You talk with a police officer on your last Sunday.
Your last Sunday still living at home — after the Preacher had said his Amen 10 minutes before noon, you walk up to one of the guys milling around with these smooth stones of small talk out in the chapel foyer —
and you up and ask the cop how to shine a pair of shoes. There are people who find small talk unbearably soul shrinking. That would be you.
“Just exactly how do you do the spit and polish of your shoes — like the mirror polish.”
And you motion with your hand like you’re polishing that mirror and I see clearly who you are — how you are about to walk out of here, up and gone.
We BBQ chicken for Sunday dinner.
I slowly make a spinach salad, roast a pan of squash, onions, carrots with rosemary and garlic, cut up tomatoes.
You leave your scuffed up shoes at the side porch door, next to the golden lab, Boaz, all sprawled out.
You’re reading over your course agenda, the schedule of of your university classes. And I’m stepping over your shoes, in and out the door, checking on the chicken on the BBQ that’s puffing like a winded dragon. Your whole childhood, puffed and gone. Tomorrow, I’ll look in the fridge and realize you aren’t coming home for dinner anymore. There really are last suppers.
At the porch door, I lean over your shoes. Pick up your shoes, your man-sized shoes. The friend at church, the off-duty cop, he’d said 7 coats of polish. You’d need 7 coats laid down first. The BBQ sizzles. I sit on the edge of the porch and begin. Begin to polish your shoes before you leave, as if I can polish all the battered years into something better.
You know how there’s this cheering when the calendar rolls around again and kids have to catch buses and go back to school? All those happy sighs of relief for 18 years of back to school days?
Well, sitting on the front porch, polishing your 18 year old’s shoes, all I can do is swallow around this burning ember in my throat and think of that Piers Morgan line to Susan Boyle: “Well, nobody is laughing now.”
There ain’t nobody who gets to the final leaving and laughs relief. You wildly want one more day, one more strawberry sundae in the park, one more canoe paddle down the Maitland, one more load of laundry, one more sticky cereal bowl in the sink. And time’s run out.
I don’t think you know all the elements of the periodic table. And I am pretty sure your four years of desperate Latin wrestling are reduced now to only a feeble recitation of amo, amas, amat. The year we learned it, till you could sing all the countries of the world? How many do either one of us remember now?
The black polish spreads across the back of your shoe heel like butter. How can you spend so many of the fleeting days of a child’s life on the fleeting things?
How could I forget that the only thing that we’re always really teaching is love? What if I’m wild to go back to Dr. Suess and begin again? What if I want to go back and make the schedule simpler so our lives could be richer? So I could tie your shoe one more time and bend down and kiss your cowlick.
What if I want to play more games of monopoly and leave the dishes in the sink more often? What if I want to take you fishing more Saturdays and blow off cleaning up the garage? Why doesn’t someone tell all the homemakers: Cleanliness isn’t next to godliness. Love is.
What if I still want to memorize Romans with you and read through the Old Testament again and build a tree fort in the woods with you and sleep a week under stars? Motherhood is made up of childhood — and what if I missed it? What if all those glory days are gone and you won’t be at the table tomorrow and next week and next Sunday noon? Grace allows u-turns; it’s Time that doesn’t. This is a grace too, to coerce us all into waking up to the here that won’t be here tomorrow.
You may forget the chonology of the Eyptian pharaohs, but you’ll remember your Dad sneaking up behind me and kissing my ear while I was scrubbing out the breakfast frying pan. I’m not partial to how much you remember of calculus; but it’s dire that you know that the sum of how you see the ordinary is all that ever adds up to an extraordinary life. The lessons any kid remembers are the ones his parents lived. The goal is simple: It’s not about a 5-year scholarship but being a life-long learner and a life-long lover.
I wish I had cared a lot less about your room being clean and a lot more that you and your brothers being close. Why didn’t I paint it in neon on a wall: More important than a clean house is a close family.
I’m polishing your shoes, slow and sacred and silently brimming, trying to buff out all the creases of the last 18 years and there’s no changing it: I got a lot of things wrong, son. I wished we went to more free skates at the arena and had more free evenings because that buys peace. You and I both know how I should have bit my tongue more, prayed more, and what on earth kept me from smiling more?
