I am not the kind of guy to make an oath to God. You know what I mean – you find yourself in crisis, cry out to God and promise that – “God if you save/heal/deliver me I will do X.” There are several good reasons to not do that, one of them being right here:
“If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” Numbers 30:2
It is okay to promise to do something, but you better be prepared to follow through.
Somewhere in the space between starting a massive seizure last year on August 19th, and waking up a week later, I know I did just such a thing. I can see it happening: the swirling turmoil of sickness, the fear and uncertainty of my predicament, the powerlessness of my position. And I cried out to the God I met in 1982, the God who has always been with me, the God who showed me the way when I was lost, the God who brought me good and helped me through the bad. There is only one problem.
I cannot recall what I promised.
I am not sure where that leaves me theologically, but as I regained consciousness and my cognitive processes started working, I pondered what had happened and where I ended up. I spent a lot of time thinking, admittedly in a drug-induced and brain-damaged haze, about what comes next. I couldn’t do much about it anyway – I couldn’t move my lower body, my vision was a mess, I couldn’t make coherent sentences. But as the haze began to clear, on September 5th I asked for pen and paper and wrote this:
“Here’s the truth.”
I wrote six lines, none of which are legible. I do not have particularly good handwriting on my best days, so that is no surprise, but in this case, they are truly illegible. A year later, I still can’t figure out what I was trying to say, but it was important. And as I have turned it over in my mind, I came to the following conclusions. So, here’s the truth.
What Is Important
I know that I realized immediately that I had some challenges ahead. But I also realized immediately what was important to me: Living Life. I felt at the deepest levels of my being that I needed to get my priorities in line, that whatever days I had left should be focused on the things in life that matter. I could no longer, at the ripe old age of 61, believe that I had my whole life ahead of me. No more illusions of “mid-life” or being “middle aged” – at best, there might be a couple decades. At worst, as I had just learned, life can end tomorrow, or next week. Or yesterday.
So, here’s the truth: I needed to establish what matters most to me.
Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, it’s off to Work We Go
There is no doubt we must work – we gotta pay the bills, provide for our families, buy our toys. And I have worked since I was 15 years old, without much complaint. It is just what we do. But the last 25 years I have worked in sales, first in new car sales and last in real estate. My priority has always been closing the deal. Nothing else mattered, even if that meant working ding-to-dong, seven-days-a-week. I was good at what I did, my clients loved me, and I was at a place where I could likely continue with my existing client base and do well. But was it a priority? Could I keep it up? Was there a never-ending supply of tomorrows? And what would I lose if that is all I did?
I realized that here’s the truth: I was not going to make earning money a priority any longer. It just wasn’t worth it.
My Wife. I Think I’ll Keep Her
As the story unfolded, and as my mind could begin to understand it, I had not only been through an incredible trauma, but my wife had been there with me the whole time. I do not remember our 35th wedding anniversary, although I was somewhat conscious, but I do remember her presence. When two become one, they both suffer. Of course, we promised to be there for each other, richer or poorer, sickness and health. And all those vows are wonderful when you say them, but to actually ride the roller coaster of fear and suffering and trauma and pain – that is when it gets real. My first words conscious were “Diana, I love you.” Because I do, in every meaning, interpretation and permutation of that concept. She is my everything, and she had just endured the unthinkable, of losing me.
That is why I know that here’s the truth: My number one priority is my other half, the woman God gave me, the woman I built my life around. If I had more days to live, they would be lived with her as my purpose. Because Love Never Fails.
The Fleshman Bunch
I have been blessed with four children. They are all adults now, all educated, moving forward, making their own way. My goal had always been to help make them capable of finding themselves, of being who they are, not clones of me but equipped to be the best them. It became clear that they had rallied around Dad in his time of crisis, had felt my pain, endured their fears, and held fast. While working 24/7/365 there were too many times that I missed things, the things that seem small to adults but are huge in the eyes of the child. I always made it to the big events, but I have always felt that I could have done more. Oddly, they seem to remember an almost-idyllic childhood and, as best I can tell, they have no regrets, even though I do.
In the past couple of weeks, I have celebrated my grandson Arthur’s 5th birthday in our pool, a place he loves to be. His mom is my oldest daughter Jennifer, married now 12 years to our son-in-law Jeremy. My youngest son, John, brought his wife Caitlin for a visit last weekend and we had a grand time. Just this morning my youngest daughter Jamie left after coming with her girlfriend Emilie for a visit before they both resume graduate school. And this afternoon I will Skype with my oldest son Jeremy and his wife Karla as we celebrate our newest grandson’s 6-month birthday, and catch up with his other kids Tristan and Sophie.
And here’s the truth: Nothing is more important than family. We have loved, laughed, struggled, fought, grown, overcome, and arrived. No, we are not done, and that’s why they will remain my priority.
It Takes a Village
I was amazed at the people who came and went from the hospital, friends old and new, people from my many walks of life, business and personal and church. The outpouring of support for my beleaguered wife was heartwarming and affirming. We mattered to people, and years of winding our way through life we find ourselves woven into the fabric of community. And that community is vital in every way, but particularly in times of crisis. I realized that my wife and I have a combined 1,600+ Facebook friends, and when the cry went out, I know that prayers went up. Research tells us that 55% of Americans pray every day, which means that mathematically potentially nearly 200,000 people (friends of friends, exponentially) were aware of my predicament and prayed for my healing.
I believe in prayer. And that, coupled with the food, gifts, and help for Diana, added up to relief. We are small by ourselves, but when we join forces, we shine a wonderful light, and that light overcomes the darkness with power and love.
Here’s the truth: I am not an island; I am not on my own. People love me, they love my family, they love you. The Great Command is simply this: Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. Love is not just a word; it is an action. And I need to prioritize expending that love to others.
I Want to Live
All of that adds up to this: I want to live. I want to spend the rest of my life being the best me, taking care of myself, continuing to heal and strengthen. I want to remove distractions, spend my time on things that matter, things I enjoy, things that bring peace. Because so much of what we do is just that – stuff we do. We get caught up in a spiral of activity and one day wake up and life is going-going-gone.
I do not know what exactly I promised God in exchange for my life, but I want to be ready. I have a lifetime of experiences, acquired knowledge and the wisdom that comes with age. I am prepared to live life to the fullest, to give and love and care and help as best I can. I am damaged, but alive, and in my weakness He becomes strong. As long as I have breath I can be a part of this world, hopefully a part for good.
Whatever I promised God, here’s the truth: I intend to live life, and make my days count, whether in big ways or small.
Back to the Future
What happens next? I decided to not work, at that very point in time of writing that illegible note. I didn’t know how that would be possible, but doors opened, and needs were met, so I would not have to. I cannot drive, so I sold my truck from my hospital bed, making one less avenue of stress I won’t have to drive down. I continue to get a little better each day physically, a little better each day mentally, a little better each day spiritually. I have no idea what happens next – next week, next month, next year. Or even tomorrow. So many people say to me – “God’s not finished with you yet” and I take that as not only encouragement, but self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Here’s the truth” is written on a tiny notebook page in my scraggly handwriting, I may never know what I wrote at that time, but I do know where it brought me. It brought me back to life, it brought me through recovery and rehabilitation, it brought me back home, it brought me life for at least this extra year.
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32