Friends, Fireproof Box, and My Final Chapter

This morning, at 4:15am, I felt compelled to send my friend Derek Bell the following message. Today is the day after round 73 of chemotherapy and often it comes with being tired and sometimes an inability to sleep.

So…instead of just lying in bed I grabbed my iPhone and sent Derek the following.

I love you, Derek Bell, and I’m thankful Bob Buford encouraged us to meet for lunch almost a decade ago. I am a better person for having known you these years.

Candidly, I believe we’re just getting started with our friendship and our kingdom collaboration, as I’ve never been more hopeful, joy filled, and certain of my mission and you are a large part of that. I see you in my life to the end of My Final Chapter and I believe we need to discuss your role in that as it would be cruel of me to expect Tracey Caperton Murtha and Jackson to have to plan what could be a large memorial service with friends from near and far.

I believe it would be prudent for you and me to think through every detail surrounding my departure and this party and we should share this with the board (Leading with a Limp), securing their buy in and participation.

Initially the details that come to mind for me are:

– The location for the Memorial Service secured
– The band, Tim Akers & the Smoking Section, secured
– The speakers secured (Todd Wagner, Darren Tyler, Zac Murtha, & Jossy Chacko)
– Compensation for you, and the entire extravaganza, should be addressed
– The mission and purpose of said extravaganza should be established
– Etc.

All Tracey and Jackson should have to do, when the time comes, is open our fireproof box, which has yet to be purchased, and grab the folders containing my estate information. From Life Insurance, to will, to what to do with my stuff, and finally a card which reads, “For my cremation, my memorial service, and any final arrangements…call Derek Bell.”

If we have planned well then you will send one email that will trigger the engagement of all who have agreed to participate.

If we’re successful in retrieving email addresses and if I’m effective in encouraging, challenging, and loving my friends well, both those I’ve known for 50 years, those I’ve never laid eyes on, and the nurse we happen to meet in hospice, our next party should dwarf Tracey and my shared 50th birthday.

Please know I do not believe, in any way, this is about me. No. This is about me being intentional about loving, encouraging, and challenging those in attendance to live simply, to slow down, and say yes to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, ultimately choosing to say yes to Jesus, and participating in his larger story…the adventure of a lifetime.

There will be people there who are peers in our faith and those who don’t know Jesus, yet. So…I want every single person there to be confronted with the life giving truth found in the gospel and the joy that can only be found in living in reckless abandon to the will of God himself.

It’s my hope and prayer the yet to be purchased fire proof box will not have to be opened anytime soon, but it wouldn’t be prudent for us to not have a plan in place, just in case.

Again, I feel fine, but a part of my finishing well includes the details mentioned in this message and some we’ve not even considered.

As I said at the beginning of this marathon email. I love you and I’m thankful for our partnership / friendship in the gospel.

Are you in? What will it cost me? 😉

Sincerely yours,

Greg

This morning Tracey woke me at 9:30am and asked if I knew anything about the SenturySafe Fireproof box sitting on our front porch? First I thought, that Jeff Bezos and Amazon are amazing. I purchased nothing, but they knew what I needed and presto…it had already been delivered!

But the truth is, it was approximately 5 hours after sending this email and Derek had already gotten up and run by Home Depot and purchased the fireproof box for my family and me.

That is exactly what a friend who is interested in assisting you in finishing well does, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Will you join my family and me at my Memorial Service? It will be an absolute blast, I promise.

Happy Easter! He is risen…he is risen ended.

Your friend,

Greg

What Would Have Been.

If life had gone as planned…

  • I would be 51 years old and, deep inside, I would be living a timid and somewhat fearful life.
  • I would have been gainfully employed and focusing most of my time and energy on exceeding next quarters earnings.
  • I would be attempting to follow Jesus using my plan in my way.
  • I would have been working as hard as I could to gain God’s approval, your approval, and the approval of others while being overcome with fear knowing I would never measure up.

