When Life Priorities Suddenly Change

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What do you like to do in life?

I know that’s an odd question, but think about it.  What do you enjoy to do?  When you think about your perfect day, what does it entail?

(Seriously…take a second.  Think about it.  I’ll wait.)

We all have areas where we like to place our focus.  Maybe you’re an avid golfer.  Maybe you’re crazy about college basketball and March Madness (just call me a Cameron Crazie).  Maybe you read a new book every couple of days.  Maybe you work a lot.

I used to fall into that last category.  Though I’m not necessarily proud to admit it, at one point in life I was a workaholic.  If I wasn’t working long hours at the bank (which at times had gone till about 2AM…so much for banker’s hours), then I was dreaming up a new project to do at home.  I was really bad at saying no, and I mean really bad.  If anyone needed a volunteer, I was there to do it.  Naturally, that led to me getting asked a lot more, which led to me committing to more and more.  I put everything I had into everything I did.  I wouldn’t accept a job done halfway.  I enjoyed manual labor if it was necessary.  Some people live by the motto Work Smarter, Not Harder.  I lived by the motto Work Smarter and Harder.

Have you ever had a moment in life, though, that sort of stopped you in your tracks?  When all this stuff that you thought was so important suddenly falls to the wayside.  I had one of those a few years ago.

For about three years now, I have had a really strange type of headache.  At first, I had no idea what it was.  I knew it wasn’t a sinus headache.  I thought it might have been a migraine because it was intense pain in my head.  However, when I started researching the symptoms of a migraine, none of mine matched.  I couldn’t figure it out.  It almost felt like someone was stabbing me in the head with a screwdriver.  I know that sounds kind of graphic, but that’s what it really felt like.  The pain was always localized to a single spot on my head, but the location would change from headache to headache.  They would last anywhere from 3-10 seconds, then they were gone with no lingering effects, just like it had never happened.  Most of the time I could just grit my teeth and go on with life, and no one around me would know I was having them.  Then came that one Sunday afternoon.  You know when you go to the hospital and they ask you what your pain level is from 1 to 10?  For the first time in my life, I think I felt a 10.  It was the kind of pain that would put you on your knees.  While I was driving my wife and kids home from worship services that Sunday afternoon, I had one so intense that I ran off the road and almost wrecked.  We dropped the kids at my parents’ house, and we headed straight to a walk-in clinic.  I’m not one to go to the doctor often, but I agreed instantly.  That one scared me.

After a full day of sitting in waiting rooms, having x-rays, talking to doctors, and having about a dozen more of those headaches, I was scheduled for an appointment with a neurologist.  A couple days later, I was sitting in the neurologist’s office with my wife talking to him about the headaches, how often they happened, and what they felt like.  Remember when I said it felt like someone with stabbing me in the head with a screwdriver?  Well, I should have used an ice pick for the analogy because that’s actually what they are called: ice pick headaches.  OK, so that’s not the medical term for it, but the neurologist called them that, and he said it’s because it feels like someone is stabbing you in the head with an ice pick.

We started talking about whether or not it was worth taking a daily medicine to prevent them and what to do when they happened.  Then he told me he wanted to do an MRI of my head.  He said there was no known medical reason for why the headaches happen, but he wanted to do a scan just to make sure there wasn’t some kind of tumor.  He assured us that he was 99.99% sure there was no tumor, but he wanted to leave no stone unturned.  A couple days later, I was laying about waist-deep in an MRI machine with my head clamped inside a brace.  After about 30 minutes of really loud sounds and lying perfectly still, I changed clothes and went back to work.

Fast forward three weeks.  We hadn’t heard back from the doctor yet, and I was getting a little anxious.  I know he was certain there was no tumor, but I still wanted to know the results for sure.

Then the phone call came.

I was sitting in my office at work that afternoon.  My cell phone rang, and I recognized it as the doctor’s number.  When I answered, I spoke for just a few seconds with a nurse.  I didn’t expect it to be a long conversation.  I mean, it doesn’t take long for someone to say, “Everything looks fine.  Have a good day.”

But that’s not what she said.

In a very nonchalant way, she said, “We got your MRI results back.  We found a mass.”

I don’t remember a lot about the conversation after that.  When I got off the phone, I closed and locked my office door, I shut the blinds to my office window, and I just sat there and cried.  My mind started racing a million different directions.  What if it’s cancer?  I’m too young to die.  What about my wife and kids?  What will happen to them?  Do I have enough life insurance?  I’m going to have to have brain surgery.  How do you tell someone something like that in a monotone voice?  Does the nurse not even care?  What do I tell my boss?  Will they let me take that much time off work?  What do I say when I get home?  Do I call my wife and tell her over the phone, or do I wait and tell her in person?

In a split second, my life changed.  Everything that I thought was so important didn’t matter anymore.

That was a scary time.  I’m happy to say that after a few weeks of additional scans, and now a couple years of monitoring, the mass was not cancer.  In fact, it wasn’t exactly a mass.  It is a fluid-filled cyst that the doctor said has probably been there my entire life, but it had never been found since I had never had my head scanned.  And ironically enough, it has nothing to do with the headaches.

But my perspective on life changed that day.  In that couple of weeks when it was all still an unknown, I thought about nothing but my family and my faith.  My job is still important to me, but for a different reason.  I’m still going to work as hard as I can at it, but not because I want to climb the ladder.  It’s because I want to provide for my family (I Timothy 5:8) and be a good steward of the talents that God has blessed me with, just as if I am working for Him (Colossians 3:23-24).  I hug my kids tighter.  Instead of spending time working late, I spend more time camping and reading books to my kids.  I spend more time in God’s word.

Have you had a moment in life that suddenly threw your life’s priorities into question?  Maybe you’ve faced a similar medical scare (or possibly the real thing).  Maybe you’ve seen a family member or friend go through something traumatic.  Maybe it all changed when you looked into the eyes of your child for the first time, or maybe for the last time.

If you’re a Christian, then you’ve had one of those moments, or at least you should have.  It was the moment when you came up from the waters of baptism.  At that moment, you ceased to be yourself, and you became someone new (Ephesians 4:17-24).  Your life now has a vertical focus rather than a horizontal focus.  Your priorities are now set by the One that loved you enough to die for you.  Or at least they should be (Colossians 3:2-10).

Where do your priorities lie?  What would it take to make them change?