"Daddy, can we build a birdhouse today?" my 7-year-old daughter, Makenah, asked me early one Saturday morning as I was knee-deep in a "honey-do" list. Weeks earlier, I had promised Makenah we would build a birdhouse someday, but now I hesitated, thinking about my never-ending project list. Finally, I decided that "someday" had just arrived.
We spent the afternoon in the garage measuring, cutting and piecing together spare cedar planks. Makenah colored arrows, directing the birds to the food. As we worked, our talk drifted to home schooling.
"Makenah, why do you want to be home-schooled?" I asked.
Her response astounded me. "I just like you guys. I like being home with our family."
Amid the hustle and bustle of our birdhouse project, time stood still. We had just experienced a moment I'll always treasure. Had I not set aside my agenda and taken several hours to build that simple birdhouse, we never would have uncovered that wonderful moment.
Seven weeks later, memories such as this one were all I had left of my family. As we drove home from a relative's wedding one stormy evening, our minivan was caught in a flash flood. The rushing torrent swept me out the driver's side window, and about a half-mile from the highway, I somehow managed to pull myself up the south bank of the flooded creek.
I was the only survivor. My wife of nearly 12 years and all four of our children went home to heaven.
As my grief gushed forth and reporters clamored for a slice of the story, my "life of no regrets" came into the spotlight. I had no regrets because I had cherished my family while they were still alive, devoting generous amounts of time to them each day.
As parents, we all have the best intentions of spending plenty of time with our families. But amid our hectic lives, we notch out 15 minutes of "quality" time because we believe that's all we can squeeze in. We hope to create an unforgettable, treasured moment with our child before moving on to the next task at hand.
But the reality is, we can't plan the treasured moments we long for any more than we can plan a miracle or a Christmas morning snowfall. We all know how fleeting those moments can be — when you are walking down the trail and see a shooting star together; when you are fishing and your child shares his heart; when you are eating at the kitchen table and everyone bursts into laughter.
For these treasured moments to emerge, it takes sizeable chunks of time to foster them. It takes deliberate choices in everyday life: eating meals, walking around the block, going to the store, repairing the house or fixing the car together. These everyday settings naturally give way to remarkable moments.
In the daily details of family life, filled with seemingly mundane events, we can choose to generously share our time with our children and capture those cherished moments.
The kitchen table is a wonderful starting place. Ours had seen so much life: spills, bills, birthdays and holidays, turkeys, cookies, cakes, pizza, ice cream. A kitchen table is a simple object yet such a powerful tool for bonding a family. The mealtime experience can create memories that endure a lifetime.
Taking children on errands and to work also creates precious opportunities. It builds a rapport that paves the way for free-flowing conversation. I took my kids on business trips regularly, and because I did, we savored many priceless moments together.
Despite the perpetual pain of missing my family, I have peace because I cherished them while I could. I built that birdhouse with Makenah — seven weeks before it was too late. We spent quantity time with our children; I have no regrets.
Today, start living a life of no regrets with your family. Make a memory. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow.