24 years, 24 days, 24 hours


Twenty-four years ago right about now, in the living room of the home I’ve grown up in, I took my first breaths in this world. It would be three days before my parents could settle on a name [see, my dad thought I would be a boy and since my mom didn’t go to a doctor or midwife, they didn’t know what I’d be. I was to have been named Merrill Joseph, but with me spoiling their plans and being a girl, they couldn’t decide anything for three days (identity crisis right there)]. The man I was named after went to be with Jesus twenty-four days ago.

I’m a goal-oriented individual, one who likes checklists and to-do lists and schedules. I can be painfully duty-driven. That’s a great strength when it comes to getting a job done. That’s a terrible weakness when it comes to relationships.

And to be candid, the most life-impacting lesson I’ve learned over the last year is that relationships matter most.

They matter more than my sometimes packed schedule. They matter more than my to-do list. They matter more than me getting good grades.


That man I was named after, Merrill Spencer, (I only ever knew him as “Grandpa Merrill”), when I was too young to appreciate talking to friends my age, my mom would help me dial his number on the phone and I would talk to him for what I felt was a very long time. He never rushed me, never acted like what was going on in my 6- or 7-year-old world was of too little importance for him to listen to like we were peers.

I sat/slept by his bedside for the last four days and three nights of his long life here on earth, and time stood still. Schedules were dropped. Lessons were cancelled. School was put on hold. I stood staring at a clock as I counted every breath he took, counting every one more precious than the last, knowing any one could be his last one.

At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, it’s not our to-do list that counts, but our to-love list.

I think it was a little over a week before he contracted streptococcal pneumonia, it had crossed my mind to drop in and visit with him at his house. The thought came to me while I was trying to get ready to hit the road for the next destination at some church and I was busy. What I needed to do was important. So important that I don’t even remember what it was. All I know is that I didn’t stop in and see him. I’d do it later.


Later in a hospital room where I’d put my life on hold for four days while I held his hand and waited for his pain to end.

It wasn’t my to-do list that really mattered. It was my to-love list. But in the heat of the moment, I was short-sighted and didn’t show that love for the last time like I wish I had.

Today, I celebrate the name given to me (almost) twenty-four years ago. But far more significant I celebrate each of you: my parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. You each play a vital part in my life, impacting me in more profound ways than I have ability to articulate. It is so easy to take those we love for granted.

My challenge to you (as I challenge myself) is to put your schedule on hold more often, put your phone down, stress less about the things you need to do and worry more about the people you need to love.

You only have 24 hours in a day to impact those you love and be impacted by your loves. Use those 24 hours to love well.

Merilee Barnard1 Comment