Below is the Thansgiving Testimony shared by Delaware County Christian School Teacher and Alumnus ('99), Mark Dixon, as part of our All School Thanksgiving Chapel.
I have a black walnut tree right outside my backdoor.
Just before the Fall season begins each year, this tree sporadically drops large, green walnuts . . . in the yard, on the driveway, and even in the gutters.
These walnuts are impervious to conventional yard tools like rakes and leaf blowers.
Thus, on most Saturday mornings in September and October, my neighbors have the pleasure of watching me meander around my own backyard, wearing my son’s T-ball helmet for protection, picking up walnuts one-by-one and dropping them into a kiddie pail, normally used to construct sandcastles.
As you might imagine, these humbling mornings have afforded me plenty of time to think. This year, as I knelt in introspection on my three-hundred-and-sixteenth walnut, I stopped for a moment and surveyed several of the other trees in the neighborhood.
To my chagrin, the majority of the trees in my line of vision still possessed all of their midsummer green leaves, as their owners sat comfortably at their kitchen tables sipping coffee, reading the morning paper, not wearing a T-ball helmet. My tree, on the other hand, had already shed the majority of its walnuts and leaves.
A few days later, my walnut tree was completely bare. The time for it to bear fruit and shed its leaves came early. It’s been ready for winter for a few weeks now.
There’s another tree that I encounter on a regular basis which has consumed many of my thoughts in recent weeks. It is situated here on campus, right outside of the art building. At the foot of the tree there is a plaque which reads:
In Memory of Rick Rossi
friend, teammate, brother
Twelve years ago, Rick and I graduated from DC together. We were basketball teammates and good friends. As a sophomore, Rick fought through a year-long battle with Leukemia, which kept him bedridden most of that year. However, he returned to school to repeat his sophomore year and was cancer-free throughout the rest of high school.
Our group of buddies spent countless hours on weekends together, doing what high school students do: hanging at friends’ houses, watching sports, or eating huge meals at Denny’s at 10 o’clock at night. Rick was a soft-spoken and notably humble guy, uncommonly mature for a teenager.
By May of our senior year, Rick was already looking forward to beginning his college career at Temple University in the Fall.
I can vividly remember our senior trip to Virginia Beach with our graduating class. All of our academic requirements fulfilled, we were free to enjoy ourselves until Graduation Day.
During a day-long trip to Busch Gardens, an amusement park in Virginia, Rick asked if we could “wait up” for a few minutes between roller coaster rides. “My back is killing me”, he said, as he sat down on a nearby bench.
Later that night, a group of us were walking down Main Street, looking for a place to grab dinner, and again Rick stopped, doubled over in pain, and said he thought he needed to head back to the hotel to lay down.
A few weeks after graduation, a trip to the doctor revealed the unthinkable: Rick’s cancer had returned.
I can remember the surreal ride through West Philadelphia with that same group of buddies, going to visit Rick at Children’s Hospital. None of us knew what to say or how to act. What would we say to Rick? What would we say to his folks? Why would God do this? Why now?
I don’t recall many details about those visits to Rick’s hospital room; we were all pretty numb. But I cannot forget Rick’s smile and the inexorable peace that permeated that room for weeks. His doctors were confounded by Rick’s joy; to them, the timing of this recent onset represented the pinnacle of tragedy.
For months after Rick’s death, I asked the Lord “Why Rick? Why not me or one of the other guys?” As a parent now myself, I am keenly aware of the prayers that the Rossis prayed for their little boy as he lie in bed each night.
How could they have foreseen or prepared themselves for the path that awaited their family?
They couldn’t. And I can’t. . . And even when we are confident that our loved ones will spend eternity with Christ, the pain we experience in their absence is palpable.
Nonetheless, Christ calls us to trust him, and not to worry; He tells us that tomorrow will worry about itself.
So what am I thankful for? I’m thankful for today. I’m thankful for today. I’m thankful for flat tires and recessions; I’m thankful for dirty diapers and sleepless nights;
and I’m thankful that although, right now, we see in a mirror dimly, and cannot help but consider God’s ways mere anarchy, soon we will see Him face to face, soon we will understand.
Underneath Rick’s name on the plaque at the foot of the tree, Psalm 1:3 is inscribed:
“And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of living water which yields its fruit in season.”
I am thankful for DC, a community which, year after year, leads students to streams of living water. Rick and I are two of thousands of DC alums rooted in Christ, prepared for the exact course God ordained for us before the foundation of the world.
Like the tree in my backyard, none of us knows when we will shed our last leaf.
All the more, may I, may we, yield fruit in season.
Today is that season . . . and I am thankful for today.
DC Alumnus, Class of 1999
High School English Teacher