I turned 37 today. I’m not one for looking too far back. Nor am I one to look too far forward. But in looking around, I can say that I am a bit taken aback both by where I’ve been and where, it seems I’m headed.
Two weeks before my 36th birthday I visited my doctor for my annual physical. I expected routine blood work to show that my cholesterol and triglyceride levels were still high. Otherwise, I didn’t think too much for the visit. Everything felt about as it should for my mid-thirties.
My doctor is pretty honest with me, which is nice. She’s a mix between a medical professional and a mother. I’ve never felt rushed out of an appointment. She is always thorough in reviewing my past health concerns and updating her records with my present reports. If she is unsure of something, she takes the time on the spot to look through medical books and online resources to pinpoint evidence to confirm her suspicions. Her advise and warnings usually come with both a smile and a firmness that you can’t help but accept as genuine.
Abnormalities and Anxieties
So when my doctor told me that she was concerned with the results this time, I became immediately anxious. We knew I had a hard time setting aside sweets and the occasional fast food meal. There should be no surprises about my cholesterol and triglycerides. I would work them down eventually.
“You mean my cholesterol levels are still high,” I asked rather nervously.
“No,” she responded still flipping through papers on her clipboard. “Your liver enzymes are worrying me now.”
My heart stopped a moment. I fumbled to ask for clarification in what that meant. True to her professionalism, it meant only that she could not diagnose an issue until she knew more. We talked about changes in lifestyle that might agitate my liver. I told her about how Lindsay and I were raising 6 boys in foster care and my diet and exercise habits were lacking. But I had not consumed an alcoholic drink in nearly a year. I always thought that liver issues were the result of years of drugs and alcohol abuse. Surely the results were wrong.
My doctor looked at my tattooed arms and legs and asked if I knew the condition of the tattoo machines used. Always clean, I told her. My friend had done all the work. There was no chance I had picked up Hepatitis from tattoos.
Ultimately my doctor ordered more blood work to test for a spectrum of blood-born diseases and other indicators of what might have created such abnormal results. She also ordered an ultrasound. Both, she told me, were to be completed immediately. She wanted to know more.
I just wanted to travel back in time.
The Weight of Uncertainty
I scheduled all follow-up tests on the drive home. They could all be done the next day and the results could be submitted to my doctor the week of my birthday. I imagined the news would either be some of the best or worst news one could receive for their birthday.
Then I waited.
And I spent too much time on WebMD.
Then I tried to harness my anxiety, unsuccessfully.
I read my Bible and prayed more than I usually would.
And in those next few days I grew closer to my wife than I thought possible.
I didn’t know much about livers – except that, aside from brain and heart, they are just about the most vital organ in the body. They perform so many necessary functions that an agitated liver can mean a variety of things. An agitated liver can also lead to many more complications than, say, an appendix or tonsil.
You can’t live without a liver. But you can live with a transplanted liver. Lindsay’s brother-in-law had recently received one after years of waiting. His life had become a nightmare in the waiting, both for him and for those who loved him. I tried not to imagine myself in his shoes. But the weight of uncertainty crushed my spirits and I found myself dwelling on a variety of situations that I hoped were “worst case scenarios.”
There was no chance the blood work was wrong. My doctor assured me of that. But beyond the waiting was only uncertainty. It was hard to find peace in this time.
Life After Chris
At one point Lindsay approached me as I laid in bed and, with tears in her eyes, she asked me what she’d do without me. We had no children of our own and didn’t imagine we would. I had life insurance and our families and friends would, of course, absorb her into their lives. But we had lived a fairytale sort of life together since the moment we first met in Cuba 4 years earlier.
Her question broke me. I had never thought of “life after Chris.” When you marry, you see a life together that stretches beyond death. You see years upon years of adventure and memory. You see past tough times and losses. Maybe you see children and grandchildren. You see a house that becomes a homestead. If you dare look close enough, you might see “that day.” But those brave enough to imagine it see you both holding hands and leaving life together.
You never imagine that you go first and leave your best friend behind.
The Story of Us
In the breaking, however, came a new peace. I found that as I held my wife to my chest I was able to hover over memories of our past and view my present situation in new light. Whatever the news, we’d figure it out. We would absorb it into our story, the story of us, and life would go on. I didn’t imagine death, though I was aware of it. I set aside any thought of the medical pathways we might have to walk if the results were as bad as I had feared.
