Terminal and Loving Every Minute

My guest today is Andrew Budek-Schmeisser. Andrew is a reader of this blog and his comments have left me deeply moved so often that I asked him to write a post for us. Andrew is terminally ill, and it has changed the way he views the world in remarkable and beautiful ways. I want to take notes on living from the dying.

Yes, I’m terminally ill. My wife went to the doctor last week, and the receptionist asked, tentatively, “Your husband…is he still alive?”

That was a weird feeling, when she told me.

The doctor himself thinks I’m pretty far past my sell-by date…and he’s always surprised, too, that I’m still here. He’s thinking of writing a paper for a medical journal.

Really weird feeling, yeah?

But it reflects the truth. I’m losing ground steadily, and now spend large parts of each day lying on the floor in a fetal position, waiting for the pain to, well, not pass, but moderate to the point that I can get up again and do something. If nausea, incontinence, and fatigue allow for it. And if I remember what I wanted to do in the first place.

Something like writing this. It will take me quite awhile. I run out of physical and mental resources pretty quickly now.

And I still love my life. I would not trade this life for anything, including having my old health and vigour back.

It’s not because I’ve overdosed on Scripture like James 1:2 (“Count it all joy, your afflictions and trials…”) or Romans 5:3 (“…rejoice in your sufferings, because suffering produces endurance…”)

Make no mistake, James and Paul are right, but it wasn’t something I could take on faith. I had to learn these lessons myself, through facing the abyss, day after day. Looking for blessings in my life became vital for survival, a necessary antidote to the despair that could so easily overwhelm me.

Yes, illness brought blessings, and the fact that it seems like there’s no way out makes them even more precious.

It took time to recognize them, those blessings that came in frightening garb. I was a high achiever, and always had multiple projects going on, projects which I thought defined me, and validated my worth.

But now…those aspirations won’t come to pass, and it’s OK.

The goals are not what made the dreams worthwhile. They never were, and I’m so glad I saw that ere the end. It was all about the process, and the marks that the process made on my soul.

Each moment is a gift from God, and like the manna that fed the Israelites in the desert, each is perishable. Moments can’t be hoarded for later use, and they’re not intended for replanting in the hope that they will raise some of some future harvest.

We can come to each instant in our life fresh, with the heart and eyes of a child, taking hold of this precious uniqueness of now in wonder and delight…or we can choose to be jaded, and to pile the moment in with the past wreckage that attends present circumstances.

I choose wonder. I choose delight. And I choose to hold these tiny time-intervals dear, and as a direct line to the God that loves me in spite of my mistakes, and through my current ordeal.

It is an ordeal. The pain is real; I could see it as a prison; I haven’t been off the property in eight months. Riding in a car hurts too much, and there’s nowhere I can sojourn in comfort. I can’t do the things I would have liked to do, and much of the time is spent trying to build strength and resolve to do the things I have to do.

It isn’t a penitentiary, though. It’s more of a hermitage, a place in which the fires of adversity can temper my soul to become an instrument of God’s love, and the hammering of pain forges my heart to become that love.

Each moment from the Almighty that I choose to treasure, and which I choose to do my best for His sake, it adds to the storehouse of love that I can show.

Each stab of pain builds compassion for those who are worse off; there are so many suffering with no place to call home, no one to love them. I have a wonderful wife, a group of devoted dogs (some of whom know how to save my life, doing a canine version of CPR…they’ve done it several times), and friends I’ll never meet in person but whose hearts have reached out to me through the Internet. How can I complain about a small thing like dying?

Each realization that yeah, this could be the last day, it makes the sunlight brighter and the air sweeter, and the touch of a cool breeze on a summer day a gentle benison from Heaven.

With all this, how can I keep from singing? And more importantly, how can I keep from loving?

Achievement is nice, but it’s not for this that God made us.

Success is grand, but it isn’t God’s ultimate plan for our lives.

A bright future is wonderful, but it’s not something God ever guaranteed.

What we have is now, and we have a simple mission statement – to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

We learn to love God through the practice of loving others, and we can only truly love others when we let go of ourselves. Jesus was and is the servant and sacrifice to those He loved and loves. He laid the stones along the path we are to take.

And in dying, I have learned to let go. I have let go my earthly hopes and aspirations, giving them over to God. I’m sure He’ll treat them with care; He saves each tear we shed, and can we expect He will do less with the dreams He gave us, that we couldn’t fulfill in this life? They’ll be waiting.

