My Nephew

Filtered, morning sun from a single window softly lit the small, rectangular room where upholstered and folding chairs lined three walls.  The members of two extended families, ranging from a toddler to those in their eighties, filled the seats.  All sounds were muffled:  sobs and sniffling, the rip of tissues torn from their cardboard box, subdued conversations in an adjoining room, and the chime of a grandfather clock down the carpeted hallway.

An open casket was centered against the fourth wall.  We had come to see him one last time, to “pay our respects,” to say good-bye.  As the time for the small, family-only burial service neared, everyone left the viewing room and gathered in the main entry area, discussing directions to the cemetery.  I stepped back in and looked at my nephew’s still face a final time.  Oh, Nathan, Nathan, what have you done?

bleeding heart by heather johnson

Our hearts are broken:  every mother, father, brother, and sister heart, each grandparent, every aunt and uncle, each cousin and friend.  We have all fallen with the weight of this loss, and we are scraped and bruised, bleeding raw emotions.

To lose a young man we loved–who was only twenty years old and had such potential and such a gentle soul–is difficult enough,  but in this way . . .

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We are left with nagging questions and regrets:  the should haves and could haves and would anything have?  I can’t imagine the pain and despair and hopelessness that led you to this choice.  I can’t imagine how your mind was painted with the wide, black strokes of depression.  I answer my own question (Nathan, what have you done?):  you became ill.

At the cemetery family members carried the casket from the hearse to the graveside, walking across the green grass sprinkled with sweet clover.  Some sat in chairs, and some stood in the shade of a small, blue awning under the vault of a bright, blue sky.

We commended Nathan to God’s care and final healing.  We listened to the reminder that Nathan’s name meant “gift of God.”  He was.  He is.  We read his favorite scripture and sang his favorite hymn.  Those who wished to share spoke of his life, his character, what he was like as a child, and how we remembered him best.   After a season of dark illness, Nathan now rests in the Light of Jesus.

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If I could have choked out the words at the graveside service, I would have shared this verse.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

If faith falters, and hope slips away, love remains.  Nathan may not have had a life “full of years,”  but his life was full of love–his love for his family and friends and their great love for him.

And over all, covering all, forgiving all, healing all is the boundless love of God.

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Nathan, age 10

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If you are depressed and feeling hopeless, please, please, talk to someone.  I am not a counselor or mental health professional, but I know you need to get help.  Talk to your friends, your family, your pastor.  Find a doctor or a counselor.  You may need to call your local mental health center and schedule an emergency appointment.

If you know someone who is despairing, reach out.  You may need to direct them to professional help.  Offer to go with them to an appointment.  If you have serious concerns,  you may call the police who can go to the person’s residence to do a welfare check.

If someone you love has taken their own life,  you may experience a range of emotions: from anger to sorrow.  You may benefit from support groups and counseling .

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.   Galatians 6:2   NIV

. . . weep with those who weep.   Romans 12:15   RSV

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More information:

When suicide strikes in the body of Christ  — Please continue reading to the end of this article for links to suicide hotlines, prevention and awareness sites, and grief support for survivors.

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bleeding heart photo by Heather Johnson of truelifewithgod.com

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  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

  linking with Holley Gerth

Essential Fridays Linkup  linking with Essential Thing Devotions

Searching for the Light

The sun had burned off the morning haze and ushered in a beautifully-bright June day.  The warm breeze was gentle, and the deep blue sky was spotted with puffy, cumulus clouds.

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On days like this it’s easy to understand Jesus’ proclamation:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:12   NIV

The sunshine surrounds me and illuminates everything.  It is  the engine of photosynthesis that provides food for man and animal.  Sunlight heals.  It banishes the deep shadows.

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Sometimes the light is muted, weak.  High humidity at dawn can drape the morning with a heavy haze,

but the sun is still there.

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Sometimes sunshine is hidden, obscured.  Storms swirl and veil the sun.  The word “hide” means “conceal from sight,”  not destroy or eradicate.

The sun is still there.

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When the rainstorm scrubs the world clean, and the light is shrouded in the final wisps of clouds and is captured in rain-washed reflections,

the sunshine is still there.

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Sometimes when the sun has slipped below the horizon, the only light is what is reflected in sunset clouds.

But the light is still there.

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Is your life today as warm and cheerful as a bright summer’s day?  Soak in the rays and rejoice!

Are there troubles on the horizon, making it hard to see how the future will unfold?  Let the light of God guide you.

