Eryn Lynum describes how she came up with the idea of adding a penny to a jar for each day of her child's life as a representation of cherishing and making the most of her time with her children. You'll be inspired to creatively build your own parenting legacy by this discussion based on Eryn's book, 936 Pennies: Discovering the Joy of Intentional Parenting.
John Fuller: So picture hundreds of pennies in a jar, pennies that can have great significance in the life of your son or daughter and for you as a parent as well. We’ll explain on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Uh, John, our guest is Eryn Lynum. And, uh, she has a few thousand pennies in jars at her house. And we’re going to tell you why in just a moment. She’s the mom of four children. And she and her husband and kids, uh, spend a lot of time in the great outdoors here in Colorado, which I appreciate. Jean and I and the boys - we try to do the same thing. Eryn is the author of a book called,. Right. You’re asking yourself, “Why 936?” We’re going to talk about that. The subtitle is “Discovering the Joy of Intentional Parenting.” And this will be an important discussion about making the most of our time with our children. Eryn, we are so glad to have you here for the first time...
Eryn Lynum: Yes.
Jim: ...To Focus on the Family.
Eryn: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Jim: All right. What are 936 pennies all about? And why that number?
Eryn: Well, 936 represents the number of weeks that we have with our child between birth and 18.
Jim: That’s amazing. Who thought of that?
Eryn: So I had no idea until a few years back. We were having our second son dedicated at our church. And so we’re standing up on that stage with other parents. And we’re there to commit to the Lord that we want to raise this child to know and follow Him by His grace. And after the ceremony, our pastor turned to each of us, and he hands us a jar of 936 pennies. And so he told us then that it represents every week you have with your child. And he had challenged us...
Jim: Zero to 18?
Eryn: Zero to 18 - exactly.
Eryn: And so he challenged us to remove a penny every week to remind us that the time is fleeting and our days are numbered, as Psalm 90:12 says - “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Jim: It’s a beautiful illustration and - and a visual one, obviously, that you can see those pennies decline over the weeks and the months and the years, right? And, uh, um, have you been pretty faithful about taking that penny out every week? See, my problem is I’d go several weeks without removing the penny, go “Oh, no. We’ve got to take these pennies out.”
Eryn: It’s hard.
Eryn: For one, to be in the habit of it, for sure - but more so, I think, when I do that a couple of weeks go by and then I need to go and move them over, it’s more, the practice itself is difficult, that thought time gone and time you can’t get back.
Jim: And that’s the point. Make it visual.
Eryn: It’s the point.
Jim: ...So you can see every day because it makes you more - appreciate more the - the time you have, similar to the Scripture that says, uh, “Number your days.”
Jim: That was part of your pastor’s motivation, correct?
Eryn: Correct, yeah. Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. And so, yes, it’s about appreciating the time. It’s also about using the time and wisdom - and every time we move over a penny, thinking through - “Okay, what did I do this week that built into my child’s legacy?” Or, “What do I need to apologize for to my child?”
Jim: Oh, those are two good questions. Was that the twist? Or what was that twist that you added to your pastor’s gift of the jar of pennies?
Eryn: So when he gave us that challenge with the first jar, to take out a penny every week, we couldn’t do it at first. Ellison - he was already a year and a half old.
Eryn: And so our first task was to take out 72 pennies, not one.
Jim: Huh - to get him up to speed?
Eryn: Mmhmm. And so - and I hear this from parents with older children, too, when you think about taking out that large chunk of pennies, you’re overwhelmed by time gone that you feel you can’t get back.
Eryn: And so I kind of ignored it for a little bit. But I think even when we try to ignore time, you know, it keeps ticking. And so, eventually, I’m like, “Okay. I need to come to terms with this.” And so what we did was we set up a second jar so that every week now, we move a penny over so that as the first jar is going down, we’re not overwhelmed by those feelings of failure, shame, guilt, fear. Uh, instead, we move over it over. And as the second jar’s building up, we see this as an investment. This is an investment in their story, in their legacy.
