around us. Even though sin is so painfully obvious in every walk of life, we must not lose heart. Even in the face of suffocating doubt, we must not reject God, our Creator. He is always there. And He will Triumph.

Nate Gibson

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Easter Sunrise on Walnut Hill

"After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men." Matthew 28: 1-4


"Nate, time to wake up." Even though mom is not shouting, her voice is louder than my alarm, which had blared and beeped for five minutes without waking me.

Sluggishly, I open my eyes and look to the clock on my nightstand. I blink twice and the blurry red digits slide into focus: 4:50 am.

"There's coffee in the kitchen. I'll be outside setting up. No rain, so we'll be up on the hill. Happy Easter!" Mom leaves the room swiftly, and I wonder to myself just how I missed out on her “morning person” genes.

I step out of bed and dress clumsily, nearly falling over twice as I climb into my own jeans.

In the kitchen, I pour myself a cup of coffee and take a seat by the window. The sky is dark, except for the moon, shining brightly above our barn.

My brother, who did inherit the "morning person" gene, strides into the kitchen.

Setting down my mug, I grunt a jumbled combination of "Good morning" and "Happy Easter." The coffee will take a few minutes to kick in.

Fortunately, Ben is used to my incoherent morning mumblings, and returns the greeting. "Dad's bringing the truck down to the barn,” he tells me, “You ready?"

I tip the mug over my lips and catch the last few drops before grabbing a pair of ratty barn gloves and stepping out into the crisp April morning.

"The angel said to the women, 'do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay." Matthew 28: 5-6


I jog down the hill to our old red hay barn, the brisk air cutting through my lingering sleepiness with every breath. The first traces of morning are touching the night sky now, cloaking the farm in an eerie shade of blue.

Ben and Dad are already tossing hay bales onto the back of the Chevy pickup. I hop into the pickup bed and stack the bales.

Dad throws the last bale on and Ben and I climb the stack, and take a seat at the top. We duck to avoid branches and power lines as he drives up the path. Ahead, the lone, tall tree atop our hill stands out against the fading night sky.

Dad parks the pickup twenty feet from the tree. Ben and I jump down and unload the bales, then arrange them in five rows of four, with an aisle down the middle. It’s a crude sanctuary, bales for pews.

We stack several bales at the front, and place our old Yamaha keyboard on top. In just an hour, family, friends, neighbors, people from church, and even strangers will fill this cold hilltop chapel in the bonds of Christian fellowship.


"Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying... At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
'Woman,' he said, 'why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?'
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.'
Jesus said to her, 'Mary.'
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means teacher.")
Jesus said, 'Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: 'I have seen the Lord!' And she told them that he had said these things to her."
John 20: 10-11, 14-18


Mom is setting up silver pots filled with coffee and hot chocolate on card tables in the barn. Our inquisitive horses poke their gray noses out from their stalls. Several years ago, one of our mares decided to have a foal on Easter, early in the morning. We named the filly "Alleluia.”

People start arriving at 6:30. An assortment of cars transforms our driveway, front lawn, and horse arena into a sprawling makeshift parking lot. I return to the top of the hill and begin to pass out bulletins fresh from our kitchen printer.

Familiar and unfamiliar faces gradually fill the pews of hay. Families bundled up in several layers of sweatshirts huddle together under quilts and small children run around giggling, weaving between the bales, somehow immune to the cold.

I sit down between Ben and Lea on one of the front bales. Mom, seated at the keyboard, begins to play "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" in a faux organ tone, and the sound of our hilltop chorus breaks through the still morning.

In the distance, the sun is rising behind Mount Baker, shooting vibrant rays of yellow across a mellow orange horizon. Trails of light dance off of the clouds and the mountain shines brightly as if the sky burst open right behind it.

As we sing the closing line, "Christ has opened paradise", the significance dawns like the sunrise itself. Christ allowed himself to be mocked and tortured, humiliated beyond comprehension. He died in history’s most gruesome manner, hanging like the most despicable criminal. He endured an inestimable number of eternities in hell for the sins of every single person who ever lived, including each of us here this morning, and yet...

And yet, he conquered sin and even death itself, leaving the promise of redemption. Of paradise.

The sun rises high above the mountains as we worship, illuminating Whatcom County in a golden glow and the wonderful assurance of this promise is cast over our small congregation with the sunlight: Christ the Lord is risen today.