Are the storms of life–illness and injury, financial setbacks, broken relationships–clouding your days?  Have faith that the radiant glow of the Lord’s compassion shines behind the thunderhead.

Are you facing the loss of a loved one in the dark grief of sunset?  The blazing love of Jesus is a light that will comfort you as you mourn.

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Jesus is the Light you need every day, every kind of day, in every circumstance.  Look to Him.

Seek the Light.

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 4:29   NIV

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Diane W. Bailey  linking with Diane Bailey

Essential Fridays Linkup

 

 

 

 

linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

 

 

 

 

linking with Holley Gerth

 

 

He Stinketh

Four days ago, two fast-moving lines of thunderstorms dumped nearly five inches of rain on our part of the state in less than twenty-four hours.

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Basements flooded, languid streams turned to torrents, and rivers surged out of their banks.

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Homeowners have pumped out their basements and piled ruined, sodden belongings on the curb, waiting for garbage trucks.  Creeks (the first to flood and first to fall) have resumed their normal path, leaving behind muddied soybean and corn fields.  The large river closest to us is still rising, forcing the closure of the main highway there.

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In a few days (if we don’t receive any more heavy rain), the flood waters will recede. The river will drop below flood stage, leaving orphaned pools of water, which will eventually begin to smell–and not in a good way.

I usually read a more modern translation of the Bible,  but the King James version’s story of Lazarus really captures this idea of an unpleasant odor.  The Revised Standard Version merely warns of “an odor,” and the Good News Version cautions about a “bad smell.”

Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

John 11:39   KJV

How do I describe the olfactory assault from the stagnant water left from the flood?  It stinketh!

So do I at times.  I choke the flow of Living Water when I neglect prayer and Bible study

–an unpleasant odor.

When I get too busy for fellowship and quiet meditation, I begin to stagnate

–a bad smell.

I fail to grow and thrive as a Christian

–the stench of death.

I can become

stale, at best, and foul, at worst,

close-minded to God’s leading in new directions,

irritable and hard to live with

–I stinketh.

But–glory to God!–Jesus’ resurrection-giving Living Water can clean me up and make me sweet-smelling again.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

John 7:38    NIV

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Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ.  Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance.   Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation–an aroma redolent with life.

2 Corinthians 2:15,16   MSG

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   linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

 

 

linking with Holley Gerth

 

Essential Fridays Linkup

 

 

linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

The Longest Day

I saw a golden glow to the west in the space between the evergreens.  I grabbed my camera and hurried out the back door to capture the sunset.  To the south over a neighboring farm and to the north over steel grain bins, wispy clouds glowed pink, creating a high canopy over the steel-blue line of another front moving in.

On this evening, one day past summer solstice–the longest day of the year–the sun had just dipped below the horizon.  The clouds, far north in the western sky, were splashed gold and rose and azure.

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In the northern hemisphere (where I live), each day will now be shorter, and the sun will seem to set farther south, until winter’s start in the cold, dark days before Christmas.

I have passed, unknowingly, my personal summer solstice, too.  The number of days behind me outnumbers those ahead.  I have a choice now to let this realization color my remaining years with sadness only or to leave room for the broad strokes of thankfulness.  I want to say, with David, that my

my cup brims with blessing   Psalm 23:5   MSG

I embrace the Biblical phrase “full of years” that was applied to Abraham, Job, and David. I hope to also be “full of years,” overflowing with experiences, friends, family–all manner of blessings.  I want my death to be at a “good age,” regardless of the actual number of years.  Imagine the joy of one day being “gathered to [your] people.”

Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.   Genesis 25:8   NIV

I am becoming more content with the inevitable conclusion of life and the aging process, too, although I experience the typical fears:

illness of body and mind, debilitating disease, loneliness, and ostensibly outliving my usefulness.  I need to remember this verse:

They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,

Psalm 92:14   NIV

The fruit may not be the same as it was when I was younger.  It may not be of the same quantity, but as long as the tree or vine is alive, it can still yield a crop.

Until then I will rest in the arms of the One who carries me and sustains me.  I will clutch these promises tight to my heart with age-spotted hands.  I will walk outside with wind-blown, white-shot hair and watch the sunsets and thank God for blessings without number.

And I will praise Him for the final rescue, the rescue from death, in the never-ending Longest Day that is yet to come.

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Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Psalm 46:4   NIV

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linking with Holley Gerth

 

Essential Fridays Linkup

 

 

 

linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

Life at 60 mph

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My trip to the mailbox to collect the day’s news and bills often resembles the meandering, crisscrossing trail of Billy in the Family Circus comic.

