I’ll never forget the morning I got the call.
A shrill ringing flooded my ears, and I peeled my eyes open, squinting at my bedside clock. 5:00 am. I immediately knew who waited on the other end.
I stumbled through the pitch black of my bedroom and plopped onto the floor, leaning against the wall. Then picked up the phone and mumbled, “Hello.”
“Good morning,” came my sister’s soft voice, one that sounds so much like mine, or so we’ve been told. “Today’s the day.”
The grogginess lifted from my body in an instant, and I sat up straight, taking a deep breath to calm my racing heart. I probably should have cried or gotten emotional, but only one thing permeated my thoughts. “When should I be there?”
This response came from months of preparation — two years of knowing my sister needed a heart transplant, then visiting her in the hospital every day for the five weeks before this call, watching her remain tethered to the wall while she waited for a new heart — a healthy heart. We’d prepared as much as one can prepare for such a huge life event.
I woke my husband and told him the plan, then loaded up and drove to the hospital. Since I was the only family close by, I was in charge of packing my sister’s belongings in her hospital room, preparing for her move to the ICU after surgery. With her long stay, she had practically moved in, so I spent the hours before her heart transplant sorting and packing, sorting and packing, stuffing thoughts and emotions away for a later visit.
Other family members started to arrive, having made the three-hour drive from their homes. And still I worked, knowing in the back of my mind that this was a momentous day. A day of celebration. But also the last day I might share with my sister here on earth.
I stayed strong for her 6-year-old daughter, desperate to reassure her and make her smile — making silly faces in the hall while straining my ears to hear the surgeon’s preparatory words to my sister.
The gurney arrived, and I gave hugs and kisses along with everyone else. Still my emotions remained detached throughout the elevator ride and the walk to the operating room entrance. The nurse told us to make our final good-byes, and I joined the chorus of family members who spoke words of love and encouragement.
As I turned to walk toward the waiting room, I heard my sister’s voice. “Where’s Sarah?”
Heart in my throat, I stepped away from the flow of people and returned to her. Grasped her hand. She squeezed it and said with a shaky voice, “See you on the other side.”
I swallowed hard and nodded, knowing no words needed to be said. I knew the double meaning. I walked down the sterile white hallway that seemed to stretch forever, my mind finally wrapping around the reality.
Yes, the Lord was in control. Yes, I believed He’d brought this new heart at the perfect moment for my sister. But He could also choose to take her away, to clutch her to His side in heaven and keep her there.
As the day wore on — hours filled with wondering and pacing and praying — God honed my focus. Just like I wasn’t guaranteed another day with my sister, I also wasn’t guaranteed another day with any of my loved ones. My husband, my children. God could choose to take them to heaven at any time.
This thought never crossed my mind in the day-to-day, in the moments of changing diapers, fixing breakfast, and kissing boo-boos. Yet as I heard each report on my sister’s progress — “heart is in,” “warming her body temperature back up,” “taking longer than expected,” “she’s stable” —- my most important treasures flashed before my eyes.
And the thing is, none of them included my comfortable home or my mode of transportation or my writing accolades. All those worldly measures skittered away, paying homage to my true priorities: my loved ones.
I went to bed that night, more than 20 hours after the phone call that changed the course of my day, still not seeing my sister “on the other side,” still waiting to hear her voice and see proof that her body was accepting its new gift. And my mind traveled through the “gifts” in my own home, thanking God for them and begging Him to never let me forget their worth.
In the days that followed, my sister made a steady recovery, bouncing over the hiccups and setbacks that assaulted her body. And while I faced the deepest exhaustion I’ve ever encountered, I rejoiced in the fact that God gave her more days on earth. In the midst of facing life-and-death matters, the daily worries and struggles of life drifted out of my sphere.
