2011 has probably been my least favorite year so far. My family and I have been wading through all kinds of stuff since the calendar turned to 2011. My mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and her health has continued to deteriorate. My dad's health has not been great either. All of this in the twilight of retirement for them. Not exactly what anyone was hoping and expecting for them, unfortunately.
My wife and I celebrated 10 years of marriage together, which I considered to be a pretty big milestone. It's not a milestone because I'm surprised. God knows that we are far from perfect, but over the past few months, we have seen a number of marriages that are either ending or in serious turmoil. Our hearts have been broken over this, especially as they have been close friends.
Ironically, while we were in Connecticut for Christmas and New Year's, our church kicked off the New Year with a series called "Wake Up. Pay Attention. Tell About It." The sermon that we missed was "Wake Up," but the thing is, that's been the message that I have been getting all year long. Wake up!
I have seen the frailty of life and in the midst of that, all of us have a choice, face it or run away. I have seen some respond to it by running away, attempting to recapture their youth, turning their back on God and hoping to assuage their conscience with hedonistic pleasures. I have seen others fall into an abyss of depression, wallowing in the brevity of life, unable to move past the stark realization that life will end. I have done my best to approach this realization with balance.
I'm not advocating a pursuit of all things carnal, but I am advocating a pursuit of what God has offered us through Christ: an abundant life. Despite what some might say, I don't see that as meaning that I get everything I want. I don't believe that it means that I win the lottery and I have no financial worries and that nothing bad ever happens to me. I do believe that it means that even in the midst of trials and difficulty, I experience a Shalom, a peace that passes understanding. It's a peace that is not achieved through anything natural or artificial, but supernatural, through the Holy Spirit.
I am reminded of what Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
All of us are given a choice and an opportunity: to live life to the fullest or to simply get by. Every day, I get up in the morning and see 3 (soon to be 4) good reasons to get out of bed. I might not feel like living to the fullest, I might like to crawl up in a hole, I might like to fly away, but what I do, whether I like it or not, has a serious impact on those around me. I cannot simply and selfishly cut ties to responsibility and think that it won't be detrimental to anyone else but me.
The other day, I took my 4 year old to play disc golf on the course at our church. We had a great time and in the midst of the July heat and humidity of Richmond, Virginia, we were soaked with sweat by the time that we finished. But we had a blast. I saw new life in my son. I saw him invigorated from the son who often follows the bad habits of his father, wasting time in front of the computer, the TV, or the Wii. He is a "mini me," and if I fail to model for him this manner of living life to the fullest, my legacy will carry on and it will not be a legacy that I will be proud of.
Life is frail. None of us can be 100% sure of what we might expect. In the briefest of moments, our lives can take dramatic turns, for the better or the worse. I have experienced this, both first and secondhand. It has been a wake-up call for me.
I am also reminded of Paul's words to Timothy, his mentor and "son" in the faith. As he was coming to the end of his life, he wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Some of us our achievers, we want to do everything well and perfectly. Maybe I've got more of Bart Simpson in me than I would like to admit, or even George and Marty McFly. Maybe I'm a slacker and underachiever, but I know that sometimes, just getting by is all that I can do. That's not what I strive for, but sometimes, that's the best that I can muster up. Forward motion. One foot in front of the other, step by step, inch by inch.
Today is a new day, full of new opportunities. Regardless of how badly I may have lived yesterday, how many mistakes that I made, bad habits that I fostered, I have a second chance today. I don't simply ignore the mistakes of the past, I use them as momentum to push off today. God's mercies are new every morning, He gives me new chances to make a difference, to live life to the fullest. All of us are given those same opportunities, we make the most of what we have or we simply get by.
Whether my life ends tomorrow or 50 years from now, I want to look back and say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." As melancholic and introspective as this might all be, it is not meant to bring down but to boost up, to encourage us all to do the same, face new opportunities, good or bad, with a newfound faith that we will move past them. We may not come through them all with flying colors, but sometimes, just getting by is all that we can muster up.
I am awake. I am paying attention. I have told about it. My hope and prayer is that I might continue to live, seeing the opportunities in front of me and doing my best to seize them as they come. I can't do this by myself and my strength, but only through the strength that God gives me and through the help and support of the community of faith that surrounds me. May God grant us all this same strength to live, awake, attentive, and vocal!