I will never forget the sermon given on the Sunday that Britta was dedicated at our church. Our pastor was wrapping up a sermon series entitled, “Thirty Days to Live” and it was about how we would choose to live our days if we knew our time on Earth was coming to a close. On this particular Sunday, his final sermon of the series was about finishing well. He used the analogy of pitching in baseball. Roy Halladay had just pitched a no-hitter a few days prior and the pastor used the story to describe how hard it is to pitch a no-hitter, as often times relief pitchers come into a ball game. By definition, to “pitch a no-hitter” requires the pitcher to throw a full nine innings of a game. It doesn’t happen very often. Pitching a full game, I have to believe (although I’m certainly no expert), must be taxing on the body. Additionally, there is this thing called “winning” that teams strive to do, so bringing in a fresh pitcher often times helps in that department. Our pastor went on to discuss that the reality is, in life, we don’t have people to come in to relieve us when we are tired and worn-out; we have to persevere until the very end. So, how do we do that well?
I’ve thought a lot about Reece in this context–how he finished his life here. Realistically, no one went into transplant thinking that these were his last days; no one talked about it that way and no one treated him that way until the very last day of his life. Certainly, Terry and I had considered this many times over the course of his transplant and as he continued to decline in our home and at the hospital, we were very concerned about losing him. But he abruptly coded in the hospital–no one ever said, “We are concerned that something may happen, here.” He wasn’t in the PICU before he coded; he was in a regular BMT room and had just completed occupational therapy. I’m sure the doctors were always aware that it could happen, but my point is that unlike many people with terminal illnesses, Reece was never treated that way. His transplant was always considered “successful” in that he was 100% donor. The focus was on his recovery, on making it all turn out swell. We didn’t have the opportunity to say our good-byes and acknowledge the end was near until after he was on life support. I am convinced, however, that he had some sort of inclination that he may not have much time here; there were signs of that. It wasn’t, however, because we observed him giving up. It seems really obvious if you look through the pictures of him from January to June that his body was slowly giving way. But we didn’t know all that at the time or view it as such and his attitude never demonstrated that he was giving up.
I really don’t like the phrase, “Live each day as if it is your last.” What does that mean? Travel today; spend the day in an airplane or a car? Do something reckless? Sob unceasingly and call everyone you know? Yes, those all sound like wonderful options…if you actually know it is your last day, the likelihood that you are able to do anything other than rest is probably unlikely. But in a not-so-different way, “finishing well” is probably quite similar to fully living life. I’m convinced that finishing well and fully living have more to do with shedding fear and meeting the day head-on, regardless of circumstances. I believe it means to honor God in fulfilling the days he has marked out for us and to trust that God will meet us in our need and provide relief and rest. After all, no person can step in and live our lives for us.
Yes, whether or not we know our last days are imminent, we will all be at a place in life where death is staring us in face. We either have no clue we are in our last days, so the opportunity is now, or we will know it is coming and the challenge will be to release the grip of fear and meet our final days the best we can. Reece truly modeled this for us. He wasn’t in a place of defeat in his last days. He certainly didn’t feel well and was very limited based on his health. In fact, he somewhat became a prisoner to his body, but only physically. Regardless of the physical challenges, he lived the days set before him with an attitude of perseverance, until his final breath. As was the case with Reece, finishing well–phenomenally well–may simply be letting the body rest. What a beautiful way to honor our life– to respect what God has given us by fully living within the circumstances that present themselves. For my own day today–what a challenge it is to move through the day without Reece. Yet I know there is a bigger plan than sadness and pain–how do I finish well, despite this challenge and other issues that present themselves? I hope and believe that it can be done.
I think the tendency is to avoid the topic of death until we are absolutely facing it head on. But what if today is one of my last days and I am facing it. Maybe where I’ve been wrong about the statement, “Live each day as if it is your last” is in my interpretation of it. I think it’s more accurate to say, “Live each day in confidence that you will finish it well.” I do not claim to know what it feels like to be staring at death–I haven’t been there yet. Truthfully, this whole entry came to be after I stumbled across a video posted about a young man who battled cancer for several years. I know these stories can be hard to watch, but I am incredibly encouraged by what he has to say. You can learn a lot about living from a person who is dying. Knowing his cancer was terminal, he did not allow it to take over what remained of his time here. This man was not covered in fear, but in life. He finished well on Nov 7, 2012.