Coffee cup in hand, I stared at the ornaments on my tree. Memories clung to each one. I had just finished reading my Bible and was contemplating the past. My husband padded down the hall, got his coffee and joined me on the couch. Moments later, my youngest woke and crawled into my lap. Even though she is tall for her age and has long legs, she still fits. I hope she always does, but of course, I know she won’t. I inhaled the fragrance of her hair and kissed her cheek, soft as velvet. The sun had kissed it this summer and the freckles were still there. Her eyes locked onto mine. Green, gold, brown, you could never say for sure what color they were, because they were a beautiful mix of all three.
My little one stirred and hopped off to say good morning to the dogs. Finally, the need to begin the day lifted its’ head. I stepped into my room, planning to get ready for a run. Little did I know that a jolt was about to enter my space and time. It came in the form of a lump I discovered while changing my clothes: a lump in a place a woman never wants to feel a lump. I called my husband and told him. I saw the concern flash across his face and he took my hands. “Let’s pray,” he said.
Solid. Calm. Loving. How blessed I am to have him in my life. But, even after the prayer, I felt fear rising up in my stomach like a wave. Instead of allowing it to consume me, I beat it down, in my mind, with an iron mallet. God is in control. BAM! Everything that happens to me does so with His permission. BAM! No matter what the outcome, He will be with me every step of the way. BAM! He loves me! BAM! BAM! I called my doctor and was given an appointment for tomorrow. Then, believe it or not, I set out to enjoy my day. I don’t always get it right when a jolt flashes into my life, but this time, I did.
I chose not to go for a run. I poured a second cup of coffee and talked with my husband, without mentioning IT. Instead of doing some pre-Christmas baking, I swung outside with the girls, not just for a few minutes, but a marathon of swinging. I felt the sun on my face and the breeze in my hair and marveled at how incredible it was to have a spring like day in mid-December. I didn’t sweep my floors that night and I ate chocolate at least twice. I lived that day so it would not slip into oblivion and leave me with the shadow of regret. The fragility of life became shockingly, beautifully apparent and I wanted nothing more than to hold the precious gift of each breath in both hands until it had to wisp away through my fingers.
This lesson wasn’t new to me. A brush with melanoma and subsequent staph infection 8 years ago taught me not just that life was precious and without guarantee, but many other lessons as well. It became obvious God knows even lessons well learned sometimes need to be re-taught so the learning doesn’t get stale or obscured by new storm debris. God knew I needed a pointed review to break through layers I’d accumulated.
Regret had covered my heart for the last few days, weighing me down in layers of suffocating fabric. My sister had recently written to me, saying she wasn’t going to be sad because mom was gone this Christmas, since she had many good memories of all the fun things they did over the holidays. After my dad died, she and my mom had many adventures together. She had lived close to mom, while I was the one who moved almost 700 miles away.
I felt genuinely happy for her, but miserable for me. Immediate thoughts of too many Christmases that I didn’t make it home; work schedules, traveling long distances with small children, money; reasons that were real then but seemed like excuses now. I missed my mom AND my dad, worse still, I missed the memories I didn’t make. Regret became a downward spiral, whirling through my heart like an F5 tornado, catching other debris in its path and storming me in a way that eclipsed the good.
Regret cast shadows on the month of memories I have from when mom came to visit us after dad died. Of all the things we did, the best treasure is the memory of endless card games and hide and seek mom played with the girls. Regret loomed over the fact that we had made the journey home within the last few years to celebrate Thanksgiving one year and Christmas the next. Regret swept away the stacks of photos, letters, cards and children’s artwork I had sent, which my sister and I found when we went through mom’s things.
“It’s clear,” she observed, “you wanted them to be part of your life.”
I did, Oh, I did! But I wanted more. Regret caught me in a vision path that focused backward. Worse still, it impaired my sight so that I saw only what was missed instead of what was had. I was exactly where satan wanted me to be, carried along by a voice that cried “Failure!”
I prayed God would silence that voice and lift me out of the swirl of thoughts and emotions that went along with it over the last few days. He did, by giving me an object lesson in the form of one small, hard lump. I’ve taught many times before that God is in the detail. This day, He proved it once again. He knew exactly what it would take to readjust my focus.
On the day of my appointment, I spent seven hours away from home and visited three different healthcare providers. Throughout, God took what could have been a frightening and frustrating ordeal and made it a demonstration of His grace and mercy. He put caring, sensitive professionals in my path, opened up appointments that shouldn’t have been available and most importantly, gave me His peace and the knowledge that He was in control.
Between appointments, I had lots of wait time. With the normal daily to-do list ripped from my hands, I had a chance to reflect, now with re-adjusted sight. I was able to recount the good, and, at the same time, dwell on how important it is to live in the moment. Because I don’t believe in coincidence, I knew that my Pastor’s recent sermon series, entitled “30 Days to Live,” was just another piece in the puzzle, adding to the sense of urgency to approach each day with an intent to live fully, cherishing those we love and making the most of what really matters.
At the end of the last appointment, I had an answer. The lump was not a malignancy. The doctor clasped my hand and we smiled at each other in instant celebration. Once in my car, even before I called my husband, I thanked the Lord for the lesson He’d applied to my life, the result, the compassionate people, and the fact that I had an answer so soon. I knew that this could have drawn out for weeks. Perhaps God allowed the result to come quickly, because for once in my hard-headed life I had been almost immediately trusting and teachable.
Will I be that way the next time a jolt hits me? I can’t say for sure, but I pray so. I want this behavior to be indelibly printed on every fiber of my existence, so that it becomes an automatic first response to whatever comes my way.
I also want to live with no regrets, ruthlessly editing the to-do list so that the people I love the most have the best of me. I want to say “yes” to a life that leaves glowing footprints of times spent cherishing loved ones and doing things that have eternal consequences.
What can you do to make this lesson your own? I challenge you to spend some time thinking about your life and those you love. Do the people who mean the most to you get your best, or only what is left at the end of the day? Are your energies and talents spent on acts of service that impact God’s kingdom in a real way?
God’s heart pulses with longing for a relationship with us. His choice, favor and desire for peace between Himself and us was demonstrated by the birth of His ever-sinless Son, Jesus, who came to die so that we could have a relationship with His Father and call Him “Abba,” a term of endearment Hebrew children use for their daddies.
Only God’s Spirit can touch our hearts and help us align our priorities in a way that pleases Him. Worship Him and keep Him first. Adore your spouse, cherish your children, bring joy to your family. Fling busy-ness away from you as if it were a poisoned apple. Make useless satan’s tool of regret.
“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Luke 9:23 (NIV)
“Then He said to them all, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”