Jim: That’s interesting, yeah.
Jim: So when they’re 18, the one jar’s empty, but the other jar is full?
Jim: And that jar represents their future and all the good things, hopefully...
Jim: ...You’ve - you’ve invested in?
Jim: That’s good. You mentioned the word fear. And that’s a part of your story because of a medical diagnosis that you have. Can you describe that for us?
Eryn: So I have Addison’s disease, which - it’s a very rare autoimmune disease, and it means that my adrenal glands don’t work. And so with daily hormone replacement, I’m able to function and live well. Uh, but without that medication or in an extreme situation, my body could just shut down. And we received that news when I was 14 years old. And so, in the book, I write about how seeing my parents walk through that - and now as a parent of four, I can look back and see so much more of the fear they had to face. Like, staring that down - an unknown diagnosis - none of my family has a big medical history. And so taking me to these appointments and having these tests done and not knowing what it meant...
Eryn: ...For my lifespan, my future, my ability to have a family and seeing now the trust that they had in God and the unknown.
John: What does, uh - I’m - I’m not familiar with Addison’s.
John: So what - what is the practical effect of that on you? I mean, if your adrenal glands aren’t working, what does that mean?
Eryn: Well, your adrenal glands produce very important hormones, the most important being cortisol. And that’s what deals with stress in your body, whether it’s emotional or physical. And so if I undergo sudden stress, like a car accident or sudden emotional stress, uh, I can have a - what’s called an adrenal crisis, where my body wants to take care of that, but it can’t, so I would end up comatose and eventually pass away. And so I would need to receive an injection, kind of like an EpiPen, of my medication very quickly.
Jim: Now, being a mom of four young children - how old are your children, again?
Eryn: We have three boys - 7, 5 and 3 - and a little girl who’s 8 months.
Jim: What would that look like in your parenting? Does that, um, impact you in terms of fear?
Jim: I’m thinking of many mothers I’ve talked to that - you know, being a mom can be a fearful place.
Jim: And given your condition, does that impact you?
Eryn: So thankfully, when I was diagnosed, my father really coached me in stress management. And a lot of that...
Eryn: ...Because I was raised in a family that depends on the Lord, he taught me a lot about prayer and going to the Lord when I am fearful, when I am stressed. And so that’s something that I’ve practiced and brought into adulthood and into marriage and motherhood. And it is such a struggle every day and with every baby we’ve brought home from the hospital. And now when those fears come, I appreciate the struggle of it...
Eryn: ...Because I feel that it truly causes me to lean into the Lord. And so, for instance, our little girl, Aurora, is 8 months old. And at the end of my pregnancy with her, uh, earlier this year, it became very fearful, and we didn’t know if she was okay. And they, uh, admitted me to the hospital at 33 weeks and were going to take her out that evening. And she made it to full term. But in those moments of not knowing how my baby girl was - and they were talking surgery, and I had never been through surgery with Addison’s disease. So even not knowing how my body was going to cope with this - being able to lay in that hospital bed completely terrified but also this overwhelming peace in the midst of it - and - and now I’m able to bring that into my everyday as a mother.
Eryn: ...And really know that - no - God knows my story. He knows my daughter’s story. He knows my family’s story. And He knows how it fits into His narrative. And He doesn’t mess that up, you know? Even when unexpected things come - and they will - He is not a messy author.
Eryn: And He has it all.
Jim: Eryn, let me ask you because I - I’m sure moms are listening that are frantic. They - they have their pace. They maybe didn’t have a father that taught them how to lean into the Lord, how to relax. And, you know, certainly, when you were diagnosed at 14, I’m sure your mom and dad doubled even their effort in that regard to help you cope. What are some of those good lessons you learned in that experience - you know, 1, 2, 3 - that might help a mom listening right now that can re-center herself when her pace is frantic? What have you learned?
