When I walked into the kitchen this morning and saw that straw sticking out of a too-short cup, my first thought was, That is absolutely the last time I buy straws.
They irritate me. I don’t know why. I suppose I could trace it back to those curly, loop-de-loop straws I bought way back when the kids were younger. I wanted them to like the straws, but not so much that they’d actually use them. Because if they used them, say, for milk, then I’d have to be diligent about cleaning them. You can’t procrastinate your dish washing when you’ve got milk-coated curly straws waiting in the sink.
Of course, the kids did use them — all the time, and for every conceivable liquid. And occasionally I didn’t clean them in a timely fashion. Then I’d have to pour boiling water down that minuscule hole, squish the sides of the hot straws as the water raced through the curves, and hope no deadly and/or disgusting bacteria lingered somewhere inside.
The curly straws disappeared one day. No one knows what happened.
I switched to cheap, straight straws — and a different irritation. Now I didn’t have to worry about bacteria, because these were cheap enough to throw away. I just didn’t like the fact that Zac, in particular, likes to use a new straw for every sip of water he takes throughout the day. And he seems to take a special delight in using them in the shortest cups he can find, which means they’re always leaning out over the edge of the cup, making it easy for someone — Mom, maybe — to accidentally bump the tip and send it catapulting out of the cup.
So, yes, this morning I felt irritated. I stood looking at the evidence of Zac’s last sip and I thought, This is the last straw.
And right then, because He loves my children and me, God brought to mind the words of Tammy Courson, a pastor’s wife I heard speak at a conference two years ago.
Jon and Tammy had five children: three from Jon’s first marriage, and two together. Jon’s first wife died in a car accident when their three children were very young. Of those three, Jessie was the oldest girl. Not only was she beautiful and smart, but she had a spiritual depth most adults don’t possess. She’d be at a retreat with the high school kids, and during a discussion she’d say, “You know, the other day while reading about the seven bowl judgments in Revelation, it occurred to me how well they coordinate with the last words of Christ on the cross,” or something equally deep. One night her father teased her. “Jessie, the hardest thing ahead of us is going to be finding a husband for you who is more spiritually mature than you are.”
The day after that conversation, the kids had a scheduled day off of school. Jessie decided to drive over to the church and take communion before she started her day. Her dad was happy to see her there, and touched when, after communion, she stood and shared a verse. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:11). When she finished, she looked at her dad and winked. What she didn’t know was that God had spoken that very verse to Jon during the ambulance ride to the hospital with his dying wife, Jessie’s mother, some fifteen years earlier. That verse had been God’s way of letting Jon know that God would bring good out of that tragedy and would walk with Jon during the hard times.
Jessie left then and went home to ask her brother, Peter-John, if he wanted to go out for breakfast with her. Peter-John said later that he doesn’t know why he declined, but for some reason he said no. Jessie then went into the kitchen to say good bye to Tammy.
“You look so beautiful today,” Tammy told her daughter. Then she gave her a kiss and a hug, and they exchanged “I love you’s.”
Jessie left the house. Just two minutes later, rounding a curve on the road, Jessie was involved in a car accident … and died.
At the memorial, Jon told of the conversation he and his daughter had shared the night before her death. He talked about the man he’d hoped Jessie would find, the man who would be more spiritually mature than she, the man who could lead her. And then he held up a ring belonging to Jessie, which they hadn’t been able to find in the car initially, but which someone brought him just before the service started.
“One of the things I have most looked forward to, as a pastor and father, is being able to officiate at the wedding of my daughter. And today, I am doing so. Today, my Jessie has found that Man to lead her. Today, my daughter is the bride of Christ.”
I have known of Jessie’s life and death for many years, but it wasn’t until Tammy Courson stood before me at that conference and shared her message that I really understood the story from a mother’s perspective.
“There’s a last time for everything with our children,” she said. “There was a last hair cut for my son, Ben. After that, he never asked again. There was a last time I watched my youngest daughter swirl in her tutu, because after that, she put away her ballet clothes and stopped dancing. And there was a last time …” Tammy fought tears as she tried to finish, “… there was a last time when I told my daughter Jessie how beautiful she was, and a last time I hugged her and told her I loved her.”
Her grief broke my heart. It was impossible not to cry with her, impossible not to let my thoughts jump to my own children, and what I’d feel if I were recounting my “lasts.”
“You never know when that last time comes,” Tammy said, “so make sure you appreciate the moments you have now.”
Remembering her words, I stood in the kitchen staring at that red-and-white straw sticking out of Zac’s too-short cup, and I thanked God for breaking my heart again.
My son can use all the straws he wants.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)