Just over a year ago we moved into our new little Westbrook house. It was a bittersweet time. It was bitter because we could no longer afford the house we built in 2000, but sweet in that our new home met our needs and had its own charm. I remember that I was able to do nothing but watch as friends and family moved our stuff from a moving storage container into our house. Every time I tried to lift something or move something, people scolded me and told me to sit down.
Because we closed on both houses in January but our new house was not up to snuff for a handicapped resident, me, we were lived at a charming little Maine cabin on Sebago Lake thanks to the Whitten family. Our new floors were installed and Robin worked with friends to repaint everything to make it move-in ready. Because I was operating on about 60% lung capacity, I could not handle the fumes and had to stay away until February 13.
My liver disease was working hard to defeat me. I wanted to make a Valentine’s dinner for Robin but lacked the strength to pull it off. I laid in the living room while my sister Gloria “helped” me put it together. I have no memory of the day at all. The toxins in my blood robbed me of a lot of memories from that weekend.
Emotionally I was very down. I was starting to lose hope that I would live to see transplant. The search for a matching donor was dragging along much too slowly for our liking.
What a difference a year makes! In February of 2011 I was excitedly training and preparing to be a church planter. In February of 2012 I was facing death and moving about with a mobility scooter. In February 2013, with a healthy new liver, I get up every morning, walk my dog, clean house, ride on my bike trainer, work on rebuilding lost muscle with resistance bands, run errands and write. In February of 2010 my ministry was with teenagers and I was in a sea of their boundless energy. Three years later my ministry is with people living with chronic illness who feel like life is over.
There’s a passage of scripture that says:
“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 8:13-15
I think I’ve read that passage a few thousand times during my life. Now I understand it. We all know life can change in an instant and everything we’ve worked for, all our earthly gains can disappear overnight but none of us think it will happen to us.
We read other Scriptures telling us to “store up treasures in heaven” instead of busting our butts for things that are going to rust, bust, turn to dust or break up in the end. We hang framed decorative needle-point quotes on our walls that speak the things we want to value and say we value but how many of us are cashing in those values so that everyone in the family can have smart phones or watch the Super Bowl on a 60 inch crystal clear screen? How many of us are accumulating stuff at the expense of the true treasures in our lives?
Believe me, your true treasures move immediately to the forefront when you face your own mortality. You do not waste an ounce of thought or worry on cars and gadgets. When you say, “All I want for Christmas is for all of us to be together,” you mean it with a depth you have never known before.
This week I learned of a 42 year old local man who dropped with a massive heart attack. His family gathered in hospital waiting rooms while he laid in a medically induced coma with doctors working frantically to monitor his brain after they got his heart beating again. With machines making him breath and IVs keeping him hydrated, they hoped and prayed that the brain wave monitor would show some activity. His two small children had no idea what was happening and his wife tried to fathom life without him. She’d try to push those thoughts out of her mind to stay positive. “No! He is going to come out of this. My babies will not grow up without their father!” she would declare with as much determination as she could muster.
A young man. A young, healthy man. On Monday he got up, ate some healthy fiber-filled cereal, glanced through the headlines, put his lunch in a sack, kissed his wife and children and then headed for work. On Tuesday morning he was unconscious in a hospital bed showing no brain activity while his stunned family huddled in a nearby waiting room grasping for hope.
On Thursday his family had to make the toughest decision of their lives and let him go. I don’t know if he was a registered organ donor. I don’t know if his family was able to bring hope and life to others but I hope so. If not, this tragedy just multiplied. I don’t know if this man had invested in his true lasting treasures or if he had put them on hold while he built what he thought was their future together. I don’t know.
We hear about stories like this pretty regularly. Many of us have lived these same types of stories. But most of us go on day after day investing too much of our time and effort building things that aren’t going to last.
I got a second chance. I am so thankful for organ donors. So many people get no second chance. My experience makes me understand this truth with a new depth. I always knew my true treasures but if I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I’m confident I would have lived life differently.
“And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying”
Today I find joy in things I hardly noticed before my transplant. Now I see people differently. I fight less, judge less and forgive much more quickly. I spend a lot less time trying to build my kingdom and more time helping others build their dreams. I pause more, pray more and read my bible with new eyes.
I wish there was something I could do to get you to pause and consider your true treasures to the point of action. I wish I could make you see that your new hybrid, awesome Coach bag and 3,000 square foot home are worth far less than camping under the stars with your family, taking a long road trip and using all of your vacation days. I wish I could convince you that someday you’ll wish you had put your butt on hard bleachers to cheer on your cheerleader rather than in board room chairs.
I wish I could make it so you aren’t too exhausted or starved for free time to make it to church regularly to find true community and friendship. I wish your kids could hear the character-shaping stories of bible heroes and grow unshakable faith for the years ahead. “They say stories like that make a boy grow bold . Stories like that make a man walk straight.” (Rich Mullins)
I wish I could give you the lessons I’ve learned without the path I’ve walked.