I grew up in a small town in northwest Louisiana with my parents and my two older brothers. My paternal grandparents and their disabled daughter also lived nearby. Just outside the city limits of the town lived my Aunt Thelma, her sister and my two cousins, John and Cindy. This was pretty much the extent of my close family relationships. I saw a few aunts, uncles and cousins from time to time, but very infrequently. Most of my cousins were several years older than I, so it would have been difficult to develop relationships with them, even had they lived closer.
John and Cindy were also several years older than I, so my childhood memories of them are limited. However, once I reached adulthood, I did form a closer relationship with my cousin Cindy, even though she never lived close to home again. As a nurse in the VA Hospital system, she lived in Texas, Arizona, North Carolina (or was it South Carolina?) and Florida. Our contacts mostly consisted of emails, phone calls and occasional cards sent to one another. She did come back home occasionally, and I even visited her once in Florida. I really can’t tell you how long it has been since I’ve seen her in person. However, I always knew she was there.
Over the years, she and I have both lost loved ones. My grandparents, my disabled aunt and my parents have been gone for many years. Cindy’s mom, her aunt and her brother John are also gone. Nonetheless, she has always been the one who tried to keep the various branches of the family tree connected by sending emails and encouraging everyone to attend family reunions.
Last summer she planned to make a trip back to Louisiana to visit family and friends and attend the annual family reunion. I was also planning to head south so I could spend some time with her. However, after returning from a trip with a friend, she was not feeling well, and decided that she would postpone her trip home until the fall. In July we received the devastating news that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Over the next weeks and months, she kept family and friends posted on her condition via email, because she always said she was too “old school” to text. I placed her name on our church’s prayer list so that our church family could pray for her. I prayed for her. I don’t think a day went by that I didn’t think about her.
By the time we reached November, life had gotten even busier than normal, as it tends to do during the holiday season. I planned to call Cindy on numerous occasions, but something always seemed to get in the way: Christmas shopping, working late, etc. There was always something of importance that seemed to be the priority at that particular moment. There was no change in this pattern as I entered 2016. I wanted to talk to her, but it seemed that there was always something that interrupted my plans. So, instead, I would plan to call her “tomorrow” when–surely!–I would have more time.
On Sunday morning, February 21st, one of my brothers texted me to let me know that Cindy had died that morning. I had run out of “tomorrows.” I never made that call to her and I will regret it for the rest of my life. I can’t undo it and I can’t fix it. God’s Word says that to know to do good and not do it is sin. I sinned against someone that I loved, and I can’t even tell her how very sorry I am.
I’ve done a great deal of soul-searching since that day, and I’ve come to realize now that the cause of my procrastination was two-fold. First, and probably most importantly, I wanted to avoid the reality of her impending death. I could pretend that she would beat the odds and continue to be the same indomitable soul she had always been. After all, there was still plenty of time, right? However, if I had spoken with her toward the end, it would have been impossible for me remain in that state of denial. The reality of her situation would have slapped me in the face. Secondly, I allowed myself to supplant what was truly important with the urgent and pressing details of my day-to-day life. It’s strange how none of those things seem so important right now.
My life was forever altered on February 21st. The Lord has allowed the consequences of procrastination to become painfully clear to me. I–we–have no guarantee of tomorrow. I should do good today. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” (Proverbs 3:27 ESV) Not only should I not withhold good, I shouldn’t even delay it! I need to make that phone call, write that note, deliver that meal, make that apology–whatever it is the Lord has laid on my heart to do–today, because I may not have another opportunity.
It’s so easy to allow less important, yet often urgent, demands in our lives to distract us from doing what is truly important and what has eternal value. Thankfully, my God is gracious and forgiving, despite my failures. Not only am I confident that He forgiven me, I also know that He will use this experience for my good. After all, He is the expert at bringing beauty from ashes. With His help, I will never again experience the regret I currently feel because I so arrogantly presumed I still had “tomorrow.” I will look to Him for help when seemingly urgent day-to-day matters vie for first place with what is truly important in my life. And I will choose to do good today–and not wait for “tomorrow.”
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV)