3 Lessons From a Hospital Room

The day before Thanksgiving I got a call from my Mom. She went to the doctor for a nagging sore throat, and the doctor was sending her to the ER…for her heart. She said it was nothing. The doctor just didn’t like something he saw on the EKG. I drove over to see her. When I arrived, my mom told me that they had taken some blood and that they didn’t like her white blood cell count. It was too high. I’m thinking, “what does this have to do with her heart? Is she at risk of a heart attack?”

It turns out that little heart issue was God’s way of getting her into a hospital. Her heart wasn’t an issue at all. Her white blood cell count was off the charts, and quickly the doctors told her she most likely had Leukemia. Fortunately, they thought, it was the “chronic” type of Leukemia. Chronic Leukemia is extremely treatable. But as they ran more tests, the doctors changed their diagnosis from Chronic Leukemia to Acute Leukemia. She needed to be moved to a facility specializing in Acute Leukemia. The next thing I know, I’m in the back of an ambulance on Thanksgiving Eve riding with my mom to her new home. I say new home because over the next 24 hours we’d learn that she indeed has Acute Leukemia, that she needs to begin treatment immediately, and that she’d be living in the hospital for at least four weeks.

These events struck like a lightning bolt, without warning. Almost everyone reading this has had some experience with tragedy or unexpected circumstances and the common thread is that you never see it coming. Sitting there with my mom this weekend, having a very different kind of Thanksgiving, I learned a few things. If you had asked me a week ago, I would have told you that I already knew them. You might think you have already mastered them. But this weekend I truly learned them. I hope that sharing them will bless you.

Life is Precious

The phrase “Life is precious,” is used so often it’s cliche. The Scripture says, “You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

We are all guilty of being lulled into a false sense of security. We think we’re insulated. Bad things happen to someone else. And then the unexpected strikes. It’s not just illness. A car crash. A tornado. A freak accident. Like a bolt of blue, life changes. And every day, for millions of people, life ends. That can seem depressing. Or it can be motivating. It can drive us to make the most of every moment. Instead of living as if the unexpected will never happen, we should live as if the unexpected is certain. Because it is.

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We all say that. No one is thinking, “I’d like to make the least of every moment.” But few of us do. Why? I’m writing tomorrow on how to make the most of every moment. I’ll give you a little teaser. It starts with being intentional. Let me give you an example from my relationship with my mom. We have a terrific relationship. We’re very close. And someone in our family (my wife, my kids, me) talks to her with a relatively high frequency. This weekend I was convicted of not making those calls a priority. I had not been intentional. My mom lost her husband a year ago. She lost her parents shortly before that. She is living alone for the first time in her life. I should have been checking on her every day. Just a quick check-in. How are you? Do you need anything? Why hadn’t I done that? I’m not a lazy person. The answer is that I didn’t make it a priority.

What are you not prioritizing that you’d regret if the unexpected happens? Make the change and avoid the regret. I learned that this weekend.

Family is Everything

Family is weird. All of us have hangups with different parts of our family. Most of us spend the majority of our time with people other than our family. But when push comes to shove, it’s family that shows up. It’s family that comes together. It’s family that matters.

This weekend my brother, step-sister, and I took shifts staying with my mom. My 19-year-old son stayed with her the first night, which turned out was the worst night so far. My step-sister and her husband took care of my mom’s house, cleaning out the stuff in the fridge that would go bad if left for a month and getting her dogs transferred to their temporary home. My wife and a friend decorated her room for Christmas, putting up a small tree, hanging lights, and posting pictures she had printed of the entire family all over the room.

Some people have squandered their family relationships. Some people have not prioritized them like they should because of relatively petty differences or quirks. I saw this weekend how valuable those links are. I was so grateful for our family. My mom was so blessed to have a family that loves her so.
If you’ve neglected those relationships, or been flippant about their value, I recommend starting fresh. Reconnect. Let people know you love them. There will come a time when it will be all that matters.

You Reap What You Sow

Last cliche. By the way, these lessons are only cliche because they’re so real that everyone learns them eventually. Oh Lord, may I be the person who can learn wise things from the observations of those who went before me rather than learning them the hard way, by experience.

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This weekend I learned, again, that how you treat people, and how selfless you are with your life matters. My mom is, without a doubt, the most selfless person I have ever known. She pours herself out for so many people on a daily basis, and she’s been doing that for more than 50 years. To this day she teaches music lessons, tutors students, works with multiple ministries in her church, serves her 13 grandchildren, and much more. I don’t think I can remember a time in my life when she wasn’t serving hundreds of people a week in some way or another. Hundreds.

Now that she is in need they are all showing up. Her hospital room was full this weekend even though it was a busy holiday. People who were out of town are rushing back to see her. People are volunteering to help with this or that. Everywhere you turn you are seeing the seeds that she’s planted reaping a harvest of generosity and service.

I hear of people dying alone. It breaks my heart. Many of them lived selfish lives. They thought only about the present. They lived as if they didn’t need others.

I see people throwing their families, loved ones, and friends away over trivial things. Short term pleasures, minor annoyances, and immediate gratification ruin relationships and reap a harvest of lonliness, regret, and despair.

If I am honest, I’ve been too flippant with relationships here or there. I’ve put my agenda first. I reaffirmed in my mind this weekend that I want to live in such a way that, if the day ever came, my hospital room would be full. People would be bringing meals to my wife and volunteering to handle everything. I want to reap a harvest of love and generosity. I need to be sowing those seeds every day.

Life is precious. Family is everything. You reap what you sow. Learn these lessons well.

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Leave your thoughts in the comment section. Let’s encourage one another in love.

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