I have been a part of two funerals in the last three weeks and in my career as a Pastor I have officiated at more than 80 of these. Yet somehow it has never become routine for me nor am I ever entirely comfortable. Confident but not entirely comfortable.
Not to sound morbid but…without exception, there is one thought that crosses my mind and spirit at every funeral: “That will be me one day…so keep short accounts with God and others.” Last time I checked the death ratio for we humans was still hovering right at 1:1. So let me offer you two quick lessons from a funeral:
First, funerals are like a spiritual alarm clock going off in my soul. And I find myself re-asking: “Am I really investing my one and only life in that which really matters and in such a way I am ready to stand before my Maker and give an account of myself?”
Second, funerals remind me: ‘You never know when your next ‘goodbye’ will be your last ‘goodbye’…so mend fences, bury hatchets, and grant grace-filled forgiveness. And if you have appreciation or love in your heart for someone…speak it. You just don’t know how badly some souls need to hear that they are a person of worth and value to someone else. So for the Lord’s sake don’t wait till it’s too late.
Now, if you are reading this, it means you still have life. So live abundantly my friend, live abundantly. For in the words of the half brother of Jesus (James): “Your life is only a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
So I wrote a book for my kids…and it was published last fall. (If you are interested in hearing about it, read on. If not you might want to exit now.)
What is that about you may ask? Well, several years back I came to grips with two realities…Reality one: Every weekend a few hundred people sit and lend me their ears for a teaching from scripture and a handful of people were actually willing to wait for a week or two or more to get on my crazy schedule and seek council…but my then four adolescent and pre-adolescent kids – not so much. They thought their “out of touch with the real world…only want to ruin my fun Dad” had little to say to them about life. Reality two: Someday I will “stop a bus” and there are certain things I want my kids to have instilled into them from their Dad before that day (a little morbid, I know). So I began putting pen to paper writing life lessons I desperately wanted them to both know and own for themselves with the hope that the old adage is true: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear”…and maybe, just maybe that teacher would be me (or my writing if I had actually stopped that proverbial bus). I devoted time on my day off to write and I quickly learned just how un-quick, messy and imprecise the write-rewrite-rewrite again process was going to be for me. But I started and stuck with it…Monday after Monday, word after word, line after line for almost 9 years (good thing no buses came by). In the process I think I learned as much about myself as I had life lessons to offer my kids. Interesting journey. Anyway, one thing lead to another and as I got near what I thought was the end, a friend got hold of it and decided there was value in it for people who weren’t my kids…and he hooked me up with an editor and got it published. (I am so blessed to have some friends in my life who are just crazy enough to love and believe in me.)
The book has actually been available since last fall. For the last four months or so I have been trying to figure out how to inform any of the Cypress family who might just be interested in a copy of something their Pastor wrote, but the thought of telling has felt very awkward…so the counsel I’ve gotten simply said: “Just say it and get it over with for crying out loud!”. So there I said it.
The title is ‘Navigating Life’ and is available in print or e-book at: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/navigating-life/18493263
Or if you prefer other venders you can also obtain a copy at any of the following:
The Good News: You can be deeply connected to God and others.
The Bad News: You have to make time to do this.
To one degree or another most of us live in a state of manic busyness. Some of us feel a secret surge of pride as we recount our “crazy schedule” to whoever will listen…it is as though in some sick sort of way we equate busyness with importance. Others of us feel as trapped as the proverbial hamster on a treadmill with no off ramp in site. See rodent run…see rodent tire…run rodent run!
It is the inescapable pace of life we say: 50 hour work weeks; kids and all the school and extracurricular stuff associated with being a great parent; 4X a week workouts; household duties and chores; CNN-ESPN-HBO; stay connected with face book-twitter-texts-email-cell phones; multitask-multitask-multitask!!!
Hey, can I remind you that there is nothing you can buy, achieve or rent that can fill up that hunger inside you. It is only found in being deeply connected to God and others…and you have to make time to do this.
It means saying no to something on a to-do list in order to say yes to someone like God or a life-giving friend. It means you give a stiff-arm to the urgent in order to embrace the important. It means we stop being who we really aren’t in order to become who God made us to be.
Multitasking is highly overrated and can sedate you into a wasted life. It is hard for the soft settling of faith, hope, love, joy and peace to soak into your spirit when you are in roadrunner mode. What will you give up in trade for the equivalent time to connect with God and others? It is not easy but it is precious and worth fighting for. So fight tooth and nail if you must, but make it happen. This week I officiated at the funeral of a man almost my age…and I was reminded…none of us are guaranteed tomorrow…all we have is this day, this hour, this moment. Now go out and start your stop doing list.
Here is how the drill works. I walk in the front door of my home after the Sunday services at Cypress have been all shut down and put away, and I enter into the weekly family gathering of all our kids and grandkids. On occasion I will hear the whispers of my two granddaughters, Adrianne and Lillian, saying “hide…hide” as they scamper off to find a nook, blanket or closet to hide in. That is my cue to begin the search. So I dutifully but joyfully walk around asking “has any one seen the girls?”, ”I wonder where they could be, under the bed…no, in the shower…no” (and so on). Until they pop out with the big reveal of “Here we are!” and they giggle as I swallow them up with a hug.
Now here is my question, “Have you ever felt like God was playing Hide and Seek with you?
Ever felt like you were seeking God’s plan, God’s guidance or leading for dating, marriage, ministry, career, family, health (and so on)…but it felt like God was hiding it from you? I mean it’s not because you are not praying. And it’s not because you don’t want to know His will. Add to this, I don’t think God is up in heaven hoping you never find His plans for you. So why can it sometimes be so hard to know what God wants you to do?
Maybe it is because God wants you to know someone more than He wants you to know something. Him more than His plan. Maybe God is more than the plan to your best life…maybe He is your best life. Maybe the scariest possibility isn’t missing out on God’s will…but missing out on really knowing God.
It is Thursday night, my wife and youngest daughter Bethany are at a movie, my son Michael is sitting in a classroom, my son Jonathan is somewhere with his girlfriend and I am sitting alone on the back patio reminiscing…it was three years ago at this very moment that I stood at the bedside of a friend as the doctor pronounced her dead and then marked the time.
Many are the thoughts going through my head and mixed the emotions going through my heart.
She was a beloved wife and mother. A leader in our church and a friend to me. I would have scripted things differently but it was not my story to write. More than once today these words have come to mind:
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” Anne Lamott
Cheryl was not the first person I have loved to precede me into the presence of the Heavenly Father and should the Lord tarry she will not be the last. Thank God for the hope we have…death does not have the last word…not in our Father’s universe! One glorious day we will be reunited at the Father’s table and live forever in the joy of perfect love and community.
Until then I dance but with a limp…and don’t we all.