“Five more minutes!” My mommy calls from across the playground. I’m five years old, playing with my sister. “How many things is that?” “Two.” I know I should make those last two things count. They are my last ones. I carefully survey the playground and chose the swings and the slide. I do my last superman on the swing and then I climb slowly to the top of the slide, wanting so badly to make the moment special. And then, I pull in every little girl emotion, push off, and slide for the last time.
“Say goodbye to the Ocean.” My daddy says, standing on the stairs that lead us away from our favorite spot on our favorite beach. I’m eight years old, and I’ve just figured out that my dad says this every year at the end of our last day of beach play. I turn with him, not facing the road that leads us home, but facing the ocean. The vast, tumbling expanse makes me forget the unfair weight of beach toys piled high on my little arms. I realize this is my last look at the waves. I must make it count. I realize how beautiful the ocean that was my playground all week long really is. We wash away the last grains of sand. We pack the car. But before we go, we say goodbye to our grandparents. I’m engulfed in a hug when the horrible thought occurs to me, this could be the last time I hug my grandparents goodbye. I squeezed tight, just in case. That night, after we drove nine hours to get home, I slept on the floor beneath my parent’s bed. They wiped my tears and fears away with love. The concept of goodbye scared me.
The last bus ride of fifth grade, the last bell of middle school, the last prayer of summer camp, the last picture in China, the last medal of high school. Lasts pass me by, and suddenly, it’s the last day of a wonderful Christmas break and my family (plus Hannah’s friends) wanted an adventure. The day was cold, but that didn’t stop us from choosing the most difficult hike on the map. An “Arduous/steep” trail awaited us. To get there, we took the scenic route past beautiful waterfalls. Eyes afraid to stray long from the map, I found myself reminding myself to look up, to breathe deep, and to make the moment count because this was the last time in a long time I would see trees like this. As I stared at the strong, tall trees and the cold, steady sky behind them, I thought, Sarah, you’re being silly.
Of course there are trees on my college campus. There’s fresh air too. There’s beauty and there’s an entirely different set of lasts. As we climbed down that “arduous/steep” trail I thought back to when I first discovered the concept of “last.” In my playground days, it was a beautiful thing. I greeted the slide with a special anticipation because it was my final ride of the day. I experienced the moment in full. Then, I moved on to the next moment and delighted in that. Somewhere along the way, fears gained control. Lasts became scary. And suddenly, I was so busy telling myself to really take in the full experience that I forgot to actually experience it.
We got to the bottom of the trail, the bottom of the canyon. Then, of course, we left the trail to explore on our own. For a time, we were the only ones in the world. Icicles watching from above, my dad, Rebekah, and I danced over rocks beside the racing blue water. We played, we laughed, and we paused to soak in the beauty.
Then, we turned around and climbed a mountain. Hours later, I hugged my sisters and my parents goodbye. I got back to campus and said “hello” to a different family—my friends. There’s a beauty to soaking in moments. Pausing to wonder is a good thing. Last words, last impressions, and last emotions are important to new beginnings—first words, first impressions, and first emotions. If I would have stayed at the playground forever, I wouldn’t have said hello to the ocean. If I avoided all goodbyes, how would I ever move on? But when fear, the corrupting poison that it is, enters, last moments become shroud in darkness. Even on the beautiful waterfall day with my family, darkness approached. As I look ahead, I wonder if I will be alone. I wonder if I will have friends. I wonder if I will be too stressed. I wonder if I will ever have it as good as what I was saying “goodbye” to. There’s such stunning comfort in God’s declaration in Revelation 22:13, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
God understands the way I greet firsts with anticipation and the way I make lasts sacred. He created my need to try and figure out firsts and lasts. Because every time I pause to marvel at the passing of a last, part of me, even if I don’t realize it, is pausing to try and figure out the beauty of God. He is the First and He is the Last. He is. And every moment, all my little lasts, He is loving me.