Worth Revisiting: Cause for Celebration

When you think of the many reasons that might lead you to celebrate, odds are that this experience would not make your top 10 or even your top 100. And yet, as a believer in Christ, the truest promise of salvation should be our greatest cause of celebration.  Inexhaustibly matched by a Father’s joy and overwhelmed by the hope found in Jesus, grief is a journey of discovery of each of these.  What then, if we intentionally began this journey from this perspective?

At a mere eleven in years, I had found one of the greatest teachers that I would ever have. Standing at 5′ 3 she was spunky, compassionate, enthusiastic about grammar, and a paradox of interests and gifts. Her two favorite loves were unquestionably Jesus and Magnum PI, both of whom adorned her personal grading and lesson plan book. That sixth grade year, she would have me both detesting and embracing the fine art of diagramming sentences. I also found that year a teacher that took a genuine interest in every single student that walked into her class. Though she would certainly have not chosen favorites, she was undoubtedly mine.

And then suddenly she was gone.

Sitting in my kitchen that Sunday evening, the phone rang. How odd, I thought, it was that one of my teachers called to speak to my mother, seeing as how she taught high school. Yet, apparently I wasn’t the only one who knew how much this amazing teacher and woman of faith meant to me. As my mother relayed what had transpired since Friday with a sudden illness and complications, I sat motionless. Though hearing the words, I could not connect the series of events to the fact I would never see her again.  The following day, when the principal addressed the students with the news, I laid claim to grief. And still, I felt the best way to honor her, would be to be present in her Father’s house, though I wasn’t sure where her church was. “Are you sure, Elizabeth..are you sure you want to go to the funeral?”, my mother asked.  “Yes, I need to say goodbye..would you go with me?” “Of course ” she said,”let me find out the arrangements”.

As we walked up to that small white church, the music carried out the open windows on the cool fall breeze. Entering in, I was ready to say goodbye but not for the lesson of love to come.  While it mattered little to me, and to anyone else gathered, that my mother and I were not of African American descent I did wonder what they must of thought of why I was there. And even I was unsure that I had the right place. For, gone were the somber clothes of black and grey, and in its place instead was a vibrant array of color. Bright flowers, and joyful songs raised in praise revealed not sadness but unparalleled hope in the life that awaited. Though it was almost more than a little girl in mourning could take- it was the very thing that was needed.

That night my heart was full of questions. How could they sing when the loss is so new..did they not miss her too? Didn’t they know it was a funeral and not a birthday? That was it! They sang because it was a birthday of sorts, not an end but a beginning of a new eternal life with God. They celebrated the fact that their joy for her in the promise of heaven could more than bear their loss. To this very day I cannot think of funerals in the same way that I did before. Do I mourn? Yes, but I also sing..and celebrate!

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Refrain:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

 What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth. [Refrain]

 The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

“How Can I Keep From Singing”, Robert Lowry, 1826-1899

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: See You Soon!

From those knowingly facing death to those whose life is suddenly and unexpectedly ended  we are given a glimpse of the brevity of our time on earth and the urgency to be prepared. Yet, what are we preparing for, and what awaits us thereafter? Are we preparing for the end of our life, or a transformation to something greater?

Pope Francis has noted that “If death is understood as the end of everything, it frightens, terrifies, and is transformed into a threat that shatters every dream, every prospect, which breaks every relation and interrupts every way.” Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, general audience on Nov. 27, 2013.

However, in our faith as Christians, we are given hope- that our present existence is as temporary scene, a blink as it were, passing into a greater eternity. It is a continuation of God’s immense love for us, a incomprehensible desire for us to be forever with him. How easy it is to be overwhelmed with the everyday details of this life or with living in or for the present moment that we fail to live in this awareness of eternity ahead.

What then does a life prepared look like?

Having sat with those imminently anticipating death, it is a surrender -of the events of the days and years leading up to that very moment to God. It is an acknowledgment that God is aware of all choices good and bad, and mercifully has embraced and forgiven them. It is a readiness to meet God, as St. Aquinas would say, not “through a glass darkly” but  look forward to the day when we shall see our Creator “face to face.”

What would our last words be?

A priest friend of mine the other day gave his homiletic retelling of Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s heart attack last April. As the heart attack came on, Fr. Pacwa recounted that his thoughts and words were surprisingly not on where he might be going, but on the fact he did not want to die in the middle of Walmart. Though there is humor in this retelling, it does give each of us pause to contemplate how we leave this earth.

My aunt Bonnie, was given but a few months to live with a sudden diagnosis of Pulmonary Fibrosis, a hardening of the lungs. With this very painful condition, gradually the lung tissue becomes so thickened that oxygen cannot move and breathing becomes increasingly more difficult. As the days drew closer, and she was seemingly in between worlds, her last words remain with me. “I’m going home..I’m going home..I’m going home.” What a witness to the hope that God promises. What a gift to our family left behind. And when I think of my own final moments, it is how I wish to meet God and those who have gone before me.

Rather than dread, this instills in me such joy that I have already had the conversation with my immediate family on “if I were to go today”. For their benefit I have chosen readings, songs, and expressed my desire for them not to go overboard on the funeral expenses. This is not my home. Though while here, I fully intend on growing in love and learning all that I can to show that love to those I encounter along the way.

See You Soon,

Signature

See You Soon!

From those knowingly facing death to those whose life is suddenly and unexpectedly ended  we are given a glimpse of the brevity of our time on earth and the urgency to be prepared. Yet, what are we preparing for, and what awaits us thereafter? Are we preparing for the end of our life, or a transformation to something greater?

Pope Francis has noted that “If death is understood as the end of everything, it frightens, terrifies, and is transformed into a threat that shatters every dream, every prospect, which breaks every relation and interrupts every way.” Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, general audience on Nov. 27, 2013.

However, in our faith as Christians, we are given hope- that our present existence is as temporary scene, a blink as it were, passing into a greater eternity. It is a continuation of God’s immense love for us, a incomprehensible desire for us to be forever with him. How easy it is to be overwhelmed with the everyday details of this life or with living in or for the present moment that we fail to live in this awareness of eternity ahead.

What then does a life prepared look like?

Having sat with those imminently anticipating death, it is a surrender -of the events of the days and years leading up to that very moment to God. It is an acknowledgment that God is aware of all choices good and bad, and mercifully has embraced and forgiven them. It is a readiness to meet God, as St. Aquinas would say, not “through a glass darkly” but  look forward to the day when we shall see our Creator “face to face.”

What would our last words be?

A priest friend of mine the other day gave his homiletic retelling of Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s heart attack last April. As the heart attack came on, Fr. Pacwa recounted that his thoughts and words were surprisingly not on where he might be going, but on the fact he did not want to die in the middle of Walmart. Though there is humor in this retelling, it does give each of us pause to contemplate how we leave this earth.

My aunt Bonnie, was given but a few months to live with a sudden diagnosis of Pulmonary Fibrosis, a hardening of the lungs. With this very painful condition, gradually the lung tissue becomes so thickened that oxygen cannot move and breathing becomes increasingly more difficult. As the days drew closer, and she was seemingly in between worlds, her last words remain with me. “I’m going home..I’m going home..I’m going home.” What a witness to the hope that God promises. What a gift to our family left behind. And when I think of my own final moments, it is how I wish to meet God and those who have gone before me.

Rather than dread, this instills in me such joy that I have already had the conversation with my immediate family on “if I were to go today”. For their benefit I have chosen readings, songs, and expressed my desire for them not to go overboard on the funeral expenses. This is not my home. Though while here, I fully intend on growing in love and learning all that I can to show that love to those I encounter along the way.

See You Soon,

Signature