Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How Facing Death With Sam Caused My Priorities to Change

I intended to write about Giving Tuesday today. It's the day on which giving to nonprofit organizations/ministries is emphasized. As one who's dependent upon the generosity of those who believe there's value in my work, maybe I should make the day a higher priority, but I'm writing about other priorities today. 

After I returned from the Middle East and found Sam a few breaths away from eternity, I spent long hours at his bedside, watching as he slipped from the grasp of this world. "What will I do without Sam?" was a recurring refrain in my head.

It took a little while for the refrain to change to, "What will I do now that I don't have Sam?" 

I've begun to reevaluate my life. 

This past year, I've had many 60-80 hour weeks, but I no longer want to keep that pace. It's bad for my health and, probably, for my productivity, as well. I've seriously considered what activities and priorities need to stay and what need to go. 

Every time I say that, people who know me well look a little nervous. They've seen me rearrange priorities before, and it didn't always work out as they'd anticipated.

Twenty-six years ago, when I found out I was expecting Ryan, one of my patients said, "You're about to find out what real love is. In fact, you're about to learn about God's love, too." 

I smiled, thanked her, and secretly thought I knew plenty about love. I'd been in Girls' Auxiliary in my church and memorized a mountain of Scripture. I thought I knew plenty about God's love, too.

Then, my world turned upside down. Despite the patients waiting for me in every one of my exam rooms, my ob-gyn told me to go home and stay there until the baby came. I could see the ones in rooms and no more. 

I was shocked and saddened. It felt a little like all my professional dreams evaporated on the spot, but I did it, because I wanted to protect the tiny child growing inside me more than anything else in the world. 

That little baby was too small for me to see, but he was more important than my career, my dreams, or my life. 

I went to bed and spent most of the next five-and-a-half months there.

It was hard. I read every book in my house and checked out mountains of volumes from the library every week. I read constantly. There's not much else to do when you're in bed, lying on your left side. I read the Warren Report from beginning to end. I learned more than I wanted to know about Castro and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  

I cried a lot.

I grieved the life I knew was slipping away. 

I dreamed of the life to come, and the little baby whose arrival would make all the hard times seem like nothing more than a moment of discomfort.

At last, the day for my C-section finally arrived. Things didn't go like I expected. I felt myself sliding into a deep, black tunnel. There was not a glimmer of light in the darkness. 

When I heard the anesthesiologist shout, "Get the baby out. I'm losing her," I realized I didn't just think I was dying, I knew I was. I'd heard about the light at the end of the tunnel (whether it's a true thing or not, I don't know). There was not a bit of light in mine. 

I was terrified and I cried out in the darkness. "I don't want to go to hell. Save me, Jesus." And He did.

I've never been the same.

When the nurse put that beautiful blue-eyed boy in my arms, I understood what my patient had said. I finally knew what love was and, in that moment, I began to understand a parent's love for a child. I wondered, "Does God love me like this?" No. He doesn't, I learned. He loves me more. 

It's impossible for me to comprehend that God loves me more than I love Ryan, that He loves Ryan more than I love Ryan. He does, though. The only appropriate response is to love in return.

Learning to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength became a priority and it changed everything. It made me a disciple. Loving my son became a priority. I couldn't save my marriage, but I've loved God and Ryan the best I could, and every other priority took a back seat to those two.

Both my Heavenly Father and my son are more important than my medical practice.

I know people thought I was irresponsible and a little crazy for taking a break from medicine more than once. Think what you want. When a child weeps if the phone rings because he knows his mother will be called away, the thing causing that phone to ring has to go. It did. When a teenaged boy needs his mother to help him through the difficult journey of puberty and his high school years, she has to be there. And I was.

I could have made much more money if I'd spent those years practicing medicine instead of making pottery and writing, but there is no amount of money that would replace the time I'd have lost with my son. Some people think I could have touched many more lives in medicine than at home, but no life is more important to me than this one life of my son. No heart matters more. 

I set my priorities and I lived accordingly. It hasn't pleased everyone, but it's been worth it.

As we face death, it's common to realize we could have, and probably should have, lived differently. The good news is that it's never too late to change our priorities.

I've already made some serious changes in priority for the coming year, including intentional rest and down-time, as well as more time with the people I love. It may take a miracle for me to follow through, but I've started a list of people I want to spend time with, and have already scheduled slots for "friend time" and "family time" in anticipation. 

There are two writing conferences I'd like to attend in 2018. I've put them on my new calendar and scheduled a time to sign up, as well.  

Over the years, I've watched in awe as family and friends on Facebook posted photos of the beach or other vacation spots. I haven't taken a real vacation in years, mainly because I don't know how to do it without working the entire time. In the coming year, I intend to try.

Ministry activities this past year and a half have been many and varied. I'm pondering which should stay and which should go. Which activity does God want in 2018?

I'm excited about the opportunity for growth and change, for intentionality in my lifestyle and my ministry. The point, of course, is not change, but to align my priorities with God's so that He can be glorified and honored in all I do.

When my priorities are right, everything else falls in place. I've seen the reality of this truth over and over again. I hope to see it in 2018, as well. 

Today, let's spend some time considering the coming year. Do we want it to look the same as 2017, or should we make changes in our priorities and lifestyle choices? If we want change, we'll have to choose it, so let's get started. 

It takes living to understand the simple truth Jesus taught: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33 nasb
Today is Giving Tuesday. As you consider your year-end gifts, please consider including this ministry of digital outreach, in-depth on-line Bible studies, teaching, and prayer. 

If you feel led to partner with this ministry (US, Middle East, the digital world), here's the link to give your tax-deductible donations: Global Outreach Acct 4841 

Or you can mail your check or money order to: Global Outreach/ PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to put Account 4841 in the "for" line.
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In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The New Year's Sign and the Blessing I Didn't Expect

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