Thursday, January 1, 2015

White Lemonade

It’s been a wild month. When I posted Paradise Found and Lost, I had no idea that it would spark a winter wildfire of love, support, and giving. The piece was originally intended as a “for your eyes only” essay to be shared with the writers group to which I belong, and nothing more. After some contemplation, hesitation, and even trepidation, I decided to post it online, much to the dismay of Elizabeth, my wife. She is not a fan of the spotlight.


Soon after the essay went live, offers to stand vigil in our yard popped up in the form of messages, comments, and emails. Cookies, cupcakes, and neighbors began appearing on our front porch, and text messages from numbers I didn’t recognize vowing support and love began to drain my phone’s battery. My father-in-law took me to lunch (just the two of us, for the first time ever) and shared with me his own experience with harassment, and offered his absolute support for my family. It felt good to be cared for by so many, and I was confident that my essay would have a lasting impact on the state of our trees, yard, windows, and heart.

We were papered a week later, and it was maddening. I felt like a fool for having believed that our paradise could be so easily restored. The following day passed in anger, and I struggled to believe that everything we had moved to Oakley for hadn’t slipped through our fingers forever. The bitterness began to consume me, and I welcomed it, in spite of knowing from past experience what it would do to me.

And then remembered the example of a man named Joe, whose son Jadin killed himself after being bullied. Joe had every understandable right to lash out, seek revenge, and allow bitterness to corrode his soul. Instead, Joe decided to take the high road (literally), and he began walking across the country to raise awareness of bullying and its effects on others. Along the way he told Jadin’s story to anyone who would listen. Many people did, and Joe changed, even saved lives.

Joe died while walking his way onto my short list of heroes; he was struck and killed on the side of the road in Colorado.

The example of Joe turning something far more bitter than lemons into sweet and inspiring lemonade smacked me in the chest in a way that very few things do, and I felt compelled to decide how I would react to what we had been going through. An idea evolved, and I invited the people of the Kamas Valley to bring toilet paper into our home and get to know us.

1,135 rolls (and counting) later, I’m still working to become more like Joe.

The rolls (and puns) began piling up beneath our Christmas tree, and before long we had enough for Solomon (12) to stack up in doorways, block hallways, and build little forts in the living room. It was fun, it was encouraging, and it was progress. My heart started to soften again, and I found myself looking out our back windows and loving the view again. Every time the doorbell rang, my wife and kids would look at me and say, “that’s for you,” as if they thought it foolhardy of me to invite strangers bearing toilet paper into our home. Before long, however, they too began to anticipate the ringing of the doorbell, the additions to the growing pile, and the strangers that would become friends.

Paper began arriving from around the country. Old friends from past lives and neighborhoods could not help themselves, and they sent their love and support along with rolls and rolls of the white stuff. Much to my surprise, people we didn’t even know drove through stormy weather (some more than once and from far away) to add to our pile of white lemonade.

That sweet, soft, massive pile of white will soon be gone, delivered to the Kamas Food Bank and distributed to those in need, but the sweet, soft, massive pile of support, service, and love will never leave, it will stay with my family forever. To thank those who gave is not enough; I will try to live my thanks in who I am and how I serve others following their example.

In addition to the paper contributions, we were blessed over the course of the 12 days leading up to Christmas with 24 days of gifts from two anonymous Santas. Each day we would wake to find some something special on our front step, and a separate daily scavenger hunt kept us wandering about town in search of the next gift and clue. Both Santas (and their helpers) made sure to include reminders that we were not only loved by, but also needed in the valley. Santas, you know who you are, and we are forever grateful for your kindness and love.

Elizabeth and I decided that we would not exchange gifts for Christmas this year. (She broke the rules and bought me some skis, and so I actually used them, which was for her a delightful gift in return.) At first I thought our decision to forgo giving each other gifts was a sign of us getting older and less interested in the magic of Christmas, but I now believe that it was more a sign that we are starting to figure out how this whole Christmas thing works, and what it is all about.

You have all had a hand in that.

And so I extend again my thanks to the good people of not only the Kamas Valley but the world who gave, supported, reached out, cared, and shared.

Because of you it truly has been a Merry, white, (and punny) Christmas.

For more information about Joe and Jadin, see

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