The Easter Sunrise service tradition on our farm was started decades ago by a man named Morton Lawrence (from whom we bought our farm). When my parents bought the property 17 years ago, one of his conditions was that we keep this tradition alive. Every year, my parents faithfully organize this service. We put a notice in the Lynden Tribune, and in our church bulletin. We buy bulk quantities of Cinnamon Rolls, hot chocolate, orange juice and coffee for refreshments after the service. My dad puts together a brief meditation on a variety of themes that connect to the resurrection, and recruits scripture readers (usually my brother and I are among the recruits). Together, we pick songs to sing during the service. If the weather is good, we meet on the hill as I have just described. If it is raining, we meet in the hay barn. In any case, rain or shine, this tradition has caused Easter to stand out in my mind and soul. When I think of Easter, I do not think of a giant pink bunny, or Cadbury Creme Eggs (even though those are pretty good). I think of the sun rising over the mountains as we sing of the greatest truth in history: the promise of redemption, paradise and shalom offered to us by Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, our Savior.

It is my prayer that all of you will consider this amazing truth on this day, as well. Happy Easter and God Bless!

Nate Gibson

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Wayfarers all

Every so often, I have one of those days where it feels as though the walls are closing in on me. My dorm room seems to shrink (which is an impressive feat), and the quiet life at Dordt just doesn't seem to cut it. Usually, when this happens, my roommates and I make a midnight WalMart run, just to get off campus. However, the harrowing late night journeys to the south side of Sioux Center just aren't enough anymore.

Something quiet and distant is calling out to me, beckoning me to travel and explore. I've heard it for a while now, and chosen to ignore it. But every time I ignore it and try to go on with the comfortable routine that I know so well, it comes back again, resolutely offering its persistent plea. The road is calling me, but I don't think that it is calling me westward, back home to Washington. Not yet, anyway. Instead, I find myself looking east, toward the Atlantic and beyond. Celtic ruins, historic battlefields, massive stone castles, ancient cities and other places which I cannot even imagine are calling out to me.

When I was home for Spring Break, I listened to a friend talk about some of his own travels overseas. His goal was to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro, but even getting to Africa was a horror story. He spent over 36 hours in Heathrow airport in London, trying to track down the elusive Ethiopia Airways, with whom he had booked his flight. As it turned out, Ethiopia Airways was literally just a desk and a chair, and it soon became apparent that he would have to make other arrangements. He got to Africa by the skin of his teeth, but landed 6 hours south of where he needed to be. So, he took a chain of city buses North until he arrived at Kilimanjaro. This horror story should have snuffed out any desire of mine to travel, but instead I found myself thinking about how cool it would be to have a story like that, of my own.

To use a tired cliche, I want to see the world. Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Australia, New Zealand... Last semester, Dr. Fessler told our Civil War History class about how he dropped out of college for a semester to backpack around Europe. I don't know if I could do that, as I would be losing some valuable scholarships. But, if not now, when? Before I know it, I will have my own classroom, and I will be responsible for teaching high schoolers about World History. How will I be truly qualified to teach World History if I confine myself to two small Dutch communities in Washington and Iowa? I should be visiting a REAL Dutch community in the Netherlands, or perhaps an Italian community. There are limits to what I can learn sitting behind a desk or writing papers in my dorm room, and I think that I am approaching these limits.

I need to keep going about my business, reading my textbooks, taking my tests, and writing my papers. I have worked hard for nearly 6 semesters, and only have a couple more to go. However, even with the end in sight, I cannot help but feel distracted as I think about what lies just out of reach, beyond the cornfields, and across the ocean...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Cross Country and the Meaning of Life

I’ve always wanted to write about Cross Country, and the complex & fascinating mental process that goes into a race. Here goes. Enjoy!

Time seems to slow to a crawl as the crowd hushes, and in that eternal instant, your mind goes blank. Although there are 200 other runners lined up beside you, waiting in perfect silence, a wave of solitude passes over you. Like a tiger about to pounce, you stand poised, with one leg behind, and one ahead, toe touching the fresh line of chalk. You are keenly aware of even the gentlest breeze–after all, your worn, thin jersey provides little insulation, and your shorts stop a good 10 inches above your knees. Yet, you do not feel cold. Instead, you are completely focused on one thing: the man with the pistol. He raises his pistol arm.