But the truth is, as my sister is thriving and recovering at home now, I’ve found myself returning to a focus on the minuscule problems of everyday life. My son won’t stay in bed when he’s supposed to. My washing machine broke. I just cleaned the bathroom, and there’s a trail of toilet paper on the floor. What do these things amount to? A distraction from my true priorities in life, which ultimately results in an ever-present cloud of worry.
Jesus warned about this misguided focus in the Sermon on the Mount. “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes … Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Luke 12:23,25).
Just like worrying about my sister’s surgery didn’t add extra minutes of time with her, worrying about my messy house or my growing laundry pile doesn’t add extra minutes with my loved ones. In fact, it removes my perspective and joy in moments that I should be savoring.
In the months before my sister’s transplant, I had time to come to grips with her mortality, but the truth is that anyone can be snatched from this earth at any moment, including me. Accidents happen. Illnesses happen. So the question becomes this: Am I pushing aside worry and treasuring each moment as if it were my last, not letting opportunities slip by?
Am I telling my children I love them every day? Am I honoring my husband in a way that pleases God? And regardless of what happens tomorrow, am I prepared to meet them “on the other side,” whether here on earth or in heaven with Jesus?
Because in the end, whenever I face my last days, these are the things that will truly matter.
Welcome to Ungrind!
Do you want to be inspired, motivated, and equipped to live the everyday story of your life well?
If so, you’re in the right place. Whether you need encouragement in your relationships or in your faith, I hope you’ll find the transparent voices of mentors and friends here at Ungrind.
So, grab a cup of coffee and keep reading. We're so glad you're here!
Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
Get Our Free Ebook!
To Those Who Want To Be Truly Happy: Stop Chasing Happiness
Chasing happiness isn't all it's cracked up to be. Here are a few reasons why.
How the Psalms Speak to Our Emotions
The Psalms is a book that's rich with the reality of what life's like in this fallen world. Here are...
3 Ways to Navigate Personality Differences
Sometimes personality differences can wear on us. Here are three ways we can navigate them in a loving manner.
Surprised By ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
If you haven't seen this film, God may speak to your heart through it in ways you weren't expecting.
The Wedding Ring
Are you struggling in your marriage? Here's how a wedding ring helped one wife fight for her marriage.
5 Ways to Live an Out-of-Control Life
Here are 5 ways to let go of control and trust your present and your future to God.
5 Creative Places to Find Prayer Accountability
Do you want to pray more, but are easily distracted? Here are some practical ways to stay focused.
What Women Are Saying
-- Jenny Schroedel, author of Naming the Child: Hope-filled Reflections on Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death
"Real life is not always pleasant. Every marriage experiences disappointments, misunderstandings, sickness and financial crisis. Ashleigh doesn’t camouflage the pain in her own marriage, and offers practical ideas on how to walk through the difficulties and find intimacy on the journey. If you are anything like me, I predict that as you read, you too will find yourself laughing, wiping tears, and saying 'Oh, yes.'"
-- Gary Chapman, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 5 Love Languages
We are a member of the Amazon affiliate program and regularly use affiliate links. If you purchase an item from an Amazon link we provide, we will receive a small referral commission. This doesn’t cost you anything additional. We only share books, music, and products that our writers personally have used and highly recommend.
Faith4 years ago
When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds
Motherhood4 years ago
Surviving a Strong-Willed Child
Faith5 years ago
7 Ways to Create A Family Altar
Friendship6 years ago
Beyond the Registry: The Ultimate Gift Guide for Expectant Parents
Relationships8 months ago
5 Ways to Teach Your Child to Hear God
Marriage6 years ago
4 Reasons I’m Not Facebook Friends With My Husband
Everyday Faith5 years ago
6 Simple Ways to Give Thanks in the Thick of It
Articles6 years ago
10 Ways Life is Like a Box of Chocolates
Articles7 years ago
How to Lift Up the One You Love
Articles6 years ago
Relationships1 year ago
Facing Our Motherhood Fears
Digging Into Scripture5 months ago
How the Psalms Speak to Our Emotions