Monthly Archives: May 2012

Firsts and lasts

A couple weeks ago I attended the very last preschool program I will ever attend for my children.  Come August, I will send my daughter, the youngest of my three children, off to kindergarten and a new chapter will begin.  Although the imminent onset of a new journey is exciting and promising, the closing of this chapter is riddled with sentiment and sadness.  And as I sat watching my five year old sing silly songs and tender ballads, I found myself grieving much more than her last preschool program.  I found myself grieving all the lasts that I’ve inadvertently missed along the way.  It’s a funny thing about lasts.  They’re so easy to miss.  This is not at all the case with firsts.  Most of the firsts my children experienced were well documented and celebrated.  Their first tooth is tucked safely away in a keepsake box.  Their first words are written in scrapbooks and recalled regularly.  First steps, first days of school, first dances and first friends have all been acknowledged and recorded.  But the lasts?  They have been sorely overlooked and tonight I long to revisit them.  I don’t recall the last time my 12 year old called me mommy or when he lost his last tooth.  I don’t remember the last time my 10 year old let me hold him on the couch or hold his hand as we walked. And I couldn’t tell you the day my daughter stopped mispronouncing her brother’s name or decided she no longer needed me to catch her on the slide.  I wish I did.  I would give a great deal to know those moments and give them the farewell they deserved.  But the truth is, you just don’t see the lasts coming.  How do you know when you send your child out the door one morning that it will be the last time he or she comes running back to give you a hug?  How could you ever anticipate the last flower they will pick for you or silly picture they will draw?  And who would ever be able to predict the last night you read your child a bedtime story?  All these things are milestones and rites of passage I would have liked to record or at least recognize.

As I look back, however, I am deeply grateful for that wonderful group of servants who have shared with our family so many of the firsts and lasts.  Teachers.  They are really a remarkable group.  They are the markers of time and our children’s biggest fans.  Each year they equip, encourage and raise up a group of children and love them despite the reality that their time with them is measured and short.  They love them as their own and do so, not because of obligation or necessity, but because of passion.  I have never once met a teacher who is in it for glory, notoriety or financial gain.  Every teacher I have met teaches for the love of it.  And more importantly, for the love of the children she shares his or her day with.

In Matthew 18:5, Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…”  I wonder sometimes, if Jesus had teachers in mind when he spoke those words.  Frankly, I believe it is the heart and soul of a teachers calling.  They feel a tug on their hearts to become the physical hands and feet of Christ and they lovingly give themselves over to the mission.  They humbly add brushstrokes to a great masterpiece they may never see completed.  They gracefully weave beautiful threads into the tapestries of our children knowing full well they will not witness the finished work.

I cannot accurately convey my appreciation for my children’s teachers.  A simple thank you seems wholly inadequate.  I am profoundly grateful for the unconditional love they display; for their commitment to receive each child that comes their way; for their sacrificial willingness to be Christ to the children around them; and for their unwavering dedication to celebrate the firsts, the lasts, and each remarkable moment in between.


I just learned today that some friends of ours lost their unborn baby at 27 weeks.  In the words of my friend, their “hearts are shattered.”  At the same time, another friend’s wife is steadily approaching the doorway between this life and the next.  On top of all that, a third friend with a terminal illness is grappling with saying goodbye to his wife and daughters as God’s call home becomes louder and louder.

I hate death.  I hate its grip on us.  I hate its power to steal our joy and rob our hope.  And as my heart struggles to rise amidst all of this sadness, I have been trying to put my finger on a few things.  While the finality of death is staggering and tragic, there seems to be much more to the grief it brings.  Several days of thoughts swimming in circles in my head have led me to this conclusion.  Death is the culmination of the terrifying fear that lives inside us all. The fear that we are alone.  The fear that at the end of the day, we will find ourselves painfully and unmistakably alone.  Furthermore, I believe it is that very fear that drives us to God.  We were never created to be alone.  From the very beginning, we were made and intended to live amidst community, both divine and human.  Therefore, when death robs us of our inmost need, our innate ache to walk hand in hand with those around us, it is like a betrayal.  We pour ourselves into relationships, into friendships, into marriages, and we derive immeasurable comfort from the safety we find there.  And then death comes raging in and we are suddenly lost.  We are suddenly alone.

But there is something magnificent that happens in death.  I wouldn’t call it so much a consolation as a glorious display of grace.  Currently, our friends who lost their baby have 147 comments and messages on their Facebook walls.  Our friend who is grieving the imminent loss of his wife has an email update and prayer distribution list that has dozens and dozens of recipients.  And our friend formulating his farewells has seen friends from all avenues of his life rush to his side with comfort and strength.  And I am amazed at this juxtaposition.  It would seem that as death approaches, relentless and unforgiving, it is at this very moment that the body of Christ comes magnificently to life.  As earthly death creeps in and creates a paralyzing vacuum, God overflows our lives with community and love.  As death inhales our hope and joy, God exhales grace, strength, and comfort through His hands and feet on this earth.  And in that magnificent instant, in that breathtaking display of mercy, death’s threat of aloneness and isolation loses a bit of its sting.  It’s not that the grief goes away.  It’s still there, powerful and gripping.  But amidst the loss, there is a flood of fellowship, communion and solidarity that moves us graciously towards healing.

I hate death.  But I love the way God’s family responds.  I love the uprising and stirring of hearts that occurs.  I am humbled by the tears shed in the name of someone else’s pain.  I am moved by the weeping and petitioning that ripples through the church. And I am in awe of the transformation that the body of Christ undergoes as it moves swiftly and profoundly to fill the void that death leaves behind.  There is no consolation when death is involved.  God knows its power far better than we do.  But what a kind and sovereign Lord we have that He would see our grief and provide divine countermeasures that assure us that we are loved, that we are safe, and, most importantly, that we are not alone.