Can We Please Just Make it to “Amen”?!
A couple of weeks back we dedicated our son to the Lord at church.
As we stood before our church family and God, and vowed to raise him, by God’s grace and help, to know, love, and serve the Lord; he yelled at the top of his tiny lungs “Down! Down! Down!”. He flailed his surprisingly strong body in attempts to escape my grasp and reach the freedom of running wild in the sanctuary.
I held tightly to the frantic child, discretely stuffing animal crackers into his mouth as our pastor eloquently went about introducing the other families and children.
Just as our pastor instructed the church family to bow their heads in prayer over these little ones, my dear precious son lost any scrap of patience he had left and yelled–loudly–through the entire prayer.
Our church family has a good sense of humor. A good portion of them have, or have had, small children of their own–they get it–but as I carried my dismayed toddler off the stage, my face was flush with a hint of embarrassment.
The Burdening Weight of 936 Copper Pennies
At these child dedications, gifts are always given to each family. At our old church back in Wisconsin, I was in charge of organizing these events, including ordering the parenting books, childrens’ Bibles, and children’s hymnal CD’s that would be tied together with ribbons and handed out to the parents.
This time, however, we were in our new church. In our new state. In our new world. And I was a bit surprised as the gifts were handed out to each family.
Into my hand was placed a mason jar full of pennies. A heavy mason jar full of pennies. A mason jar heavy with the weight of exactly 936 shiny copper pennies. My arms dropped a bit as I took the full weight of the jar between my hands.
“In these jars is a penny for every week you will raise this child.” Our pastor explained. And with his words the jar felt exponentially more heavy in my grasp.
“Every week, when you get home from church, remove one penny from the jar. And it will be a reminder of the time you have left to raise your child before they go out on their own.” I stared at the pennies, shiny and glinting within the glass jar.
They looked so many, yet so very few.
That jar of pennies now sits on my desk. Our pastor had instructed us that, once we brought it home, we should start by removing a penny for each week old our child was. Ellison is one and a half. He was the oldest child being dedicated that sunday morning, and I had a lot of pennies to remove.
So many, in fact, that I have yet to do it. I haven’t removed them; not a single one. Maybe it’s because I haven’t made a spare moment to sit and count them out, but moreso I suspect it is because my heart is afraid to feel the weight of 76 pennies being emptied from that jar, never to return.
Maybe I am afraid to begin removing pennies because I know that, with each penny I remove, that little glass jar will only grow heavier.More imminent. More immediate.
And then I look at my firstborn, and my soul feels the weight of 172 pennies gone.
I ask the inevitable question–how were they spent?
A penny can be invested; it has the potential of growing in value. It also has the potential of getting lost in a couch cushion.
And if we are to divide a penny into seven parts–one day for each week, what worth are we breathing into each of those days?
Further, a day can be divided up also–into moments.
Some days I feel like I spend my whole penny–an allowance of a week– in a single 24 hour period.
In a weak moment I can feel like I blow through 5 cents. One slip of the tongue, one impatient reaction, one missed opportunity to speak truth, one fatigued mama feeling the whole weight of failure; it can leave me wondering if I just screwed up a whole week of parenting; or if my actions, or reactions, will stick with them for a lifetime.
I know they will. How I spend these pennies will shape the rest of their lives; they’ll carry the effects of my spending habits with them for the rest of their days beyond our nest.
Taking A Good Look At My Spending Habits
One thing is certain, no matter how I spend each penny, I purchase with it a pile of lessons in motherhood. I know this because after a long day, when the boys are finally sound asleep in their beds, my mind finally able to rest apart from little voices asking, demanding, quarreling, loving, thanking, apologizing, and being little voices; I don’t put those voices out of my head.
I replay them. The conversations of the day. The requests, the new words, sentences, questions, and understandings. Every “I love you”, “Thank you, Mama,” and “I’m sorry, Mama.”
And I replay my own voice from the day, its tones, the harshness, the apologies, the love, and the laughter.
And my eyes, although so very weary and longing to shut, they often stare, glued to the glowing screen of my phone, scanning photos of these boys I grew and bore from my own body. And I recount.
I recount photos of moments from our day. Then back through the week. Then back to last week. All the way back to our trip to Florida in August. Then back to Colorado in May.
And eventually I find myself staring at brand new, just-from-the-womb, wrinkly, pink, perfect faces with the deepest blue eyes you’ve ever seen, staring back up with those first, “Oh, hello Mama!” expressions.
Words to Reveal Those Pennies Spent
I also read. I take in words inked from my heart to lined paper, in three little journals begun the weeks I found out about each of my boys, as well as the little one I will hold come May. These journals house words of fear, words of pride, words of hopes, words of desperate prayer.
I pour over the stories spanning from two pink lines, to first kicks, to the first time I held them; to the sleepless weeks following, to first birthdays. These pages bear witness to how pennies have been spent.
Looking Beyond a Single Penny to a Larger Investment
And that is when I see it, right there next to journals bearing tiny inked footprints on the inside covers. A jar full. 936 pennies rich. And the photos, the voices, the words, the memories of each week, each day, each moment from the maternity ward until now–I see them well spent.
Despite the days I lost a penny in the couch, or spent one frivolously, or got to the end of the day and wondered if I would ever get things right, or if I would get to the end of 18 years and be full of regret–grace begins to wash over me.
Those fears wash away in light of it all; in light of 76 weeks with my dear, sweet, loud toddler; and 172 weeks with my firstborn, the son who made me a mom.
When I back up and see all those weeks as a whole, I see a grand display of God’s grace; His grace that covers a multitude of wrongs; His grace so much larger than all of my tongue slips and raised-voice moments.
Two Jars On my Desk
This realization leads me to add a new jar to my desk. Only this one is empty–for now; awaiting its own pennies. I set the two jars side by side, and I begin to count.
I count out 76 pennies, one for each week of Ellison’s life so far. I count them out from my first jar and I deposit them into this new jar.
This new jar that represents the investment of a lifetime–truly, the investment of an eternity.
This is when I realize something monumental to motherhood– that as I withdraw those pennies from that jar on my desk, they are not being lost, misplaced, or tossed out to never see again. They are being invested. They are creating something new, something of great beauty, bravery, and Kingdom importance.
They are building my son into who God has created him to be.
The Eternal Value of $9.36
One of the great plights of motherhood is how quickly this phase of life seems to slip out from our grasp.
Regularly I hear from strangers, “Enjoy it, it will be over before you know it!” But I think I do know it. Because, like Lisa-Jo Baker puts it in her book Surprised by Motherhood, I understand that,
Although some days of navigating small children through early years seem endless, I know they will be over before I know it. And that is the beauty of these two jars sitting on my desk.
One reminds me of how fleeting these days are, and the other assures me that they are being invested in something of eternal value.