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by Dan Schaeffer

It had been hectic and fast paced in our family’s lives as of late, one activity after another, one job after another, one more thing to do after another. But today we were taking time off. It was a beautiful day at the beach in Southern California, which although only twenty minutes away, I visit far too infrequently. I sat snuggling my feet in the warm sand under the mild sun, sitting comfortably in my chair, watching the waves roll in. This was the way life was meant to be, I sighed to myself.

Christi, Andrew, and Katie, ages thirteen, twelve, and ten respectively, played on the beach. My son, now a real beach fanatic, jumped off waves and rode them with his boogie board, while my older daughter was off exploring somewhere. There was only my wife, Annette, and myself, and then my youngest, Katie. She wandered toward me with that “I’m bored” look of a young child who has no one to enjoy the beach with.

She asked sweetly, beseechingly, “Dad, could you help me build a sand castle?” Predictably, I said what any red blooded dad would say in such a situation. “Not now honey, I’m resting. Why don’t you just go play with…”

But she would not be so easily deterred. She used the one argument that fathers, at least this father, isn’t good at rebutting. “But Dad, you made sand castles with Christi and Andrew when they were little.”

It’s true. It seems that with the first child parents shower attention galore upon them, doting on their every glance, cry, step, and accomplishment. When they want to do something we do it, because it is new for us as well as for them. While they’ve never played with blocks before, either have we, with our own child. It’s all new for us, and we love it. It’s what we dreamed of doing when we became parents.

How often had I cajoled Christi and Andrew, Katie’s older siblings, into building sandcastles? I would never have even dreamed of going to the beach without first making sure I had the requisite buckets, shovels, and various sand molds. But slowly, I’m not sure when, it became more common, and I became less passionate about it. I loved each child just as deeply as the others, but it’s true that the later children receive a rather diluted activity level from dad. While I hate to admit it, a “been there, done that” attitude had weaseled into my life.

And maybe it’s just me, but with the increased activity level of two older children, my energy level seemed to be depleted. The plain truth is that I didn’t want to get up off my soft seat and play with my youngest daughter. It’s not something I’m very proud to admit, but it’s the truth. I wanted to veg, and she was aware of it. But her words reminded me that she wanted the same attention the older two had gotten. She wanted to be able to say that Dad had made a sandcastle with her, too. I was a part of my daughter’s memory scrapbook, and she was collecting pictures. She wanted one of me making sandcastles with her.

I grinned, and said, “Oh alright, let’s make a sandcastle.” Her eyes lit up as if I had just offered to go shopping for clothes with her, and we proceeded to make a sandcastle. Soon my son joined in, being the engineer of the family, and mom came over and began to take part. While my son and mom tried to create a deep enough moat to keep the rising tide off our castle, Katie and I made the walls, parapets, flags, stairs, and anything else we could imagine. All modesty aside, we had a pretty good sandcastle going. It was fun again, and I soon forgot my laziness and added to my own memory gallery.

But as nature would have it, the rising waves began to lap up closer and closer to our castle, breaching our sand walls and filling our moat. While we tried desperately to stave it off, it was inevitable. We were able to admire our castle for a good ten minutes before it began to be slowly dissolved with the rising tide. No one minded though. We had built it, and as the longevity of sandcastles is a bit tenuous in the first place, none of us expected it to last too long. The fun was in the building, together. Katie was satisfied. Her smile told me she felt all was now “fair,” again, and she abandoned the sandcastle to some new interest.

I was left alone to sit in my chair, my feet nestled in the sand once more, and my eyes drawn irresistibly toward the sandcastle. It was now just a mound of wet sand, all the intricacies we had worked so hard to achieve washed away by the waves. Someone walking upon the beach would never have suspected there was ever a sandcastle there. The sand would remain, but it would take another to create a new sandcastle.

Then my eyes searched for my Katie, my little sandcastle. I saw her playing and reflected. How quickly she was growing up. Did I remember what she looked like even five years ago? How quickly the waves of time had washed over my daughter, and removed all traces of that once helpless little baby. The baby is now gone, leaving in her place a young girl turning rapidly into a young woman. It seems she was born yesterday, yet her castle is more than half finished, and there’s so much more I want to add.

Months have now passed, yet when I think back upon that day at the beach, making the sandcastle with Katie is all I remember about it. All those pressing details of that time in my life that so screamed for my attention are forgotten, the waves of time rapidly washing away all trace of their presence, and revealing them to be much less significant than they had once seemed. What water does to sandcastles, time does to life. Oh how carefully we have to choose what we do with our time. I thank God that He gave me the wisdom to see the importance of making that sandcastle with Katie.

