build a bridge, how to build a bridge, the transforming impact of investment, legacy the next generation, painting of a bridge, fall foliage painting, Low's Bridge Maine, gospel bridge, bridge design, perspective, past and future, new generations

How to Build a Bridge

Low’s Bridge, one of nine historic covered bridges still in existence in the state of Maine, spans the picturesque Piscataquis River between the villages of Guilford and Sangerville. The current structure is the fourth on the site. The third, built in 1857, lasted for 130 years. They knew how to build a bridge in those days.

This scenic country landmark forms part of my family history and my childhood memories. The farm belonging to my French grandmother in the late ‘’50’s/early ’60’s is located close by. My parents spent their honeymoon here. And we occasionally drove up to the nearby picnic area on a summer day when I was a little girl.

The bridge sits adjacent to another farm once owned by Robert Low (or Lowe), an early Guilford settler. A spring flood swept away the original 1830 construction only two years later. The second attempt met a similar fate in 1857. Third time’s a charm, I guess.

“Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.” –Phyllis Grissim-Theroux

Plenty of early engineering ingenuity went to build a bridge that would endure. Isaac Wharff hauled the granite he used to construct the foundational abutments more than seven miles by oxen team from Guilford Mountain. The third bridge’s carpenter, Leonard Knowlton, used a patented “through truss” design that looked like the letter X.

Though only one lane wide by modern standards, the new 120-foot-long covered bridge was a masterpiece in its time.

Bridgebuilding 101

Meditating on how to build a bridge, I can’t help but recall that wonderful Point of Grace song that says: “There’s a bridge to cross the Great Divide, A way was made to reach the other side…There’s a cross to bridge the Great Divide” (Grant Cunningham & Matt Huesmann).

The bridge over the troubled waters of faults, failures, and faithlessness is Jesus and the gospel. The word gospel derives from the lovely old Anglo-Saxon term god-spell, meaning “good story.” This, in turn, is a translation of the Greek euangelion, “good message” or “good news.”

The Christian community worldwide has just celebrated that good, good Story of stories: That God in the person of Christ Jesus came in the flesh, died for our sins, and rose again…like that fallen bridge. And the story continues: That same Jesus can change our lives today, and through Him we can change the world around us and the course of history.

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.” –Peter Marshall

All my stories are metaphors for the gospel. I always hope that, in some sense, they build a bridge to Jesus. As each of us pours into whatever it is we do for the Kingdom, we pray to impact, inspire, and mentor the next generation. So I feel that I’m bridging generations too.

We are a part of living history, and our legacy lives on. But what happens if I drop the baton of faith…in my family, in my sphere of influence? What if I fail to build a bridge that passes the tests of time and stormy seasons? What if disaster strikes and my bridges collapse and wash downstream?

So how do I build a bridge that lasts?

1. Find a New Design

“We have histories that accumulate in meaning and significance and worth, for we have both a past and a future with God.” –Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire

The builders of the third Low’s Bridge decided to use a brand-new modern design. And it functioned well and stayed strong and stable for several generations. That reminds me that although the old ways preserve our heritage and give us security, sometimes the moment arrives to wisely move on.

The gospel promises, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV). And in the final pages of the Bible, God makes this sparkling announcement from His throne: “Look! I’m making everything new” (Rev. 21:5, MSG).

That’s reconstruction, renovation, restoration! A reload, reset, or refresh in computer lingo.

“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” –Alex Haley

A confession: The painting featured at the top of this post ISN’T Low’s Bridge, at least not to my knowledge. My younger siblings gave me this lithograph as a wedding present (though they may not remember). Over the years, the colors faded to the point where I no longer wanted to display the art.

So a new painting project came to life. Now I’m no visual artist. But I dug out my box of brushes and acrylics and repainted the worn-out lithograph. I don’t think it turned out half bad for a mere dabbler.

2. Brighten Up

In fact, I gave it a new lease on life. I switched out the colors and made it not lighter, but brighter. Not dull and opaque, but vivid, opulent even. I feared I’d feel silly and incompetent, but I’ll admit, I worked as joyfully as a child at play.

Low’s Bridge isn’t red, at least not today, and I doubt it ever was, even in my childhood. It’s barnboard gray, as tradition dictates. The fourth, present-day bridge doesn’t have the X-trusses visible from the outside, either.

