Life Has Limits: Making Choices So My Legacy Lasts

Not every soul lives to be “full of years”.

Some are snatched away when life has barely begun while others live a bit but not long enough. Even those whose lives span decades seem gone too soon for those left behind.

Dominic died just six weeks short of his twenty-fourth birthday.  

My mother lived four days past her eighty-first.

We didn’t expect either of them to leave us when they did. Yet, here we are.

A day dawned that did not include them and there will be a sunrise that does not include me.

There is a limit to my opportunity to leave a legacy of love, of influence and of purpose to those who come behind. I want it to be one that lasts, that matters and that has eternal impact.

That’s why it matters how I spend my days. 

Because days make up weeks which make up months, years and decades and then it’s over. 

That doesn’t make me sad-because what comes next is more wonderful than what I have here-no matter how wonderful I think it is. 

But it makes me thoughtful. 

Paul reminds the Ephesians:

Look carefully then how you walk!

Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people), Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil. Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.” 

~Ephesians 5:15-17 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)

While the days are often long, the years are short.

I don’t get a “do over” but I can do better.

Image result for you can't go back and change the beginning

God has prepared good works for me to do.  My responsibility is to look for them and to do them.  

I LOVE these verses in Ephesians:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. 

Ephesians 2:7-10 MSG

Do you hear what Paul is saying? 

God saved us from sin and death.  But that’s not all! 

He saved us TO a life of loving service.  And He’s already set the opportunities in place for us to simply take advantage of as we walk on in our lives! 

I don’t have to go out of my way to find them.  I simply have to offer up myself as a living sacrifice and trade my will for His. 

God never wastes anything. 

Not even suffering. 

I’ve served in some capacity within my local Body for my entire adult life.  But when Dominic died, I found I was so broken I couldn’t do it anymore.  I had to step back, nurse my shattered heart and try to heal. 

But about a year and a half after he left for Heaven, I felt God nudging me to try again. 

So I did. 

I started sharing my struggle, my faith and my experience in daily blog posts. 

What began as kind of grudging obedience to God’s prompting has become a lifeline for me and for other bereaved parents. 

It takes time.  It takes effort.  It takes commitment. 

And there are days when I don’t want to do it. 

But I’m convinced it’s one of the works God prepared beforehand that I should do. 

There will be a day when my work will cease and the book will be closed on my earthly life.

Until then, I will strive to remember what Jesus told His disciples:  “While it is daytime, we must do the works of the One who sent Me. But when the sun sets and night falls, this work is impossible.” (John 9:4 VOICE)

What has God equipped and called YOU to do? 

What experiences in your life, gifts and talents, opportunities is God weaving together so You can do the good works He’s placing in your path?

Someone needs you to share YOUR story.

Someone needs you to help them connect THEIR story to God’s story.

Look around, they’re right in front of you.

This post is the second in a series I began writing for a presentation I gave last Saturday entitled “Don’t Grow Weary In Doing Well: Making Kingdom Work a Priority”.

If you want to read the first post, you can find it here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2020/02/07/today-is-a-gift/

Today Is A Gift

“Today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.” ~unknown

Do we treat each day as a gift from a loving God, a present wrapped up in His grace and goodness, to be opened with joy, used with care and set lovingly on the shelf of life when done?

Or do we bear it as a burden?

I’ll admit not all days are equal.

Some ARE burdens.

No one (I don’t think!) loves going to the dentist. Few of us are keen on doing taxes or taking tests or slogging through the rain to work or school.

Some of us have much heavier burdens as we wake to an empty bed, an empty heart or an empty bank account.

But even these awful days are a gift.

Why?

Because God’s mercies are new every morning. The rising sun brings fresh opportunity to rest in, rely on and relish God’s grace, goodness and promised strength.

And every new day means we have more time.

More time to love the people we love, more time to find new people to love, more time to do the good works which God in Christ has planned for us to do.

We wake each morning to the same 24 hours given every other soul on this planet.  It’s ours to choose. 

How will we spend it?  Will we fill it with foolish things? With important things?

Here’s how I do it:

  • Put the significant and essential things in first. Time with the Lord, time with family, time with my own thoughts. (Orienting my heart and mind to what truly matters first thing makes the rest of the day so much better.)
  • Then the necessary. Work, school, chores, appointments, cooking and meals. (No way around having to do these things, but I can still choose to fit them in AFTER the most important and valuable ones.)
  • Finally, the incidental things. Facebook, television, window (internet) shopping, binge watching Netflix. (So hard to discipline my heart to focus on what will truly make a difference instead of distracting myself with the trivial.)

And surprisingly I manage most days to get it done (even checking social media).

Life is not an emergency, although I often live as if it is.

I careen around the corner of hour after hour like I’m driving a car out of control, begging someone to make it stop.

I can make it stop.

I can take my foot off the accelerator, park it and decide where and how fast I’m going to drive tomorrow.

Every single day is an opportunity to choose.

I can start fresh and make time for the things that are truly important.

If I want to.

But Wait! Today Only!