Eryn: So you used a good word there - pace. And I have found that there are certain things in my life that make the fear and anxiety worse. And one of it is the pace. If I am rushing around and not stopping to pray about these things, then I become more anxious. Another one is, if I have all this information or I feel all these demands, which often come from our devices...
Eryn: If I feel like there’s emails I need to get back to and this and that and the next thing, I’m not stopping to remember what’s important. And I’m not stopping to lean into the Lord. And I feel like when we have these deeply seated fears and anxieties, I believe it’s a scheme of Satan to get us busy, to get us distracted so that we won’t...
Jim: That feeling of being overwhelmed.
Eryn: Mmhmm - of overwhelmed.
Jim: I mean, that’s what I hear you saying, too.
Eryn: Everything that will hide in those emotions and those feelings.
Jim: Now, that’s really good. And I’m sure that’s become so important to you - obviously, raising the kids - that you’ve gotta settle down for all kinds of reasons - spiritually, number 1. But medically, you have to remain calm. And, uh, it’s a beautiful thing. You can see it in you. You...
Eryn: Thank you.
Jim: You just have an aura of calmness about you, so...
Eryn: (Laughter) Thank you.
Jim: So I’m sure your - I’m sure your children, as they grow up, will be very thankful for that.
Eryn: I hope so.
Eryn: I hope so.
John: This is Focus on the Family, and we’re talking today to Eryn Lynum. And uh, she’s got this great book,. Uh, we would encourage you to get a copy of the book and a couple of jars with pennies in them so you can follow - follow the journey with her. And uh, you can contact us if you have any questions. Or hit the website to get the book, a CD, or a download of the program. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY, and our site is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Eryn, moms are connecting with you now, because we’re getting to reality, where, you know, more and more kids in your nest create less and less normal time (laughter). It’s more chaos.
Jim: There’s just more coming at you. Organizationally, it’s a challenge, because you know, you can’t be that one-on-one mom anymore. And number 4 probably - I’m a number 5 kid. So I know the feeling of (laughter) feeling like you’re pretty distant from all that...
Jim: ...Love and attention that the older ones got. You have to create your own world - right? Color by yourself.
Jim: You know, do all those things on your own. But I think we can get through it (laughter) but - so don’t feel any guilt. But that’s the question I wanted to ask. Um, as you move in your motherhood journey with these children, do you feel a sense of guilt with number 3 and 4? Or do you just take it as it is and say, “Okay. I’ll do the best I can do?”
Eryn: I feel like the time that I do make and get with them means even more.
Jim: So it’s more special?
Eryn: I feel like it is because you had to fight for it.
Eryn: For instance, with our first - so for his first birthday party - first baby, first birthday, we rent out a shelter at a park. I cried over the cake several times.
Eryn: And - like, all these details you’re trying to align perfectly because you want to create this perfect experience and memory.
Jim: A Pinterest moment.
Eryn: Well, after that, we began realizing it’s not about these big, elaborate moments; it’s about the beauty of the everyday moments. And so, for instance, with our third, on his first birthday, we went for a walk, and we brought a little sheet-pan cake I threw in the oven. We stopped along the way, and we ate cake on the sidewalk.
Eryn: And it was so much more special (laughter) because it was just about being together.
Jim: In fact, you had a story in the book, too, about - I think it was going to see a supermoon...
Jim: ...If I remember correctly.
Jim: Describe that because that connected to me.
Jim: That would be something I would do, some big event that I want the boys - my boys to be a part of and that we’re going to go see the supermoon. What happened?
Eryn: Yes. A couple of years ago, we had this supermoon on the calendar. And so we thought, “You know, we live in the mountains now. We can go up to the foothills and get the best view of this supermoon.” And this was very dear to me because growing up, my parents were the type that would wake us up in the middle of the night to go see a meteor shower...
