Two weeks ago, we found ourselves in a funeral home in Texas. My father-in-law had battled pancreatic cancer for one year and had gone on to His Heavenly home. And no matter how long you've been prepared, it is always breath-stopping to walk into the room and see the casket.
No matter how many times you've gone through it ahead-of-time in your mind, the funeral procession is a surreal please-not-so-soon drive.
And the men...the friends...the sons in whom he said he was well pleased...arms bearing the weight of the body, hearts coming to terms with the loss of someone they would never see this side of Heaven...
The flowers and the neatly lined neighboring headstones...
The casket topped with the flowers solemnly pulled out of each pallbearers' suit pockets...the goodbye...
It's all. so. very. final.
No matter how expected death is, we all wish for just one more minute, one more Christmas morning all together, one more meal together of smoked brisket and sweet tea and grandchildren giving kisses laced with sugary dessert, one more fishing trip. And I wanted just one more sound of "hi sweetheart" echoing on the other end of the line late at night, the signal that our father-in-law relationship had been mended and blessed and showered with affection to become father-in-love.
For death is not where we focus. But on life. Yes, the memories...but far far more than that...
Jim's life, as attested to in his funeral service, was filled with messes and guilt. He had rocky relationships with many people, and he had pride that he couldn't seem to lose. He had professed Jesus as Savior early in his life, but the evidence was not visible...the fruit was not there. But something came along that was the catalyst for change. Pancreatic cancer. It's one of the ugliest and most painful cancers, and yet in the hands of a loving Savior, it became a long-awaited come-back-home for a prodigal son. We are all just one decision away from that relationship with our Father.
Jim's life took on a new focus. As his pastor said at his funeral, all the things he had focused so much on for his entire life...his passions of music, coffee, weather and astronomy...no longer consumed his mind. His interest in them faded to nothing, and his focus became Jesus. He wanted to share his hope in Jesus as the only means to eternal life, and he shared it with everyone he could. Guilt had kept him away from his Savior, but he had discovered that his guilt was washed away in the forgiveness of Jesus. And he wanted to share that hope with everyone he knew.
He realized what we all should know every day of our lives: all that matters is what will last for eternity. This is our life in God.
After the funeral, a nice Texas BBQ meal was served at the house (Texans are always Texans!). Quiet conversation was stitched together with giggles of grandchildren eating rainbow cake and discovering that they could pour water into open-ended fence posts in an experiment with evaporation. Sadness laced with happiness...the beginning of the heart's healing process.
And that night, the sons in whom Jim was well pleased played their guitars in praise music, remembering that God really does never let go...sun and rain, joy and pain...He never lets go.
Our memories will always be filled with Jim, and especially the love and hope he shared during his last months on this earth.
And in the days after we returned home from Texas, as things were unpacked and life slowly began to fall into a rhythm again...we determined to fight that comfortable rhythm...the everyday familiarity that lulls one's soul to sleep. We had been ever-so-close to the veil between this life and our Heavenly forever home. Death has a way of pulling you to that doorway, a way of focusing the lens of the heart to pull into view the things that matter. A casket has its own language that seems to echo over and over: "What are you doing that will last for eternity? What will remain after you are in a casket?"
And we wanted to shift our focus entirely, to somehow invest our lives into His Kingdom work on an every day basis.
I recently read that Mother Teresa's mom taught her the principle that "any moment not somehow dedicated to Christ to be wasted" (From the Time magazine edition of Mother Teresa). That has me thinking seriously. What would my life look like with that level of dedication?
Because one day it will be me in that casket. One day my life's work will be tested with fire, and only the things done for His Kingdom will last for eternity. Why in the world would I waste my time focusing on the things the world says are important? Money, cars, houses, retirement plans, collections of tea cups or trophies, titles and corporate ladders, styles and mainstream American ideals...none of it will go with me. All I will have is the eternal investments (those I led to Christ, those I stopped to help, those I took into my home, those I fed and clothed and loved like Jesus).
How can I live today as an investment in eternity? How can I make every moment somehow dedicated to Jesus?