This time last year, my high school junior stood on the edge of a year of lasts.
Every time I watched friends post pictures of their seniors’ award, their last prom or their graduation, I whispered thanks that we weren’t there yet.
We had one more year.
It was as if all of his 17 years -- his infancy and preschool and boyhood – were compressing like an accordion into the one final year at home that stood before us.
How could I make each day count?
Pulling out two mason quart jars from the pantry, I counted out 365 pennies and poured them into the first jar.
My goal was simple: every day I’d pull a penny from the first jar and drop it into the second.
And every day I’d remember to make this day count -- to be intentional with my parenting, conversations and the lessons that still needed teaching.
It wasn’t just my son facing a year of lasts. His whole friend group would turn the page on their childhood.
So I pulled more mason jars from the pantry, filled them with 365 pennies and gave them to my mom friends with rising seniors along with these words:
“This year our kids will go through their last first day of school, the last football game, the last soccer game, the last banquet and prom and senior night and high school Sunday school class.
We’ve got a hundred hoops to jump through this year – volunteer hours, testing, college apps, college visits, senior pictures, scholarships, senior trips…time is going to accelerate come fall.
So, I’m giving you 2 jars. The first is filled with 365 pennies, one penny for each day we have left with our kids until they walk the stage. Every morning, take a penny out of the jar. What will that day hold? What will we focus on? What will we prioritize? What really matters on that one day?
But we don’t just keep taking pennies out. We’re adding pennies to the other jar.
Every day, we get to pour into our kids. 365 days’ worth. To purposely move past the busyness of sports and homework and jobs and parent their hearts. Every day, when I take that penny out, I want it to remind me to use that day as God would have me use it.
And as I pray for mine, I’ll be praying for yours. I’m so honored to parent alongside you. Love you, friend! Here we go!”
Well, here we are, four days from graduation and I’d like to tell you I’ve dropped 361 pennies into the second jar, marking each day with high purpose and intention.
But sometime this year, the jars got pushed aside, then taken off the counter, and then forgotten altogether. (So sorry mom friends!)
Maybe I pushed them aside the week my son’s car breathed its last and our septic backed up and the air conditioner condenser went out.
Maybe it was a groggy Saturday morning after a late-night football game, trying to get the house picked up and make dinner for college kids home for the weekend.
Or maybe it happened one day when I was up to my eyeballs in homeschooling and deadlines.
Make each day count.
I can only say I’ve been intentional about one thing – well, two. First, one goal. ONE. Everything else – sports, school, priorities, the rhythm and rules of our family – has conformed to this one goal.
From the outset, I’ve asked God for one thing – not wealth or a huge house or any of the other things we can strive for. Over and over, I’ve asked him to help me teach my kids to love the Lord with all their heart and all their mind and all their strength.
Even with that one goal, life sometimes got off balance. I’d find I was parenting toward another goal and have to make course corrections.
The second parenting intention began as a happy accident. I had five young kids who needed history and so we started from the beginning. Which meant we pulled out the Bible, opened to Genesis 1, and gathered on my bed each morning to slowly make our way through Genesis, then Exodus and so on as we read and learned together.
I was hooked. I knew THIS was how we could know the Lord, and as we knew Him, could learn to love Him. From then on out, I’d have to fight the telephone and my to-do list and that math curriculum staring us down to carve out time with my kids in the Word every morning.
Eighteen years later, it’s been the singular most formative practice for my kids, for my family, for me.
Make each day count.
We don't need pennies to remind us of the gravity of this parenting job. And our own limitations. I’ve parented way past my patience and known solutions, begging God for wisdom and direction. I’ve had to apologize for carelessly-flung words, for the times it’s been clear this mom isn’t so much a saint as a sinner who needs a Savior.
In four days, I’m ready to launch my graduate, not because I’ve executed this parenting thing perfectly at all but because in my own desperation the only thing I knew to do was the best thing I could do – point them to Jesus.
Make each day count.
Son, I could not in my wildest plans make each day count. Only God does that. Hold onto Him with everything in you. Fight every distraction to seek Him by yourself every day. And make Him your only goal.
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I stooped to give my 7-year-old a goodnight hug and pray with him. He’d made a pallet on the carpet in my bedroom, something he often did after Dan died.
By day, he played like all the other little boys in neighborhood. You’d never know he was carrying a heavy blanket of grief.
It was at night, tired and finally quiet after the day’s activity, that I’d often hear him crying or see the silent tears as we talked.
On this night, I listened as Matt prayed. He thanked God for the good day and prayed for kids all over the world that needed help. And then he closed with this:
Tell my dad I said hello.
A thousand knives went through my heart.
Inwardly, I wrestled over the brutal honesty of his words even as I steadily bent to kiss his forehead. Tears stung my eyes at the cruel unfairness that a little boy would even have to pray those words and I could see Matt’s eyes were filled with tears too.
