Insomnia, Marbles & the Backyard Olympics  

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

“Regrets…i have a few.
But then again, too few to mention”

My WayIMG_5153

Paul Anka wrote it, Sinatra and Elvis sang it, and i wish i could say the same.

I’ve told you before that i suffer from insomnia. Three or four nights a week, i’ll wake up at 1 or 2 in the morning, and when i’m up like that, i’m rarely able to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. 

Almost always, i’ll start processing some dream i was having—analyzing the choices i made that led me to being trapped in the wooden coffin like Uma Thurman, or in the submerged airspace that’s rapidly filling up with water, and thinking about what i could have done differently to avoid having it happen in the next dream.

Then, after checking the time on my phone, and getting a drink of water that’s not gonna drown me, either God or the devil will place some thoughts in my head about the kids when they were little. I’ll lie there trying to do one of those ‘military relaxation techniques’ that i read about, trying to relax, breathe, think about a blank wall…none of it works for me. 

I have a lot of great memories of their childhoods, i just wish i had more.

Like a lot of dads, i was the primary breadwinner in the family. I worked a lot of hours when we first got married, and were raising our oldest child–trying to pay for a house to live in.

Angie was able to quit her job when our second daughter was young, and we made the conscious decision that we could do without some things in order to have her stay home and raise our kids. It meant we never had two newish cars, never went to Disney World, and she had to learn to cook, ‘cause paying to go out to eat was obliterating our bank account. I don’t regret any of those decisions, especially the last one. But i did end up having to work…a lot, and had a second job most of those years, playing music at church. (Yeah, like that’s a job.) 

We did things as a family—all the kids played Upward basketball and soccer, and i never missed a practice, and only missed games the year Spencer played outdoor soccer in the Springtime and my allergies couldn’t take it. Angie would record the games on her phone and i’d watch them that afternoon on the iMac. It wasn’t the same as being there and yelling at him cheering for him, but it was as close as i could get.

Once my job situation improved, we put a big, expensive hole pool in our backyard, and we spent every weekend afternoon in it. I’d throw the squishy football and the kids would take turns jumping off the hot tub into the air, while i’d lob the wet ball to them. We’d do Olympic diving events, where they’d represent obscure countries, and i’d have them perform the random dive of my choice. ‘Now, representing Trinidad and Tobago, Sheridan Johnston performing…the pencil.’ ‘Now representing Ukraine, Spencer Johnston performing…the belly flop.’

I’d kept a lot of my toys from childhood, and sometimes we’d set up the Hot Wheels track, and get out the cars (my old heavy ones would always beat Spencer’s new lighter weight ones) or my old tabletop basketball game where you flip the little levers to toss the ping pong ball into the basket.

When we got our first PlayStation, as part of the bundle, we got this game called ATV Off Road Fury and sometimes the kids would stick a controller in my hands and get me to try to drive the four wheeler around. I’d always run up a tree. Without fail. I could be in the middle of the flippin’ desert, and find the one tree and drive straight up it. We’d all laugh, i’d find reverse, and somehow run up the tree again. We’d box or play golf on the Wii sometimes, too.

We’d go on vacation most every summer to a beach—Galveston, Port Aransas, or South Padre and spend a week hanging out, having fun, eating seafood, or in Shelby’s case, macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, and i think all of us look back on those times fondly. We helped plant a church and all four kids had a hand in it—even the two youngest, at 11 and 9 were some of the original Stonepoint Kids workers. (Well, they had a bubble wand and the toddlers ran around and chased the bubbles. Our curriculum has come a long way since the old days.)

So what do i regret at 2:06 in the morning?

I dunno—i guess maybe it still wasn’t enough. Like Don Corleone, sitting in his garden with his youngest son, looking back on life, i guess i just thought there’d be more time. They are all almost grown now—the youngest is 17, and our lives have changed drastically as we downsize and move into a smaller house. I still get to play music with a couple of them, and i’m trying to relish these times, ‘cause i know they’re not going to last forever either.

So here you go, dads—here’s the lesson from someone who’s been there. Try harder. Be more intentional. You don’t ever get the time you missed back. Whatever your hobby is, figure out some way to get your son or daughter involved in it, or find something else. I promise you, nobody sits around in their old age saying ‘i wish i’d spent more time working’ or ‘if i’d only spent more time drinking beer with my buddies, life woulda been so much better.’

You’ve probably seen the illustration with the jar of marbles. You start with 6,570 marbles in a big glass jar, and remove one every day until your child is 18. I only have one kid with any marbles left, and those are as thin as the hair on the top of my head is getting. As much as i guess i did, looking back, it wasn’t as much as i could have done.

Life is too short not to be intentional. Our kid’s lives are too precious not to be poured into every chance we get. Yeah, you’re gonna mess up sometimes, you’re gonna be selfish every once in a while, but please, please, please keep in mind at how short the time really is, and don’t waste opportunities to spend with them, even if it’s just playing cars in the floor or running a virtual ATV up a tree.

Don’t miss opportunities to share what God is teaching you, and if He’s not teaching you anything, get in His Word and start learning something to share today.

I promise you, they will be some of your favorite memories some day. And some night. 

Here’s a great reading plan on the Bible App on Becoming a Connected Father–https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/15130

Photo by Spencer Johnston