The fact is…I would have never understood the joy (the life) found in following Jesus with reckless abandon. I would have never experienced the joy of sensing the promptings of the Holy Spirit and acting in obedience to what He asks me to do.

In God’s grace, He allowed me to get sick so I would slow down and abandon my personal plans thus moving out of the way and learning to love and trust Him by just being. Frankly, I would rather enjoy life this way, the way God intended, if only for a few years than exist for 50+ more years wrapped up in my own small timid plans and the insecurities present in that lifestyle.

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”
-Sheldon Vanauken

It is my fear, outside of illness, I would have forever been that somber, self-righteous, smug, narrow minded Christian. The one who judges instead of loving others and again…the one who missed the joys found in following Jesus, and His teachings, in the manner in which He intended.

Amen.

“The Diagnosis” and “The Final Chapter?”

“The Diagnosis” and “The Final Chapter?”

Yesterday, a friend asked, How’s the book coming along? candidly, I believe it is coming along just fine. For me, it was an interesting transition from, when inspired, writing a 200 – 800 word blog post to writing 2,500 words for a chapter about a specific topic and, while it is certainly not easy, I am getting a better understanding of how writing this way best works for me.

It is such a blessing to be working with an incredibly talented author and editor, Ivey Harrington Beckman, who collaborates with me, encourages me and pushes me for more. To be able to essentially throw up on a word document and send those thoughts her way only to have them returned polished, edited and with structure is amazing.

Often I will read Ivey’s edited version of my thoughts with tears streaming down my face because I have lived the experiences, I have met the people mentioned and I personally know how what I am reading feels. The fact is, however, when it is all said and done…if the only person who ever reads my book is my son Jackson then this exercise will have been worth the effort and for that I am thankful.

Currently we are working on “The Diagnosis” and “The Final Chapter.” There are still several chapters to write, but Ivey has encouraged me to draft my thoughts on these two topics. She asked, if you only had 20 minutes remaining what would you want to share with a friend?

Since my diagnosis, 5 years ago, I have seen numerous friends move to the front of the line. These are friends who were wrestling with cancer and others, outside of this echo system, who death visited their homes unexpectedly.

There have been auto accidents, aneurisms and unexpected heart attacks and as I ponder this I realize the diagnosis was a gift. Those of us who have been given this gift know, we are not going to be here forever. We’ve grown to understand – yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is not promised so truly all we really have is today. So, if this is true, why invest even a minute in things that don’t matter?

For me today holds round 67 of chemotherapy and I am excited to see my friends at Vanderbilt who draw my blood for labs, the doctors in the hallway and my fellow patients. There is certain to be a few people I will be able to encourage along the way and I am excited to discover who they are.

None of us know the hour when we will have the privilege of standing before Jesus. None of us know when we will take our last breath so allow me to encourage you to make the most of what you have been given, today, and live it to the fullest.

That’s exactly what I intend to do. Will you join me?

Amen.

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:34

 

God does not make mistakes and He is not asleep at the wheel.

God does not make mistakes and He is not asleep at the wheel.

Today, I sit in our family room with aches and pains from the infection we are treating. Thursday will be round 66 of chemotherapy and already I don’t feel well.

Friends are prepping and planning for the new year. They are setting goals, dreaming dreams, envisioning successes, etc. and frankly, I feel as though I am missing out. To some extent I feel I am on the outside looking in.

Yet, when I consider certain people, heroes of mine if you will, I realize they too struggle/struggled with loss and ailments of various kinds, yet they press/pressed on. They did not let their losses or ailments define them. No, they strive/strove in the midst of the loss and suffering and are/were used in amazing ways.

Who are these people you may be wondering?

Joni Eareckson Tada

Paralyzed from a diving accident. Cancer survivor. Confined to a wheelchair for 50 years. She is an author, painter, radio host, etc. Joni understands suffering and God continues to use her in the disability community and beyond.

