Athletes are often encouraged to visualize the finish line and to run the race with the image of crossing that mark as motivation to finish well. For us, the finish line is not death but what comes as a simple greeting: “Welcome, my good and faithful servant.”
When we moved to the Pacific Northwest twenty-three years ago, I was more than a bit off-kilter. I was invited to join a Bible study by a friend of a friend. The venture horrified me. I had become a “ship-wrecked,” alien to my faith, and the antidepressants I was taking didn’t touch the depth of the darkness in my heart. I said no. Less than a year later I returned the phone call and asked if I could still have a place in their group.
A week later I fearfully walked into a coffee shop at three in the afternoon and joined their table. I sat down and met six beautiful women who were fifteen to twenty years older than me. Possibly I could borrow their faith in hopes of reviving mine.
I opened my Bible to Ezekiel 36:26 and followed along as one of the women read, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you, I will remove from your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” The women took turns reading verses through the end of Ezekiel 37, and with shallow, pounding heartbeats, I wondered if my dry bones might be given new life through the faith of these women.
Since I was the youngest and had children in school, we began meeting at my home so I could be here when my children walked home from the bus stop. We got to know one another through studying the Bible and sharing prayer requests. It soon became clear that they were busier than I was! This was a rude awakening that I had not anticipated. I had a lot of growing to do!
For more than two decades I have journeyed with these nine women. We have celebrated anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, parents’ dying, children marrying, births of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and, worst of all, children dying!
We have entered “the dying years.”
I remember my mother saying the same thing when my children were young. Now it’s my turn. Our group already has suffered Sue’s “dearest Jim” dying on Valentine’s Day while vacationing in Arizona. Then, “Faith’s Fred” died of prostrate cancer after a brave three-year battle. Jim is 85 years old and has survived a stroke and a fall, and Carol is loving, stoic, strong, and fighting her own health battles. Bob is 83 years old and thriving with his exercise regimen after suffering severe complications with “normal pressure hydrocephalus”(which was anything but normal). Kayanne fought tooth and nail to get him the very best treatment, which was no easy task. Talk about amazing godly women who battle daily for love and life! I am still in “kindergarten” given the road that Dan and I are approaching.
This past week God truly got my attention as He pulled the rug out from my legs and my heart. On Friday our beloved Bill died on Vivian’s eightieth birthday after battling Parkinson’s disease for more than twenty years. Three days later, Barb sent a text to pray for Gary: “Today Gary’s MRI showed cancer in his abdomen.” Two days later, not even forty-eight hours after we received the news of cancer, he was gone. It’s been too much too fast. Too much grief! Too much death! Too fast!
What are we to do? The answer from many is Carpe Diem—seize the day and live as richly as one can every twenty-four hours. The dilemma with Carpe Diem is that the day passes too quickly and brutally. Yes, there is something about prizing the present and living mindfully as we embrace each moment of our lives; however, our exhaustion in trying to do so will make us crazy or devour us in our effort to seize the day.
An alternative is Carpe Aeternum: “Seize the end to live well in the present.” Carpe Aeternum acknowledges today is a good day to die. It is not our choice, nor do we know when that calendar date will occur. The reality is we are not to seize the day, but be seized by—taken captive by—the promise of what our dear friends Bill and Gary heard as they closed their eyes and opened them to perfect love in the presence of Jesus.
I continue being schooled by my beautiful older friends. I want to be prepared to run whatever race is ahead by closing my eyes and imagining the words I will hear when I cross the finish line.
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 42 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs