Good day, everyone!
Today, I thought it might be a good idea to share some thoughts about what’s been happening in my life. First off. Have you heard of the saying that goes like “when death happens, it occurs in threes?” Well, how about an extra to make four? That’s right. You see, the first death to occur among my circle of family, friends, and acquaintances was that of my husband’s aunt (May 24). No sooner than June came around the corner than death struck—with its terrible three. First, my cousin (June 6). Followed by my neighbor (June 8). Followed by my niece’s father (June 24). So to put it succinctly: a late May death, followed by three in June.
Well, naturally, when you’re going through something like someone’s death, it forces you to reflect more upon the subject simply because you’re right in the smack of it. For the most part, people do not like to reflect on such matters when they’re so busy and in the midst of the teeming activities associated with its opposite: life itself. It’s not like you always have a choice in the matter, either. Even if you did, you’re most unlikely to choose it for discussion while you are sitting down, sipping over a cup of coffee or munching over food at the dinner table. Usually something happens that pushes you into its discussion. In fact, that’s sort of what happened to me. That’s why I’m blogging about it now. I found myself caught in the drama as it played out from the very moment I received the news. But actually, I could have chosen to discuss it in my previous post. I put it off, opting to discuss something I thought would be, shall I say, “pleasant.”
But, hey, I find myself right back to the place I sought to avoid. I think that’s because I truthfully felt something of a self-imposed obligation. This is about my experience. What's happening with me. It also occurred to me that someone out there reading this may be going through the same thing or something similar. Whichever case it is, I give my condolences and prayers. I just hope that my openness on the topic will help in some fashion. Perhaps this is the time and space that was meant for such a posting. But to be clear, the news I received about these deaths was not alone the thing that brought the subject of death into my consciousness and finally to an open forum. The reason I say this is because the thought was already with me, lurking along the peripheral of my thinking, waiting along the sidelines for an opportunity. With the death of these individuals, the subject was quickly moved from the back burner to the forefront. Now it’s here out on the table.
I suppose I had been thinking this way long before these somber occasions, because I have been immersed more into the bible than usual. Also I’ve been ahead in my thinking of it because, as I’ve heard it said: “the older you get, the more you tend to think about it.” And finally, with the world being filled with so much danger and uncertainties, it seemed only natural or logical for the thought to come up from time to time. Anyway, that’s what I was doing when all of these deaths occurred: reading and studying my bible and doing it with a vengeance that brought me to a greater appreciation for its wisdom and its helpful guidance. With this more than cursory approach toward the bible, I can now say, I feel more serene and definitely more empowered than I have ever felt before, even when I read a few lines. Beyond that, I’ve developed a practice of saturating myself in its principles and instructive insights to gain a better understanding of matters like God’s character, nature, grace, and mercy, and this helps me in my prayers. Another thing happened. I noticed my faith increasing as I journeyed throughout my bible. It was a blessing to know that these deaths have not affected me as adversely as it could have, had I not been so undergirded with some biblical understanding of God’s eternal plan and purpose for my life.
When even a single death occurs, no matter where you are in life’s journey, it is a reminder of something very important. It reminds me of that dreadful sounding 100-percent-statistic I would hear bandied about on occasion, the one that signifies the fact that everyone will face death for it is inescapable. But the good news of the gospel informs us that it does not have to be a scary or frightening proposition. One such verse that gives validation to this claim is quoted by the apostle Paul when he said, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 2:21). As I meditate upon these words, I pray that the Father will grant me the conviction expressed in them. I also pray that I remain earnest in my desire and steadfast in my pursuit to seek out the many pearls of wisdom and truth presented in the bible. I pray that I would grab onto them, treasure them, and apply the life-transforming properties embedded in them to my life. But to get to my level of biblical growth, I had to take that first step and open a very special book. The bible is that book. It is powerful. It gives strength and encouragement. It gives joy and hope. And I’m becoming a better person for having taken the time out for a more thorough reading of it, especially at a time as this, when everything else in the world spells out hopelessness in the midst of so much pain, death, and confusion.
It turned out well for me and for my family that I had been immersed as I was, because when my family came to me to write the obituary, I felt that sense of having been prepared. I was in a better position to go beyond the mechanics of writing to prepare a message (which the bible had given me) that would offer hope, peace, and comfort to those who were in mourning over a loved one. That was the challenged before me as I went about the assignment of composing a program. This program included pictures and the regular order of service. But my main focus was getting the obituary and a poem together. Was I nervous? Well, all I can say is that if I had been, I didn’t want to show it. I didn’t want my family to think that they would have to worry about at least this part. I wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted my cousin to have the kind of funeral that I felt he deserved. I wanted this last gesture concerning him to be a good and memorable one.