Eryn: ...Or chase lightning storms. And they wanted us to - you know, they wanted that time with us to be so special. And so, in my mind, I’m creating that. I’m recreating that with my own children. So I’m trying to get everything perfect. And at just the right time, we go up in the foothills, and we park that SUV, and we open the back hatch, and we get everything set up. And there’s people - a few people next to us with telescopes and cameras. They want to capture the moment, also. They’re without children. And my children are running around crazy, and so I become very self-conscious. They’re ruining the moment not only for me, but for these other people who have come. And so it was this angst within me of, I was trying to create this perfect moment with my children, and it was not going as planned. And so when we returned home that evening, we put the younger two boys to bed. And my oldest - he was about 5 at the time - he stayed up, and he crawls into my lap. And I was wearing this little necklace that says, “Refuse small love.” And he asked me what it said and what it meant. And that’s when it clicked to me. Refuse small love. Even though I was trying to create that experience, I felt like, in a way, it was small love. It was more about the setting and not about my children’s hearts. And so that moment on the couch was actually a much more special moment to me.
Jim: What I appreciate about that description - and I think all of us as parents do this, whether you’re mom or dad. You create an expectation about the way something should go and what your kids will derive from that moment.
Jim: And it’s big in your mind.
Jim: And they end up caring less (laughter). I mean, it’s obviously not making the impact you were hoping for. And yet him snuggling up into your arms and then asking about the - the necklace is the moment.
Jim: I mean, that is the moment. But, man, we get so distracted with that.
Jim: How do we pull back from that and - and better understand that? Does it help with the pennies to - does it visually give you that, um, impetus to say, “Okay, I gotta rethink what I’m looking for and what I’m expecting?”
Eryn: Mmhmm. The visualization is so strong that it is this - because they’re up in our living room, I see them every day, but also the moving over of the penny. And over time, over the practice of this, with every penny moved over, more and more, I see that it is what happens every day in the home because the truth is that we don’t get a supermoon every day.
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
Eryn: Right? But I had the opportunity to sit with my child on the couch every day.
Eryn: And so I just - I want to take those moments, the materials that are already there and have deep, impactful conversations with my children and lead them to truth in those small moments.
John: Eryn, how often do you meet other moms who are really dialed into the - the big moments because they - they failed during the little ones? I mean, they feel guilt. And so it’s almost like, “I’m going to make that birthday party super special because I’ve really just blown it with busyness and everything else.”
Eryn: Yes. I would say a lot of us moms feel that guilt. I still do. For instance, I - last - I think it was last week. I had a couple of things planned with the kids. We home-school. And so I had a couple of things during the days I wanted to do. And as the week went on, I just felt like I was failing and coming up short. And those things didn’t happen. And so, at the end of the week, I was like, “What do I need to do? Maybe I need to take them to the children’s museum.”
Eryn: “What do I need to do to make up those opportunities missed?” And that’s not the point, you know? The point is going back to our children and saying, “You know, I wish I would have spent some more time reading with you this week. You want to sit down and read a book?” Like, we don’t have to make it up. The whole focus of the pennies is God’s grace is all over those pennies already spent. He is already a penny ahead in that first jar. And what matters most is what we do with the penny in our hand right now...
Eryn: ...What we do today.
Jim: You also mention in the book, Proverbs 12:20, which says, “Those who plan peace have joy.” And, uh, I think we’re in that spot, what you’re describing there - the planning for the peace.
Jim: But you also describe the peace thieves.
Jim: So give us a little more elaboration on those concepts.
Eryn: This has been one of the biggest verses in my motherhood - those who plan peace have joy - because mothers - parents in general - struggle so much with peace. And I do believe that it’s one of Satan’s biggest strategies to steal our peace as parents. He wants to uproot our security and cause us, ultimately, to question, “Did God really call me to this?” And it’s all this angst. And so a few years ago, I - I was reading God’s word, and I came across this verse, and it struck me - those who plan peace. And it was the first time I thought about peace as not circumstantial...
