With the abundance of holiday festivities, family gatherings, and optimism approaching the New Year, how could any sadness pierce this veil?  Hard data reveals troubling evidence to the contrary.  Christmas and New Year’s Day have the highest death rates of any other days of the year.  Before jumping to a conclusion, the same research data points clarify that suicides and homicides in December are the lowest of any month of the year.  Surprised? 

While only a theory based on qualitative research, the peak in deaths on Christmas and New Year’s Day may be related to the availability of healthcare.  Apparently, people often disregard symptoms during the intensity of festivities, delaying a visit to a doctor.  Plus, many hospitals have fewer staff at the holidays, increasing the death risk.  Not surprising, the leading cause of death continues to be heart disease, followed closely by cancer.

Truth is, when the sun rises, none of us knows for certain how the day will unfold.  Not wealth, circumstance, prestige, or the best self-guided plan can defer anyone’s appointed death.  “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog--it's here a little while, then it's gone” (James 4:14).

We only have moments.  Living our lives in the present is our treasure on earth.  In a busy and complicated world of commutes, child care, demanding work schedules, mounting bills, expectations, lost love, chores, family stresses…get the point?  Anyone ask for a “Declutter-My-Life Guru” for Christmas?  How ‘bout just the DVD?  We all struggle in this earth-suit.

Sometimes when the right moment comes along, I try to make light of this universal question:  why does the sun rise every morning?  When nobody quips a ready response, my rehearsed line attempts to be both profound and witty, “why, it’s God’s humorous way to remind us that here’s another day to get it right”.  Kind people smile, or may even chuckle.  Obviously, it’s an “ice-breaker” question seeking discussion about what’s the purpose of life.  It may not surprise you that few take the bait.  More often than not, the serious question is followed by someone with a better joke than mine.  Fair enough.

We all have stories that reveal the frailty of life.  How we respond to those detours, brokenness, and suffering defines what we really believe; faith, purpose, and place in God’s creation.  Assuming, God’s found His way to your heart?  Many of my stories are chronicled in my blogs on the LovesIntention website (www.lovesintention.com), so I will not go into my history.  I have a recent story, to help bring home the theme of this year-end blog.  Of all things, it’s a flat tire story.  Just to perk your interest, have you ever changed an automobile flat…one-handed?

For many years I’ve needed an esophageal dilation to improve my ability to swallow.  Radiation treatment and surgery was my only chance to beat stage four squamous cell carcinoma (tonsil and neck lymph nodes).  Fortunately, the odds of 50/50 survival put me on the winning side.  Over the course of time, the radiation damaged healthy tissue, creating two esophageal webs.  The esophageal dilation procedure was necessary to break the web scar tissue so food and liquid flow normally.  The procedure was scheduled with my ENT surgeon at OHSU, Portland, Oregon.   

Anyone who really knows me, understands I rarely show-up to any event extra early.  That practice has some validity, but not to be explained here (maybe another blog someday).  I usually arrive, “just in time”.  The procedure check-in was 2:00 pm.  Between Mapquest and my experience traveling this route many times, 4 hours had a built-in buffer for any traffic delays.  But, uncharacteristically for me, I was leaving my house at 8:00 am; 6 hours driving time.  Why I left that early is still a mystery today. 

My 2005 Honda Element had been serviced by the dealer weeks before, including brake and tire evaluations.  Since I have all my brake and tire work done by Les Schwab Tire Center, I even had them do a “double check”.  Check list complete, plan in place.  Let’s roll! 

The weather was clear that day, November 29, 2016.  No traffic delays as I sailed in the middle lane within the posted speed limit.  Everything seemed to be unremarkable, until this truck passed on my right side, and this young guy poked his head out the driver’s side window and pointed his arm downward to the pavement.  At first I looked at him and wondered about the gesture.  On second thought, I noticed the interior noise was louder than normal.  The evidence was telling me something was wrong, and confirmed when I gently released the steering wheel, and the vehicle promptly veered right.  With disbelief, I pulled to the I-5 shoulder, turned off the engine, and punched the hazard light switch.  I may have uttered something in anger.  For certain I winced, “this can’t be happening”!  For a few minutes I just sat there. That’s right, dumbfounded.  After letting reality sink-in, I explored my options as tractor trailers jetted by.  Roadside assistance?  Too long, deferring the problem to someone else.  The logical option, get out and change the tire. 

After driving for 49 years, I had never had to change a flat tire.  With only my left arm/hand (right arm/hand is paralyzed), I wasn’t even certain it was possible.  This circumstance wasn’t on my trip checklist, so I hadn’t practiced for it.   Almost instantaneously, I was reminded of two truths:  (1) have faith, God’s got your back (2) take deep breathes, relax, and proceed confidently with “baby-steps” (from the movie, “What About Bob” with Bill Murray).  Fear was gradually dispelled as I plotted along learning how to change my first flat tire.  Did I mention prayer? A comforting song,  “Learning To Lean On Jesus”.  As a devoted church pianist and choir leader for most of her adult life, I’ve heard my mother sing that hymn many times.  It may have started as a flat tire, but God’s grace and goodness showed up.

After changing the tire with the temporary, driving to a nearby Les Schwab Tire Center to purchase a new tire, I arrived in Portland 2 hours before my scheduled appointment.  The procedure was successful.

Why does the sun rise every morning?  There’s a spiritual truth that bridges heaven to earth, fresh every morning.        

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As the New Year arrives again, consider celebrating with God’s gift of love, redemption, peace and eternity for you.  Just ask Him.