In an instant, our lives can change on a dime. A horrific car crash, a divorce filing, or a sudden job loss. I usually think of “in an instant” as a bad thing. Like eight years ago today, in an instant, my college friend Leslie, was gone after a brave battle with cancer. She was 32 years old. Even though we hadn’t spoken since graduation, I followed her journey through her blog. Each post brought tears, and sometimes sobs, and prayers for Leslie’s healing and comfort her family.
But in an instant, Leslie’s death changed my entire life. Yes, I have lost friends in the past, but for some reason, her death hit me hard. Like a ton of bricks. Maybe it was because she was my age. We went to same the college. We were both married. Our lives looked similar. Her death came at a time when I was transitioning from being a police officer to starting a career in the corporate world. Months after her death I would become a workaholic, making a lot of money and wondering why the money wasn’t making me happy. I was living the same day, every day. Working long hours both weekdays and weekends. Was this what I was meant to do? To be? To work to make money?
Leslie’s death started me questioning everything in my life. What the heck was I doing? How was I living my days? I started thinking, knowing, that in an instant, it could all end. It could all end and what would I have done?
Years earlier I had created my dream list. Things I wanted to do. People I wanted to meet. Places I wanted to go and things I wanted to learn. It was saved in a file on my desk. I only opened it when I had something to add, rarely, if ever, checking anything off. Leslie’s death challenged me to live my list. To be intentional about each day.
My husband and I had a come to Jesus meeting August 2008. It was a heated discussion in our kitchen, I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember yelling, “what the hell are we doing with our lives?” I wasn’t angry, I was scared. Scared that the day would come and I would have a ton of regrets. The day would come and I wouldn’t be able to do all the things I wanted to do. The things that had been sitting trapped in an excel file on my desk.
Shortly after that discussion, we decided to take our first step to living our lives. We started planning our dream vacation to Hawaii. It had been five years since we’d been on vacation because we were always “too busy.”
The trip was amazing. I learned to surf. We got up at 2:30a.m. to drive up a mountain to see the sunrise above the clouds and then biked 20 miles down. I thought I was going to die, but I did it. I was living! I took my first helicopter ride and I swam with dolphins. Did I mention a dolphin pooped in my hand? But I didn’t care. I…was… LIVING!
Since Leslie’s death, here are some of the cool things I have experience (click here for full list):
- Saw Duke win a NCAA National Championship…LIVE
- Learned to kayak and now do so almost every weekend
- Ran a marathon with my mom
- Planted a garden and learned to make and can my own salsa
- Learned to knit (but I need to finish a scarf)
- Took ice skating lessons
- Swam with sharks
- Sat in the audience at an Oprah Show
- Walked 60 miles in three days, raising funds for cancer
- Took my dad to see Washington D.C. during police week
I think of Leslie almost every day. Every July 26th, her name pops up on my calendar. It’s a day for me to be thankful for her journey changing my life, to remember her family and make sure I’m living the life she can’t.
Friends, right now your life can change in an instant. From here on out you can choose to live a different life. If there is something you are struggling with or going through, don’t let it steal your happiness…your joy. What are your priorities? If you don’t know, sit down and make a list. Do you have a bucket list? If so, are you living it? If not, write out your list and keep adding to it. Then pick one and make a plan to live it!
I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
About the Author:
Stephanie Jones and her husband, Mike, live in Northwest, IN and enjoy lake life and travel. Stephanie is a writer, speaker, life coach, daily giver and soon to be an author of The Giving Challenge: 40 Days to a More Generous Lifer (pre-order now!). She challenges people to be bold in their actions, accomplish and live their big dreams, and bless others daily through giving.
You can contact Stephanie by email at stephanie@GivingGal.com.