I had cried more tears over the last few weeks than I ever imagined a person could cry. Our days were filled with constant reminders of missing Dan. I’d instinctively reach for my cell phone to tell him some news -- and then remember. I’d hear the back door open and my heart would beat a little faster like it always had when he came home from work -- and then I’d remember.
Every single routine in our family had an empty hollowness.
Dinner held plenty of conversation – even laughter -- but always overshadowed by Dan’s seat at the table so obviously empty.
His briefcase sat just where he’d left it next to his chair in the living room and boxes where we’d packed up his office were sprawled on the ping-pong table in the garage.
There would be no more rides in his truck to and from practice, no more bedtime reads for the littles as I did the dishes, so many no more's.
Tell my dad I said hello.
Those words held pain but they also held connection.
Dan on that side of heaven, us on this side. Him in the presence of God, us still walking it out in faith. Him face to face with God, us still veiled from full glory.
Heaven had always seemed far off in time and space. It was a sure thing but a someday thing, so distant from the busy days of our life raising kids and paying bills.
And then it wasn’t.
Death had brought pain but it also brought connection. I wish I could say I felt that connection to heaven before but Dan’s death made it immediate and palpable. Like we had a deposit, waiting for us just after we met Jesus.
Because when you love someone in heaven, you carry part of heaven in your heart.
It was in church that I could most easily picture Dan in heaven. Caught up with the words and music of worship, I imagined him just the other side of eternity.
Us in our pew, him in the true tabernacle. All eyes on Christ. All of us worshiping. All of us part of one body.
The body of Christ is more than my congregation. It’s more than the believers in the next city over and next continent over. The body of Christ includes believers right now in the presence of God.
As we worship God here, we’re joining the chorus of believers worshiping in heaven.
As we serve God here, we’re joining the band of believers serving in heaven.
As we praise God here, we’re joining the multitude of believers praising in heaven.
The seen and the unseen. The groaning and the freed. Those whose life is Christ and those whose death is gain.
Yes, Lord Jesus. Tell him we said hello.
Feature image credit: Thinkstock.com
As soon as I said it, I wanted the words back.
Even now I wince at my blunder. I’d had such good intentions to minister but I was pretty naïve about these situations. As a young 20-something mom fresh out of grad school, I just had no experience dealing with that degree of suffering.
Our music minister’s wife had end-stage breast cancer. When the list was passed around the choir room to bring meals, I signed up. I was fine cooking the meal and delivering it. But now standing at the door with my casserole in hand, I suddenly felt unprepared with what to say.
The minister’s adult daughter took the meal at the door without inviting me in. The house was dark and quiet behind the open doorway and my cheerful smile sobered as I handed her the dinner.
That’s when I added : “And I’m sorry the radio license was denied,” thinking my words were helpful but immediately sensing it was not the time or place.
In my defense, her father had been working to open a Christian radio station and our church was praying with him that a license would be awarded. Earlier that day, we’d learned it’d been denied and, of course, I was sorry for this disappointment.
But now it felt like heaped on hurt as I mentioned it. Really, Lisa? Her mom lay terminally ill in another room and I realized how out of place my words sounded.
That wasn’t the only time I blundered when I was trying to help. Or missed signs altogether that help was needed.
I think we’ve all probably been there at some point — wondering what to say and what not to say. Wondering whether we should go or whether we might be intruding. Wondering how to really give the kind of help that’s needed and not just a general, feel-good prescriptive.
I have wizened over the years and — especially in the last few years of our own deep grief — learned from the receiving end what’s really helpful. I’ve learned so much watching those around me who really love their neighbor well and are comfortable doing it.
“We are meant to be part of the physical, human illustration of God’s power. We are meant to help, heal, minister to, and love someone for His sake. And in the midst of brokenness, there’s no better time to love our neighbor than the present.”
Those words are from Sarah Beckman, author of Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial.
And this book is most certainly a practical guide. I was delighted to find this book is not all fluffy platitudes but chock-full of hands-on advice and ideas for how to really help our neighbor, our friend, our co-worker who finds herself facing a diagnosis or death or real difficulty.
I have dog-eared, underlined and made copious margin notes in my copy of Alongside. Sarah writes from her own experience both receiving help when she needed it and walking through terminal illnesses with several friends and family members.
She shares lists of online sites to coordinate help; guidelines when giving help; how to respect the recipient while helping; how to listen, what to say and what not to say; gift suggestions for men, women, teen, children and families; how to pray; how to look for special needs and long-term needs and more.
Alongside is more than a general why-we-should-help-others book. Sarah has pulled together a well-researched, deeply-resourced book with practical steps we can use to reach out and love others well. And I'm so excited, not just to now have this resource on my shelf, but to help celebrate it's release.