Every day I am making sandcastles with those I love and I have only a short time in which to make them, and time is the most essential ingredient in a sandcastle. I regret all those missed opportunities where I should have made a sandcastle and instead nestled my feet comfortably in the sand.

I’m only given so much time to make sandcastles with those I love, creating those memories and shared moments of togetherness that last a lifetime, before the tide comes in. The waves of time allow me, like the waves of the sea, but a moment here, and a moment there, and then all is washed away for another day. Each day is a new opportunity to make a sandcastle with those I love, but I must make them soon, because one day the opportunity will be lost forever.

As I thought about this, I remembered the verse in Psalm 90, when Moses said, So teach us to number our days, That we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12). I memorized this verse years ago, because I tend to live life in a hurry, always trying to reach my next goal. A good friend once told me, “Dan, you are living life like it’s a race.” They weren’t far off. This verse continually reminds me that time is precious, and I can only do so much with it, then it is gone, and I don’t get it back. As Moses said, “soon it is gone, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10) Friends, relatives, children, spouses, we’re building sandcastles with others all the time.

But I know I’m not alone in my struggles. I remember speaking of this one day with my sister, who with her husband was planning an expensive vacation. It was one they probably couldn’t afford, but one that excited their teenage boys. She admitted that the price tag was high, and they would be paying it off for quite a few months. But, she explained, “We’ve only got a few years left before they’re gone, this might be the last big vacation we get together.”

She didn’t need to say anymore. There is such a thing as being penny wise, but pound foolish. She and her husband were numbering their days left with their sons, and realizing that either they made sandcastles now, or they might not get another chance. They took the vacation, and hindsight proved her right. One son is attending a Junior College, and the other is about to move clear across the country to go to college. It won’t be long until she is an empty nester.

She cannot keep them forever, but she can make sandcastles while there’s time. The vacation has been paid off, but the memories are priceless. She chose wisely. They may never take another vacation together as a family, but she can look back on that one big one, the one they all remember, and smile. They built the sandcastle before the tide came in.

Some things can be put off, and some things can’t. It takes wisdom to know the difference, maybe that’s part of what Moses was trying to say. Everything in life is not of equal value, and time is limited, so I need to use great wisdom in where I spend those precious moments of time. Some things I can get a second shot at, and others I can’t. And since there is not enough time to do everything, I have to choose so very carefully, because once I have chosen, the tide goes back out. I only have my wife, children, friends, and family, for so long, and then the tide will inevitably come in, so I need a heart of wisdom to number my days.

Not long ago, I managed to put away some money without my wife or family knowing about it. I had a secret plan for it. But I could not help noticing that my kids were tired and worn out from school, and that my wife was running on empty. It had been a grueling few months. Without hesitation, I took two hundred dollars out of my “stash” and the next Monday morning, my day off, as my children sat bleary eyed and ready to go to school, I announced, “Put your backpacks away!”

They looked at me as if they hadn’t heard me right. With a sly grin I opened the closet doors and motioned for them to put them away. That’s when my oldest got it, and shrieked with joy. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew she wasn’t going to school. Soon were all badgering me with questions as I drove them along the freeway to our secret destination.

When we finally pulled into Universal Studios Hollywood, there was another shriek of joy, for none of them had ever been there. We blew the wad, the whole $200, and then some. Had a blast! Irresponsible stewardship? From a certain point of view, I guess that’s true, but I created a memory that I wouldn’t trade for any amount. My family will always remember that day, and how fun it was, and that I took the time to plan it and take them. I hope that they will look back and remember that Dad loved to spend time with them and have fun with them. The key word is remember. There will be something to remember.

I’ve built sandcastles with nighttime walks with my daughter, and building a go-cart with my son, and having a BBQ with friends, and playing family football (adults against the kids) with another family in a nearby park. None of these cost much, if anything, but they were splurges of time, and that is what we do not get back.

By the way, you might ask, what did I do with the rest of my “stash?” I reserved three nights in the magnificent Awahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park during the winter months, a dream of my wife’s for years. We will celebrate our 5th, 10th, 15th, and 16th wedding anniversary there. Why so many all at once? Well, you see, I was real busy on all those other anniversaries, and needed to…to…what was it now that I needed to do? Funny, I can’t remember.

But next week I’m going to build a sandcastle with my wife, and this time I plan to beat the tide.



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