April 1, 2020

These Are the Better Than Zero Days

I was playing a game with some of the members of my extended family at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary getaway celebration a few years ago when my baby sister had her turn. The objective of the game was to accumulate points, and on my sister’s go-around, she got a single-digit score.

“Better than zero,” she declared triumphantly...and a new approach to life was born.

"Better than zero” has become our benchmark and our scorecard and our measuring stick.

Walked for 15 minutes? Great. Better than zero.

Kid ate three carrot sticks? Fabulous. Better than zero.

Got one load of laundry washed, dried, and put away? Well done. Better than zero.

Tackled the most dreaded chore on a ten-item to-do list? Check. Better than zero.

Bought a single Christmas present ahead of the holiday shopping rush? Fa la la la la. Better than zero.

It’s not that we don’t want to do our best at the things that matter most. It's not that we're always settling for just enough. It's not that we never pursue excellence.

It’s just that sometimes, any score is a win. Sometimes, a single hash mark is a victory.

Friends, we are squarely in the better than zero days.

We are trying to figure out how to live life in a way we’ve never lived it before, with no intro course and no clear end date. This is NOT THE TIME to be trying to score 100 on very many of life's tests.

Of course, everybody has to figure out how to live this surreal existence in the way that’s best for their family and their needs and their particular situation. But we are all, in the big picture, 
trying to do some version of the same huge thing: keep our people safe and emerge on the other side of this with our closest relationships intact. Battered and bruised, maybe, but still viable.

So I'm going to go on the record and say that anything we have to let go of to hold onto that goal is a candidate for the chopping block.

Teenagers up at a time that still ends with any kind of a.m.? Better than zero.

Someone knocked out a few pages of their homework packet before they had any screen time? Better than zero.

Dinner is frozen pizza on paper plates? Better than zero.

Baked a cake and called it math class? Way better than zero.

Because here’s the thing: where doing love and showing uncommon grace to our families are concerned, right now is probably not the time to be aiming for a Scrabble word where you use all your letters including an "x" and a "q" and throw a triple-word score into the bargain.

No, when life has handed you the letter-rack equivalent of six vowels and a single one-point consonant, it's time to spell “our” and call it a resounding win.

Our faith.

Our families.
Our health.
Our relationships.
Our peace.
Our future.
Our hope.

If this ends up being our prize package, it will be so much better than zero.

It will be the best thing we've ever won.


  1. Couldn't love this more, Elizabeth!! Just what I needed to read today! I feel like here and there, we're really winning, but overall??? Definitely living that "better than zero" life!

    1. Tracey, sweet friend, I cannot thank you enough for your reassuring response to this piece! I admire you SO greatly as a mom, wife, and woman that to have you reinforce this means everything. There is a time for no-compromise, highest-goal excellence...and there is a time to know what to low-bar to save our reserves FOR those times. Cheers to better than zero! And a blessed Easter to you and your family as we celebrate again when our great God achieved SO much better than zero. The score then was death, O, love, infinity. :)

    2. Wishing you a blessed Easter as well!! The love and hope that Easter represents is exactly what we need in this season.

      Also...read your post on Grown and Flown about your daughter's canceled trip to Ecuador. As with so many other situations, I grieve for what she lost. Trust that God will continue to give her (and you) grace for the disappointment and that we'll look back and see His hand guiding her now and in the future.

    3. Tracey, bless your caring, compassionate heart! I'm so glad you added this comment, because it gives me a chance to share an update, mom-to-mom. Lydia (my college junior) had a chance to request to be placed on next May's Ecuador trip, at the end of her senior year. It was a long shot, because those trips had already been filled in large part. She was working on putting in her request when I thought about the dates she'd be gone if she got a spot and told her, "That's when Anna [her sister, my youngest] will be graduating from high school." That was the end of the discussion, of course; we both knew she wasn't going to miss that once-in-a-lifetime event. (On top of all the other obvious reasons, at this point, although this could certainly change, Anna is in a position to possibly be her class's valedictorian or salutatorian.) So the next day, I was just updating Anna on the situation...nothing more. But I'd barely gotten the "set up" information out of my mouth when Anna broke in and said, "She can go. It wouldn't bother me at all. I want her to be able to go." It was genuine and unprompted unrestrained. I told her to mention it to her sister, which she did, and so Lydia submitted her long-shot request. Two days ago, she and her best friend/roommate got word they both have been assigned to next May's Ecuador trip. Praise be to God! I told Anna it is the best, most selfless graduation gift she can possibly give her sister. And in true little-sister fashion, Anna also says now she'll have something to hold over Lydia's head for the rest of her life. ;) Thank you for letting me share this long story; I knew you would understand the magnitude of this, from various angles. A blessed Easter to you and your family!

  2. Just beautiful once again Elizabeth. We have done lots of math class around here (and our waistlines are suffering as a result!) �� Off to share this now. Xx

    1. Oh, friend, thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing this! I love those math classes! SO fabulous. Maybe a little extra P.E. will be needed to balance out? ;) Blessings to you and your dear ones!

  3. Elizabeth, just when I think you can't write anything better, you come up with the most profound logic.......thank you........you are such a beacon of light in this world. x0x0

    1. Oh, Cynthia, sweet friend, thank you so much for your incredibly kind and encouraging words and for sharing this! I truly love my sister's approach here and have thought about sharing it many times in the past. Now I know why God held it back. Blessings on your day, and I pray it is, truly, better than zero! :)

  4. Taking a minute to just send a quick "hi" message to a favorite friend living a bazillion miles north of you, even though you wish you could type up the super-long emails you used to instead? Better than zero! <3

    1. SO much better than zero!! Woot! You, my friend, are a quick study. Love and hugs!! xoxoxoxoxo


I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to tell me what you really think. Years ago, I explained to my then-two-year-old that my appointment with a counselor was "sort of like going to a doctor who will help me be a better mommy." Without blinking, she replied, "You'd better go every day." All of which is just to say I've spent some time in the school of brutal honesty!