When I stroll down my driveway and across the road, it’s rarely the shortest distance between two points, and it’s certainly not the quickest.

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Near the garage door I stop to admire the velvet petals and deep pink throats of the roses, and I breathe in the sweet fragrance.

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As my booted feet crunch down the gravel driveway, I discover tiny flowers underfoot, thriving in the rocky soil.

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I find common clover blossoms–some white, some pink-tinted–dotting the lawn.

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I stray past the ash tree, sporting tender spring-blushed leaves.

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Near the fence I hear grasses rustling in the breeze, pollen sent kite-flying down wind.

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I stop to peer into red clover at the edge of the soybean field, and the blossom reveals a tiny, jeweled katydid nymph.

When I reach the ditch near our road, I see purple crown vetch leaning against stiff, grass stems, curling tendrils extended.

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I cross the road to our mailbox, but I am distracted by bursts of color–wildflowers sprinkled like confetti on the grassy ditch bank.

I fold the letters and newspaper together, push the mailbox shut, and wait for traffic to clear before walking back across.  A semi-truck roars past at 60 miles per hour, stirring up a whirlwind of gravel dust.

The truck driver probably saw none of the wildflowers.  He (or she) may not have seen me.  How could he notice, when the next delivery beckons, when eyes are assessing the next curve of pavement?

Haven’t I lived my life this way at times, hurrying from work to home to activity to appointment, without any “white space,” without any margins?  When I live life in the fast lane, it may be quickest distance between two points, but I miss so much.

 “In our rushing, bulls in china shops, we break our own lives.”

Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

The “slow lane,” the leisurely stroll allows me to experience the details of the world and the life God has given me:  delicate flowers and painted insects, sighing grasses and crunching gravel, silky petals and even gritty dust.

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for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.

Psalm 26:3   NIV

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  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

  linking with Holley Gerth

  linking with Laura Boggess

Diane W. Bailey  linking with Diane Bailey

 

Feathers and Fathers

I need to type more carefully.  Not only do I have trouble reading accurately when I skim, I also type carelessly when I hurry.

I was searching for a particular verse on biblegateway.com and entered “feathers” in the search box.  I was amazed at the number of entries until I realized that I had mistakenly typed “fathers” instead.

Still, there are several avian metaphors in the Bible that help us understand God’s love.  Our heavenly father is compared to a bird who protects his offspring under his feathers and a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.

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When we, like frantically cheeping chicks, scramble to hide from danger, we can let God protect us and keep us safe.

He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge

Psalm 91:4   NIV

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When we feel afraid, we can run to the Lord.  We can trust in his love and believe that he will provide generously for all our needs.

How exquisite your love, O God!
    How eager we are to run under your wings,
To eat our fill at the banquet you spread

Psalm 36:7,8   MSG

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When life is difficult, and we’re just waiting, trying to figure out what to do next, we can still rejoice.  We can sing!

Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.   Psalm 63:7   NIV

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When gut-twisting events and unanswered prayers steal our sleep,  we can remember how God has been faithful in the past.  We can rest in the soft, dark shadow of his presence and allow him to be El Roi–the God who sees.

I lie awake at night thinking of you—of how much you have helped me—and how I rejoice through the night beneath the protecting shadow of your wings.  

Psalm 63:6,7   TLB

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When we don’t deserve your forgiveness–again, when we’re old enough to know better, and when it seems the only good thing about us is you, Lord,  You still take us in.  You hold us close and warm, a mere breath away.

Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
    for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
    until the disaster has passed.

Psalm 57:1   NIV

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When the blackness that’s rooted in our the hearts pushes away your embrace, when we reject your gospel-good-news, you still love us–all the way to the cross.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me.

Matthew 23:37   MSG

Here is the story of Liza (a silky Bantam chicken), the chicks collected beneath her wings, and her sacrificial encounter with a hawk.  Here is the gospel written in feathers.

Keep your eye on me;
    hide me under your cool wing feathers
From the wicked who are out to get me,
    from mortal enemies closing in.

Psalm 17:8   MSG

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all photos by Barb Briggs

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linking with Holley Gerth

linking with Laura Boggess

linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

Essential Fridays Linkup linking with Essential Thing Devotions

 

Words Like Rain

Water is life.  We could only survive a few days without drinking water, and, of course, crops must have water to live and grow. 

We have been blessed to have showers this week in my part of the Midwest, and now the rivers run full, and the thirsty corn and bean fields have soaked up the rain.

God has been good to provide for our need for water.