I’ve learned to let go of my concern for myself. Yes, it hurts, but it’s OK that it hurts; I was never in control of this, though I tried to pretend through defiance and will that I was, but God is in control of it all.

I’ve learned to let go of possessiveness in relationship. I don’t want my wife, who is quite young, to make the rest of her life a monument to our time together. I want her heart to go on from the point where I leave this life, hurt for sure but healing, and hoping. I don’t want to see her lonely.

And may be most important, I’ve learned to let go of my preconceptions about God. I wanted to believe that I was favoured in that things went ‘right’ for me; the breaks fell my way.

And then it was me that broke.

I saw that favour was not the good job or the research contact or the book deal. Favour was being led by the hand by the Almighty, into a place where I could accept, without resentment, the hand that is dealt me, and embrace, without anger, the further pain that will surely be mine before this life is done.

By not looking back in resentment or forward in sullen dread…only along this road can I fully love in the now.

And as I love, so am I Loved, and so, further…I’m terminal and loving every minute.

 

Andrew Budek-Schmeisser is the author of two novels, “Blessed Are the
Pure Of Heart” and “Emerald Isle“, and three short e-books. Formerly a
security contractor and teacher, he lives on a remote mesa in New
Mexico with his wife and a number of rescued dogs and cats.

I am very grateful to Andrew for his willingness to share such hard-won wisdom and perspective with us. Live in peace, brother: in this life and the life to come. Readers, if you’d like to respond to Andrew – leave him a comment below or reach out to him via his blog. He is house-bound but our words can reach his living room, and our prayers can reach on high.

Cheerfulness Taught by Reason (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

pusillanimous

Cheerfulness Taught by Reason
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I think we are too ready with complaint
In this fair world of God’s. Had we no hope
Indeed beyond the zenith and the slope
Of yon gray blank of sky, we might be faint
To muse upon eternity’s constraint
Round our aspirant souls. But since the scope
Must widen early, is it well to droop,
For a few days consumed in loss and taint?
O pusillanimous Heart, be comforted,—
And, like a cheerful traveller, take the road-
Singing beside the hedge. What if the bread
Be bitter in thine inn, and thou unshod
To meet the flints? —At least it may be said,
“Because the way is short, I thank thee, God!”

Word art by Corrie Haffly

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Lindsay Smallwood recommended this poem to me, and I confess I chose it mostly because of the delicious word pusillanimous (which I’ve confessed loving before!)

But, on second and third reading, I love this too: her deep reflection on the truths that God has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and yet we droops in these days “consumed in loss and taint”. We do well, then, to learn to give thanks in every circumstance: a cheerfulness taught by reason and hope, not by naiveté.

Minutiae

This morning we ran out of Nutella. This may technically classify as a “#firstworldproblem”, but in our house it is still a problem.

Adding to my child’s misery, I also would not let her chew gum before breakfast. Nor would I let them watch Netflix under the covers instead of going to school. Nor was there any bacon. Cue foot stomping and a lot of pouting from children.

Cue firm words of rebuke from mom, accompanied by a clipped rehearsal of the “let’s be grateful for what we have rather than complain about what we don’t have” speech. I make that speech several times a day.

It is amazing to me how the little things that go right or wrong on any given morning set the tone for the day. And so, in the spirit of setting a good example, I took a deep breath and counted blessings.

This morning, it rained. We prayed for weeks and weeks through this drought-stricken winter for relief – and this March, it came. I am so grateful.

More than that, our garden is springing to life. I now understand why hope is said to “spring”. There is almost nothing as hopeful as seeing life sprout from what seemed to be dead-dry branches. Hope springs. And spring brings hope. We have hope blossoms all over our apple, lemon and cherry trees. So grateful.

We have roses. Oh glory, we have roses.

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Notice the raindrops. Oh thank you, God.

After a weekend of whining about “never getting what she wants” (specifically, the movie “Frozen”), my eldest read a magazine article about a 9 year old who used her allowance to make “feel better baskets” for sick kids in the hospital. She declared that instead of saving her allowance to buy the DVD, she’d like to make “feel better baskets” too. I’m so grateful: not only for this mercy springing up in my daughter’s soul, but also that our house will be spared a few more weeks of not having to “let it go”, on repeat, every hour.

I talked to my Mom. Skype is wonderful. So grateful.

My husband kissed me goodbye this morning. My daughter ran back for a “last chance” hug. So grateful.

My toddler gave me a kiss this morning. It was full of buttered toast crumbs and milk. It was perfect.

It’s the little things.

And so, I declare that today is a beautiful day, even though we ran out of Nutella.