Well, the day and time arrived. After my daughter read the obituary, it was my turn to read the poem. I came to the platform, took a deep breath, and commenced with the reading. As I stood before the audience of mourners (or "celebrants," as some would prefer to say), I felt a strange combination of sadness and joy. Sad that my cousin had left us mourning and joy that Christ had given us a wonderful gift when he went to the cross. Looking out into the distance, I saw in the eyes of a few of them what I had interpreted as shinning lights of joy. What I saw seemed to be their encouraging me not to be afraid. As I looked out at my family, who sat in the front row, I tried to hold back all my emotions. I was determined that I would read the poem like a brave warrior, without shedding even a single tear myself, lest I might mess things up.
At that point, truthfully, I was a little nervous. After all, it was the “it” moment, the rubber-meeting-the-road kind of thing. I just had to get it right. So, with that, I took a deep breath, put on my “I’m-going-to-stay-composed face” and did what I had to do. And, of course, I liked that the person at the keyboard thought it would be nice to have a little music accompany me. But what really got me was what I did next. I had the audacity to share with them a little story about a very special moment I shared with my cousin. I seemed to have suffered a bout of amnesia. Remember? I was supposed to have been nervous. Let me just say here that the story I told wasn’t typed into the program. I had composed it as a possible add-on, to be used if time permitted. It was as if I were saying, “And by the way, I’d like to share …” Well it worked. The levity in the story was appropriate; the story, endearing; and it elicited the laughter at the right place, just as I had hoped. After that, I left—walking quickly to return to my seat, feeling free to let out a relieving sigh. I held my emotions at bay for a long time. I was glad, at least, that part was over.
I just want to say that one of the greatest joys in life for me is the joy of being able to help someone, especially when that person is at a low point or in need. Our Heavenly Father knows this. Jesus, too. His earthly ministry was devoted in service to others. We all need help from time to time, whether we like it or not, whether we want to admit to it or not. It may not be at the present time, but chances are great it will come. Wherever you are on the scale (the one who's providing the help or the one who's receiving it), there can be a joy that is immeasurably rewarding to the soul. I knew that my aunt needed help, and I felt that, of all the times she needed help, this was another one of those times I felt I was able to help her. There were many more times that I wished I could have done more. But thanks be to God, this was one where I could help enormously. It was my joy to do so, though the circumstances were not ours to choose.
So here I was, willing to offer all that was within me to make things happen. But even I was grateful for the help I received, even though I wasn't quick to verbally ask for it. It came, nonetheless. You see—if I may go back some—the obituary can be easy to do, because you're following a certain formula. A poem, though it can be written from force or habit, most of mine is best written inspirationally. I have my forced ones, but I prefer the ease that comes from the inspired ones. But the thing is this: you can have a problem when you have time constraints. You either have the inspiration or you don't. So, I attribute my having the right words for my cousin to my being in the presence of the spirit. Now whether it was the Holy Spirit or not, I'm not willing to presumptuously say that it was. I can say that the right words came at the right time of which there was very little time. I just isolated myself into a quiet room and wrote what was inside of me, like the natural flow of a coursing stream of water. That's how it was also when, for another funeral, I produced a booklet that contained a testimony and a poem on my coworker who was a marvelous example of a sister in Christ. If anything, that was her specialty. She was the one who wrote poems on others who had passed on while she was alive, and I had often wondered who would write one on her. My thing was writing tributes for the living.
The poem about my cousin was the second and latest poem I had written for a funeral; the obituary was also a second. The first one was for my uncle, and that was a long time ago. I never thought I would be engaged in this type of writing as I had always shunned those things connected with death, so that definitely means funerals. I guess, this is yet another testimony, one to the truth contained in Philippians 4:13, which says: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I believe I’ve come a long way, as I would never have attributed consciously anything I had accomplished to any power outside of myself. It took not just bible reading. It took also time and raw living to reach the point of not mentally patting myself on the back. I had to learn how to verbally give praises and thanks to the one who endowed me with my abilities and gifts in the first place. My coworker knew that very well, and now I scold myself for not really feeling that way, at least not all the time. Now I dare not take full credit for this latest accomplishment. There were other helpers. There definitely seemed a help that came my way that had a heavenly dimension to it. Anyway, I would, unquestionably, preferred not to have had any part in this if it meant I could have all my departed ones here alive with me on this earth. I’m also aware, though, that any departed person who got a taste of what heaven is like might say, if they somehow spoke to us, that they wouldn’t even want to come back. Those who are on earth grieving would love to hear that message!