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He covers the sky with clouds;

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he supplies the earth with rain

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and makes grass grow on the hills.   Psalm 147:8   NIV

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And who do you think is the father of rain and dew,
    the mother of ice and frost?
You don’t for a minute imagine
    these marvels of weather just happen, do you?

Job 38:28-30   MSG

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In Deuteronomy 32 we read that Moses knew he wasn’t going to live much longer and was getting his “affairs in order.”  He had written down the Law and had passed leadership to Joshua. Moses also wanted to teach a song to the children of Israel.

Despite the clear choice that had been put before Israel,

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life .  .  .    Deuteronomy 30:19, 20   NIV

Moses knew the people would stray.  He wanted them to learn the song by heart, so that when the day came that they turned away from God, the words of the song would be a witness against them.  It begins:

Listen, you heavens, and I will speak;
    hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.

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Let my teaching fall like rain
    and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
    like abundant rain on tender plants.

Deuteronomy 32:1,2   NIV

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To sum up Moses’ song (which continues through forty-three verses in chapter 32):

God is great.  God is good.  And you, Israel, are not.

I’m not.  We’re not.

Just as Moses knew Israel would turn away,  God knew we would stray, too, and sent Jesus because He loved us.

Water may be life, but Jesus is Life everlasting (John 11:25 and 14:6) and the Living Water (John 4:10).

Listen to His words–gentle, life-giving words–words like rain.

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Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day,  .  .  .  They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.   Deuteronomy 32:46    NIV

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  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

linking with Laura Boggess

Essential Fridays Linkuplinking with Essential Thing Devotions

linking with Holley Gerth

Sunday-Go-to-Meeting

I missed going to worship service last Sunday, due to illness.

I missed seeing my church friends and family.

I missed praying with my women’s prayer group.

I missed hearing the pastor’s message.

I missed singing choruses and hymns.

But I didn’t miss out on worship.

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After resting most of the morning, I took a brief stroll in the yard.  I dressed in frayed, blue pants and a stained sweatshirt and pulled on my chore boots–definitely not my Sunday-go-to-meeting best clothes.   I walked the short circuit around the house to see the  flowers that had come into bloom that week.

Orange poppies have begun their brief but vivid show.  A new (to me) variety of geranium graces the front porch.   Dame’s rocket has claimed a corner of the asparagus patch.  The iris have unfurled their fleur de lis flags of white and gold and violet.

I marveled at the beauty in God’s creation and was thankful that He had created flowers with such exquisite color, shape, and fragrance.  When I gazed more closely at the blossoms, I saw even more amazing details.  Our God is an awesome God.

On Tuesday I read a quote from my brother-in-law’s sermon:

Worship is to encounter and experience the presence of the living God, Jesus Christ, and to respond in reverence, adoration, and praise to Him.

I encountered the Lord on the path around my house. I was reminded that He is the living God, the great Creator of life.  How could I respond except with reverence and praise?

Even though I was not in the church building, I didn’t miss out on worship last Sunday.  My worn and stained clothes weren’t a problem, because I was dressed in my Sunday-go-to-meeting heart.

A heart God is making new, ready to worship

For it’s not where we worship that counts, but how we worship—is our worship spiritual and real? Do we have the Holy Spirit’s help? For God is Spirit, and we must have his help to worship as we should. The Father wants this kind of worship from us.    John 4:22-23   RSV

  Let heaven and earth praise him,   Psalm 69:34   NIV

 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
    I will glorify your name forever.   Psalm 86:12   NIV

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.   Nehemiah 9:6   NIV

 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.   Psalm 13:6   NIV

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.

    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!   Deuteronomy 32:3   NIV

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Thanks to Steve and Marlene Pedigo for the Westfield photo and sermon quote.
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linking with Laura Boggess
linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee
Essential Fridays Linkup
linking with Essential Fridays

A White and Fragrant Life

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These last few days in May have been gentle and stretched long.

Golden light and thunder showers have invited the the tender walnut leaves to unfurl,

the asparagus to bravely push shoots toward the sky,

and the rose bushes’ buds to swell  pink and white.

The thought of roses leads me to remember  .  .  .  January.

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January’s days fell in the deep darkness of winter, when the short hours of sunlight barely warmed the afternoons.

January was a time of wind-sculpted white drifts that piled up high against snow fences and blockade driveways and sidewalks.

January was also a month of many funerals.  A friend, who worked with Hospice, said the dying often rally for Thanksgiving and Christmas and then, exhausted by their battle, surrender in the weeks following the holidays.

