Friday, January 29, 2010

Flashback Friday: Inquiring Minds Want to Know . . .

Welcome to Flashback Friday! For a while (or until I run out of material!), I'll repost something on Fridays for you to enjoy. This one is from November 2008. And, yes, J.J. is still asking me puzzling questions like this every day . . .

Several of you who read my latest post e-mailed me to say how cute JJ was to ask so many questions. And many of you shared stories about your own inquisitive little ones.

To be honest, JJ’s questions keep me on my toes! Anyone who thinks that you’d have to sacrifice your intellect to stay home with your kids obviously hasn’t ever had a five-year-old. Or at least a five-year-old like JJ, anyway. Far from letting my mind turn to mush, staying home with my kids has forced me to develop the ability to think on my feet, every day.

Just for fun, I kept track of the questions JJ asked me in the past twenty-four-hours. Apart from the relatively benign ones (“Can I watch a movie?” or “Does this match?”), here are—I kid you not—some of the things she has asked me, from the gross to the profound:

Yesterday afternoon, playing in the backyard:
· What do ladybugs eat? (Um, they eat aphids, I think. And maybe grass.)

· How long do ladybugs live? (I have no idea. Put it in your bug house with some grass and we’ll find out!)

· What’s faster: a leopard or a cheetah? ([The girls found a yellow ladybug and were arguing about what to name it.] I think a cheetah is faster. I’m not sure.)

· Are roly-polies and ladybugs friends? (I don’t know. Go ahead and stick that ladybug in the bug house with your roly-poly and see what happens.)

Last night:

· How come Gran calls it “supper”? (Because some people in the South call lunch “dinner” and dinner “supper.” That’s what GG and Papa call it too.)

· What would happen if I put my boogers in this fairy wand? (Eww! Gross! Don’t do that! Yuck.)

This morning:

· Mom, I have a secret. I asked Boo to do my art homework for me. Is that okay? (No, honey, that’s not okay! You have to do your own homework. If you ask someone else to do it, that’s called cheating, and that’s a bad choice. Besides, how are you ever going to get better at drawing if you don’t practice?)

· Are cats fuzzy? (Yes, they’re fuzzy. Technically, they’re furry, but that’s close enough.)

· (Looking in the mirror) I wish I could have Boo’s face, except not with glasses. Her face is prettier than mine. Can I have Boo’s face instead? (What? Why would you want her face? You’re absolutely beautiful, just the way God made you.)

· (Taking a bath) What makes the soap turn into bubbles? (Uh, I’m not sure. The soapy part, when it hits the water, gets all bubbly. That’s just the way soap is. [Clearly, I didn’t pay enough attention in science class.])

Today at lunch:

· Can I see my bugs now? (Well, okay. Here’s the bug house. Looks like the ladybug is still walking around, but your roly-poly isn’t alive anymore.)

· What does “alive” mean? (Um, let’s see. To be alive means to be living and breathing. To have life.)

· What’s “life”? (Life is, um . . . Life is what God gives to people and animals, to live and breathe and move. It’s what makes us different from rocks and toys and stuff.)

· So your daddy is like a rock? (Uh, no. My daddy died, but he is alive in heaven with Jesus.)

· Is your daddy in the ground, or in heaven? (Well, both, kind of. My daddy’s body is in the ground, but his soul is in heaven with Jesus.)

· What’s a “soul”? (Hmm. Your soul, or spirit, is what is inside you. It’s not your skin and bones but the inside part of you that thinks and loves and feels. The part that God made very special, in His image, and what makes us different than animals.)

Whew! See what I mean? And these are just a few of the things I’ve had to answer since yesterday.

Motherhood is a tough and often thankless job, and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart—or mind. Every day, I do my best to nurture these three inquisitive children God has entrusted to us. And every day, I pray that I’ll be able to “speak the truth in love” in a way that honors God and helps them “grow up in all things, into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 NKJV).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Looking Forward to What Lies Ahead

 Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
—Philippians 3:13–14 NLT

Like many Americans, my husband and I tuned into President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. As I listened to the president discuss the various issues our country is facing, I was struck by something.

Before I go on, let me clarify: I’m not taking issue with the president’s policies in this blog. So whether you’re a Democrat, Republican,  independent, or something in-between, you can exhale now and keep reading. (Though if you’d like to read a more detailed response to the SOTU, you can read my husband’s post.)

What struck me most about the president’s address last night was how often he referred to the previous administration. Regardless of whether you side with former president or with the current one, there’s an important principle of leadership (and life) to notice here.

After one full year in office, President Obama is still looking backward.

Now, I’m not saying that he doesn’t have plans for the present or for the future. And I’m not saying that this president didn’t inherit some complicated matters from the previous one. But consider this: after one year of leading the free world, our president is still looking over his shoulder, thumbing backward, and saying, “Look at what a mess the previous guy made. Look at how bad things were when I got here.”

Some of you are starting to bristle, thinking I’m getting political. Not at all. Though I do research the issues and vote, I’ve never been actively involved in politics, other than being elected to my high school student council (“Don’t be zany; vote for Haney!”) and being thrust into church politics (which, sad to say, are every bit as vicious and brutal—if not more so—than Capitol Hill).

So to avoid misunderstanding, let’s take this same principle into another arena. One I know a little better.

Let’s imagine that a large, influential church has, for whatever reason, gone through a change in leadership. The former pastor is gone, and now there’s a new pastor leading the congregation. Let’s even imagine (for the sake of argument) that the former pastor was a real jerk. He embezzled from the offerings, threatened the elders, and ran off with the church secretary. He really made a mess of things before he left. (Remember, I'm not drawing parallels to politics here, so don't read too much into this.)

Now, imagine that you are that new pastor. You’ve come to lead a hurting congregation. Their trust has been shattered. They are skeptical of you and your leadership. Some of them are just waiting for you to prove yourself to be as much a scoundrel as the previous guy.

So what would you do? Would you spend the first year of your pastorate pointing back at the former pastor and reminding your people of how bad things were when you got there? Would you continually use the former pastor as a sermon illustration of how not to do things? Would you keep bringing up past hurts and past problems?

Or would you stand behind the pulpit that first Sunday and say to those precious people, “I’m sorry you’ve been hurt, but our God is good. Let’s stay focused on our vision and ask God to give us wisdom and strength as we move forward.” And then from that Sunday on, would you put aside the past (because you know that only breeds negativity and resentment) and focus on moving forward, doing what God has called you to do?

