Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these. ~Susan B Anthony
I’ve been peeking over my shoulder a bit, pondering milestones – those defining moments that embossed eternity into my heart and set my course more clearly toward true North. If life is a moving picture book, it would seem the pages would flip to images of the celebrations – the weddings and births and baptisms and such. Life has (and continues to be) certainly changed with each. But the pictures on the dog-eared pages look so different than expected. There are no parties or candles or cheers. Instead, those twelve stones are stacked quietly by hands calloused from hard days – days when celebrating didn’t seem an option at all. Perhaps divine markers are more easily set into place in a heart that isn’t expecting them.
It’s been more than four years since the stones were stacked in a most profound way. Those looking in at my life would have pointed to a job layoff as the milestone. After two decades of trappings and titles, the sudden change certainly revealed an identity far too enmeshed in career, and then shifted the earth below me to prepare me for a new identity. And there was a marker on the datebook. But it was something far different – something far more unexpected – that became the true definer and refiner in my life.
As of late, I have been blessed to experience the heart-breaking joy of serving a friend who is dying. It is a most humbling honor. Taking out trash, filling the dishwasher, running the vacuum cleaner – all have a special meaning now. I have a newfound appreciation of Smoothie King and Sonic ice. I understand the scripture “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” in a whole new way. And I think a Coke float may be the most beautiful meal in the world.
I am in awe of people who simply love Jesus. I can do passion, I can do enthusiasm. But simple is tough.
You see, David simply loved Jesus. He didn’t put on any false airs, didn’t attempt to wow others with his religious prowess. He was kind and grace-filled – and dying of pancreatic cancer. I hadn’t known him long. In fact, prior to the fall of 2008, he was more of a business acquaintance. But something happened – some supernatural something that to this day has no explanation greater than “God spoke” – and my husband and I packed our bags and drove 14 hours to Nashville to serve David and his family as his beautiful life quietly faded to silence.
I had tended to family members before – even walked the hard road of cancer’s death sentence with my mom, holding her hand as the sleep took over and her cheeks flushed and the breathing grew more shallow. But it was in the quiet caring for David that my perspective irrevocably changed. It was in the days of washing dishes and drying towels, in the drives to pick up Grape Expectations smoothies or a cupcake from Gigi’s for a wife dealing with the questions and the pain, in the details of a memorial service complete with bottles of Coke and boxes of animal crackers, that I felt the stones stack high. The milestone would read “what counts.”
Tending to others became the the focus over tending to things. Building realities took priority over building resumes. Stooping low rather than climbing ladders became the desire. And diving into the story of someone else’s life without reservation became beautiful.
Caring for a dying friend breathed life into me. God, in His infinite wisdom, knew that I would be most pliable if my hands were too busy to help Him stack the stones, if my heart wasn’t bracing for the work He wanted to do. He knew His story would have more space to be written if I wasn’t trying to grab the pen to help.
I believe God wants to do that in our lives over and over again. He wants to define and refine us in the moments that may be overlooked as milestones. It’s not in the birth of a child but in the changing of the diapers, or not the buying a new home but stumbling upon the person who feels they have no place to call their own that changes us. It’s not in the time but in the tending that He works His wonder. It’s not in the datebook but in the diary where He stacks the stones.
So, would you share? What are the overlooked milestones in your life?