I apologize for being a "blog-truant" for the last couple weeks. In short, we've been living in the middle of challenging and unforeseen circumstances this month.
Just over two weeks ago, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with acute leukemia (AML). Mimi immediately departed to Tennessee to be with her. After stenuous research and prayer, her mom and her sisters decided to bring her here to Duke for treatment. This has yielded a significant schedule change for our whole family with my becoming a bit of a "single Dad" over this time. We would certainly solicit your prayers for Mimi's mom, Charlene, during this time of intense treatment and hospitalization.
During this same time frame, a good friend in our community (a groomsman in our wedding) lost his wife, Lisa, in a tragic automobile accident. I wanted to share a few thoughts about Lisa today. During Lisa's funeral, I learned that she had a unique way of reading novels — she always read the last chapter first. She would read the final chapter and thus assess the value of the time and emotional energy expended in reading the novel (she didn't like sad endings!). The revelation of this fact was not only filled with irony but also produced many knowing smiles and chuckles. Everyone knew that this was exactly how Lisa lived her life. Lisa was one of those rare persons who was never late. Whether the occasion was significant or trivial, she was on time. Like most timely persons, she always planned her time by starting with the moment that she needed to leave and working backwards — again starting with the end. While sitting in the hospital waiting room, Bill confided to me that months before Lisa had planned her funeral (on a date with her husband, no less!). It's hard to imagine, but this physically-fit 40 year old mother of five young children (she was one of those 10K runners who was finishing at the front while folks like me are making a halfway turn!) was thinking about the end of her life even when life seemingly promised so many more chapters. She said to Bill as she envisioned her own funeral, "Like anyone, I'm afraid of dying — but I'm not afraid of death." Lisa's life was a life of mission, community, and worship — lived constantly with the end in mind.
I talk often about missional living and am constantly explaining and describing what I think this looks like for folks in our community. Missional living seems to be understanding the redemptive end that God has in mind for creation — the coming kingdom to use Jesus' language — and working backwards — working backwards such that the this coming kingdom is also a present reality that is realized, expressed, and embodied in the fabric of our lives and community.
Lisa and her husband Bill had taken their five children to Kenya to serve in a medical mission for a month in 2003. In June of 2004, Lisa and Bill had just returned from Costa Rica where they were exploring opportunities for a church-sponsored mission trip. As a family, they were involved with volunteer opportunities in their community. For example, I remember the stories of Lisa and her kids baking cookies and distributing them for the people who lived in shelters for weeks during the floods caused by Hurricane Floyd, while Bill volunteered his time as a doctor. They were very concerned and involved with ensuring the integrity of the gospel preached and taught in their home church as well as in the global Church. They not only taught Sunday School classes to children and adults, but they offered their lives as examples of people depending on Christ to live the gospel. I thank Lisa for her embodiment of missional living with a life lived well.
All week long I have been thinking of the only episode of "Chicago Hope" (a late 80's, early 90's cookie cutter hospital drama) that I ever saw. This episode (as I remember it, or at least as it should have been!) featured an affluent, successful doctor whose life was in shambles. He was lonely. His girlfriend was threatening to move out. Even his expensive car had broken down on the way to the hospital to make his rounds. In the midst of his own personal chaos, he rushed into the room of a dying man to tell him "to get his affairs in order." As these fateful words were uttered, this man did not panic or cry. Instead, he gathered his wife and children around and replied, "My affairs are in order."
I have cried several times in the last couple weeks thinking about Lisa's untimely and tragic death. I pray often for Bill and their children as they face myriads of hard decisions and adjustments. I have also been inspired by the privilege of knowing and mourning someone whose affairs were in order.