I wished we’d read more Charlie Brown books together and laughed loud on the floor. I should have gone slower. Every time you saw me, a smile is what you should have seen first.
I’d give my eye teeth, my liver and lifetime worth of free bacon to go back and tell you three times a day, to look you in the eyes and tell you: I really like you.
Forgive us for not painting those ghastly school-bus yellow walls in your room a different color about 5 years sooner.
By His grace and a few thousand miracles, there was good and smiles can swim through tears. Remember how we read a million library books together? I’ll never regret every page we chose over screens.
We ate three meals a day together at a table (and don’t think that doesn’t change the shape of a soul and the world). And we never pushed back our chairs until we’d had our dessert of Scripture. Life is about one thing: Coming to His table and inviting as many as you can to come with you and feast on the only Living Food. We gave you this.
And don’t live safe. How many times have I thought safe mattered when Jesus died to save us not to make us safe. No one ever got saved unless someone else was unsafe.
Seven coats of shoe polish. And there’s no way I’m close to letting you go.
Know before you go, son, before you go to school, before you head out into the world:
The Bible’s true, son. Every infallible, sword-sharp, breathing word of it. Don’t let anyone ever rationalize one beautiful iota of it away. Love it because it’s your Life.
And the only life worth living is the scandalous one: scandalous love, offensive mercy, foolish faith. Kiss babies. Always have one friend that feels on the fringe, that you have to pray to love, that makes the neighbors scratch their heads.
Stubbornly pray for your enemies till you see enemies are illusions and everyone is a friend and grace. Believe in every woman’s God-sized dreams. And rub her feet at the end of the day.
Be the kind of person who apologizes first because that’s the only way happiness can last.
And never forget that happiness is when His Word and your walk are in harmony. Never stop keeping company with Christ– and all the sinners, tax-collectors and cast-offs. Be an evangelist and use your words with your hands because your part of a Body and never stop loving God with all your heart, mind and soul, and loving others as yourself. Make that your creed.
It’s true, son: Be different and know everything you do matters. It’s what the Christ followers know: One man with God can change a culture. God didn’t put people in your path mostly for your convenience; He put you there for theirs. Loving the poor will make you rich, I promise.
The only life worth living is the one lost.
And no matter how loud and crazy and broken the world is, child? Let joy live loud in your soul.
Believe that you are His beloved – it’s only when you trust that He loves you that you really begin to live. Really, count a thousand blessings more — why wouldn’t you want joy? Sing to no one and everyone on the front porch in the rain and laugh so much they question your sanity. Pet the dog long.
Because really, none of us knows how long we have. Remember that a pail with a pinhole loses as much as the pail pushed right over. A whole life can be lost in minutes wasted… in the small moments missed. None of this here is forever grace. That’s why it’s amazing grace.
Do it often: grab a lifeline by stepping offline. You’ll see your true self when you look for your reflection in the eyes of souls not the glare of screens.
This is what you always need to know: You have nothing to prove to anyone – if you’re in Him, you are already approved.
Be okay with not being liked: life’s about altars not applause. And be okay with not being seen or heard. It’ll let you hear and see better.
I know I’ve forgotten something – many things.
This parenting gig’s an experiment in radical grace and the work of every parent is to fully give to the child.
And it’s the work of every child to fully forgive the parents. This is how it turns, the torch passing from one to the next.
When I hold up your right shoe? Just to polish up the side?
I can feel that spot where your big toe has rubbed the shoe lining through. Makes me smile brave. You’re itching to go and begin.
So that’s what the parent does: Do not only grieve that it’s over — be grateful that it was.
Don’t only grieve that it’s gone, be grateful that is was.
Laugh that you lived and dance that you dared and inhale that it all happened — and it all was grace.
The world needs a few good men, son.
Your shoes are spit and polished at the back door, boy —
polished with a thousand parent’s prayers and the memories of a million little things…
Those shoes are made for walking a mirrored grace.