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This January I was privileged to attend the memorial services of two souls who were ostensibly very different but who shared core values.

 

Doris was born in the shadow of World War I, the war that was supposed to end all wars.

Bill was born in the guarded optimism of the years just after World War II.

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Doris was raised on a truck farm in Texas.

Bill grew up in small town Iowa.

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Doris served in Quaker (Friends) meetings in Texas and the Midwest.

Bill served in the Army and was stationed in Germany.

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Doris waited to be married to Tom until her thirties.

Bill proposed to Debi three days after meeting her.

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Doris attended a Friends Bible College on the Kansas plains.

Bill received his Bachelors, Masters, and Juris Doctor degrees in California, Maryland, and Iowa.

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Doris was a homemaker, mother, and pastor’s wife.  She loved her family.

Bill practiced law and loved his family.

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Doris taught Sunday School, served on committees in Friends churches, and ministered to the elderly.  She was also known for her ministry of prayer.

Bill served  as permanent deacon in his Diocese and to the the parishioners of his local Catholic Church.  He was known for his service to and leadership in many organizations in his diocese, church, and community.

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Doris’ funeral included a time for open worship, where anyone who felt led of the Spirit could share, as is practiced in Friends meetings for worship.  The fragrance of roses was in the air.

Bill’s funeral was a Mass of Christian Burial, with the rites and liturgy of a Catholic Mass.  The scent of incense was in the air.

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Doris’ life and Bill’s life are gifts, and if you set aside for a moment the Catholic and Quaker wrappings, you’ll see that the core of their lives is remarkably similar.  They loved and served their communities, their churches, their families, and their Lord.  That’s how they wanted to be remembered.  Bill asked that

any celebration of my life should be limited to my life in God and not to any mortal success or achievement I may have had.

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The feathery flakes of the latest January snowstorm had yet to drift when I walked across the sidewalk, compressing the snow under my boots.  The next day the bitter northwest winds scoured the cement clean and revealed my foot prints.

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A long, knee or hip-high drift always forms between our house and the shed where the truck is parked.   We needed the truck that day because the roads hadn’t been plowed yet.  My husband walked through the drift first in his size 12 boots, which made it easier for me to follow behind, stepping in his foot prints.

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Quakers often used a series of questions (called queries) to prompt the hearer to reflect on their life and relationship with God.  Here are a few queries for us all:

The winds of time will  blow away much of my life–what will remain?

Do my foot steps lead to the forgiving Savior?

Are loving and serving God priorities in my life?

Have the foot prints I’ve made while walking with Jesus made it easier for those on the path behind me?

When the time comes for my memorial service, how would I like to be remembered?

 

Nearly a century ago an English Anglican priest recorded the details of funeral preparations for one of his parishioners and commented on her life:

As I write these words the last home is being decorated with heather and moss to receive the body of one whom I shall bury to-morrow, the last of my old parishioners, one of God’s saints, who has lived a white and fragrant life, loving and serving God, bringing up a family in the same holy line of life, and closing her eyes in peace to pass into the Land of Promise, which here we cannot see, but in which we can believe, and to which we hope to attain.

Rev. Sabine Baring Gould

(January 28, 1834 –January 2, 1924)

This is how I would like to be remembered, as Doris and Bill are, as one “who has lived a white and fragrant life, loving and serving God.”

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Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ.  Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance.   Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation–an aroma redolent with life.

2 Corinthians 2:15,16   MSG

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  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

Linkup

 

 

linking with Lyli

 

Essential Fridays Linkuplinking with essential things

White

Linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee’s post Tell His Story:  Long Days, Short Years where she challenged us to write* a “color poem.”

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White

Child’s eyes watch white flakes

settling on yellow, daffodil cups.

Shivering, fearing that winter will never end,

never thaw into spring,

that it would be “always winter and never Christmas.”

The un-truth swirling in the snow whispers,

“Why pray?”

“Nothing will change.”

“There is no hope.”

No white lie, but a black one from the pit.

 

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Wisdom’s eyes watch,

waiting for the potential

held in cold sap and dark roots,

expecting spring.

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White apple blossoms bud and bloom.

Petals flutter,

fall feather-soft,

full of promise

of autumn’s white-fleshed, scarlet fruit.

Like incense smoke

prayers of hope rise.

 

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy,

fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives,

filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit,

will brim over with hope!

Romans 15:13   The Message

*          *          *           *          *

* I didn’t notice the form we were supposed to use for the color poem until after I’d written mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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