In January 1994, my mother died of heart disease. Eight months later, my father died of cancer. Because they hadn’t belonged to a church, a minister was provided by the funeral parlor.
Before my mother’s wake, the minister gathered all twenty grandkids and great-grandkids. He asked us to tell him something about this woman he’d be eulogizing the next day. He wanted to relate some happy memories of my mother at her funeral.
In complete silence, we looked at each other, incredulous, thinking, “Come on, somebody. Come up with something!” Digging into the recesses of our memories, we slogged through the anger and sorrow. Trying desperately to recall a long-forgotten quip or enlightening conversation, maybe a silly habit, a favorite joke, one particular Christmas tradition, or what about that time when…?
At the end of my mother’s life, her family had nothing to say about her. Well, nothing you would say at a funeral. You think it, but you don’t say it. Seeing that there’d be no wealth of joyful material from which to draw his comments, the minister politely excused himself to hunt up some old familiar one-size-fits-all sermon. That experience left me numb.
My father’s death was like suffering through a bad movie for the second time: The same cast of characters, the same setting, and faulty plot line. But, again, the twenty of us couldn’t come up with a thing; even though my dad wasn’t mean, he wasn’t there for us either. The silence was deafening – and I was angry. I wanted to shout, “How could the two of you do this? How could you inhabit this earth for over seventy years, at the epicenter of a family you were supposed to love, and not leave behind even the faintest happy memory?”
I hadn’t expected this level of grief. I didn’t understand it. How could I grieve for the parents who had left me nothing to miss? Eventually, though, I realized that I was grieving the absence of love. I longed for my parents’ love all my life, but I had just been fooling myself. And now…that longing would remain unfulfilled.
Those two funerals, and my indignant response to them, proved pivotal to the changes in my life that would follow. I was inspired to set two goals: To seek the love that would draw me closer to God and to share that love with others, especially my family.
I hoped I’d have a different funeral, a different legacy than my parents. I wanted to be remembered as someone who had loved, had honestly and openly confessed to others when I’d failed or fallen short, and had needed and known God’s mercy. And I wanted everyone who attended my funeral to have a smile on their face! – a smile that reflected the joy we’d shared, the compassion we’d known, the forgiveness we’d received, and the love we never doubted.
As scripture tells us, “…if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
After determining my two goals and reviewing my life accordingly, I could see that a mountain would indeed have to be moved. And, in all honesty, I also felt that it might be impossible! Did I even have the strength of character to become the person I envisioned?
That was over twenty years ago, and I can tell you with absolute conviction that it is not only NOT impossible, but it is God’s promise to us and will be fulfilled by him! He simply needs our mustard seed of faith, shaky knees, sweaty palms, and trepid “okay, I’ll give it a try” response. The result is not ours to know. However, it is God’s already set-in-place plan if we’re willing to cooperate with him – and trust.
Perhaps, unlike everyone else in all creation, you are privy to the date and time of your demise. But, even then, you may or may not have LOTS of time to fix all the messes you have made in your life and the lives of everyone around you. Otherwise, procrastinating on this one is probably not a good idea.
I’ll leave you with this fun little bit of wisdom from Gian Carlo Menotti, “Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”