Eryn: ...Or about the situation but something we are called to - a vocation, a mission. So I started thinking, “What does that look like?” And for me, I sat down, and I began thinking through, what is robbing me of my peace in my current season? And I do. I call these my peace thieves. And so I started thinking through them. And some, at that time, were the rush of our mornings because - so we do home-school selfishly for one reason. I do not like getting all the kids ready and out the door...
Jim: (Laughter) Okay.
Eryn: ...In the morning. And so Sunday mornings, for church, it can be pretty disastrous. And so I knew that if we could somehow slow down those mornings or go out less during the week that we’d have more peace in our home. And another one for me - a lot of them deal with technology, how much I’m looking at my phone, how much - I look at my phone, and then I see my kid looking at me. And that creates angst because I have that feeling of guilt or failure. So what specifically is robbing me of my peace? And then my peace plan is, what strategies, simple little changes in our day, could begin to combat those peace thieves? And not a to-do list. I know that, as a mom, the last thing I need is a to-do list.
John: Another to-do list.
Eryn: Exactly. But what it is is a list that redirects our hearts in a more intentional territory and reminds us of the things that we are longing for that we have not been making a priority. So a lot of mine have been sit down and read with the boys, and go on family walks together, and - and sit down and play a board game with my husband. And so it’s these simple things that don’t happen every day. That’s not the point. But when I write this little list and put it above my desk or in my journal, and I see it often, it begins to change my days. And the really neat thing I saw God do after doing this for a few months was, my list of peace thieves became shorter. As I began - because I try to redo it every month. To revisit and say, “Have any peace thieves snuck in?” and just take inventory of my heart. I began to see there is less - less in my life that’s stealing my peace. God is showing me what it looks like to chase peace, to pursue peace. And it changed my own heart, and it changed the culture in our home.
Jim: Yeah, which is one of His promises...
Jim: ...That you’ll have peace, right? It is good. Uh, let me, uh, probe a little bit on a tender area that you mention in the book and that was, perhaps, your most difficult time and - as a parent, as a couple. And this occurred after meeting women who had been - well, let me say it the way you said it. Their jars had been shattered.
Jim: Describe that.
Eryn: Well, I began receiving messages from parents. So the - the book is based on a story I wrote about the jars a few years back that ended up traveling the Internet. And as it did, I received messages from parents about how it was affecting them, how it was impacting them. But there was a small group of those messages from parents that just left me weeping at my computer. And it was. It was from parents who didn’t get a chance to spend their jar, or not their whole jar, and whose jars were shattered. And I - I was in the process of writing the book. I didn’t know how to write into that. I knew it was an essential part of the message. Teach us to number our days because we don’t know the number of them.
Eryn: So I knew it was this essential piece of the message. But how do I write into that grief? And then halfway through writing the book, we did. We lost a child. And...
Eryn: We lost a child through miscarriage. And I would never say that it happened for the purpose of the book, for the purpose of being able to write into that. But I do believe that God used it in such a magnificent way. He used that child’s story to change me and to speak into that part of the message because, suddenly, I knew what it was like to know that we could lose them at any moment.
Jim: What are those words that you would use now, for a woman who’s suffered the loss of a child?
Eryn: That their story matters. I know that, for me, it was an early miscarriage. And so what I did in the wake of that was, in my grief, I went to the Internet. And I started Googling, “Why does this happen?” “How did this happen?” “Did this really happen?” And I kept coming to these answers that said, “This is common. This is normal.” But, to me, as a mother who had lost a child, you can’t tell me that’s normal. And what it was saying to me was that it was - it was scientific. It wasn’t a human life. It didn’t happen. And so, for me, I wanted to speak to those women and tell them that whether you held that child in your womb for two weeks or two months, whether you held them in your arms in the hospital for two hours, their story matters.
