A friend’s brother passed away this past year unexpectedly. The brother had lived quite a colorful life and often found himself the black sheep of the family. He was rebellious, adventurous and sometimes just plain lost. He migrated from his home, in the southern part of the United States, to the dry desert of Arizona. It was there, working with his hands to build and create; exploring the rugged terrain of a deserted land; meeting others who were drawn to the same complexly beautiful, star-splattered sky, that he began to find himself fully alive again.
The life of Todd Skaggs, a man I never knew, began to fascinate me.
Here was a person who found himself most fully alive in a desert.
Finding one’s self most fully alive in a dry, seemingly dead place like a desert, seemed so ironic to me. How do you experience rebirth in a place where at best, organisms perpetually fight to survive, and at worst new life never has a chance to begin? As his own brother’s grieved his sudden passing they wrote about Todd’s life and how the desert had become so much a part of him.
“Todd was the prodigal son who never found his way back to his father in this lifetime but is firmly held in the arms of our dad in another. Todd loved life. That is a sure thing. He moved to Arizona to be closer to life- scaling close to death as he loved the adventure that the desert brought. Todd loved the desert. I cannot underscore this enough. He loved the desert. He loved getting on his motorcycle with extra fuel strapped to a backpack and riding deep into the painted wilderness until the stars outnumbered the grains of sand. He understood God's perfect design in the smallest of desert creatures. Todd knew them all by name.”
A prodigal son found a place to call home in the desert.
And this got me thinking about my own journey. How many times have I been in the walls of a church or fully immersed into the domesticity, noise and rush of routine daily life and not heard from God? Too many to count.
But when I finally make it to a “painted wilderness”- a desolate place where perhaps I’ve ended up because I have wandered there with extra fuel strapped to my back, hoping to catch glimpses of unending beauty, hoping for answers, hoping to be found or be free, or perhaps because I have been dumped there, lost, alone and terrified- it is quite often in the desert that I “begin to understand God’s perfect design.”
The life of Todd Skaggs, a man I never knew, reminded me that sometimes it takes a desert- a quiet, dry, rugged, lonely desert to peer deep into the eyes of what is true and be drawn back to the heartbeat of what is constant and holy. It makes complete sense that this is where a prodigal son would wander back to- a place where God’s holiness is laid bare.
During my own season of becoming I learned to call the desert my home because within this painted wilderness I met a God who seemed quite at ease with the sand-whipped rocks, cactus and empty space. There in the emptiness- every crevice of soil, sand, sun and sin were laid bare under a million stars declaring God’s glory. And with an empty pallet- the Lord began to paint my own wilderness with brilliant strokes of color I had never even seen. That which was lost began to be found. In the desert.
I wrote the song, The In Between, because of a man I never knew.
A man who taught me-
the desert isn’t a place we go to die, but a place we go to come back to life
The In Between by Paul Moak, Jenny Simmons
Light shines bright In the desert night And I feel alive again I've given up on trying to fight Wars I cannot win So here we are, with a million stars This is where new life begins And I'm ready to take your hand
Throw away my plans I finally feel free I can dream again See where your spirit leads And I will cross this desert ground Cause what was lost can now be found Here in between
Lights shine bright In the city sky And my heart feels full again I was swallowed up by buildings so high And walls that could not bend Now we're here tonight, with a million lights Throwing caution to the wind And I'm ready to take your hand
When you're wandering the great unknown A million miles away from home Just because you're lost doesn't mean you're alone
Throw away my plans And I finally feel free I can dream again See where your spirit leads I will cross this broken ground Cause I was lost, but now I'm found Here in between