My dad would often tell me that when Billy Graham was asked what surprised him most about life, he answered, “the brevity of it all.” It’s true—all of a sudden it’s 2016 and my son Max has just turned 25. Along with brevity, this new year’s day reminds me of several other startling truths:
1) It is becoming less plausible that I’m carrying postpartum baby weight.
2) Max has grown a beard, which means he looks far more sophisticated when he carries a teddy bear.
3) We have survived a quarter-century of life with autism.
But something happened 10 years ago that has made me acutely aware of the brevity of life, and gave me just the push I needed.
Max was 15 at the time. Even thought he was in a wonderful school, my legs were like rubber as I walked into our team meeting. A dozen well-dressed individuals were seated around the long conference room table. As I thanked the staff for their hard work with Max, I could hear my own heart pounding as if the base were turned up too loud on a radio.
We discussed Max’s progress, and challenges, and the goals for the next year. It was going well, until we came to the parent vision statement, a section on his Education Plan giving parents an undisputed voice to share their hopes and dreams for their child’s future. The teacher read through the words from last year’s education plan, a vision I had worked so hard to write.
“How does it sound? Is this still your vision for Max’s future?” the teacher asked, as she sat behind her laptop and looked up at the screen.
My head went light and I could barely read the words on the screen.
“It’s fine,” I mumbled weakly. But it wasn’t fine. I was doe-eyed from the phone call with my surgeon, which had taken place just minutes before this team meeting had begun. I had been sitting in the school parking lot, phone pressed up against my ear, sucked back against the front seat of my car as if my body had been glued there by centrifugal force. The doctor gave me the surgical choices I would have to make to treat the rare form of melanoma that was once just a small dark ink-drop on my thigh. And then he gave me my odds of survival.
As I sat beneath the bright florescent lights in the conference room, surrounded by Max’s team, one thought began pounding in my head like a sledgehammer.
What if I’m not here next year to sit in another team meeting?
What if this is my last chance to speak up?
As if propelled by force, my words burst out. “I’d like to add something to my vision statement,” I said.
“OK,” the teacher said as she held her fingers to the keys, waiting.
All of my splintered thoughts collected into one, and in that moment I spoke with complete clarity.
“I want my son to become a man of God.”
Silence hung in the air, which only grew my resolve. We live in one of the most liberal states in the country, but I did not flinch, or explain myself. I did not have time. I became a graffiti artist marking a bridge or a building, a prisoner scratching his name on a cell wall. I knew this had to be the one lasting mark I would leave on my son’s life. This was my vision for my child’s future.
The room was silent. No one moved, not even me. And then I began to hear a soft clicking sound, like summer rain.
I didn’t even recognize the noise until I looked over and saw the teacher beginning to type. Slowly the words came to life on the screen, and in that moment, became an irrevocable part of my son’s Education Plan.
When she finished typing I held still. No one even breathed. Finally the older gentleman sitting across from me threw himself back in his chair and laughed as if he’d been holding it in for decades.
“In all my years,” he roared as he held his stomach like Santa Claus, “I have never seen anything like this in an Ed Plan!” His head darted from side to side, as he looked at the others who still sat stunned around the table.
I braced myself for opposition, to be told that my words about God could not be included in a state document, but instead an eruption of laughter and cheering filled the conference room. “This is great!” I heard a man yell. “Remember this moment! I think we just made history!” someone shouted. But I didn’t join in. I didn’t even respond. I just stared up at the words on the brightly lit screen. “For Max to become a man of God.”
Last week Max turned 25, our quarter of a century victory mark. We have more than survived. And my son is a mighty man of God, the mark that only God can place in a heart.
May we go forward with boldness in our faith, remembering life is brief. This is our chance. Let’s do what matters most.
“This one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13 – 14