Anxiously, you shift your feet.
He raises his other arm.


Any lingering nervousness and second thoughts evaporate as you wait with baited breath for th–


Without thinking, you spring from the starting line at a full-out sprint, your legs pumping with stunning automaticity. The cheers and chatter of the spectators on both sides are nothing compared to the thunderous roar of feet pounding all around, and the rushing of air as you dash through a tunnel of runners. Gradually, your mind takes over, and you regain control of your own legs. You dodge and weave, passing as many other runners as you can, before you settle in, pushing hard, yet breathing steady, at your race pace. By this time, you have crossed a large field, and you follow the chalk trail into the woods. As you look up, you notice a chain of runners in front of you. Quickly, you decide that you will try to pass five of them before you emerge from the woods at the 1.5 mile mark.

As the woods close around you, you speed up slightly to catch up with the runner in front of you. Black jersey, seems to be breathing pretty hard. He slows a little as you approach and you quickly pass by him without a hassle. As you slowly work your way up the chain, the trail becomes narrow and windey. Purple jersey is next in your sights, and he seems to be going strong and–wait! He stumbles on a tree root while rounding a corner. He doesn’t fall, but this destroys his momentum. Now’s your chance! You speed up again to pass him, putting a safe distance behind you before you return to race pace. You look ahead again. Red jersey is going strong about 10 feet in front of you. From his form, you can tell that he is holding back a bit. You decide to stick with him for a while before striking ahead. He will not let you pass without a fight.

You pick up your pace a bit to keep up with him. He hears you coming, and as you expected, defensively moves directly in front of you. You shift, so as to shadow him at an angle, but you cannot think of passing him right now. The trail is too narrow, and your sudden change in pace has caused a dull gnawing pain in your side. Without sacrificing your speed, you take a moment to check your breathing, and notice that it has become uneven, and shallow. At this point, you do as you have trained yourself to do and start playing the 3rd track from Coach’s Enya CD in your head. As you start taking full steady breaths again, courtesy of Enya’s hearty Celtic beat, the sideache ebbs. It won’t dawn on you until after the race what a ridiculously silly habit this is. But, silly or not, it works. You hear someone ahead calling out times. Hmm… must be the mile mark. They call out 5:55 as you run past. 5:55 is a little faster than usual, but you are still feeling relatively good.

However, it would appear that your red friend is still feeling good too, and you know that you will have to push yourself to the limits and beyond if you want to beat him. Ahead, you see daylight: the end of the woods. However, a steep upward climb separates you from the open trail. You decide that this is your time to attack. As you approach the hill, you lean forward and sprint with all of your might. Evidently, red hadn’t been expecting this display of energy from you, and you blow past him with ease. You reach the top of the hill, heart pounding, and realize that you had just taken a gutsy, and calculated risk. While you are now halfway through the race, and passed up red by a longshot, your charge up the hill was exhausting. You begin to feel your faster-than-average pace catching up with you. As you coast downhill back onto the grassy field, you realize that the next one and a half miles will be an uphill battle. A mental fight to the finish.

Your lungs are burning and your legs are beginning to feel like dead weight, but you force yourself to keep moving. As you follow the trail along the fence, you notice that you are approaching one of your teammates. He too, looks as though he is hurting. As you come alongside, you summon the breath to choke out a hoarse “Keep it up, bud.” After a short pause, he responds with an equally hoarse, “You too.” Even in an individual and somewhat solitary sport such as Cross Country, there is room for teamwork and encouragement. You notice that the trail continues on the other side of the fence, as the runners at the front of the pack fly past. A short distance beyond them, you catch a welcome sight: a chute lined with plastic flags. The finish line. Less than a mile to go, you determine. With this optimistic realization, a second wind hits you, and you push forward once again.

Rounding the end of the fence, you become aware of someone coming up fast right behind you. Red’s back. In seconds, he has passed you up, and is plowing forward with a vengeance. You have arrived at the moment of truth. You could coast to the finish now, and still wind up with your best time yet. Or, you could use of every ounce of energy and beat the red guy. Of course, you opt for the latter. One is rarely capable of making rational decisions after running for more than 2 miles. The brain just doesn’t respond well when it has to share that much oxygen with the legs. You speed up, until you are neck and neck with red. He is visibly annoyed by your determination, and leans in, in an attempt to cut you off. However, you quicken your step and hold your ground.