A catastrophic flood on April 1, 1987, destroyed the long-lived third bridge. Plans to rebuild the treasured landmark began as soon as the swollen waters of the Piscataquis receded. The new bridge replicated the original as closely as possible while strengthening the overall structure to bring it into compliance with modern codes. The 1857 masonry abutments were raised three feet to avoid potential future damage.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.” –Jim Rohn

On the other hand, my picture didn’t lose its color because of any major calamity such as water damage or excess sun. Yet, over time, its vibrancy simply drained away. How many of us experience that same loss of vitality with the slow drift of time? Distressed by the humdrum rub of life, our bridges weaken and wash away.

Perhaps it’s time to repaint the bridge. Or build a new one.

3. Change Your Perspective

Sometimes the best way to do that is simply to change your point of view. Look at the world from another angle.

Novelist Ann Mah (Jacqueline in Paris) describes how a fictional Jackie Bouvier (Kennedy) and her friend are completely unimpressed with the much-applauded riverside view of a French village… Until they stroll across a bridge and see everything from the other side. The charm—and often the uniqueness—lies in the depth perception of perspective.

“One of the hardest things in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn.” –Oprah Winfrey

In part, I did this with my painting. For forty years, I believed it was an autumn scene because I was married in that season. Then, when I took the frame apart, I discovered a title: “Springtime in the Country.” I guess that explains why the hues ranged from blush pink to blah blue and gray-green.

But I splashed it with brilliant fall foliage and changed the name to “Autumn in the Country.”

Have you ever viewed something that familiar from a fresh perspective? I once caught a glimpse of my mother as I walked in front of a mirror—and gasped! Not long after, I did a double take when I saw a photo of my daughter and mistook it for myself at first. I never realized the three of us look so much alike, but the likeness is uncanny.

That’s how I see Low’s Bridge these days. A symbol of my family, it spans the generations from my parents and grandparents to my children and grandchildren. The multiple dimensions afforded by time and distance help us build a bridge from one generation to another.

A bridge—or door—exists into every heart and life, not just into the storybook fantasies.

4. Reach Into the Future

Could you build that bridge to the next generation of kids and young adults? Could you discover what ignites their passion and fills them with joy?

More important, could you be a bridge? Not in the same sense as Jesus, of course, but as a life coach, a mentor, a living masterpiece demonstrating the true Story of good news… Good news as opposed to bad news, sad news, and you know, fake news.

“I want to be the bridge to the next generation.” –Michael Jordan

I’m a Baby Boomer myself. Most of my original Desert Island Diaries characters fall into the next group, called Gen X, a bridge generation between me and my Millennial daughters. They in turn will give birth to Gen Z and the Alpha Generation.  

My children’s and grandchildren’s culture and thought patterns differ from my own. They live in a post-modern, post-Christian world. And despite an almost post-book reading mindset, they remain image-driven and story-addicted (witness the wild popularity of movie sequels and series TV!)

How can we learn to build a bridge to the Gen Z-oomers? I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d like to partner with us in finding ways to reach and touch their hearts.

You may think you’re “just” a nurse, a secretary, or a mom and grandma. Maybe you’re a cashier, a cook, or a CEO. I’m just a Bible teacher, just a writer. But we are all so much more than that. And we’re becoming more each day—a new creation.

5. Honor the Past

How do you face the floods that roar into your life? We don’t fix life’s broken bridges with education and technology, friends, fame, or fortune. Instead, we put confidence in the new Builder.

“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” –Isaac Newton

Compromising the integrity of our work and core values will always put us in a shaky situation, and making temporary repairs won’t save the bridge. Focusing on the lucrative and luxurious never fills the deep longing of our souls for beauty and meaning. And giving up after the second—or even third—attempt to build means we’ve ditched a precious heritage.  

Low’s Bridge has been named a national historic landmark. In 2004, I made a pilgrimage back to the new/old covered bridge, rebuilt again in 1990. With my husband and daughters, my mom, my aunt, and a cousin, we picnicked in the same “old” spot and strolled across the “new” bridge.

I wonder if this fourth bridge will serve for 130 years? If we’ve learned how to build a bridge by now, perhaps this one will outlive them all.

Now, whenever I contemplate my refurbished painting, I can’t help but remember the past. I remember my past. It’s a link that joins the generations.

Yet I look forward to the future, too. On one bank, we bless the ties that bind, then leave the old behind. On the opposite bank, we wind on down the road and journey toward the land of the good Story where everything is new.

After all, the purpose of a bridge is to cross to the other side.

What’s your bridge story? And how would you like to repaint it?

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