It's the same principle for both the president and the preacher. Do you see it yet?

Okay, let me give you another example, one a little closer to home.

Last week, I took the kids outside to ride their bikes on the walking trail that runs behind our house. My older daughter can ride her bike well and zips along the path with ease. My younger daughter can ride her bike as long as she has training wheels and a helmet, because sometimes she goes too fast and loses control.

But my three-year-old son is still learning the mechanics of how a bike works. He doesn’t yet know how to turn his head and look at something without also turning his handlebars. So when he’s zipping along the walking trail on his trike and hears a neighbor’s dog barking, he’ll turn his head (and handlebars) to say hello—and veer off the pavement and into the grass. And when he’s pedaling down the sidewalk and hears his sisters coming up behind him, he’ll turn around to look at them—and subsequently tip over and fall off.

“You have to keep looking forward,” I’ll remind him, over and over. “Look straight ahead, buddy. Keep your handlebars straight, like this, and you’ll stay on the path.”

Because the principle is the same, whether you’re riding a bike, pastoring a church, or leading the free world.

You’ll never move forward if you're busy looking behind you.

Yes, we can—and must—learn from the past. And we must accept the reality that past circumstances have shaped our present ones. But as playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”

Or as the apostle Paul wrote, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:13–14 NLT; emphasis added).

I want my life to move forward. I don’t want to get sidelined by looking back and blaming others (or myself) for the past. I want to press on to reach the end of the race and live a life that is pleasing to God.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the mishaps and zigzags of life, it’s this:

The best way to keep moving forward isn’t to look behind you. Nor is it to turn and look beside you.

It’s not even to look straight ahead.

It’s to look up.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Gift of Grandmas

Grandmas are one of God’s greatest gifts.

Grandmas gladly take a night out of their busy week to drive all the way across the metroplex to watch their grandchildren—for free.

Grandmas show up an hour early—just in case you and your husband want to sneak away a little earlier for your date.

Grandmas happily hand over the keys—so you can take her nice, clean car on your date while she drives the kids home in your dusty, crumb-filled minivan.

Grandmas take the grandkids to Chick-fil-A—and instead of driving through, they bravely go inside with all three kids and let them play.

Grandmas treat them to kids’ meals and ice cream—but refuse to take the $20 bill you provided and instead hide it in the kitchen where you don’t find it until after they leave.

Grandmas buckle up those three squirmy, sugar-filled grandkids and drive them home—at night, in D/FW rush-hour traffic.

Grandmas make a game out of bedtime and soon have all three kids in pajamas, teeth brushed, prayed over, and sound asleep—even after all that sugar and excitement.

Grandmas look around at what needs to be done—and then they fold the laundry, wash the dishes you left in the sink on your rush out the door, straighten the living room, and lay out the kids' clothes for the next day.

Grandmas tell you not to rush home—they have it under control, so feel free to take your time.

Grandmas are excited to see you when you get back, and instead of hurrying out the door, they ask all about how your date went—and they really want to know.

Grandmas tell you that your kids were wonderfully well behaved and not a problem at all—though you know that all the sugar and excitement of the night probably led to a squabble or two (or more...).

Grandmas smile when you give them the gift you brought home, a book from Grandma's favorite fiction series (because of course your date included the bookstore, right?)—and then they graciously demur, thanking you for the book but insisting that you read it first.

Grandmas give you a great big hug when they finally leave for the night—and say it was truly their pleasure and you really need to go out more often.

When God made grandmas, I'm pretty sure He smiled.

Because when it comes down to it, outside of God Himself, no one loves you and your kids like Grandma.

Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Date Night!

When it comes to presents, I’m not the type of girl who asks for jewelry or clothes or gift certificates to the spa. I tend to be more practical-minded (after all, if you’re going to spend money, it might as well be on something you need!), so it will come as no surprise to my friends and family to know that, for Christmas, I asked Brett for a blender.

My wonderful husband, who did buy me a blender by the way, slipped an envelope into the box. An envelope filled with four pair of tickets to Bass Performance Hall productions! I was beside myself in shock and glee. I love going to the theater, to the symphony, to museums and such. But with a family of five (and a husband who loves sports), our family outings are usually at the Rangers ballpark, McDonalds, or the $1.50 hot dog combo at Costco.

“This year, honey, we’re going to have four real dates,” Brett said, as I teared up holding the tickets. “Four times you can get dressed up and go out with other grown-ups. I’ve already talked to your mom, and she’s agreed to watch the kids. So mark your calendar, babe. We have four dates this year!”

Now, for those of you who are reading this and are (1) still single, (2) newly married, or (3) independently wealthy, you may be thinking, Four dates in a year? That’s it?! What’s the big deal?

The big deal, my friends, is this:

Tonight, I will put on something other than jeans and a T-shirt. I might even—gasp!—iron something (if I can remember how to iron). I will not only shower, but also style my hair—and actually put on makeup. I may even hunt around and see if I can find a pair of earrings and a necklace buried somewhere under the kids’ Tylenol and spray-on detangler.

Then, I will get into the car with my husband, and the only seat belt I’ll fasten will be my own. I will listen to anything on the radio I want to. And not once will I have to answer “How much longer?” or referee “She’s not letting me play her Leapster!” or contort my body to flail my right arm back to pick up a toy that fell on the floor.

Brett and I will go out to dinner somewhere that doesn’t have a play land or French fries, and we’ll talk to each other in complete sentences that do not include the words “potty,” “sit still,” or “starving children in Africa.” I won’t be so busy cutting up meat and buttering rolls that my own food is cold before I get to it. In fact, I might actually be able to eat my entire meal, from start to finish, without interruption.

And before we leave, I’ll probably go to the bathroom. All. By. Myself. (Insert the “Hallelujah chorus” here.)

Then we’ll drive over to Bass Hall, and we can park wherever we want to. In the back row, if we please, because I’ll only have my purse to carry, instead of the ten-pound diaper bag stuffed with snacks, toys, books, crayons, miscellaneous Happy Meal toys, and an assortment of unidentified objects. (Who knows, I may throw caution to the wind and leave my purse in the car. Just imagine the freedom of not having to carry anything!) Brett and I will hold hands and stroll through the parking lot with ease, instead of looking like a couple of border collies herding a pack of wandering children.