How many of us have been wrangled into buying something by advertisements that convince us if we don’t get it now we will miss our opportunity to get it at all?

Every hand raised?

Yep. Me too. And then I see the same item the next week at the same price and realize I was duped.

It works because humans are wired to respond to urgency.

Image result for But Wait! Today only image

Problem is, we don’t always recognize the truly urgent.

In fact, we often overlook it in favor of the easy or shiny or fun or inconsequential.

We piddle away our lives on screens and in cars and listening to the latest gossip about celebrities or politicians we will never meet all while ignoring the people we love or should be learning to love.

There are so many opportunities that truly ARE “today only!”. So many moments that will come once in a lifetime and never again.

People cross our path and we miss them because we are looking down at our phone. Kids beg for attention while Mom or Dad are watching TV. Spouses long for connection but can’t find it because each one has created his or her own virtual world and forgotten how to reach across the sofa and take a hand.

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln

Waking up to the news that one of my children would never, ever cross my doorstep again changed my perspective.

Dominic was a very busy law student. But the things people remembered about him and spoke about at his funeral weren’t associated with school. They were testimonies of how he went out of his way to do things for his friends.

I’m learning to listen to what’s truly urgent and not be drawn in by flashy lures to waste my day on unimportant things. I’m learning to use the time I have for what matters.

Every single day can be spent only once.

Unlike merchandise that can be returned, money refunded and used again, the twenty-four hours from sunrise to sunrise is unique, never to be repeated.

I want to spend it wisely.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well. 

Diane Ackerman

Remembering Death Teaches Me How To Live

The other day I listened to an NPR interview of Amy Tan, author of the Joy Luck Club among other best-selling titles.

Her brother and father died within an year of one another when she was fifteen.

I was spell-bound as she recounted how that experience shaped her adolescence and still shapes her today.  I identified with things I am observing in my children and things I feel in my own heart.

She said she thinks about death every day.  Not in a morbid sense, but in the sense that she is very aware death is every human’s experience, eventually.

Some of her friends call her paranoid.

Some of my friends call me gloomy.

But she went on to say that thinking about death gave her a precious gift

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/10/29/why-i-wont-forget-death-lessons-in-living/

Crossroads: Celebrations After Child Loss

I want to be everything my living children need me to be.  

I try hard to celebrate them, be available, listen closely and love them well.  

I never, ever want them to feel they are competing with their missing brother for my affection or my attention.  

But I’d be lying if I said it was always easy.  

Sometimes the happy moment so closely resembles a shared memory that includes Dominic, my heart takes my head in directions I wish it wouldn’t go.  Sometimes it’s a long awaited once-in-a-lifetime occasion and Dom’s absence is a giant, gaping hole everywhere I look.

It’s really hard to be stuck at the crossroad of being happy for a child still here while mourning and missing the child that’s gone.

I’ve had to do that many, many times in the five years since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve found a couple of things that help.  

I put something in my pocket or wear a piece of jewelry that is a token of my love for Dominic. 

IMG_1815

It helps me feel as if he’s represented even if no one else knows about it.  Then I lean in and take hold of the celebration as best as I can. When I feel overwhelmed, I touch my little token and/or escape to a quiet corner or bathroom for a minute or two and collect myself.

I also try to do something called “pre-grieving”. 

coffee and journal morning

I allow myself time early in the morning of an event to be alone and cry if I need to.  If the tears won’t come, I listen to music that helps my heart reach that place of release.  I journal my feelings.  I walk through the day and admit where it might be especially challenging.  I think through how I can deal with that and make a plan.

It makes a difference.  

So much has been stolen from my surviving children. 

I don’t want them robbed of their mama too.  

beach-and-family-better

One Little Word 2019

I used to spend every New Year’s morning with my Bible, my thoughts and my Lord.

I wrote each family member’s name in my journal and waited for the Holy Spirit to give me a verse to pray for them for the next year.

I would end with my own name and ask God what good works He had planned for me.

When I look back over these journals I realize that what I had essentially been doing for decades was asking God for “One Little Word” to focus my energy, resources and attention each year.

I honestly believe that every human on the face of the Earth is here for a reason. They are not a random collection of cells and neurons. They are created in the image of an Almighty God to impact the people around them in specific ways.

So I challenge you to ask the God of the universe to give you One Little Word for 2019. 

And then hold every potential commitment up to that light to determine if it is really part of God’s plan for you this year.

For some of my hurting parent friends the word may be “healing” or “rest” and that’s just fine.  For others it may be “endurance” or “perseverance” and that’s fine too.

It’s between you and God.

May you hear clearly and receive with open hands.

NOTE:  If this sounds familiar, it is. I posted it last year around this time but find it helpful for my heart and hope it’s equally helpful for someone else’s as well.

My word last year was really two words:  “speaking truth”.  I think being focused on that was instrumental in healing several relationships.

I’d love to hear your stories too.  (Bear in mind that comments here are PUBLIC).  ❤

Child Loss DOES Define Me

It’s popular in books, self-help articles and even in some grief groups for people to declare , “Child loss does not (will not, should not) define me”.

