Friday, August 17, 2012

Life As a Vapor

Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.--James 4:14

Today was the last day of our annual vacation to Seaside, Florida and I sat for a long time in the gazebo atop the board walk down to the beach, watching the rhythm of the surf surging and receding. A year ago, my last day was not so peaceful.

On August 6th last year, on the last day of vacation I had a heart attack and spent 2 days in Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola. I had a stent placed in my left anterior descending artery, known as "the widow maker". It was a close call. I was one of those startling cases of sudden heart attack: annual physicals, all of my blood lipids well within safe range, weight and blood pressure good. Decent diet and fitness level. Heart attack.

I am not alone in this. A period of two years or so has brought a series of distressing reports as family and friends have been brought low by disease. Four men I know have had sudden heart attacks; two survived, two did not. A co-worker friend succumbed to cancer. My wife's aunt, barely much older than us and more like a big sister, successfully fought back cancer. My father-in-law finally slipped from this life to the next after a series of complications that began with cancer.

To have survived a close call with a life threatening disease gives one's perspectives and priorities an abrupt shaking. Long a "type A" personality, I have begun the excruciatingly slow process of trying to unwind the tight coil of perpetual urgency that writhes within. It is a process of unlearning lifelong habits and replacing them with new ones. One year later it is challenging still.

It also provides opportunity to find new purpose in living, seeking more than the pursuit of all that natters for attention and allegiance in this temporal life. When I lay on the emergency room table with nurses and doctors working on me with such intensity, I was not afraid of death, but I felt I had so much left for which to live. Now my focus has shifted more to serving Christ with intentionality, seeking to give of myself to others. In so doing more doors have opened for me to minister and serve than I've ever experienced before.

My time of reading and study of the Scriptures and good books has taken on greater meaning and purpose. I am more reflective and have put down deeper roots in faith.

I miss the people who have been taken, especially my father-in-law who was a father to me longer than my own dad had a chance to be, having died (from heart disease) when I was eight. I relish the presence of those who have survived their battles. The aunt who has survived cancer was here for part of this vacation and she and I had a rewarding conversation about new purpose and meaning in living. I am grateful for my family and friends in a richer way than before.

So I sat today feeling the rain cooled ocean breeze and reflected on all that has transpired in a year. Tomorrow we will return to the Texas heat, yet in just a couple of months the morning air will be crisp and holidays approaching. My oldest daughter has just graduated college. My younger son will soon be married. I will draw joy from each of these events, cherishing time with loved ones present. Yet my joy will be accompanied with a pang of longing for those whose vapor has vanished from sight.