We’ll walk inside the theater and stroll leisurely to our seats. I’ll actually be able to peruse the playbill, instead of instructing anyone (in that “you better listen up or else” loud whisper) to sit down, quit playing with their folding seat, and for heaven’s sake look forward and quit staring at that man behind you!

Brett and I will watch the entire play, and not once will I have to dive into my bag to pass out fruit snacks or M&Ms. I won’t have to answer a zillion questions about “How much longer?” or “What’s that lady doing?” or “Mom, can I go to the potty?”

Instead of extending my “Mom arm” (you moms know what I mean: you stretch your arm along the seat behind your kids, ostensibly as a sign of love, but it’s really so that you’re in closer reach to gently but firmly thwack the back of their heads when they get unruly), I just might lean over and put my head on Brett’s shoulder.

And watch the entire play. In peace. Ahhh.

And after the play . . . well, never mind. You get the picture.

So thank you, honey, for the tickets! I’m so excited about tonight. I just need to dig through the laundry pile and see if I can find something clean to wear . . .

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Little Piece of Quiet

Yesterday morning, I woke up at 5:30 to a quiet house. I slipped out of bed and peeked in Brett’s office. He was putting a few final touches on his sermon, and all three kids were still sound asleep.

Finally! I thought. I woke up before the kids and don’t have to be anywhere for a while!

Feeling almost giddy (well, as giddy as one can feel before a cup of coffee, that is) at the rare treat of having some time to myself in the morning, I grabbed my Bible, notebook, and still-warm electric throw and headed for our oversized recliner. Although no devotional time seems complete without a steaming cup of java, I knew that the whirr of our grind-and-brew would probably awaken the kids, so I decided to forgo the joe . . . for now, anyway.

About five verses into my Bible reading, I heard the slap, slap, slap of my three-year-old son’s bare feet approaching through the kitchen. (Why do little boys prefer to stomp instead of just plain old walking?) Still tussle-headed from sleep, he groggily climbed into my lap.

I sighed. Loudly. Then I adjusted my Bible and notebook around my curled-up son, read a few more verses . . . and saw the wide-awake eyes of my six-year-old peering over my Bible.

“Mornin’, Mama! What’s for breakfast?”

“Yay, Bwek-fast! I want cereal,” Buddy piped up, suddenly full of energy and clambering off my lap.

“I want cereal too . . .” came the voice of my eight-year-old, who was wrapped in a blanket and padding her way down the stairs.

Why do my kids always wake up early on the days I'm trying to have some quiet time? Do they have some kind of sixth sense?

With another sigh, I closed my Bible and said a silent prayer, asking God to give me peace . . . and patience.

* * *

Eight and a half years ago, equally exhausted and exhilarated, I looked into the bright blue eyes of our tiny, squirmy, beautiful firstborn. At that moment, I signed a permanent leave of absence from my former position of  Boss of My Own Schedule.

(Funny, they don’t tell you these things before you have kids!)

Ever since then—and especially since welcoming two more tiny, squirmy newborns into the family—my days (and early on, my nights) have been variously filled with feeding schedules, napping schedules, bedtime schedules, and so on. Now that the kids are getting older, I’ve added school schedules, homework schedules, carpool schedules, after-school activity schedules, and Mother’s Day Out schedules to the ever-growing list of demands on my time. Not to mention my work schedule (editing around fifty books a year) and, of course, the schedule of the growing church my husband pastors.

I don’t know about you, but these days, it seems everyone wants a little piece of me.

And all I want is a little piece of quiet.

* * *

“Our culture seems to be getting louder and louder,” observed songwriter/musician Fernando Ortega. “It’s not only loud, it’s in your face. It is growing increasingly more difficult to be in a meditative state.”

(Ah, I’m guessing Ortega must have kids.)

But the truth is, it’s not just my kids keeping me from a “meditative state.” It’s everything else that clamors for my attention.

Whether it’s responding to e-mails, catching up on Facebook, or listening to the news while I get ready in the morning, I have dozens of time-wasters at the ready, eager to gobble up what little spare time I do have.

Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with e-mail, Facebook, or the news. These are just a few of the ways I fritter away the time that I could be spending with the Lover of my soul.

It’s so hard to tune out the various demands on my time . . . and tune in to God.

Earlier this year, I posted about how my rising blood pressure and restless nights prompted me to make a New Year’s resolution to stop working at night and instead spend that time letting my soul rest and linger on God through Bible study, prayer, and writing. To help me stay focused on my goal, I underlined in my Bible verses such as “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still . . . In peace I will both lie down and sleep” (Psalm 4:4, 8) and, of course, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

And then I posted about how quickly I broke that resolution

Because there are far too many things vying for my time. I thought I could do “just one little thing” before diving into my Bible study . . . only to discover two hours later, I’d wasted my whole evening. Well, not wasted, exactly. I finished a work project that night, but at what cost?

Earlier this month, my doctor put me on blood pressure medication. Because there’s a high price tag on a life devoid of peace and quiet.

So as I turn my calendar today to this last week of January, I’m revisiting my New Year’s resolutions. I’m renewing my commitment to stop using my evenings to squeeze in a few more work hours, another load of laundry, or catch up on e-mails.

Because, while those things are good and necessary in their proper time, they’re robbing me of my soul’s deepest need.

What I really need is just a little piece of quiet.

(P.S. Please pray for me, that I’ll be able to rest in the Lord and trust Him to work out details such as how to meet all these book deadlines without working evenings. If He can multiply loaves and fishes, surely He can multiply my work hours during the day, right?)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Do We Ever Realize Life While We're Living It?

When a singular theme emerges three times in the span of a week, you tend to take notice.

On Monday, I posted a reflection on Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture, which I borrowed from the library at the suggestion of my friend Amy. (I was looking for something for our book club to discuss, and she had heard great things about it.) I agree: it’s worth the read. Randy’s focus in the book is not on his impending death but on his desire to live well. (As Curt Harding commented on my Facebook page: “That was the pleasant surprise of that book. It’s about life.” Well put!)

At the time, I hadn’t realized that my dad’s birthday was this week. It wasn’t on my radar until I was watching the weather, and the date flashed on the screen. Oh my. I thought. Today would have been Dad’s 65th birthday. I won’t repeat the info I posted yesterday, but suffice it to say that my father was an amazing man who left a lasting legacy not only for his family but for all who knew him. He was a man who, like Randy Pausch, knew how to live with all his might.

