The Prize

Aug 6, 2020


“God help me to know and to live like the time is short. To give you all I have today. Tomorrow is really not promised.

  • Spencer Macleod


The quote you just read was written by a 19-year-old. Less than three years later, he left this world forever, his life complete three weeks short of his 22nd birthday. Above my bureau, which is splayed with earrings and makeup and half-used perfume bottles, a picture of Spencer hangs, printed on a board with his words etched across the top. He is holding a microphone, he’s in South Africa, sharing his testimony and Christian rap he wrote with hundreds of high school students. His face is tan, focused.  And he is looking upward.

Looking up – I have to post reminders around my chaotic life, reminders to reorient my perspective, my vision. Things are fairly dismal on planet earth. We try to speak hopefully of “maybe next year,” when things will return to normal, when we can meet for coffee without being assaulted with a book of rules (a restaurant today asked me to complete a form for the CDC. I declined.) We seek truth, we long for hope. We’re so tired we didn’t even go buy batteries and water for Hurricane Isaias. And God knows we all have enough toilet paper.

I think when you lose a child, you gain a piece of eternity. For the longest time, I simply wanted Spencer back. Don’t tell me he’s in a better place. A better place is sitting at my table, having coffee or pot roast. But slowly my gaze has shifted over the years. I’m looking up. “I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:12. This has been on a blackboard in my dining room for almost 10 years. I used to change the verse, but this one stayed. As my eyes catch the chalked scrawl, I am reminded of what matters. Look up.

So what is the prize? I’m not sure. Heaven, just for starters, and that’s reason enough. But I think to God it’s much more specific. He weaves and pulls and stops. And I think sometimes He just steps back and watches and waits. God is not in a hurry, not in a panic over all this. What seems like a fretful mess to us is not a surprise to God Almighty. He is big enough to name the stars of an immeasurable universe, but close enough to speak in a still small voice.

“This is life eternal, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

It sounds like life eternal can start right here. I think that was something my son Spencer figured out as a teenager. He knew heaven was closer than we think. “To give you all I have today.” That’s exactly what God is waiting for.

I learned a new phrase a couple of years ago when my son Miles and his family sold everything and moved to Malaysia. “Third Culture Kids” or TCK’s, are children who spend much of their formative years in a culture other than their parents’ or passport culture. Three of my grandchildren are TCK’s now. Brooklynn, almost 12 and Olive, 10 have had to reconcile their lives to a place that is really not “home” culturally, but have also let go of a place they left over two years ago called “home.” They are in a sense, homeless,  although they love Malaysia. Quincy, age four, thinks he’s Malaysian, even though a classmate calls him “Olaf” who is a snowman. The “third culture” is neither here nor back there. It is a unique life that is separate from both worlds, shared with other TCK’s.

Homeless.  I started to think about this, how it must be hard for these two girls at times, but then I realized they are way ahead of most of us. If we call ourselves Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, then we are all homeless.  We are all TCK’s.

Jesus told us clearly that His kingdom was not of this world. Paul wrote,

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20

What am I holding on to? What am I keeping in my back pocket “just in case?” What am I stockpiling? Money? Facebook friends? Retirement plans? We have not chosen God – He has  chosen us. If His word is Truth, then “we are not our own, we are bought with a price.” (1Corinthians 6:20)

For a long time after Spence died, the world seemed one-dimensional to me. The life I lived before was gone, and none of it mattered anyway – career, friends, approval. I was holding on to my other two sons with a tenuous grip, but all else seemed pointless.  Even an ocean sunrise or fall foliage looked tacky and fake. My heart had disconnected and I deeply yearned for home, to just check on my son, and maybe have a small conference with Jesus.

Eventually, I resigned myself to life on earth.  Beauty came, but it was not in the ocean or the mountains. It was in the projects of Pawtucket, the faces of all the children who walked through the doors of our little storefront church, many scanning the countertops for something to put in their pocket for later. I found beauty in sitting at a breakfast table with three mentally retarded men, delighted in the new day and amused at their guest. Though my heart still ached for heaven, I had found contentment in the hidden places that God pointed to. Then one day, God gave me His joy. It wasn’t in my work, or even my family. It was when I looked up, across the clouds that blazed behind a dirty city landscape. I was looking for Him and He surprised me with a splash of joy, real joy that brings renewal and hope – just a taste of what’s to come. It’s enough.

Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery. Galatians 5:1 Philips

We are Third Culture Kids. We can’t go back; we seem to not quite fit in here. And as Spencer wisely noted 20 years ago now, “Tomorrow is really not promised.”  But there is a beautiful freedom in that, and we DO have a home, a better place, and joy within the journey. On that day, our homecoming, we will be complete.

Look up! Let’s keep our eyes on the prize – the high calling in Christ Jesus.




“God Be With You” by Selah.  Enjoy!