By now, you are rounding the final corner into the homestretch. Some 400 meters stand between you and the chute, and you realize that neck and neck won’t work in the chute. Someone has to break away.

300 meters. You feel something change within your body. You no longer feel tired or sore or achey. As the tidal wave of adrenaline crashes within you, your mind once again goes blank. As at the start of the race, your legs start pumping automatically. You feel your arms flailing at your sides. You hear your parents and friends cheering you on, but they sound distant and incomprehensible. The chute seems to draw closer and closer, and you are only aware of one thing: That you are moving faster than you have ever moved before. Red is fighting with every last ounce of strength: He was saving his energy for this very moment. The chute is approaching rapidly, much as the ground must look to a sky-diver in a free-fall. 20 meters. 13 meters. 7 feet. With one final push, you propel yourself into the chute and cross the finish line, a split-second ahead of red.

You stumble out of the chute, and lean over, hands on knees. As you fight to catch your breath, sweat stinging in your eyes, you hear your parents and coach talking to you all at once, congratulating you. Somebody hands you a plastic bottle. Without hesitation you unscrew the cap and drink. Water? No, too sweet… Gatorade. Lemon Lime. Greedily, you drain the bottle, as the endorphins start to kick in. Wiping your mouth, you gesture at the stopwatch that your coach is holding. In a half-coherent mumble, you ask for your time. Fortunately, your coach seems to be fluent in half-coherent mumbling and responds to your question: 18 minutes and 41 seconds. A personal best, by 25 seconds. Chatting and comparing times with your teammates, you slowly make your way back to the chute to cheer on the runners who are still finishing, regardless of the jersey that they wear.


It has been nearly six years since I ran in my last Cross Country meet, but these images and memories are still vividly fresh in my mind. As pathetic as it sounds, I even got nervous just writing about those moments before the race. The 5K Cross Country race is a battle, to be sure. You need to push yourself physically, and when that becomes too difficult, you need to push yourself mentally. I think this is an apt metaphor for life and school as well. You cannot simply coast. The most rewarding end calls for hard, even exhausting work in the meantime. I need to constantly remind myself of this, particularly as I come into the “homestretch” of the school year. I hope this is something that all of you will consider, as well.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

Spring Break 2007

For the last four days of Spring Break, I experienced a sensation that I’d not had in over 18 years: I was the only child. I’m told that I wasn’t too thrilled about giving up this role 18 years ago when my brother was born. However, my temporary return to this solitary office showed me just how far I’d come in 18 years. With my sister Lea gone on a field trip to California and Ben gone to all-state choir, my quiet Spring Break got a great deal quieter (in other words, more boring). With 21 years under my belt, I can now see what a red-haired, pudgy-faced bratty toddler couldn’t: having siblings is WAY cooler than being an only child. I noticed the gap particularly at dinner on Thursday night. My parents took me out to the Fairway CafĂ© and we mostly just talked about how their work was going, how my classes were going, and the problems plaguing education today. Useful, from the perspective of a future teacher, but totally devoid of any humor or light-heartedness. Typically, my brother and I will banter back and forth at the dinner table, with a wide variety of inside jokes, and humorous stories from school. Sometimes, my sister even joins in. I missed that. I think that too often, we take our siblings for granted. Although one may never articulate it, siblings are often among the closest friends one has. In short, I am grateful that I did not remain an only child (and am slightly bummed that I had to spend the rest of my Spring Break as an only child).

After a busy first couple of days at home (I think I drove 100 miles just going back and forth from Lynden over the weekend), Spring Break ended on a quiet note. As for now, it is back into the chaotic mix of hard work, sleep, fun and boredom that is college life. Except that, coming into the home stretch, the hard work will be harder and the sleep will be scarce. Although it will be challenging, I look forward to all of the good times between now and the end of the school year.

So... I guess I'm a blogger now?

Over the last couple months, I've done a ton of writing in my spare time. Most of it has gone into my notes page on Facebook, so I decided that I might as well just start a blog. I'll upload the last couple notes that I've written on Facebook over here to start. More than likely, I won't post everyday (maybe not even every week). If you don't see a post from me in a while, it doesn't mean that I am dead or that I've abandoned my blog. I'm just waiting for another good topic to write about. In the meantime, enjoy some of my more recent writings!