A few days ago, I took the kids to the library again. (The library is sort of my home away from home since Brett and I had to drastically cut this year’s budget for buying books. Sigh.) While the kids were poking through their section, I wandered over to see if by chance I could find a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. They didn’t have it… but sandwiched between the books on writing and books about computer science were some rare gems—classics I haven’t read yet! The first one to catch my eye was “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder. I’ve heard of this Pulitzer Prize–winning play and seen it quoted in other books, but I hadn’t actually read it before. A short play in three acts, it seemed an interesting and quick read, so I added it to our pile of kids’ books, a Dora DVD, and Babe.

What I didn’t know at the time (but most of you probably do) is that the theme of “Our Town” is, put simply, this: appreciate the everyday ordinariness of life and don’t take your life—or the people you love—for granted.

Hello? Anyone sensing a theme here?

The Last Lecture—in the face of death, a man lives fully and with all his might.

• Dad’s birthday—fond memories of a man who left a legacy of a life well lived.

• “Our Town”—a play about appreciating life, because you never know which day is your last.

Now, I don’t want to give away too much of the play, in case there are one or two of you out there who haven’t read or seen a production of it, but “Our Town” doesn’t feature a complex plot with lots of twists and turns; rather, it simply portrays an ordinary town with ordinary folks living their ordinary lives. (Think Norman Rockefeller and Mayberry set in a Frank Capra film.)

The play takes place in three acts: Act 1 is “Birth,” Act 2 is “Love and Marriage,” and Act 3 is “Death.” The play begins with a literal birth (a doctor delivering twins) and ends with . . . well, you can guess. Though several years pass between the opening act and the final scene, Wilder skillfully constructs the setting so that the play begins in the morning and ends at 11 p.m., giving the sense of a single day, the ebb and flow of life.

I could go on about some of the play’s motifs, but you can do a Google search and read commentary from those far more qualified than I to speak on its literary value. But I want to highlight one scene that struck me. It’s in Act 3, and one of the main characters has died. Desperate to experience at least some of the joy of living again, she asks (and receives) the opportunity to relive one of the happiest days she can remember: her twelfth birthday.

As she’s transported back to this day, in her home and with her family, she is anguished to discover that the day passed as any other ordinary day. A busy family is having a hurried breakfast and making plans for the day . . . just another day . . .

Realizing that no amount of urging can make her loved ones slow down enough to take notice of the day—to savor the moment and truly appreciate one another—she turns to the stage manager and pleads for the flashback to stop. “I can’t,” she says. “I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.”

She begins to sob.

“I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back—up the hill—to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look.

“Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners . . . Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking . . . and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”

Looking toward the stage manager, she then asks abruptly, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”

I won’t tell you the stage manager’s answer . . . because I’m more interested in your answer (and mine).

Do we ever realize life while we’re living it, every minute?

Today is just another ordinary day. You woke up, you did your morning routine, you had breakfast, you went (or are planning to go) to work.

My dad did that on February 2, 1989. He had no idea that day would be his last on earth. It was just another ordinary day.

I’m not trying to be morbid here at all. But after the same theme has kept popping up over and over this week, what I’m pondering is this:

Am I truly realizing my life, every minute of it?

Am I making the most of each day that God has given me--including today?

Have I told my husband and children today that I love them? Have I taken the time to look at them—to really notice them—and appreciate them? Have I made a difference in someone’s life today? Am I living in such a way that if God were to call me home, my family would be flooded with letters from people who saw the light of my ordinary life and glorified my Father in heaven?

What kind of legacy am I creating for my own children?

You see, a legacy isn’t something you can put off till tomorrow or tuck away on a “to-do” list. It’s not something you’ll get around to someday when life calms down or when the kids go to school or when things slow down at work.

Our legacy is what we’re doing right now, in this moment, on this ordinary day.

Just something I’m thinking about this week. Something I hope maybe you’ll think about too.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Twenty-one years ago on this day, we celebrated my father’s forty-fourth birthday. I can’t remember exactly what we did that day—maybe we went out to eat at one of Dad’s favorite restaurants: The Old San Francisco Steakhouse (where we’d ooh and aah over the girl swinging to precipitous heights), Red Lobster (where we kids would squirm and squeal over the aquatic creatures), or perhaps it was Traildust (where Dad delighted in wearing outrageous neckties, knowing they’d be cut off and displayed there). Maybe he wore one of his infamous Hawaiian shirts that night, and maybe he teased our waitress with a grinning, “Tell you what: I’ll flip a coin; double or nothing.”

One thing I know for sure: on that day—January 21, 1989—we had no idea that it would be Dad’s last birthday here on earth. Two weeks later, he had a sudden and massive heart attack that ushered him into the presence of Jesus—much sooner than we wanted, but exactly on time according to God, who numbers our days and calls us home at exactly His appointed time (Job 14:5; Psalm 37:18).

My younger sister, Heather, was only eight years old when my dad died. (Note: I have an eight-year-old daughter, and I realized anew today just how young eight years is. Very young. Much too young to lose a father forever. Oh, God, You alone know best.) Concerned that Heather wouldn’t remember much about her father, my mom asked a few of Dad’s friends and business associates to write a letter to Heather, sharing a memory or thought about Dad.

The result, as anyone who knew Brian Haney would have guessed, is that the floodgates opened, and letters poured in. I have a file folder brimming with letters from friends, family, members of the Sunday school classes he taught over the years, business associates—people from all over the nation eagerly contributed to the patchwork of letters woven with remembrances of my dad.

Every year, on the anniversary of Dad’s homegoing, I pull out that file folder and reread the letters, to remember. Twelve years ago, I shared them with my then-fiancĂ© Brett, handing him the bulging folder and saying, “Here, I’d like to introduce you to my dad. You would have loved him.” And no doubt, he would have loved Brett. And my kids. I can’t wait for him to meet them in heaven.

So today, on what would have been Dad’s sixty-fifth birthday, I’d like to share just a glimpse of these letters with you. I can’t possibly share them all—there are far too many!—but I can at least introduce you to the man who had a lifelong impact on me, who taught me to love the Lord and His church, who showed me how to have fun, and demonstrated a life of faithfulness, integrity, and joy.