Bob Buford

Lost only child, Ross, when Ross was 24 in an accidental drowning. For years, Linda and Bob have suffered this loss daily yet they have led the way as philanthropists investing in kingdom initiatives and activities that are changing the world.

Martha Croy

Martha was my friend, from my late teens / early 20s, who had ALS. Martha slowly atrophied, due to this terrible disease, yet she continued to write letters to the editor using a keyboard and her one functioning finger. Every time I visited her, in the nursing home, her room was full of people because she could bring others comfort and joy with all she had remaining…a simple smile.

“The shortest distance between two hearts is always the way of brokenness.”

Ann Voskamp

To some extent these ailments, these issues are gifts. If we are willing to live in a vulnerable manner sharing our struggles with one another, then it will provide the opportunity to take the suffering and brokenness and allow it to accomplish what God intended. Personal connection and encouragement to others.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5

Did the Apostle Paul actually mean to thank God in ALL circumstances? Really?

So, I am to thank God when I am hurting from the infection? Yes.

How about when I am lamenting I have another round of chemo to endure? Yes.

Even when I have diarrhea? Yep, even then.

The Apostle Paul offered no qualifiers in these verses. Why, I wonder?

See…I am learning there is more to life than health, wealth and prosperity. Real life is found in real stuff not just on the mountaintops. Friendships are forged deeply during hard times and families are drawn together during times of struggle and ultimately we are drawn to God when we have need.

God does not make mistakes and He is not asleep at the wheel. He knows our greatest joy will come when we are connected to him and others and this is more likely to occur when we are suffering.

So…yes…this is a gift and probably the reason we should give thanks in all circumstances.

Amen.

This world is not our home.

This world is not our home.

Interesting how, when you receive a diagnosis…a death sentence, initially you don’t think about how you are going to live. Instead, you ponder how you are going to die. At first death feels imminent and receiving the diagnosis feels like a curse.

For me the diagnosis came with introspection. It came with tears. It came with an understanding of the fact that this world is not my home and that none of us get out of here alive. A few years ago my friend Bob Muzikoswki said, “The sooner we realize this is Hotel Earth the better off we will all be. This world is not our home.”

After receiving the diagnosis, you become the one whose number has been called, but with cancer, or even heart issues, it takes a while to die. It doesn’t happen immediately, or at least it hasn’t for me.

A few years ago, at a friend’s funeral, it dawned on me what a gift it was for me to have received a diagnosis. My friend had died of an aneurism and it was completely unexpected. See…none of us get out of here alive and I know I am sick and as a result I have been able to adjust the way I am living.

As a result of knowing I have been able to adjust the amount of time I work. I have been able to adjust where I invest my most valuable asset – my time. I have been able to plan my own memorial service (Party) and invest in things that really matter.

Knowing has been a gift not a curse.

Today a fraternity brother of mine was buried. My brother Zac shared, this morning, his father in law died last night and an old cheerleader friend of mine posted on Facebook a fraternity brother of his had passed away sometime today.

Friends…we are not leaving this planet alive.

When I was diagnosed I was 46 years old, I was in the best shape of my adult life and at the tail end of an 11 mile run I realized there was a problem. If I had not received the diagnosis my life would have remained the same and I would have been investing a lot of my time in things that don’t really matter.

My diagnosis and my struggles have been a gift. Personally, I am not certain it is possible to warn people, who haven’t received the negative report, of what is really important. Until it is you receiving the life altering news it just doesn’t seem to have the same impact.

Are you focusing on things that matter? Is there anything you need to say or is there anything you would regret if your life was cut short tonight?

Allow me to encourage you to address these issues. Allow me to encourage you to make things right and focus on things that matter.

The fact is…this world is not our home and none of us will get out of here alive. Our only hope is in the sacrificial life and love of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He came so that we may have life and have it in abundance.

Allow me to encourage you to embrace this truth and allow it to impact the way you are living your one and only life. Ultimately, it will make all of the difference.

Amen.