The jar filled with brightly colored marbles sat in my kitchen window, a place where I was certain to see it multiple times each day. Every Sunday, after writing in my journal, I would take another marble out of the jar. Week by week I watched the fairly abundant stash dwindle down to the half-way mark, the quarter mark, then a couple of fists full, a dozen, a half dozen, three, two, one. . . then none.
I had gotten the idea when I read about a man who was busy building his career and raising his young family. Working late into the evenings on weekdays, he would often promise to do something fun with his children on Saturday or Sunday, only to have plans dashed by important work that really needed to be done. Without meaning to or even realizing it, he had allowed his job to become priority over all else.
Then one day he read somewhere the sum total of weeks the average parent has with their children before they leave home. For some reason, seeing that number in black and white cut through the red tape of his brain and went straight to his soul. He calculated the number of weeks he had left with his kids and thought of all the times he had answered their requests with, “No, I’m too busy right now. We’ll do it later.”
After some soul searching, that dad called a family meeting and announced that “From now on all our Saturdays will be turned into Super Saturdays!” He determined every Saturday until his children left for college would be meaningful and memorable and that those days spent with them would be intentional and on purpose. So every weekend he planned at least one fun thing for his family to do together. Some big, some small, some costly and some inexpensive but all done with thought and attention to his family’s needs.
To keep a visual reminder of the exact number of Saturdays he had left with them, he went out and bought that number of marbles and filled a huge container with them. Each week he would remove one of the marbles and set it aside. He had written the article after his children were grown and had left home. Looking back, he was clearly convinced that his choice of a priority shift for weekends had been a wise and worthwhile one.
To keep a visual reminder of the exact number of Saturdays he had left with them, he went out and bought that number of marbles and filled a huge container with them.
I happened to have read this article at the beginning of the last semester of my daughter’s senior year. If you’re the mom of a soon-to-be-graduate and reading this, need I say more? It’s an emotional time and can be full of self questioning and evaluating. “Did I tell her everything she’ll need to know about safety?” “Did I give enough love?” “Did I give enough discipline?” “Did I talk enough about sex?” “Did I talk too much about sex?” “Does she know how to shop for groceries?” “How about budgeting money?” “What about changing a tire?” “Have we modeled a good marriage?” The list could go on and on, as I’m sure you’re aware.
I’ll admit that I had a moment of panic when I realized how few marbles would be in that jar! But I was determined to make every marble count. My goal was basically to assess eighteen years worth of child rearing and decide what I had left out, what I had forgotten to tell her or what she might later down the road wish she had known. Each week I would journal about one specific focus or topic either because of something that had happened that week, a conversation we had shared or maybe just a thought I wanted to leave with her for future reference. I labeled the journal and the jar both “Molly Marbles” in big italic letters. Not one prone to sentimentality or displays of emotion, she would sometimes tease me if she saw me writing in the journal. “Working on your marbles?” she’d ask with a slight grin. “Mainly just trying not to lose my marbles,” I would sometimes reply. But when the marbles in the jar were down to single digits they became a sobering reminder of the passage that lay ahead. Of time that was slipping away like sand through our fingers.
My goal was basically to assess eighteen years worth of child rearing and decide what I had left out, what I had forgotten to tell her or what she might later down the road wish she had known.
Molly is a grown woman now with a beautiful marriage and a great job. I can’t tell you whether she read every entry in that journal or whether I covered the topics she most needed to have discussed. But I can tell you that those dwindling marbles served as a reminder to me each week to do my best as I was attempting to prepare her for her future. It was a symbol of the limited days I had left with her before I sent her into the world on her own.
I believe in the power of visual reminders. Rather than a jar of marbles, these days there is a name spelled in block letters sitting on my window sill. It is the name of one of my precious grandchildren with a challenging speech disorder and it serves as a reminder for me to pray for her every day. Because we are a highly distracted (and distractible) society, physical reminders are sometimes necessary to help us focus on our goals.
But when the marbles in the jar were down to single digits they became a sobering reminder of the passage that lay ahead. Of time that was slipping away like sand through our fingers.
I am drawn to the passage in Deuteronomy 6 where Moses reminds the Israelites that their existence revolves around loving God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. (verses 5 & 6). Then in verses 8 & 9, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
The Israelites literally did just that! The phylacteries they wore were cube shaped small leather cases worn on their foreheads and their arms. Inside these cases were the Scripture verses from Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21. The phylactery found on the inside of the left arm was near the elbow so that with the bending of the arm it would rest over the heart. A knot fastened it to the arm and the end of the string wound around the middle finger. (Have you ever tied a string around your finger to remember something?)
Even today, every observant Jewish home has a mezuzah, a small parchment scroll with these same scriptures hand written on them and placed in a small box on the doorframe of the house. They usually touch them as they enter the house or its rooms as a physical reminder of keeping the God of Abraham and Isaac at the center of their lives.
I believe in the power of visual reminders.
For Christians, the cross has become a symbol of hope, of resurrection and of eternal salvation. This Easter I am more thankful than ever for what that symbol means. One of my dear friends has a brother for whom she had prayed for many years who finally gave his heart to the Lord just three days before his death last week. Rather than flowers to express my condolences, I chose a resplendent crystal cross as a token of celebration!
When she went home and set it in her window she was surprised and delighted to see the prism effect created when sunlight hit the cross. Its dots of rainbow reflection on her wooden floor spoke hope to us both. This is the picture she sent to me.
Whether it’s a jar of marbles, a box on your doorpost or a spattering of multicolored dots on your floor, it’s good to have something that reminds us of what is truly important in this life and in the life to come.
Wishing a blessed Easter to you all.