Jan and girls,
We can never tell you enough what you have all meant to our lives. We miss Brian terribly! Your encouraging words to us as newlyweds and then as young adults have meant more to us than you’ll ever know. But most important, you and Brian taught us that Christianity is a lifestyle and begins in the home! Thank you for that. Brian, of course, showed us that the Christian life is fun and to be shared. Thank you both for sharing!

In Him,
Scott and Brenda Jackson
(church friends)

Dear Jan and the girls,
The first time I met Brian, I knew he was a winner. There are a few people you meet in your lifetime who you immediately know are someone special, and Brian was one of them. He was self-confident, sincere, and had a special presence about him. I knew he was a person I wanted to become associated with.
Brian was the first salesman hired in the Dallas district, and without question, the best. Brian’s customers saw the same thing in him that I did and he was tremendously respected in the grocery industry.
I worked closely with Brian throughout our nineteen years of business and personal relationship. When I became Regional Manager in Lever’s Personal Products Division, the first person I asked to join our team was Brian. As usual, his district won every award.
When I was promoted to National Sales Manager, I tried to persuade Brian to relocate to Los Angeles, as a Regional Manager, and later to relocate to New York to head up our National Accounts Department. Brian refused both promotions for personal reasons.
The personal reasons were his family. His family always came first, which I greatly respected. I could have learned a lot from Brian in this area.
I never met a person who could balance his business, personal, and religious life so well. I never once saw Brian in a situation that his family would not have been proud of him. Brian led by example, and he made many other people better for having known him.
One of our most fun times was when I opened my own company, and Brian became my boss. Brian used to love to kid me about how everything comes full circle. Brian was very instrumental in helping me get my company off the ground. He worked with us as if he were a member of our team. He was very patient and helpful as we strived to reach his high standards. Brian was the first and only person ever on my company’s Board of Directors. . . .

I was shocked when told of his passing. There have been few times in my life that I have cried, and that was one of them. He was one of my very closest friends, and I would have done anything for him.
The funeral was a tremendous tribute to Brian. Hundreds of people attended from all over the country, both personal and business associates. I have never been more impressed in my life.
There are very few Brian Haneys that come along in this world, and the “Haney Ladies” had the greatest guy I ever met. Brian had a major impact on my life, and I will never forget him.

Dan Womack
(business associate)

Dear Heather,

Brian was a very special man to us. We looked up to him and thought the world of him. We knew him a long time. He touched our lives the most when we were newly married. He was the director of young adults at Lakeland then. Every Sunday we would come to church and we knew Brian was there, because he rearranged the chairs every week. I guess it was his way of keeping things exciting, and that it did. Brian loved Sunday school parties, so we could play some of his games. His favorite was pushing a peanut across the floor with our nose. We did this relay style. Brian got as much kick out of watching us as if he were playing himself. He loved games, and we would beg him to let us think of the games the next time.
Brian always had a smile on his face where ever you saw him and a jolly little laugh. He was a good teacher of the Bible and a leader. Brian was our dear friend, and we loved him a lot.

Tony and Teresa Thurmond
(church friends)

Jan and girls,

I learned more about values and priorities from Brian than from any man I’ve ever met. A lot of people state that God and family are important in their lives, but Brian lived that belief every day of his life. With that kind of peace of mind, it is easy to see why he was such a cheerful, confident man.
The question of “Why Brian?” is one that I and many others are asking at this time, but as he told me on the golf course last week, “I’ll be there . . . my slate’s clean. I’ll see what I can do for you guys if I get there first!”
His sense of humor, willingness to always help others, and his unabashed love for God and family are just a few of the traits that I will miss, but never forget. . . .
The services at Lakeland, aptly titled “A Celebration of Life,” were as moving and inspiring as any I have ever witnessed. Our group got together afterward for some “good ole Texas barbecue” as Brian fondly called it, and reminisced of our many happy experiences with him.
Dan Murphy
(business associate)

Dear Beth, Jennifer, and Heather,

Brian meant a great deal to me as a Christian brother, friend, and fellow deacon. There were some characteristics that he had that I hope you each will take as your own. They are as follows:

1. He loved people.
2. He was always positive about everything and believed God would give positive results.
3. He was always willing to help others in their time of need.
4. He was willing to listen to us.
5. He loved Jesus and reflected that love.

There were two times that were especially fun times with your dad that I will always remember. They are as follows:

1. One evening, we had a meal at your home for our supper group, and we had to eat our meal in courses and only with certain pieces of hardware to use.
2. The weekend we had Western emphasis at church, he had all the different games such as seed spitting, water balloons, egg throwing, cow chips, etc. He enjoyed directing it and it was a day enjoyed by everyone, especially me.

I miss your dad very much. . . . May God bless you all in the days ahead.

In Christ’s love,
Carl Welch
(fellow deacon at FBC Highland Village)

Brian Haney was undoubtedly one of the most unique individuals I have had the privilege of knowing in my lifetime.

As a coworker in Lakeland Baptist Church, Brian understood and practiced the fine art of organizing and motivating people in order to achieve the goals and objectives of the church. He was an eternal optimist and a contagiously enthusiastic person. His priority and emphasis was always on people. He was a great communicator. He dearly loved people and knew how to show it. He was never satisfied to maintain the status quo. Brian was, without a doubt, the most effective lay Sunday school worker I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
As a businessman, I had the opportunity to relate to Brian in the cold, sometimes cruel, world of buying and selling as a buyer for the A&P Food Stores, when he was a salesman for Lever Brothers Co. For approximately eight years, we experienced the challenge of making a profit for our respective companies in a highly competitive market. During this time I learned that when Brian promised something, you could count on it being done as stated. He was a man of his word.
As a friend, Brian was a person I knew I could call on at any time, day or night, without apology, and he would respond. . . .

Brian was much more than this, but space will not allow a record of who and what he was. He was a man of God. He was my good friend, and I miss him very much. I know we will meet again in Heaven!

Wayne Galbreath
(church friend and fellow deacon at Lakeland)

Brian Haney was such a special Christian friend to me.
There are many things I could write about, but a few stand out as being very special.
I remember that several years ago, he would come by the church many times after work just to say hello to us and see how we were doing. Knowing that I was a widow and having difficulty getting by financially, he came by the church at Christmastime and brought me a huge box of every kind of soap, toothpaste, etc. Juts things he knew I needed, not realizing the full extent that he was helping me. I shall always be grateful for that ministry.

