Do You Have an Expiration Date?
This is one of my favorite weeks of the year - Thanksgiving! It is the least-pressure filled holiday. Sure the turkey needs to be cooked and everyone eats too much but in general, it’s a relaxed holiday with family and friends. For me, this year I am so much more aware of wanting to give thanks. If you are a reader of this blog then you know that I traveled to Ethiopia with Christian relief organization World Vision Micro and the Leadercast team to help tell a story about the power of microfinance. It was an incredible journey and, yes, one that I am so thankful for having been able to be part of. This is not that story.
This story begins on the day we were set to fly out to Ethiopia - Valentine’s Day, February 14. This is a story in two parts. Part one was written at the beginning of March - a couple weeks after we returned but not published until now. The second part was written today, November 25. It has taken me this long to put it into writing.
Part 1: March, 2014
It’s Tuesday and I have been back from Africa just over a week and finally over the jet lag. Before we left on our trip there was one of the major snowstorms that blanketed the east coast. It was a wet and heavy snow and shoveling was not much fun. That Wednesday night my head started to hurt but I didn’t think much of it. We were getting on a plane on Friday though so I made an appointment with the doctor on the morning of the departure - I was convinced that it was a sinus or ear infection - I figured that if I could knock it out with antibiotics early it would make the travel easier. The physician’s assistant that I saw didn’t find any signs of infection but did prescribe a tension headache medication; a combination of the stress of travel and the shoveling could have easily caused an issue in my neck that would cause the headache.
The trip, if you have read this blog (and if you haven’t you should go back and read about it) was incredible. The headache, however, never went away. I have controlled the pain with a mixture of Advil, Tylenol and, when bad enough, the prescription medication. At the two week mark I visited the doctor again and had some blood work done to rule out Lyme disease (a symptom is unexplained headaches) as well as any other viral causes that they could check for. I have also an MRI scheduled for a week or so from now.
I am not a pessimist. Quite the contrary, I am a ‘glass three-quarters full’, ‘rose-colored glasses’, Kermit the Frog, Peter Pan optimist. I really don’t think that I am dying or that I have a brain tumor, I am betting on a pinched nerve or maybe even a virus like Lyme disease. That said, I have found myself contemplating how I would choose to spend my time should I find out that I have been given, as my lovely wife calls it, an ‘expiration date’. In our house, expiration dates are suggestions (so be wary of our fridge), and I have decided that if I were to be given one, I would live that way.
Reflecting on my life, a good thing to do once in a while, I realize that I am on a pretty good path. I have let my life be consumed in the last few years by work, I have judged who I am by my paycheck rather than by what I do. I have been working to change that recently. I am not there yet - there are still so many ‘things’ that get in the way - yet they are just that, things. I have decided that I want to model to my grown children what is truly important. My favorite passage in the Bible is from James, chapter 2 “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” More than anything in this world I hope that I have modeled for them what it means to not just say but to also do. It’s a simple as ‘putting your money where your mouth is.’ We have all been blessed with gifts of time, talent and treasure. We don’t have these in equal proportion but we are called to use what we have.
Last night as I washed the day off in the shower I had one of my rare moments of self pity. My wife had fallen asleep and I didn’t need to put on any pretenses with myself. I considered what the possible (though remote) results of the MRI could mean*. “The good new is” I could hear the doctor say “you have a brain. The bad news is that there is an inoperable tumor.” Thinking about it as the water cascaded down, I started to cry - for the first time in a long time I cried. I have so much to do. I am just starting to really live. I have made a decision to take a chance, to ‘put my money where my mouth is’. Why now? Why me? I knew it was at most hypothetical but once it starts it hard to get beyond it. Even writing this now I feel the tears welling at the corners of my eyes. Yet, even in the midst of this fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) I feel an incredible peace.
