There’s a question I keep turning over and over in my mind. For weeks now I have held it in my hands. I flip it over, I turn it this way and that, I rub away at its edges. I feel it growing smoother and more well worn with time. Like the pebble stuck in a shoe. It is always there.

I feel it when I wake up. When I stand at the kitchen sink full of last night’s dirty dishes, the question stands before me. A riddle I can’t wrap an answer around.

What am I leaving these boys?

As summer begins its slow wind down, it is my season for remembering death. Remembering that after days spent riding watermelons in the swimming pool, after splitting them open, their red sweetness running down our gap-toothed grins, after spitting their dark heart seeds as far as our gangly selves could manage, came the day I outgrew my childhood in an instant.

My mom died and a stripe was painted down my life dividing it into before and after. The back pack of memories I carry from my before feels lighter than the 18 years crammed into it might expect. I sift through those moments, looking for pieces of her. And the question comes back.

What am I leaving these boys?

Sometimes the question feels heavy, pressing down on my diaphragm, and I have to resist the irrational panic. I am not dying. I am not her. But I will. One day I will most certainly return to the dust I am sculpted from. So, I have to know, when that happens, what will I have left these boys?

She left me a sense of being less important than her books. She burned dinner over stories she was lost in, and was late to pick us up from school because she had snuck off to the movies. She left me a passionate love for the written word but never wrote down her own thoughts for us to sift through.

But oh how she could turn a Wednesday night into a celebration. With Paul Simon, his pal Al, and the rhythm of the Saints she could sweep us all off our feet and into the living room dancing out our joy at being alive. Everyone wanted to be with her. There was a light inside her and she fed it with poetry and fiction and it spilled out onto everything else that she touched.

And we loved her, even when we didn’t understand her.

What am I leaving these boys?

I try to stop and see through their eyes. Perhaps the unkempt yard and chaos in the playroom, perhaps the piles of laundry and unmade beds don’t matter as much to them as they do to me. Perhaps they will never know their mother felt ashamed that she’d never owned a home. Perhaps they don’t keep score of how many meals are eaten around the dining room table and how many are eaten on the go.

Perhaps, they count what matters in very different ways.

“What makes you angry?” I ask my class of pre-K vacation Bible School kids. “What kinds of things make your heart so mad and your feelings so frustrated you can hardly stand it?” We are talking about forgiveness and how difficult it can be.

My first born raises his hand and I naively call on him, “When you shout at me,” he replies.

When you shout at me.

I hear each word as if it were its own sentence.

When. You. Shout. At. Me.

When, despite dinner on the table, toys crammed in closets, play dates planned out. When you shout at me.

What am I leaving these boys?

I bend down and take the pebble out of my shoe. I take my shoes off altogether. I feel with my bare feet, digging toes into clay, and know for certain that where I am standing is holy ground. This business of raising children is sacred soil and what I sow into it now is what I am leaving them to reap. So I lay down my measuring sticks of house, and healthy meals, and entertainingly scheduled activities.

I lay them down and wait to see what He will give me instead. Because He is the answer to every question.

The LORD said to [Moses], “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD ?
Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:11.

Teach me Father. Please teach me what to leave these boys. And especially how to do it.