Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Part 2 – The Promotion Ceremony

Ps 116:15 (NIV) Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

It was a great day for a funeral. Can that statement ever be true? Really? Dorothy’s celebration was a little over a month prior to her 82nd birthday. The day was a cold, breezy, and damp north Texas winter day. I remember thinking at the gravesite that the sting of the frigid wind was metaphorically appropriate while death’s sting was still so bitter and raw. The rain fell as did many tears; mist filled the air and the eyes. Love cried as Dorothy’s children and grandchildren wept. Jesus was there and He wept too through His body of believers.

In part 1 of this narrative I mentioned the passage in John 15:16 “You did not choose me but I chose you…” The rest of that verse says “…to go bear fruit – fruit that will last.” I believe the Father wants our lives and our deaths to bear fruit. Our lives are truly seeds for the generations to come. How are we impacting them? Do they see in us a resolute faith covered in grace, or do they see us “judge” when others do it “wrong”? (1 Cor 13:5) At the service, the pastor told of how Dorothy led someone to Christ in the last week of her life while in the hospital. I can almost see the Heavenly Sports Page Headline: Grandma Kicks Satan’s Ass One Last Time Then Heads Home.

Just a few nights ago I also lost a relative. Aunt Inez was just four days past her 96th birthday. She was one of the most jovial, sweet, loving, and kind people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. For most of my life, I would only get to see her once a year at our family reunions. She and Uncle Leonard were the highlights of these gatherings for me; my own mother and the chocolate mayonnaise cake notwithstanding. Leonard and Inez alone would have made the 90 minute drive worth the trip. We often talk about people who light up a room when they enter it, well whatever room they were in, they “owned.” I had the hardest time wrestling it away from them, so I would just team up with them and laugh until we wanted to pee on ourselves.

Leonard used to tell the story of the carousing drunk that learned his lesson about drinking. The Pastor came calling on the drunk one evening when his wife answered the door. She invited him in for a visit and told of how her husband was out drinking even as they spoke. Being the wise man of God he said, “I tell you what, I know how we can break him of that drinkin! You take your fattest hen and slaughter it and pour the guts in the toilet. When he comes in and gets sick he’ll think he barfed up his guts, and that’ll cure him!”

Sure enough that evening when the drunk got home he went directly to the water closet and proceeded to violently throw up. His wife could hear him from the other room and could tell he was in terrible distress. She resisted the temptation to go in and console him, knowing that this might be the time he learned his lesson once and for all. A few moments later he came to bed and she asked him if he was okay. He said, well I am now. At first I threw up my guts, but thank God there was a wooden spoon on the counter and I was able to get ‘em back down again.”

On delivering this punch-line Uncle Leonard would just roar with laughter and Aunt Inez would chuckle and give him that “will-you-ever-tire-of-that-story” look. Every year when I came into the banquet hall he would ask me if I had my wooden spoon handy (that was code for sit a spell and let’s visit). Those times together would invariably turn into testimonies of God’s goodness. They were people with limited earthly possessions, but a wellspring of spiritual wealth.

I can remember only once Aunt Inez being downcast or dispirited. She had apparently not been feeling well for an extended period of time, and she confessed it was taking a toll on her and that she was discouraged. Then in a moment of faith’s manifestation and revelation, she began again to confess God’s goodness and faithfulness in her life. She built herself up in her most holy faith and it served as a great witness to me. At the end of that discussion she thanked me for visiting with her as if I had somehow been a comfort. The reality is I just happened to be the one listening, and learning. She did more for me and my faith than I ever could have done for hers. Never could I leave without Inez grabbing my neck and whispering in my ear, “You stay close to the Lord” – her eternal exhortation.

Uncle Leonard passed several years ago, and welcomed Inez home Saturday morning. I’m sure that was some kind of homecoming. She leaves a legacy of Christ’s love in her wake. Everyone she met or talked to knew of her faith. At some point she would turn every conversation to Jesus. She did it in a way that was disarming and genuine – not in your face, but in your heart. She had a hospitable spirit and welcoming way that you knew when she said, “I’ll be praying for you” she meant it and you could take that to the bank. Aunt Inez bore the fruit of joy, and faithfully shared the love of Jesus. She walked the walk. She finished the race.

Death’s sting is painful, but the death of a saint is precious to the Redeemer. He paid the price to ensure it is so. Knowing this, as a believer, and as part of His body, I desire to be part of the redemptive process of such trying times as these. So as I stumble awkwardly and headlong into the discomfort of complicated circumstances and messy emotions, yet I’m comforted that His grace is sufficient and that ultimately these three remain: Faith, Hope, and Love - the believer’s legacy. At the funerals of these precious lady saints, there was a healthy dose of all three on display. Merely three weeks apart, I stood in the cold at the final resting place of each and I witnessed pain and loss mitigated by that legacy. I was encouraged by the thought of generations to come welcoming their promise. What we sometimes see as a loss, in the end looks a lot like victory, like a race well run by good and faithful servants.

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