One minute, Mark Russell was refereeing a high school football game.


The next minute, he was . . . gone.

There was no warning.

No time to yell out for help.

Suddenly, everything went black.

I sat in the stands, watching in horror, as someone I’ve known since childhood, lay crumpled on the sideline, gray and lifeless. Paulette Berryman, a cardiac nurse who “happened” to be taking pictures nearby, dropped her camera and began CPR, immediately. Glen Laird, one of the announcers in the press box, prayed for Mark over the loud speaker.

Players, coaches and the other referees hit their knees. An eerie silence fell over the crowd as we watched Paulette and the EMT techs work feverishly to restart Mark’s heart.

After two tremendous, body-wrenching shocks with a defibrillator, he gasped and drew in a deep breath.

Suddenly, Mark Russell came back to life.

When he gave a thumbs-up to the anxious crowd, we jumped to our feet and cheered. People hugged each other. Sighs of relief, coupled with tears, echoed through the stands.

Later that night, a blockage was removed from Mark’s artery at Huntsville Hospital. I went to see him the next morning. He was feeling good and pretty amazed at what had happened. “Had there not been a nurse and a defibrillator within a few feet of me, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” Mark said.

A month later, Mark and I met in a coffee shop to discuss his near-death experience.

I was really nervous.

I feared my questions might cause Mark to relive that terrifying night all over again, but he was refreshingly open about it. Gratitude for life radiated from his face. “I don’t mind talking about what happened to me,” Mark said. “I want to use it for good.”

His positive attitude gave me the courage to ask him something I really wanted to know:

“What did you learn the day you died?”

Mark thought about it for a few minutes as the busy coffee shop hummed. The cappuccino machine gurgled with steam. A baby started to cry. I began to fidget awkwardly, thinking, okay—maybe that question was a little too personal.

Finally he smiled and said, “I learned to live ready.”
“You mean to live ready to meet your Maker? Right?” I asked.

“No. I’ve been ready with my Maker for years and my faith in Him is strong. I learned that I must also live ready with people.”

“The day I dropped dead, I wasn’t ready. There were some things I needed to make right and a few apologies I needed to give. But mostly, there were so many people who had contributed to my life that I hadn’t thanked…”

“I don’t want to live like that anymore. I want to live ready.”

“Living ready means telling friends and family how much I appreciate what they do and how they’ve blessed me. It means telling people how much I admire them. It means cheering others on. I don’t know why I didn’t express these things more often.”

“Dying showed me how vital it is to live ready with God and with people. If I were to drop dead today—and believe me, we aren’t even guaranteed today—I’m ready.”

I sat there, totally in awe of his message, realizing that it was just what I needed to hear. I walked away from the coffee shop that day with a spring in my step and a full heart. Mark reminded me how precious life is—and how brief.

I want to live ready.
I hope you want to live ready, too.

How to LIVE READY in 2021:

I. LIVE READY with GOD
Accept the gift of salvation by placing your faith in Jesus Christ. (John 5:24)

• Seek God’s face every day; draw near to His heart. (Heb. 11:6) Once I finally got serious about seeking for God, it changed my entire life. Read about what happened in my book, Seeking a Familiar Face

• Live a life of love. Honor God in all you say and in all you do. Obey His word. Be grateful. Trust Him in every circumstance. (2 John 1:6)

II. LIVE READY with PEOPLE
Apologize. Own the mistakes you made in 2020. Admitting past faults will free you to have a happier new year. (Jas. 5:16)

• Forgive. Let go of the offenses of 2020. Yes, all of them. Holding grudges only holds you back. Cleanse your heart and move on. (Eph. 4:32)

• Thank. Make a list of all the people who contributed to your life in 2020 and you’ll be surprised. Express sincere thanks to each person on your list. (Eph. 1:16) 

• Serve. People carry heavy burdens, so make service your goal in 2021. Help an overwhelmed Mom. Pray for a brokenhearted friend. Wash a sick neighbor’s dishes. Get out there and bless someone! (Gal. 6:2)

• Encourage. Last year was pretty discouraging, so challenge yourself to cheer people on this year. Compliment your husband. Text your Mama. Check on an old friend. Keep greeting cards on hand. Make encouragement your personal ministry. (1 Thess. 5:11) 

• Give. Try to give more in 2021, than you gave last year. Make a payment for a widow. Make time for a lonely neighbor. Give to Christ-centered ministries. Remember, generous people are happy people. (Prov. 11:24-25)

Possibly, this year could be your last opportunity (and mine) to live ready.

“There’s never been a better time to start living ready than now.” Mark said. “You don’t have to drop dead to learn this lesson. Start today.”

Six weeks after Mark’s heart attack, Mark, his wife April (right), and Nurse Paulette Berryman (left) were honored at a Madison Academy football game. Mark “lived ready” by expressing his gratitude to Paulette and to the many other people who helped him that night.

Since Mark’s experience, he has faithfully shared his “Live Ready” message with numerous athletes, students and parents.

Thanks for your good example, Mark.

Don’t waste 2021, live ready! Happy New Year!