I have made a conscious decision to change my life - to pursue a dream - and this is just one step on that road. I have decided that I want to live my life in service; to do what I can to change the world. Our company slogan is “Change the world one bottle at a time” - I intend to live it. I have seen what a simple gift can do to change someone’s life. I have seen the impact of what a small loan means to a family. It is almost unfathomable here in the United States but if I were to tell you that funding a micro loan for as little as $25 could save a marriage, provide an education, empower a leader, change a community and change the world - but it is true. Here, as I make my way into NY on Shrove Tuesday, there are a couple of hundred homeless men and women lined up outside the Cathedral of St. Francis on 31st and 7th waiting to be fed. Does having a simple hot cup of coffee, a sandwich, a hug and a prayer mean anything to them? Of course, it does - and what does that cost?
Do we have the power to change lives? To make a difference? To feed the hungry? Clothe the naked? Heal the sick? Yes. The question is not “can we…?” it is “will we…?”. I have decided that I will. I don’t know if I have 5 months, 5 years or 5 decades left to live on this earth but I do know that I am committed to no wasting another moment of any of the time I have left with pity (self or otherwise). I can make a real difference in this world and I ask you to walk alongside me - to use your time, your talent and your treasure to make a difference as well.
I am not going to post this until after I have the results of the blood work and the MRI - and probably only if the results are good. I do ask for your prayers for me and for my family - but I would ask for them anyway. If Pope Francis can ask for prayers then I certainly can!
Part 2: November, 2014
I can’t believe that I have let almost eight months go by without writing about this. I always reflect on what I have in my life and how much I am thankful for during the month of November. This year presented many opportunities for me to think about all I am thankful for. One event in particular helped me really focus. This year I wrote and ran a retreat with a friend, PJ Anderson, The theme of the retreat was “Give Thanks”. My story of thanks forced me to look back on the entire year but it allowed me to dwell on one in particular - my MRI.
The headache that I was experiencing was constant. It was ever present. It was not going away, in fact they were just getting worst. It was a pressure on the top-back of my head that just wouldn’t let up. Something had to give.
As you hopefully could tell from my writings prior to the MRI, I was scared, nervous but also content. Approaching the MRI is a bit strange - you can’t wear anything with metal, for me that meant removing the only two items that I wear constantly - my wedding ring and a cross that I wear/carry for my brother. It’s the longest period that I have ever been without my ring. It felt strange.
As I prepped, I remembered that I had a wooden cross on a string that I could wear. It was given to me last year by the same friend, PJ, I just ran the retreat with. The cross is simple, hand made and was blessed in Rome by Pope Francis. I wore it in place of my metal cross when I was traveling so I could keep it on while traversing the various airport metal detectors. It would be perfect.
As I lay down on the MRI’s table, my head throbbing, I took a deep breath and said a prayer - I don’t remember the specifics but I do remember repeating over and over “Lord, not my will be done but yours.” Laying back I had the opportunity to keep my hands at my side or across my chest. I chose the chest and I held the cross in my palm.
If anyone has had the pleasure of having an MRI done on their brain, then you can attest to the noise, lights, rumbles and shakes that are part of the experience. For me, the 25 minutes that I spent in the tube were some of the most peaceful that I can remember. I felt that way once before, on my wedding day when I knew that I was in the right place with the right person. It’s not that I didn’t hear or feel what was going on. It’s just that I was at peace. I knew that I was where I needed to be. Far from annoying me, the sounds and movement help me focus. I entered into a very special and intimate prayer and spent the time giving thanks.
When the machine stopped is banging and buzzing I was at peace. The nurse helped me sit up then get down off of the table. It took a minute or two before I realized there was something missing. My headache. I haven’t had that headache since the MRI ended.* I would love to call it a miracle, but who knows. I do know that with God all things are possible. I know that the Spirit of the Lord has been guiding me (as the Spirit guides you as well) but sometimes I just don’t listen.
So, that’s my Thanksgiving story for 2014.
Say a prayer of thanks for all the people you have in your lives. Try to live with an attitude of gratitude. I ask that you help us “Change the world one bottle at a time” - whether it’s with a purchase of our hot sauce, volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen, donating to a charity or making a meal for a shut in. Change the world.
*The MRI results were all negative - they found a brain (good) but nothing else out of the ordinary!