Eryn: No, they didn’t get to spend all their pennies. And you didn’t get to invest in all of them. But God has a purpose, and He has a plan, and He holds us in our grief. And He can use that. For instance, now, I feel like I’m more intentional with my other children because I do have this new perspective on, today is what I have, so today matters. Tomorrow doesn’t build a legacy. I might not have tomorrow. So today matters.
Jim: Eryn, uh, in some way, to wrap this up - because we’ve run out of time - um, when those little ones that you now have are hitting that mile marker of 18 and the one jar is empty, the other jar is full, what are the adjectives that you hope describe your parenting? What do you see in your kids that touches your heart?
Eryn: I want to look at that jar fully spent and see new adults that know how to chase Jesus. I want them to look back and see that, yes my husband and I messed up a lot. I know that they’ll look back, and they’ll look at that jar like I do, and see tarnish of my own humanity. And as they get older, they might see that more. But I want them to look back and see that, as their parents, our heart was that they would have a heart after God. So I want them to see the times when we prayed with them, when we sat down and told them who Jesus was, and how He made them, and how He loves them, and that He has a purpose for them so that when those pennies are spent up, they’re released to go chase that story God has for them, that they know He has a great story for their lives.
Jim: And that is great. I think your tool to do this is a wonderful resource for parents to implement. And even if your kids are older, this is a great way to use those remaining days and weeks in a more powerful and intentional way. And this is a wonderful way to start that right now. Thanks for sharing these great ideas.
And Focus wants to encourage you and help you make the most of your parenting, like I said. You know, last year alone, we had over 700,000 parents say that we helped them in a point of crisis. We’re here for you. We want to help you build stronger families. That is our goal. And we’re telling you, lean on us for that.
John: Yeah. We have so many resources here beyond the broadcast. We heard from one mom who said that we’ve helped her to laugh, cry and hang on to good things all day, and...
John: Her quote was, “‘Focus on the Family feeds my soul in a very special way.” And we’re grateful for the opportunity to do that. We’re going to invite you to join us in providing that kind of encouragement. Support this ministry. Donate today to Focus on the Family, and know that you’re reaching moms and dads and husbands and wives with Biblical truth, with the assurance that God has things under control, even if it’s a challenge right now.
Jim: Let me say this, John. For a gift of any amount of pennies...
Jim: ...We’ll send you Eryn’s book as our way of saying thank you.
John: Yeah. We might encourage you to put it on a credit card, just for...
Jim: (Laughter) Oh, I don’t know – whatever’s easy.
John: ...For shipping purposes.
Jim: But 936 pennies - we’ll send you the book.
John: Oh, there you go.
Jim: ...Or any amount. That’s the point.
John: Yeah. It really is a good book -. We’ve got that. We’ve got downloads, a lot of different things. I will mention, too, our free parenting assessment - 7 Traits Of Effective Parenting - just to help you understand where your strengths are as a mom or a dad and maybe some areas for fine tuning. All of this available at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Eryn, as I say thank you and goodbye, what do you want your kids to say when they’re 20-something about this experience?
Eryn: I want them to say we had fun together.
Jim: That is good. I like that. As a dad that likes to have fun, that touches my heart. Thanks for being with us.
Eryn: Thank you.
John: And, uh, again, our guest has been Eryn Lynum. Look for her book,, at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Join us next time as Kay Warren shares biblical advice on how to rise above seasons of despair.
Kay Warren: It’s within the reach of every one of us to go through hard times to develop perseverance, resilience. And through that, develop character that allows us to become different people. And that through that, we have hope.
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Eryn LynumView Bio
Eryn Lynum is a public speaker and author of the book 936 Pennies: Discovering the Joy of Intentional Parenting. She has been featured on FamilyLife Today, Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS International, and more. Eryn resides in northern Colorado with her husband and four children, where they enjoy spending time hiking, camping, and exploring the Rocky Mountains. Learn more about Eryn at her blog, 936Pennies.com.