How much time do you have left on the clock?

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“So, what did you learn?”

The Lunar New Year was celebrated recently; among many Asian cultures, that’s a holiday of epic proportions. For our friends in China, last year was the Year of the Tiger; they’ve denoted 2023 as the Year of the Rabbit. For me, 2022 was the Year of Leukemia. What was last year, for you?

Last week, I described my 2022 as an unexpected Sabbatical, scheduled by God – for me – with no permission (on my part) or warning (on His part). All of the medical stuff was peripheral; at the core of the experience was an opportunity for me to learn things that cannot be grasped apart from great uncertainty and personal challenge. God held a 12-month workshop; He invited Cheri and me to attend.

What enlightenment did I receive during a very dark period of life-or-death uncertainty?  My daily blood draws and subsequent lab results informed my doctors – daily – and that knowledge defined their continuing care plan. The macro-issues – the ones with eternal gravitas that are sourced in the Almighty – weren’t showing up on the daily status report in my patient file. It took some time to deduce the divine discoveries that were underway.

Here’s Lesson #1 from the Year of Leukemia: keep your eye on the Game Clock. Moses lived for 120 years; he led Israel for the last 40. During that time, he wrote: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due. Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:10-12).

I’ve been quoting those verses for decades, but they grew from 12-point type to 24-point type in the last 12 months. Teach us to number our days…

My experience (my story) and my observations (what I’ve sensed in friends like you) is pretty generic: we look back on our same-gender parent and assume that we’ll live up to or beyond their lifespan (unless they exited through unnatural or accidental means). My dad died at 90, and for the years I knew him, he was never healthy. I was a 45-year runner; always loaded-up with vitamins and supplements; personal disciplines that should have positioned me to outlive my father. With decades of time left on the clock, there was little urgency boiling in my brain.

Just last January, my lifetime Game Clock was reset. Based on national statistics, my Acute Myeloid Leukemia put me in a group whose five-year survival rate was just 29%. The next biopsies exposed my gene mutation that reduced that to a 10% chance of surviving for one year post-chemo. Responding to prayer, the gene mutation self-resolved; I returned to the 29% cohort. My horizon of life expectancy had tightened-up dramatically: no longer two decades; perhaps just five years.

One of the first steps in strategic planning is to determine the planning horizon within which the plan will define activities, in hopes of achieving the pre-determined outcomes. While locked-in at the City of Hope, the likelihood that my remaining years were likely lessened. Whatever I planned to pursue and accomplish in the balance of the years between here and Heaven was now moved to the front of the priority list.

I’ve carried a number of things into ’23 that I didn’t have a year ago. The ten tattoos that were used to focus my targeted radiation treatments; the scar from the PICC line that was in my arm for nearly four months; relationships with cancer/leukemia specialists that will continue are all reminders of my sabbatical. And: my growing sense of urgency: whatever I deem to be important to pursue and complete before I die cannot wait until a more convenient time. It’s now… or, possibly never.

More to come; my learnings from leukemia have a couple more installments…

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7 thoughts on “How much time do you have left on the clock?”

  1. Thanks pressing hard on the topic of our days being numbered. I want to wake up every morning with that mentality.

  2. Excellent reflection Bob! Your insights, always inspired by God, are truly a blessing to me and so many! Love you Buddy!

  3. Gretchen Horton

    I have been following your progress over the past year via Tom and Diane Ferruzzo – related through marriage – great friends and folks!

    I like your naming the year – “Leukemia.” I’m calling mine “Heart Attack”. The big difference between us is that I am 90 – living on borrowed time as per Psalm 90. But you are helping me to understand that I am still here, and well, because the Lord has more for me to do and to learn – like patience with age’s inconvenience disabilities, and loss of control over some aspects of life, and then to wait on the Lord in faith and good humor
    Praying for you.

  4. Bob, as I pass 65 and am still working, I think about the things you so eloquently share, but I keep insisting in my mind I have a different time horizon. And if if I do, my Kingdom priorities still need to be attended to. If I do not, I would have regrets. Either way, I need to have the sense of urgency you taught us to have in our TMP Program.

    I love you Bob for your inspiration and dedication and what you have taught me. Thanks for continuing to share your wisdom and for being vulnerable and transparent. I continue to learn from you and will carry your teachings until I am gone.

    Love and admiration and gratitude.

  5. Paul Hornibrook

    I remember your commentary on the river rapids of life. How some of us would be in category 1 rapids (easy and smooth sailing) and your leukemia journey in category 5 rapids (you don’t really survive this level) and how God is with us at every level, with purpose. Today, another testimony of “with God nothing is impossible” Mark 10:27. We will never know with certainty the hours we have on life’s clock, but your example to us Bob shows us, with certainty, how to live our days and learn to handle what God wants to teach us.

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