And while I will defend to the end another parent’s right to walk this path however seems best and most healing to him or her,  to that statement I say, “Bah! Humbug!”

Child loss DOES define me.

It defines me in the same way that motherhood and marriage define me.  It defines me as much as any other major milestone, event, choice or experience defines me.

How could it not define me and inform the person I am today?

But it does NOT circumscribe me.

Listen carefully to these next words: Child loss is a huge part of who I am but it does not draw a circle around who I am becoming.  It is not a line in the sand I cannot cross.  It is not a ball and chain weighing me down and preventing my forward motion.

It is not the ONLY thing I am, but it is an important part of who I am.

In many ways it has made life harder-especially in the first three years after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.  But in other ways it has made my life more open, larger, expansive and inclusive.  Child loss has opened my eyes to other hurting hearts in ways I doubt I would have noticed if my own had not been broken.  Child loss has taught me the language of compassion and the necessity of listening well to other people.  Child loss has rearranged my schedule and my priorities.

priorities

It most certainly helps to define the woman I am today.

Would I have chosen it?  Absolutely not!

But I won’t waste it.

I choose to enfold it into who I am and what I do and how I live.

I cannot set it aside and ignore it any more than I could set aside my son.

Could you?

cant-fix-it-my-family-is-always-achingly-incomplete

 

All The Glory on the Ground

Fall doesn’t last long here in Alabama.  

We have summer right through September most years and even into October on occasion.

This year was even shorter-hot, hot, hot, hot, cold!

But no matter how long or short the temperate days I have two or three trees I look for when the cold nights work their magic and the leaves turn bright.

I know I have to drink in their beauty as much as possible because it won’t last for more than a week.  And that makes it all the more precious to me.

So I don’t rush by as I’m wont to other times of year.  I slow down as I round the curve and gasp again at translucent gold lit bright against a pale blue sky. 

yellow ginkgo tree

One, two, three passes and then one day they’re gone. 

A windy rain knocked every one to the earth.  

All the glory on the ground.  

And my heart notes once again that nothing in this life is forever.

Even the most beautiful and highly treasured things will fade and fall.

People too. 

So don’t rush by. 

Slow down and drink in the glory of family around the table, coffee with a friend, walks in your neighborhood, cuddles with the kids, hot chocolate around a campfire or the kitchen stove.  

Nothing in this life is forever.  

time with those you love

Life Happens

I confess. 

When I used to drive by an unkempt yard, a run down house or bumped into an untidy person, I would think, “Goodness!  Don’t they care about their yard, home or appearance?  They need to do better!  I would NEVER let my (fill in the blank) look like that.”

I don’t do that anymore.  

Because I’ve learned that there are all kinds of reasons a body may not be busy mowing a lawn,  painting a porch or even putting on matching socks.

Life happens.  

And when it does, it demands all my energy, effort and attention.  I don’t have the time or luxury of worrying about things that aren’t absolutely necessary for survival.

When Dominic left for Heaven, my priorities were immediately shaken out, sifted and re-ordered.  Not only the big ones-like spending more time with the people I loved-but also the smaller ones-like whether or not I swept the front porch before someone visited. 

More than four years later and I look around sometimes wishing I was better at keeping up with things, better able to tidy up,  decorate for the seasons, mend the fences, stay on top of clutter, or put together decent outfits.

But then I pause, breathe and realize that while the outside looks messy and unorganized and not at all like I’d prefer, my inside is focused on the things that really matter.

I am spending most of my time caring (one way or another) for other hearts. 

Now when I see someone’s home that needs attention or someone who isn’t put together,  I think, “What battle are they facing?  What life circumstance has swallowed up their time, energy,  and emotional reserves?” 

Because life happens. 

Whether we are ready for it or not. 

everyone is fighting a battle

Discombobulated

Yep.  It’s a real word.  

And it sounds just like what it is-mixed up, disoriented and confused.  Like a kid spun around with a blindfold playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey at his five-year-old birthday party. 

That’s me.

I depend on routine, habit, regular workflow patterns to help me remember what I need to do and when.  So if something (or a bunch of somethings!) interrupt my tired old footpath through the day, it confuses me.

not to brag but i can forget what im doing

I’m confused.  

This summer has been full of random life events that guaranteed I couldn’t lean into my dependable routines for support and comfort.

So I’m winging it-more or less.  

Actually more of the time it IS less but who’s checking?

stressed is desserts spelled backwards

Anyway, it’s been a good reminder that I’m not in control and that what absolutely MUST be done always manages to get done.  And if the other stuff falls by the wayside, then it wasn’t nearly as important as I once thought it was.

I need to be reminded. 

Because it’s easy to be frustrated over things that aren’t worth the effort, to get my priorities mixed up and let myself fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent and ignore the supremacy of the important.  

tyranny of urgent sticky notes

Speaking of which, I think I’ll take a break, go outside and get some fresh air.  

The vacuuming can wait.

And the laundry,

and the dusting,

and the….

goat i must go my people need me