What a year. Last year, this time, I nearly died – or at least, was about to.
As I reflect on my recent heart surgery, here at Christmas time a year ago, I am struck by so many thoughts and feelings that I don’t know where to begin.
What stands out most, perhaps, centers on perspective – that life doesn’t seem as lengthy or predictable as I once thought. And if so brief, what have I yet to accomplish, who have I yet to impact and even why has God kept me around?
After near death and experiencing the extreme vulnerability of life, you begin to wonder. Not like pondering or day dreaming. We all do that. I mean gut wrenching, soul shaking stuff – the kind you can’t just let go of, that wakes you up in the middle of the night and stirs your heart in ways you aren’t used to! Keeps you awake!
Wondering and wondering.
And so I wonder and wonder:
What would have happened had I died a year ago! What would everyone’s life have been like? Would I have been truly missed?
- Where all the love came from! So many reached out to me in prayer, in thought and in spirit. My own wife touched my very being with her love and care. My oldest son gave me a gift I’ll never forget – himself, his time, his prayers, his delight in my recovery, his pain at seeing me almost slip away.
- Why I’m here! Are there causes and dreams to pursue I can now see more clearly? The dawn of a new day often finds itself radiating fresh desire, to love more consistently, to give more freely and to let others know you love them deeply. I want to hang onto the glow of this burgeoning motivation – hold on with all the life I have left and will be blessed to see unfold!
- If I’ll even see another Christmas. I am growing more mindful of the meaningless trivialities of life and clearer about what’s important. At least I think I am. I want to believe that I have, at my soul’s fingertips, a renewed sense of drive – toward eternal, life-giving principles. Not just making the mortgage or getting a day off!
- How I can touch your life. I feel driven to give of myself in ways more tangible, consistent than before, more effectively. Let me know how I can do this. Really!
- What God is doing with me? Why He gave me another day. What He hopes I will realize in all this. What He wants me to let go of. What He wants me to seek, as I truly let go of those things that rot and vanish with time.
- What to now define as awesome – truly awesome? I look at the surgeons, their skill in mending my heart and am in awe. Yet with all their skill and wisdom, the strands of life woven together December 21st, 2010, came from intricacies more extraordinary than a scalpel’s touch could forge. My new life and path came from some other light, from glory of another, from the Master’s touch that suggested this earthly tent I live in needed a few more days or years – or however long I’ve been given.
- If I’m supposed to give up wondering and just live the day I’ve been given. If I need to let each moment sprout and emerge as a testimony to my desire to cling loosely, to give enormously, to reach out conspicuously! To realize how much I don’t know but focus on only those gems that He wants me to realize – such as the enormous power of love and affection a human being can give another.
You all gave me this love. You know who you are. It starts with my wife, my boys, my daughter-in-law, my mother, sister, mother-in-law and father-in-law and all those usual suspects you might guess reached out to me. But it extends to a body of lovers who reached out with tears, food and thoughtfulness and a raging belief I would make it and have another day to live, give and celebrate.
If I’ve learned nothing else, it must be thankfulness. For the gift of life, for breath, for love and for family. That someone thought I was worth keeping around and He arranged my universe to include another day of sunshine, purpose and service to His cause and Kingdom.
As I watched my family open their presents this year, I couldn’t help see the greatest gift of all, surrounding me with flaming brilliance, light and hope. His birth and death define me. They are not wrapped in paper with pretty bows, but sit invisible, with arms wide open and a silent sound that echoes for those who will listen!
And so I wonder how I would have ever really lived without the crisis of impending death. I want to shout, at the roof-top to those listening, that your life counts – make it truly count. Live as if you’ve been given another day! Emerge from your own surgery and perhaps even slumber.
Believe me, there is nothing quite like the surgery of the heart!
Doug Gustafson, 2011