Five months ago, I learned that doctors gave a family member, Sandy, just months to live. Her cancer was too far advanced to continue treatment. Sandy lives 400 miles from me, in the St. Louis area, so I’m not there often, but I happened to be there shortly after she received the news. During that trip, she pulled me aside.
“What’ve you got for me?” she said. “I need something. Anything.”
She knew me to be a Christian, so she was turning to me for support. There we were, standing on a sidewalk outside of an outdoor soccer complex near St. Louis, just about to watch my niece play. I thought about Sandy’s question for a second and gave her the following advice.
Enjoy the moments you have left. Keep your routines. Make amends. Say what needs to be said. God’s power is made perfect in your weakness. You only need to recognize your need for a Savior and trust him. If you have, then he has prepared a place for you.
Sandy nodded as I spoke. A tear formed in her eye (and mine) on more than one occasion as I expanded on each point and as she considered the enormity of it all. She leaned in as if to say she wanted to make sure she hadn’t missed something along the way about life and death and heaven.
She affirmed her faith in Christ as we spoke and even seemed to look forward to the place Christ had prepared for her. I never spoke to Sandy again. She got pretty sick shortly after our conversation and she passed away less than three months later.
I have since learned that Sandy was busy in her final months. She purchased and filled out birthday cards to be distributed to each of her grandchildren during 2016, and she sealed each one with a kiss. When the children open their cards, they will see the lipstick imprint she left inside. She also completed journals for each grandchild, including some of her favorite memories with them and from her own childhood. She not only loved her family well in life, but she is also loving them well in death.
I thought about my conversation with Sandy a lot before she passed, and even more since. I will turn fifty this year, Lord willing. My father died at the age of sixty-four. His father died at seventy-two. And my great-grandfather died at sixty-five. Are you noticing a trend here?
If these numbers are any indication, I’m well past middle-age. Their median age is sixty-seven, which means I could very well be in the final quarter of my life. But we will all face our own mortality at some point. What matters most is how we handle the time we have left.
I have a friend, named Tom, who has leukemia. Even though it is in remission, he likes to paraphrase C.S. Lewis when talking about his condition, saying “It’s not a bad thing to live in the shadow of death.” For him, the reality that life is short orients the way he lives right now. He lives with the end in mind.
That just reinforces his view that being completely available to his kids is of utmost important. It also means he spends more time reading about the truths he wants to understand than he does watching television. And he’s always ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within him. He befriends men everywhere he goes and then begins meeting them for coffee, conversation, and gospel truth.
Tom is not in imminent danger of passing from this life to the next anytime soon, as much as any man can possibly know, but he lives as if he were.
When I think about the conversation I had with Sandy, and when I watch the way Tom lives with such purpose, and as I think about my own mortality, I have a burning desire to finish well—to honor my Savior and to make an impact in the lives of the people God has placed around me. With that in mind, I wrote a devotional book called Finishing Well: Living with the End in Mind. I wrote it as much for me as I did for you.
It’s a reminder to create and maintain more margin in my life so people don’t feel like I’m too busy to meet with them. It’s also a reminder to take my sin seriously; to forsake it at every turn in favor of the sanctified life. Finally, it’s a reminder to leave a body of work behind that will be beneficial to those I love, and maybe a few I’ll never meet.
March 1 is the e-book’s official release date. Here’s a page with links to the various retail stores where you can download a copy, if you are interested.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.
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