We played marbles today. You lined up thirteen of them in the shape of a cross, tucked the shooter orb between your fingers and flicked it with your thumb. They clicked hard against each other. Half a dozen went spinning off the mat, colors of fire and ice, little planets looking for orbit.

It was my turn. I launched the jumbo marble out into our little bit of space and knocked two free for me, a pear-colored one with red freckles and a purple with orange swirls. I scooped them up into my fist and without thinking I put them to my heart, mine to keep.

A few months ago, I held you close at my side on a warm spring evening. We looked into the blackish-blue before bedtime and saw two little lights hanging close to the moon. You kept watch with me, night after night, checking for changes. We talked about how they moved, spinning out in space, at first getting closer together and then further apart. Two planets circle dancing.

I saw me and you. Five years ago, I read a little book out loud for your baby ears. My emotions all drunk with post-natal hormones, I could not make it through the words: “One day a little boy was born into the world and for a very small moment, his mother held him close.” I choked there, salt in my throat and slurred through the rest, “But soon they came to clean him up and right then the mother knew. Life with that little boy would always mean letting him go.”

And now I think of all these hours and days that have led us into years…how I have had to open my arms and watch you go. There is the recent memory of you at the zoo, the little optimist ready to race the fastest animal in the world. You stood still for a moment at the starting line next to the cheetah enclosure, like a pebble held back in a slingshot. The timer buzzed and you were off, bulleting, really thinking you were the fastest of the two, you in your Puma running shoes. This is how you are, always believing, your heart pushing your legs and arms to full speed.

Many mornings, you bounce from bed, pull on a costume and come hover at my bedside to be the first thing my eyes see out of sleep. Captain Hook snarling in my face. Optimus Prime ready to defeat the Decepticons. A T-Rex hungry for breakfast. You put the alarm in alarm clock.

You stand outside your little sister’s door, waiting for the first sound, your invitation to run in and tandem jump on her trampoline bed. It’s a wonder our mattresses have any springs left. The two of you dash through hallways, more like elephant stomps than pitter patter. “I can run so fast you can’t see my legs,” you tell me. And these days are passing by me the same.

Out there, Venus and Jupiter, they kept moving, sliding past one another in our night sky.

I keep telling you to stay small. You don’t listen. You outgrow your shirts. Your legs get long. Your arms get strong. And here you are, five years old already. Double this and you’re ten. Quadruple it and you’re out of my hands and into the broken world on your own.

This year you learned the worst part of it…people pass away. I remember how I came to you in the fall, interrupting the end of Snow White with my crumpled face in front of the screen. Great Grandpa was gone. I sobbed. But your heart knew something deeper of it, watching the Prince kiss death away. You lifted your hands and cheered for Great Grandpa, “He’s in Heaven! Right now!!”

I haven’t wanted to talk with you about death. It scares me as all big changes do. But you kept hearing whispers of it…people in tornado wreckage, our dog hit on the country road…and then, Daddy telling me about a friend’s brother who died right in the middle of an Independence Day party. I hoped you hadn’t heard him, but it was too late. You came to me with your head bowed low, mumbling, “I don’t like it when people pass away.”

Just this week, you came and circled your arms around me and whispered in my ear, “I don’t ever want you to pass away.” You said it again to me tonight, “I never want to give you up. I don’t want you to ever die.” And after Daddy told you he’d step in the way if a ferocious lion was coming for you, you choked your fear out to him with your face crumpled and tears streaming: “But I don’t want you to die.”

If death has any sting for us believers, it is in the letting go of this nearness, in pausing this togetherness, in cutting the conversation short. You are starting to feel that.

I think of us, our little family, a few spinning marbles like a cluster in Earth’s night sky. We are together for this time, trying to pause in the moment. And yet we are always on the move, each of us in our own unique orbits around the Center of it all.

But I am with you for this precious phase. And I’ve got to be all here, turning to watch you transform your robots and build little cities from scratch. To swoon at the sweet little picnic lunch you set up for me. To take a picture when you grab a cardboard box for a helmet, one of Daddy’s cymbals for a shield and a wooden spoon for a sword, a little knight in not-so-shining armor. I am near for this time, so I collect your kisses and your bittersweet words. I listen to your heartfelt prayers and I know you are no meteor zooming through space directionless, but you are a boy on track centered in the truth that “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

He holds us together for now, like Venus and Jupiter hanging near the moon. And so, I get down on the floor with you and smooth out the mat. We roll our little spheres into the center of the circle, every color counted. And we play marbles.

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Linking with Casey Wiegand and Always Alleluia.