“The Parade of Firsts” has officially begun: first sleep in the new house. First swim in the pool. First Sabbath at our new church, first play-date with new friends, first time getting lost in a new town. First apology to the neighbor lady for my dog leaving a “gift” in her front yard.
My family and I are marching in this parade happily, hopefully, somewhat clumsily, and sometimes very out of step. It’s hard to focus during staff meeting when I couldn’t even find the toaster to make a piece of toast that morning. It’s exciting to meet new friends, and challenging to get settled in a new house. It’s daunting to observe the stack of approximately 145,583,246,307 boxes we have left to unpack. The Parade of Firsts is definitely not a smoothly-coordinated event.
But perhaps that’s because The Parade of Firsts follows so closely on the heels of The Parade of Lasts: last goodbyes to friends and loved ones in the old town, last visits to our favorite beaches, last walk along the riverfront, last load of laundry (doesn’t everything begin and end with laundry?!), last hike in the woods behind our house. Last glimpse of Mount Rainier towering behind the Space Needle, on our way heading south. Firsts bear witness that we have also survived Lasts, and the two Parades back-to-back can make for some trying times.
It’s in these times that I’m reminded of “the dash.”
Look on any tombstone, observe any grave marker, and you will see it: the date of a person’s birth (a First), the date of the person’s death (a Last), and between these two monumental markers in time stands one small, simple, seemingly insignificant little dash. The dash is overlooked. Irrelevant. A punctuation mark used merely as a means of holding two book-ends together. It’s so trivial, in fact, that most people never even think about the dash.
But the dash happens to be where all of our actual LIVING takes place. It’s that time in between – those days and years and moments between birth and death – when we grow, learn, live, love, experience, and enjoy this unspeakable gift we call life. It’s every memory, every dream, every heartache, every joy, and every loss. The dash holds them all.
I want to be mindful that I’m living in the dash. Right now, here in between firsts and lasts, on the heels of other firsts and lasts and certainly with more firsts and lasts up ahead in the future. I want to remember that this is the gift God has given me: the dash, the time, the chance to join in the journey and make a mark on this world. Because it’s not ever the firsts and the lasts that truly define us. Rather, it’s how we lived in the middle, in the mundane times where life looked ordinary. It’s how we grow and how we wrestle and how we serve when no one’s watching, that make us who we really are.
When I look at the life of Jesus, I see someone who lived in all 3 places at the same time. He was ever-focused on the end. So many of the things He said and did were to intentionally point people ahead to the cross. He was also always mindful of the beginning. He knew who He was, where He came from, the fact that He hung the planets in place but also that He miraculously grew in the belly of an unwed teenage girl. Yet in addition to all this, He managed to embrace the present, too. Whether that meant healing more sick, seeking more lost, walking more miles, or preaching to a crowd from a place of utter exhaustion, Jesus knew how to be in the moment. He lived the dash, and He lived it well.
I don’t know where you are living today – whether you’re stressing about the future, stuck replaying what happened in the past, or simply bumbling your way along this road we’re all walking. Maybe you’re just trying to make it from one day to the next. Perhaps you’re elated over the start of a new life, or facing the end of an old one. I don’t know if your parade is one of celebration, searching, fear or failure. But I do know that these are the days that count. This is the dash. Your time at work, the words you speak while cutting sandwiches for your children, the people you smile at on the street, the quick calls you make to a friend – these small things are building your legacy, brick by brick, piece by piece.
So build well, my friends. Remember your past – that God made you and then found you, and that He designed you for a purpose. Find that purpose! Remember also your future – that this world is truly not our home, there’s a greater reality than the one we face daily, there’s victory up ahead that nobody can change or take away. Hang onto that hope! And in the meantime? Live the dash. Live your present well. Seek Jesus in the ordinary moments, and pray for the strength to be exactly who God’s called you to be now, here, today.