He loved Jesus so much that all he did was just an overflow of that love. He could not help but share it with others in ministering to them.

Yes, he was a very special man and he loved his family so very much. You were the most important thing in his life, with the exception of Jesus.

Please don’t think of how young he was when the Lord called him home—just think of how much living he did in those years.

My best to all of you,
Ava Flanagan
(church secretary at Lakeland)

Dear Jan and girls,

Very simply, Brian, in the short 13 months I knew him, had the greatest impact as a human and Christian in my life, outside my wife of course. He was a joy to my heart at all times. He allowed God to “shine” though him. He was at all times an inspiration to me and all those he came in contact with. He never failed to say to me how much he valued our friendship and thanked me for helping him with my time in business matters! I, of course, was quick to point out the fact that his spirit, clarity, and wit were not only a breath of God-given fresh air to me and my wife, but also to all of his fellow workers at Ragu. When I think of how our Lord wishes us to “sow” seeds of salvation and treat our fellow human beings with the greatest of commandments, “love,” Brian our (my) friend is number one.

One time we had to share a room together at a business function due to the fact that the hotel was short of space. We shared thoughts most of the evening. I told Brian that I was wrestling with a problem about witnessing and being what God wanted me to be. As always, he cleared the thought process right up for me. He said, “Jim, just reach up and hold His hand as a child would and just walk beside and with Him. He wants you to be just you; that’s why He created you the way you are.”

Once again the Lord puts in place those necessary people in each of our lives to get the job done. Brian was that kind of Christian and friend. In business matters and meetings, he insisted that everyone get their egos out of the way and deal from a position of truthfulness and constructive thoughts that were not only good for the spirit but good for the body (business) on the whole. When Linda and I think of Brian, it always brings a smile to our faces and a warmness to our hearts.

What a great legacy to leave. . . .

Our love and prayers to you always,
Jim Pagliaroni
(business associate)

Dear Heather,
I remember your daddy as a friend beyond comparison. He was a man of compassion, a man of dedication, someone you could always count on, and in short, a man I was always proud to introduce as my friend. For over 20 years, we knew each other, and my feelings for him are today as loving as when we first met.

There are few people on this earth that I person can honestly love. I think a dad would always love his wife, his children, and his family. Beyond those, a person has acquaintances that they can enjoy each other’s company and be friends with for a time. But there are a few that you would always be friends with and that you enjoy their company even when you’re doing nothing. These friends go beyond the norm and a deeper feeling develops. That feeling is the same as a person would feel for his own family and is simply love. That was the friendship your dad and I had for each other. I will always treasure our relationship.

Your dad was very human. In time and maybe even now, you will remember him as someone who could do no wrong. Well, your dad could do less wrong than most men. So, your remembrances will be justified. . . .

Your dad was a wonderful optimist. He always knew his golf score was going to be good, that the fish were really going to bite, and that even some bad Lever product was really good. (He never had many bad ones though!) People like that, you like being around. I heard it said his laugh was infectious. That means, when he laughed, it made others happy and they felt like laughing too. His whole being was like that; his giving of himself made others want to give too, his desire to excel helped others excel, his faith gave others hope.

He had a personal relationship with Christ so we who also have that special relationship know your dad is with Him. But the effect your dad had on others changed lives for the better, and I think that’s the best thing that can be said about a person’s life. . . .

In time, you will hear it said many times that a person lives on through those whose lives he touches. Your dad touched your life and he touched mine. We will both carry that relationship throughout our lives, and we will both be better people for it.

I love you!
Lem Smith
(longtime, dear family friend)

All through life, you meet all different kinds of people. Some are casual acquaintances, some are close friends, and some are special friends. Brian was one of those special friends to me.

I first met Brian in the fall of 1980. He welcomed me to the Personal Products Division of Lever Brothers Company at a meeting in Dallas. Right from our first meeting, I could sense that Brian was a very special person. He had a way about him that put everybody at ease. Brian would make sure that all of his employees understood that he was willing to help them out with any problem they had whether it was business or personal. You did not have to be around Brian long to see where his strength came from, because he would tell you that Jesus was the center of his life.

In a very short time, I grew to love Brian as a boss and especially as a very good friend. He was not only my boss but he soon developed into a big brother to me. Many times I was in need of someone to talk to and Brian would always invite me into his office and close the door. He would say, “I’ve got big ears, what do you need to talk about?” I knew that he really did care and he was not just trying to give me lip service.

When Brian would work with me in the field, he would expect me to give it my very best. I always worked hard and smart (as Brian would say) for him because of the respect I had for the man. . . . .

Brian was one of the top performers at Lever Brothers. He was very well respected not only for his achievements but also for his beliefs in the Lord. No one kidded Brian about his faith, they just knew the Lord was #1! Brian would always let everyone know that his success was due to “his team,” not just Brian alone. I remember at our national sales meetings, he would always have us dress alike so everyone would see that we were a team. When he was awarded any awards, he would have us come up on stage along with him because he was such a team person.

Brian was always concerned about everyone’s faith in the Lord. When people around him were hurting, he would let you know that there was one person you could turn to—Jesus! Brian would on occasion, quote Scripture to people who were hurting. During these special times, you were able not only to grow close to Brian, but you grew close to Jesus, which is what Brian wanted for you to begin with.

Brian was a very fun loving person. He loved to tell jokes (clean ones, of course!). Many times, he would tell a joke and he would be laughing so hard he couldn’t finish it. His laugh was a classic! When he got started laughing, he couldn’t stop and neither could the people around him. Most of the time, we would be laughing more at Brian than at his jokes. He would always play practical jokes on his friends Joe Haley, Terry Worlds, and Tom Gentry. They always seemed to get even with Brian though.

Brian simply lived life to its finest extent.

After Jesus, the most important thing in Brian’s life was his family. His eyes would sparkle as he talked about any one of his girls. Each of you were so special to him. He was so proud of all his girls’ accomplishments. Usually, the first thing he would talk about during our Friday meetings was his girls and what they had done during the week. One thing that he let us know was that he would never remove his wedding ring. He said that once he stated his vows, he was not to take his ring off. The ring represented that he and Jan had become one. . . .

