The last few days I have had my fairly regular phone calls, with some of the guys from my men's group-- yakking about the little things that make up our mostly quiet lives. Kids, concerts, church, health, the cold weather, challenges at work, at home and in our spiritual lives... it is really the glue that relationship is made of.
In less than a week, three out of four of us have lost someone that we were close to at one point in life. Most of them were friends from church. But one was a lifelong friend of one of my "guys." Every human being deals with grief in our own way. It is part of who we are-- life experiences, temperament and the depth of relationship we have with God. More importantly we are challenged in our faith when people that are close to us die. And for me it always makes me think about missed opportunities. Even as a Christian on the road to Heaven, I wonder what was down some of those paths along the way? What if I had started saving $5 a week when I was 16 instead of 40?
It is also a time for me to think about the multitude of bad choices that I have made. Time to think about relationships that are broken and I know I had a part to play. Even ones where I left the altar and went to make amends. I wonder how that might turned out if there had not been an offense in the first place?
Today, I am teaching myself how to live without regret. Can I make a change now, that will affect the rest of my life? I read the Purpose Driven Life. It didn't have that much of an impact on me personally. There wasn't enough depth to the relationship section. Over the decades I have read hundreds of books on Christianity-- maybe over 1,000. At one time, I even reviewed them for a Christian bookstore before they put them on the shelves. I am looking for meaningful relationship.
If you follow this blog at all, you'll see that relationship with Jesus, and each other is high on my list of priorities. I mean real relationship, not just how was your day stuff? Why? Because God is relational. But you knew that. Here are some observations that I have made about life that I want to incorporate into my last few decades here on earth if I live that long.
- As the news reports are still pouring in about the US Airways plane which crashed in the Hudson River, I hear survivors saying things like, "It made me realize that I should have said "I love you one more time. I mean, if this was it, it wouldn't have ended well." I want to make sure I leave the house everyday as if its my last. Sooner or later it will be.
- Some years ago you may have read Erma Bombeck's "If I Had My Life to Live Over" which she penned as she came to grips with the fact that she had a fatal disease. It was all about the little things. Interestingly, my wife bought me a decadent chocolate cake the other day. The woman at the register said, "That sure does look good."
My wife replied, "I am just getting this because my husband likes it so much."
The woman in line behind her holding a cheesecake said, "It's my husband's birthday too."
My wife replied, "Oh it's not his birthday."
The woman with the cheesecake chuckled in disbelief. She didn't believe that someone would buy such and extravagant cake for no reason. I enjoy the little things. Money doesn't make it easier, I tried.
- Time is the currency of relationship, without, forget it. I look forward to making time for things that mean something to me and my loved ones. It is always hard to balance because I am looking for less to do, not more.
One day my mother called to say that she had cancer. I had already bought tickets to visit some friends that were thinking of doing a church plant in Ohio. While I was there I made the trek to Indiana to visit her. As I said good bye to her that day I knew that she wasn't going to make it. Oh, we had some time, but the cancer was going to kill her. No matter how I tried to summon faith for healing (how I wanted her to live and not die), and take captive the thought that I was going to lose her, I just knew it was going to be over.
On the drive back to Ohio, I just cried out, what should I do Lord? Peering out at the horizon; over miles of corn fields, I heard the still small voice say, "call her everyday." And so I did. Each morning between 8:45 and 9:00 I called; usually on my way to work. I would usually say, "I love you." and hang up as I walked down the hall to my office. In the beginning it was easy. She was still getting around, going to concerts, a trip to London; she was even working a little. As time went on, she got sicker and sicker.
One morning I called and my step-father said that she was asleep. About an hour later she called me to say that she was sorry that she missed our call that morning. She told Gene to make sure to wake her whenever I called. She never missed one after that.
I visited her four times during those final months. I would usually stay for four or five days. Each morning at 8:45, she would ask everyone to leave the room. "So how are you today, David?" she would say, knowing that I was in her house the whole time. At 9 o'clock, after I kissed her on the forehead and told her that I loved her, she'd have me open the door. I had know idea how important those calls would be to her or me.
Enough of emotional sentiment that pertains to this life. The point is this, what are we doing with our lives, and how is that impacting the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth? The vast kingdom that includes our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Are we in tune with Jesus, or are we just going about our day-to-day routine?
It is easy to feel that what we have isn't much too offer, or maybe we are satisfied with what we are doing now. Or worse, we think that we just don't have time for God stuff. These mindsets are traps.
What we have to offer isn't much, that is true. But what God gives us to give, that is the secret. He said that we are new men and woman, how about we start acting like it? We need to stop trying to be good, trying to get it right and learn to allow Him into our weakness. It is not a requirement to struggle in a struggle. We don't all have to wrestle the angel of the Lord.
We need to ask for His power, His Spirit, and His gifts. God is not looking for talent, He is looking for "acknowledged weakness" and availability. The greatest times in my Christian life are those when I was before needy folks, sometimes thousands, and I didn't know what to say. (My wife will never believe I didn't know what to say, but it's true.) I saw the power of God amazingly at work.
I also know that I have failed in ministry attempts. I have discovered when you fail and your heart was only to please the Lord, He is quick to minister to you. When you fail and blame it on someone else, or rationalize the failure in some way to minimize it, you'll spend some time in the desert. God has both grace, and discipline in His character.
So, how is that we live without regret? We must live a life that is turned over to God. It is one where we hear His voice, and obey His commands. We don't just "follow" the Word, we live it. It is simple and it is difficult. We must be slow to speak, quick to forgive, and mindful of every thought. I often think of Martin Luther trying so hard to keep up to date confessing his sins. He couldn't do it. That is where grace comes in. We realize that we can't be perfect, and after killing ourselves trying, we abandon ourselves to Him. We finally recognize that even that which we can do, is better off in His hands. I think about a few things that I am very good at, even educated in, and yet the thing that I am best at, I can't do without Him. And finally, we need to lavish love on everyone that we meet.
And in the end, our works will be tested with fire, not our checkbooks, children, jobs and the other things that we'll leave behind. Paul longed to be with the Lord, yet he struggled with staying here on earth to make sure the message got out. 2000 years later, I'd say he did a good job.
See you at the finish line.