Over a year and a half ago now, we lost a wonderful man. He was a deacon at our church, a playful, yet wise soul, and he happened to be the husband of the pastor I work with at church. A month or so after he died the family sent out thank you notes with his photo and the caption read, “Just another day in paradise.”
That phrase was Pete’s response more often than not to the casual question, “how are you doing today?” It was maybe 20% conceit and 80% truth–you see, Pete was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. He’d needed to ride in a wheelchair, and he had lots of body parts that didn’t work the way they once did after many years of living with the disease.
But if you got Pete talking on the subject of “paradise,” he’d almost always follow that up with something about his life being “an embarrassment of riches,” and that was something I know he meant with his whole heart. Even from his vantage point in his wheelchair, his body failing, Pete could see that what was important, even lavish was his own very life and the people in it, and they made that life worth living every single day.
Around the time our daughter Lucia was diagnosed with a terminal, genetic, progressive disease of the brain, my husband heard a radio broadcast about other kids with a similar rare disease, to which parents mentioned two lifestyle options–you can either fight like hell seeking a cure, they encouraged, or you can sit in a corner and mourn this terrible disease.
But if you’re any reader of this blog, you know that my husband and I have tried to make way for at least a third option, one that kind of reminds me of how Pete lived his life. Because, although to some extent everyday is a struggle with and for our daughter Lucia, everyday it also somehow just as it should be. Pete’s perspective on an “embarrassment of riches” truly resonates now that we’ve had four years with a daughter we were never guaranteed. And that perspective, on the days where she’s struggling to keep any food down or inexplicably crying in pain, makes all the difference.
I guess the lifestyle philosophy I’ve learned from Pete, my life, my daughter and others around me goes something like this–you either wake up convinced that the world is not as it should be, or you trust that there’s some wisdom, some perspective, some peace to be found in acceptance of this precious life you’ve been given, and you go about living it not with resignation, but with gratitude. And gratitude, somehow, makes everything whole.
That’s what I saw and learned when I interacted with Pete, that he wasn’t papering over the difficulties and playing Pollyanna, but that in his wrestling, he’d found his way to sincere gratitude and that gratitude permeated every corner of his life. Someone noted the other day that even when I tell them about the difficult times with Lucia, I’m usually smiling. How can that be true? they wondered.
Because life with Lucia is a gift, plain and simple. And life with Pete was a gift, too.
Even on the roughest days, I can’t help but see life lived with Lucia as “another day in paradise,” “an embarrassment of riches.” It’s not trite, just true. And just as Pete taught me, I try to share that life of gratitude with others.
You can find my colleague, Beth Scibienski’s book, Who is God When We Hurt? that chronicles her life with Pete, her caregiving, her faith, and her grief by clicking here.