It has taken me quite a while to write this letter because of my love for Brian. I know how it hurt each of you to lose your husband and father, but I also lost one of my very best friends—my “big brother.” I can’t wait for the moment when I get to Heaven and meet up with Brian again. I can picture it now—Brian and St. Peter fishing, eating bar-b-que, and telling Aggie jokes!!!

God bless you all,
Dan Abram

Well, there are dozens of other letters I could share with you, but time (and tears!) will not permit it. I just wanted to share a few of them with you today, in memory and honor of my dad.

Happy birthday, Dad! We miss you and love you!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I Have a Great Plan!

“I have a great plan, Mama!”

I was out running a couple of errands yesterday afternoon with our young son in tow. He had been happily chattering away in the backseat of our minivan—making up a story about a prince, a dinosaur, a few of his friends, some bad guys, and a monster of some sort—when suddenly he stopped and announced that he had a "great plan."

Oh, that kid. He always has a plan. Good grief, he’s only three.

We still had a bit of a drive, so I decided to humor him. “Okay, honey. What’s your plan?”

He announced, “After we go to the library [he pronounces it ‘li-bear-y’], we can go home and you can give me some cookies. And you’ll be nice to me and you’ll say okay I can have them and you not say 'Wait till after dinner and blah blah…' but you be nice and let me have some, okay? How 'bout that? That’s a good plan.”

Wait a minute. Did he just say “blah blah”?!

Without giving me a chance to respond (smart kid), he barreled on, “And you say yes, okay? Because I don’t like no. No doesn’t make me happy. No is not my favorite. So you say yes and I’ll have some cookies when we get home, okay, Mom? Yeah, that’s a great plan.”

(See, this is one of the things they don’t tell you before you have kids. That you have to think on your feet in situations like this… which happen pretty much every day.)

Trying to figure out which issue to address first, I said, “Buddy, my rules for you are not ‘blah, blah.’ And I am being nice to you when I say wait to eat your cookies until after dinner. Because if you eat too many cookies now, you won’t be hungry for your good dinner and you’ll have a tummy ache.”

“But Mo-om!” he protested. “Don’t say no! No is not my favorite!”

“Wait a minute,” I said, stopping him mid-whine. “I didn’t say no. But I didn’t say yes either. Tell you what: let’s wait and see how you behave in the library. Then, if you have a happy heart and obey me in there, I’ll let you have one cookie before dinner. How about that?”

“Okay, Mama!” he piped up cheerily. “That sounds like a good plan.” With that issue settled, he picked up his story about a monster and a dinosaur… or something like that.

When I recounted the conversation to Brett last night, we both got a good chuckle out of Buddy’s ingenuity. I tell you, that boy is chock-full of personality, bursting at the seams with charm. (And we agreed to talk to him about the blah, blah part, since that was showing disrespect.)

More often than I’d like to admit, as I’m giggling over something the kids have done, God uses their antics to shine a spotlight on how I’ve been relating to Him in much the same way.

If I’m honest, how often do I approach God with “I have a great plan!” (Someone once quipped, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”)

Then I casually suggest to the sovereign God of the universe—in a spiritual way, of course, quoting Bible verses and such—how He could accomplish my “great plan” and even how my “great plan” could help so many other people and blah, blah.

(Can you just imagine how this sounds to God?)

And how many times, so enamored with my own plans and dreams and schemes for the future, do I say (or at least think), “And You be nice and don’t tell me no, God.” Because no is not my favorite either.

But God, like a good parent, knows what’s best for me. His rules are for my good. His plans are for my best. And His ways are much higher than my own (Isaiah 55:8–9). Sometimes He says no to my so-called great plan, not because He’s “not nice,” but because He has something infinitely better for me in mind. “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! (Ephesians 3:20 MSG).

Sometimes, when I have a “happy heart” and live in obedience to God, He gives me a cookie, so to speak. His Word tells us that when we focus on Him and find delight in His ways, He gives us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). (Of course, when we delight in the Lord, our desires begin to look a lot like His.)

And it’s only when we abandon our own plans and embrace the perfect will of God that we will experience “real and eternal life, more and better life than we ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 MSG).

So I have a great plan. This time, instead of telling God my plans and asking Him to say yes to what I want, I’ll trust in Him and seek what He has in store for me.

Because God’s Word and His will are so much more than blah, blah.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Coming Clean on My “Dirty” Little Secret

Okay, after admitting in my post yesterday that I tend to be a bit of a neatnik, I decided it would only be fair to confess to you my “dirty” little secret.


Here it is…. (Um, Mom? Are you reading this? You better shut your eyes. This will horrify you.)

Ugh. The laundry. Piles and piles of clean laundry. I just can’t seem to catch up!

Now, I’m the type of person who actually enjoys scrubbing and vacuuming and dusting (it gives me a sense of order amid the chaos, I think). But for some reason, I can’t stand doing the laundry. Oh, I don’t mind the washing and drying part. It’s the folding and hanging and putting-up part that I keep putting off. And the more I put it off, the more overflowing baskets of clean clothes I keep hiding in my closet. (“Out of sight, out of mind,” right?)

So when my in-laws came to visit this weekend, our house was sparkling clean, but my bedroom closet was crammed full with my secret stash of laundry baskets. And truth be told, on any given day when you come over to our house, even if the main rooms are clean, I’m probably hiding at least a couple of baskets of clean clothes in our closet.

Of course, my mother raised me much better than this. And she has repeatedly shared with me her cheery laundry tip: “If you just wash and fold a load of laundry every day, it won’t pile up!”

Yes, technically that is true. And once in a while, I become determined to conquer my laundry monster and valiantly wash and dry and fold and put up at least one load of laundry every day.

That usually lasts about a week. Maybe less. Then I’m back to my usual “stash the clean laundry in the closet” routine. (Hey, at least it’s clean. We just have to go laundry-basket diving for outfits and matching socks…)

I think one of the most frustrating parts of the laundry is that it is never done. Never. Even on the days when I resolutely fold and hang and fold and hang until every last pair of socks and jeans are properly tucked away in dressers and closets… it’s only a couple of hours before the kids toss that day’s dirty outfits and towels back into my heretofore pristine laundry sorter.


