Since I was in love, I really didn’t care about the flood.
Dave and I had just start dating, and I was so filled with distraction and excitement that I’d actually worn my big puffy blue slippers out the door as I headed to work the night before.
So when I saw that big ring of water that had invaded my living room, I figured that spending the morning ripping up sopping carpet was the perfect way to deal with my agitated self.
By the time I was done, I was exhausted and drenched in sweat.
I stared at the gray cement floor and wondered how long before the installers would arrive.
What I needed was something to occupy my pacing brain me while I waited.
Fortunately, I’d recently picked up a little book I was eager to get into: Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom (affiliate link).
I settled into the echo of my apartment and spent the next few hours with Mitch and Morrie every Tuesday afternoon.
By the end, a pile of damp tissues had accumulated by my side and the installers had pulled into the driveway.
My apartment was small, so the new carpet was down with all the edges trimmed and tucked in no time.
I was working the night shift as a nurse in a small hospice house at that time in my career, so I stretched out for a nap before heading in later that evening.
Our little hospice house was a unique place—a homey environment where the small staff was family and the patients were welcomed with love and caring into their final home. We all worked as a team to provide the care that the patients and their families needed—including preparing meals and doing the laundry.
I have many wonderful memories of my time there—including a favorite patient named Bill. Of course, I’m changing his name and details for the sake of his privacy.
Bill was in his early 70’s and struggling through the final stages of a cancer that had taken a mighty toll. He could be a bit of a curmudgeon at times—which was a perfect fit for me.
I loved working with these crusty characters. I could always count on a firm handshake and steady gaze, even in the midst of their disease.
Bill and I had formed a special bond, and we were always glad to see each other.
But when I arrived that night, he was particularly down.
A mere shadow of the formerly brawny and confident professional he’d been, he didn’t understand why he was still there.
He didn’t understand what possible purpose could be left for his life when he was stuck in such a state.
It’s a familiar sentiment that I’ve heard frequently from folks at end of life.
“Why doesn’t God just take me?”
“Just look at me! What possible purpose could there be for me to still be here?”
I listened to Bill for a bit, and told him I’d be back after I had the other patients settled in.
When I returned, I told him about the book I’d read in a single sitting that afternoon—including the fact that Morrie was also in his final days, having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
If you’re not familiar with ALS, it’s a particularly brutal disease, and although Morrie’s visits with Mitch were a high point of his week—certainly they took quite a toll.
When I told Bill about Morrie and how much he was able to help Mitch—even and especially in his final days—he was eager to hear more.
“Would you like me to read it to you?” I asked.
He gave me a thin smile. “I’d love that.”
And so, Bill and I sat for the next several hours while the rest of the house slept, spending each Tuesday with Mitch and Morrie, absorbing the wisdom that the teacher was still able to give.
When we finished, the despair that had filled Bill’s face when I first arrived was gone.
Instead, he gazed at me peacefully and murmured, “Thank you,” before drifting off to sleep.
Several days later, Bill wanted to meet Dave.
He made no bones about the fact that he needed to make sure he approved.
When Dave tells the story of their time together, he always starts with a sweaty-palms tone in his voice—especially the part where he says I introduced them and then left (after all, I had other patients to attend to).
He knew how fond Bill was of me, so he was a little intimidated by the thought of this formerly brawny professional potentially determining his romantic fate.
Since Dave wasn’t accustomed to being around people at end of life, the reality of Bill’s fragile state was unexpected. He didn’t look anything like the pictures on his tables or the image he’d formed in his mind.
“What I saw instead,” Dave says, “Was a tender man who just wanted to spend some time together.”
I completed my rounds and got all of the other patients tucked in for the night. When I finally returned, the two of them smiled at me with expressions of gratitude and peace.
They’d talked about guy stuff.
They’d probably mentioned me.
But most importantly, they’d talked about God.
In that short time, they’d formed a bond that could have only resulted from having embraced the unique purposes God had given them as gifts for each other.
A gift that Dave cherishes to this day.
Knowing and embracing our purpose is essential. In fact, studies show that having a sense of purpose is important for both health and longevity.
But the greater question is, how do we figure out what that purpose is?
In his classic book, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? (affiliate link), Pastor Rick Warren starts with a simple line:
It’s not about you. (p.9)
Of course it’s about me, isn’t it?
Warren isn’t inferring that we aren’t important—because we are certainly precious in God’s sight.
Rather, what he’s saying is that “it all starts with God,” and finding his purpose for our lives is what matters most: “If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose” (p.17).
As Warren quotes from Eugene Peterson’s The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language (affiliate link):
For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible,…everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.
Through the many lives I’ve been blessed to accompany into their final moments, I’ve seen clearly that God has a purpose for each of us until we take our last breath.
No matter where you are on your journey, you have a purpose each and every day that you are here.
And if you’d like to find out more about what yours may be, please check out our upcoming course, “Finding Purpose During Seasons of Change.”
In it, we’ll use stories, research and the Bible to examine four seasons of change that Baby Boomers often face, and how we can find God’s purpose for us within them:
- When caregiving is over.
- When a career ends.
- When illness strikes.
- When death is near.
I’m really excited about what we’ll be learning here together, so I hope you’ll join us.
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