I was driving home when I saw it: Flashing lights from an accident, then a moped flat on the ground in the middle of the street. The EMT’s and policemen were waiting on something—staring at the traffic. Then I saw it. A white sheet in the middle of the road, covering something.
There’s only one thing a white sheet covers.
I drove by slowly, hoping the man was okay, but I know by the look of the white sheet that he is not okay. The EMT’s look everywhere but the white sheet and I know the news before the local TV station does.
A man’s life ended today. Somebody’s son or brother or husband. It was just another Monday for him. One minute riding along, the next moment a car pulls out, a driver who never saw him coming.
One minute he is listening to the wind in his ears. The next minute the wind, and everything else, is gone.
“Dead upon impact,” the news reports.
Somebody in his family will get the worst phone call of their life. A mother, a wife, a sister.
How quickly our lives can change. How ordinary a Monday can seem, and then something shifts, and everything shatters.
It was just another Monday—a day of long to-do lists and a thousand things clamoring for my attention, until I saw the white sheet and I knew someone’s story had ended.
I swallow down the grief of the moment. Life is short—we all know that—but we forget, and live like we have forever. We place importance on work and to-do lists, when what really matters is what we believe and how we live it out and who we live it with.
Every accident, tragedy, or crisis forces me to ask the hard question: How do I want to live my life?
Am I living intentionally or am I just keeping my head above water?
Is this what really matters in life?
Our minute-by-minute choices make up our days, and in the end, are the ones that define our lives.
Paying my bills and weeding my flower beds are things that must get done, so I show up and do the work. But sitting with a chemo patient and spending time with a hurting friend matter more than whether the garden gets done or the house gets cleaned. At some point I have to make a decision about how I’m going live my life.
What matters for the long haul? What makes the bigger impact?
Sometimes I am so focused on today’s schedule that I forget the bigger picture. I am called to live a different story, because I follow the One who lived the Greatest Story. Like Francis Chan asks in his book Crazy Love,
How does my life look different because I am a Christian?”
I wear a band that tracks my steps and records my sleep. This band shows the days when I’ve been on my feet moving and days when I’ve sat behind my computer. It rewards me with encouraging messages on the active days and gently chides me to do better when I’ve had too many slow days. For me, it’s a good way of seeing my activity level and responding with better choices.
Like my fitness band, I wish I could track life decisions the same way, with a band that rewards me when I’ve made choices that have lasting impact versus choices that waste my life. I’d like to know when I’ve spent the day doing things that don’t really matter or when I’ve done something that has eternal value.
I’d like this band to tell me, “You are writing a good story with your life,” and one that also says, “You are missing great opportunities because you are not focusing on the big picture.”
Life would be so much easier if I had something measuring the small day-to-day actions. Because ultimately, these small choices make up the bigger picture and the impact we make while we’re here.
As Annie Dillard says,
How we spend our days, is how we spend our lives.”
So I’m learning to say no more often and weighing my yes more carefully. I’ve made some tough decisions recently, saying no to many good opportunities, so that I can say yes to great things—like relationships and work that matters and time with family.
What I say yes and no to determines whether I write a good story with my life.
Although I don’t have a band that monitors life decisions, there are moments in life that teach me how to live a better story.
Seeing an accident reminds me of this. So does going to church, reading the Bible, and being with a community of people who strive to live a better story with their lives.
Without these experiences, we may waste a whole life paying the bills, making more money, and watching another insignificant movie.
When I get these reminders to live a better story, it is like a signpost pointing the way.
It whispers for me to take a different road, one where grace and love always win out over tasks and to-do lists. It reminds me that small things matter and today is not just another day.
It forces me to live out the question: How do I want to spend my time so that I don’t waste this one, precious life?
As I head out the door for another errand, I see it differently: His mercies new every day. Another breath filling my lungs. All this extravagant grace poured out for me.