It’s just too much work, I sometimes think. So I put it off. And the more I put it off, the more it piles up…

Years ago, the teacher in my Community Bible Study group also lamented the never-endingness of her laundry. The mother of teenage sons, she described her laundry room as a perpetual pile of stinky socks and athletic gear—just when she was ready to celebrate being caught up, in came another pile of dirty clothes. I was a young mother of a toddler and an infant at the time (and still amazed at how much laundry two tiny children could generate!), and I commiserated with the teacher as she shared her disdain of this interminable chore. Ah, a kindred spirit!

And then she said something I will never forget. “It’s the same way with confessing our sins to the Lord,” she gently pointed out. “We’re never quite done. Just when we think we’ve come clean before God and repented of all our sins, we turn around and realize that we’ve sinned again. And again. And the more we put off confession, the more our sin piles up and becomes a barrier to us hearing from God and experiencing His presence in our lives.”


But here’s the great part. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)

Now, God's Word is clear: He has already forgiven all my sins. All of my sins were future sins when His Son, Jesus, bore them on Calvary (Isaiah 53:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21). And God judged all my sin once and for all at the Cross (Hebrews 9:14).

But when I confess my sin to God--agreeing with Him that I have missed the mark--I experience His forgiveness and grace and mercy anew. And in the act of acknowledging my weakness and leaning on His strength, I come to know Him in a deeper, sweeter way.

So I’ve made up my mind: tonight, I will finally tackle the terrible tower of laundry that is taking over our living room.

And while I’m folding towels and hanging T-shirts, I’m going to pray through the things I need to come clean about before the Lord. Because nothing is better than a clear conscience and a restored communion with the One who created us and longs to have an intimate, ongoing, personal presence in our lives—unhindered by the “dirty laundry” of sin.

(Though finally getting rid of this pile of clothes might be a close second.)

* * *
When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

—Psalm 32:3–5 NLT

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lessons from "The Last Lecture"

“Every man dies; not every man really lives.”
—William Wallace, Braveheart

Last week, while my kids were browsing the library shelves, I picked up a copy of The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, at my friend Amy’s recommendation. I’d seen the book before and had been intrigued, but I’d avoided checking it out because it hit a little close to home—written by a forty-something father of three who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given only months to live. (My own father died in his forties of a heart attack, leaving behind three children and a grieving widow.)

But what Randy Pausch had that my father did not have was the gift of saying good-bye. After his diagnosis, Randy was asked to give a lecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where he was a tenured computer science professor. The lecture—entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”—wasn’t about dying; it was about overcoming obstacles and living with all your might. (If you haven’t yet seen the lecture, it’s worth watching on the book's website.)

Pausch’s lecture was posted on YouTube and became such a hit that in the few months he had left before succumbing to cancer, he teamed up with Jeffrey Zaslow to turn it into a book. Now, this isn’t an astounding, life-altering book, nor does it provide mesmerizing secrets about the meaning of life. This is, instead, a father imparting his wisdom, his childhood stories, his experiences and lessons learned, to the three young children who will grow up without him. It’s the kind of thing we all wish we could leave behind for our own children, filled with common-sense wisdom and a glimpse into a life well lived.

Though I enjoyed so many of Randy’s stories in this book, one that stood out to me was “Pouring Soda in the Backseat.” Recalling a day he spent with his sister’s children (before he married and had kids of his own), he writes, in part:

Once, about a dozen years ago, when Chris was seven years old and Laura was nine, I picked them up in my brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible. “Be careful in your Uncle Randy’s new car,” my sister told them. “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t get it dirty.”
            I listened to her, and thought, as only a bachelor uncle can: “That’s just the sort of admonition that sets kids up for failure. Of course they’d eventually get my car dirty. Kids can’t help it.” So I made things easy. While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.

I love that story, along with other adventures Randy describes with his niece and nephew, including such things as asking, “Why do pancakes have to be round?” and making “an unintentional Roschach test” out of the batter (which reminds me of my own dad, who delighted in shaping pancake batter into our names and various cartoon characters).

But the main reason I like the soda-in-the-convertible story is that I’m so much like Randy’s sister. Her mantra is my own: keep it clean; don’t mess it up. A perfectionist from birth, I was the type of kid who color-coded my school subject folders (English is green, math is red, science is blue…) and I’d stay after class to reason with my high school teachers to get a 98 (gasp! the horror!) restored to a 100. I carefully selected my college and seminary courses to ensure I’d keep my 4.0 GPA, and I even used to keep a can of Pledge at work to polish my desk at the end of the day (honest!), which was of course the source of merciless (and good-natured) teasing from my publishing colleagues.

All of this, you see, was before I got married… and then had three kids.

Life changes exponentially—and indelibly—when that happens.

One of the things I love about my husband, Brett, is his ability to see the big picture much more clearly than I can. I get so lost in the details—Is it clean? Is it orderly?—that I lose sight of something much more important—Is it fun? Is it memorable? . . . and most importantly, Does it communicate love?

A couple of years ago, just days after we moved into our new-to-us home in Sendera Ranch, our then fourteen-month-old son gleefully “christened” our home by pouring coffee all over our bedroom carpet. (You can read about that adventure here.)

Thankfully, things like crayon on the walls, forgotten fast-food cups in the back of the minivan, and coffee spilled on the carpet aren’t heart-stopping events for me anymore. I know that a little paint and a steam vac can fix most things—and what can’t be fixed (like, for example, the fork indentions on our dining table) become memories. They simply fold into this beautiful mess of life that God has given me.

But I wish I had learned this lesson long ago. I wish in our early years of marriage, and back when the kids were babies, I hadn’t been so busy obsessing over the details that I missed the fact that dishes in the sink, scratches on the table, coffee stains, and exploded juice cups are just part of the adventure of marriage and raising three amazing treasures from God. I spent far too much of my life worried about keeping things in order . . . instead of making sure my loved ones know that they are infinitely more valuable to me than any car—or carpet.

That’s why I love The Last Lecture. Because like Randy, I want my kids to learn from my mistakes. I want them to know, right now while they’re young, that you don’t have to be perfect. That it’s okay to make a B or C on a report card. It’s okay to spill your juice on the carpet. It’s okay to try... and fail.

And above all, I’d want them to know that people are more important than things. That my husband and children are infinitely more important to me than any house or car or thing.

And no matter how many more days God gives me on this earth, I want to enjoy each of them to the fullest with my loved ones in this crazy, dented, scuffed-up, stained life ... covered and cleansed by God's amazing grace.

Thank you, Randy, for that reminder.