And then, in that moment, we made a huge decision.
“Let’s go,” I said to Lindsay. “Let’s get on the road and see where it takes us.”
Although we were in the middle of raising a half dozen foster kids, we knew that was not the entirety of our story. We loved each boy but knew that someday we would say goodbye to them. Some day we would be called apart from them, or they from us. It was so clear in that moment that it was time to share with the world the story of us.
The Myth of Time and Travel
The myth of time and travel is that there will always be enough of the one to do the other. As humans we have a tendency to be lulled away from the pressing reality of time. We have a tendency to say “tomorrow, tomorrow” when it comes to doing things we’ve said we have wanted to do. Then tomorrow comes and we’re too busy worrying our way through the day to step out after a dream.
Lindsay and I have spent the last six months pursuing our dream of traveling from Florida to Alaska and from Alaska to Argentina. Hardly anything has gone as planned. In fact, we are currently in a momentary pause as we train for the next leg of our journey.
But we decided in that moment of uncertainty that we would take control of the things in life that we could. We had been planning for almost a year and a half for the trip that we would take “one day.” Until then we were not certain when we would go. Like other dreams, we put it off thinking that there would always be more time. We decided in that moment to go. Aside from our decision to commit ourselves in marriage to each other, this is the single greatest decision either of us have made in our lives.
Since we’ve been on the road we have met so many people who have told us that they wished they had started traveling sooner. The wisdom of the road is profound.
“There’s always time to work,” fellow travelers would tell us. “And you’ll never have enough anyway.”
With unanimous profession, all friends we have made on the road have told us that they wish they had started traveling sooner.
Dispelling the Myth
The thing is, once you start to pursue a dream, time passes faster than you ever imagined. You look back on all the days you wished away in waiting for the five-o-clock work whistle. Suddenly all of the days you squandered on sleeping in, or in pursuing reckless activities, become haunting.
The myth about time and travel is that if you wait long enough then you will be able to travel as much as you want. The truth is, you only live once.
You Only Live Once
We recently returned to Florida to surprise our family and friends. And while these surprises were successful, we also returned to learn that six different friends of our family were in varying stages of severe illness. One had recently passed away. Another was recently diagnosed. The others were, for the most part, waiting for their bodies to fail them.
The most supreme reality in life is that you only live once. I do not subscribe to the hedonistic “YOLO” philosophy that passed through our culture like other fads. There is a balance between rational decisions and the pursuit of one’s dreams. And I don’t subscribe to notion of racking up debt thinking that you’ll die before you pay off the credit cards. Nor do I think it wise to commit some foolish act in the spirit of never having the chance to do it again.
But I do believe that once you wrap your head around the finite possibilities of your life, you must immediately start to live. Because you only live once.
You must decide what it is that is most important in your life and you must pursue that with every bit of strength you have. It may be to travel the world, or to start a family. It might be to write a novel or start a company.
Whatever it is, it cannot wait until you have time. It has to come first. It has to become your priority – an obsession.
Pursuing the Abundant Life
As I meet with family and friends that we have not seen since we left on our journey I find their reactions are, for the most part, the way I hoped that they would be when I left. Most of them question the amount of time we are back in Florida and want to know when and where we are off to next. They admire, for the most part, the life that we have chosen. In time, even those who thought we were just on an extended vacation began to see the journey that is our life.
We have chosen to pursue our dream of traveling full-time, despite the mounting challenges we face, because we believe in that singular moment of uncertainty we captured a vision of life as it should be for us. There are many reasons why we should settle down in one place and live a stationary life. But there is only one reason we should put everything we have into the road.
This is the life we know we are called to lead. While I no longer look too far in the past, and have learned to not strain to see too far into the future, we have profound appreciation for the present. The road has taught me what I hoped it would – there is greater purpose for my life than even I imagined. Though we have led humble lives of service, in teaching and parenting and volunteering, there is something more beyond the next turn. We are in pursuit of the Abundant Life, one day at a time. I am grateful, on this day, to add one more year to a life that is truly just begun.
** NOTE: After further testing the diagnosis was “Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.” It’s causes are not well known and it’s longterm effects are uncertain. But keeping with healthy diet/exercise should keep the disease at bay.