Updated: Dec 23, 2020
A peaceful feeling. I sit with my beautiful wife of 39 years, Ellen, watching a beautiful, golden setting September sun drop onto the horizon. Above the picturesque valley that runs through the center of the farm, the golden globe slowly descends. The emerald green fields are dotted with horses. We have thankful hearts for the many years our family – all seven of us – had together in this awesome setting. What a gift. I think of the memories of all five children.
Jack’s missing face now is superimposed in my mind’s eye when I scan the farm. His growing up here permeates my thoughts. Dubbed “Our Father’s Farm,” this setting’s incredible nature is an invite to feel the trace of God. I reflect on the countless hearts touched by Jack’s story and am continually amazed to hear from people imprinted with the love of Christ.
We are thankful for you, Lord. Your hand is upon us. Our suffering grief for Jack has thrust us into your arms. Now, you have become the source of our joy. A peaceful feeling.
This is quite opposite from the night it all began back in 2014, when we got the call from the Breckenridge, Colorado, police department that forever changed our lives.
“Mr. McAtee, your son, Jack, was involved in a serious accident,” the officer says.
“Yes,” I say. Blood pressure rising, I wait to hear the searing details. My mind revisits the familiar feeling of desperation in the pit of my stomach, gearing up once again to stretch a safety net under the life of the son we love so much. There’s no one I have ever met in my life who has a more tender heart for God than our Jack, whose bipolar syndrome periodically raised its ugly head beginning in his early 20s.
I listen to the officer’s words unfold. My heart sinks, my loins gird up, my mind puts everything else on hold. There is that familiar feeling again in the pit of my stomach, like being kicked by a horse in the chest, having the wind knocked out of you. I am all too familiar with the iterations of stepping in to save a child from bipolar disorder. Our family has done it before several times with the most wonderful son in the world, but little do I know that the journey I am embarking upon now will change our lives forever.
“Yesterday evening, he drove off a 120-foot-high cliff on the shore of Lake Dillon. Eyewitnesses reported that his car, traveling at approximately 50 miles per hour, left the cliff and did an end over end before smashing into the water and completely submerging. Fifteen seconds later, your son swam to the surface. It’s a miracle he is still alive, having suffered only a mere scrape above his left eye. We are placing Jack on a 72-hour hold for mental health evaluation, and he is being released into the care of the local mental health clinic.”
“I will be on the next flight to Denver,” I say. I slowly hang up the phone. Fifteen hours later while on the plane to Denver, I receive a voicemail from the Breckenridge Police Department stating that Jack had been psychologically evaluated and had been released. My heart sinks.
Thus, our family’s search for Jack began on September 18, 2014. We reluctantly agreed that social media would be the best way to efficiently conduct the search. We drew close and shared every inch of the journey with tens of thousands of people all over the world, some of whom provided endless help with the search. Like the root system of a stand of aspen trees, for 13 months the incredible people of The Crossing supported us with such tender love. The weight of sadness now remains, but there is a lifting breeze of joy this side of heaven, knowing there will be a reunion someday like no other.
Still, the end of our search yielded the worst. We’re here now, and oh, how we miss him ’til this very day. His incredible smile, his raw wit, his heart so big for others. Even now, years later, there are days when I can’t believe he is actually gone. His life has left such a strong imprint on so many. Yet all we have of him now is evidenced by his artifacts, including his skis and infamous snowboard he shredded through the peaks of the Tenmile Range, and a great picture of his smiling face as he sat in the cockpit of his plane heading up the glacial coast of Alaska. I feel such love sometimes when I look at these artifacts. They bring alive the memory of Jack’s indomitable spirit for raw adventure in the mountains. They also remind me of the great heart he shared with so many brokenhearted people.
This brokenhearted father’s heart is regularly gladdened at the thought of being reunited with Jack, shredding the mountains of heaven with him, feeling his love, relishing his smile. Only this time, forever. Yes, the end of our search yielded not the result we hoped for, yet I was so touched by God’s love because of so many. God was searching my heart, searching for me. Well, he got my attention. And now I better understand the purpose of my life and how I fit into a much larger, cosmic purpose that God has designed for eternity. That is what this blog is all about - a journey that impacts our lives not just for time but also for eternity. Join us now on the actual search for Jack and witness a story about how God made beauty out of ashes told thru posts we made to a website we created for the search. A thirteen month search starting September 29, 2014. Start here....