I know that there are so many out there who are hurting. It is the lot of sin, the nature of our human inheritance. Pain exists just as night turns into day. All of humanity has felt the groans of pain, the terrible ache that comes to us at various points throughout our lives, in some way, in some degree. Pain and death awaits at every turn. But death, it will knock on a door to remind you that it is still paradoxically alive and kicking. To that, we must answer with a call upon God to help us move forward. I know I have called upon him to work his power through me, to help me to manifest his glory or to teach me how to use the tools I have been equipped with to rake away or dispose of the garbage in my life. I love that last sentence, because I am sick of smelling garbage. Show me the path that leads to a better landscape. Show me the path that leads to a heavenly garden. But in the meantime, I'll take even the earthly one here. Let it be beautiful and aromatic, one that’s filled with roses or any other type of flower. It’s high time that I get to smell something sweet. Do you feel me?
The good thing about being familiar with the negative (like garbage or pain), is that you know what the other, side of the coin is like. I hope you can follow me here. I’ll use, as an example, the parable about the Prodigal Son, which has such special meaning to my life. This parable or story illustrates this whole joy versus pain dynamic. Here you have a son who left his father and his home to go abroad (pain), taking all of his inheritance with him. Incidentally, some might say (and not necessarily facetiously) that the pain came to the father mostly after the son took along with him his inheritance. Anyway, after leaving and squandering all that he had, and being taken to his lowest point in life, the son finally comes to appreciate what he had given up. It’s then that he comes back to his father in repentance, willing to work his way back into his father’s good graces. But his father’s heart had been already won. In the parable, the father, out of love, came running down to meet his approaching son. He did not allow the opinion of others that he was humiliating himself by welcoming back into his home such an ungrateful son who apparently had no regard for him in the first place. To many of his neighbors, the father went too far, showering this son with kisses, showing him an easy forgiveness, and calling for a grand celebration of his younger son’s return.
Every time I reflect upon this parable, I get misty-eyed. I feel it deeply in my soul, and I can relate to the story as a mother whose emotional heartstrings are touched by this joyous and moving reunion between a father and a son who was once lost. Though this story is about love and forgiveness and has been compared to how the Heavenly Father loves and forgives us, I'm focusing on that aspect of pain and joy emerging from the story, too. It seems we must first endure that awful precursor of pain, before we are even allowed to know what real joy feels like. Psalm 30:5 says: Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning. Paul in Romans 8:18 says: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. And a missionary (Adoniram Judson) who served nearly 40 years in Burma poetically stated: In spite of sorrow, loss, and pain, Our course be onward still; We sow on Burmah’s barren plain, We reap on Zion’s hill.
I have some very dear people in my life with whom discussions concerning this whole phenomenon of pain and joy is hearty food for thought. These conversations have and continue to be a blessing upon my soul for certain revelations that come out of them. It seems all my life I have been seeking to reach this goal of being a “successful” whatever. That could be anything. A “successful” writer, with a “successful” marriage and some “successful” children.” Anything can follow actually the word “successful” whether it’s your goal or not. With respect to myself, I’ve had those moments where I've felt so defeated even after I've given my best shot. Then there’s the other times, when I allow myself to engage in fantasy, believing that I am nearer to my goals than at any other time in my life. But wherever I am in my thinking, along comes someone or something, a lights witch clicks, and suddenly the room becomes illuminated—now I can see things better. I can see better where I’m going, and make a decision as to whether or not I’m on the right track. With such illumination, questions pop up, and there’s a new approach, a new perspective: What does it mean to be “successful?” What is my purpose? How am I to use my skills (which I now call my spiritual gifts) to the betterment of society or should I have said toward the work for which God has always been calling upon me to do? I ask myself, honestly, was I not really listening because I had not really heeded to the call completely? Again, the word crops up again. “Successful.” Am I just plain delusional for striving for something that seems so elusive and far from my grip? Is there any merit or meaning to what I’ve been doing? Am I like a cat chasing my tail? Is all that I’m going through worth it? Are there not better things to pursue? …
I have heard and learned a lot in my life, and that word “success” still stands out just as death stood out with the passing of those whom I had loved. But success, unlike death, seems always a topic or theme for discussion than death has ever been. I remember hearing or reading somewhere about this thing called success. To me it had that ring of truth in it. It went something like this: “Success” is a meaningless term in that it does not actually say anything. Is it merely a word placed before yet another word (usually a noun or noun expression) that, I suppose, that represents your goal. So, given that information, if your goal (despite the argument that some would not strive toward certain goals) is to be a drug addict or pusher, then you are successful if you have reached that goal. You can be successful at either of the two mentioned or successful at anything else, if that is your goal, no matter how unappealing it may seem to someone else. To go further, applying my situation, I may say I am successful because I’m bringing in tons of money (fantasy here). But that is only one measure of success. Some would say what good is there in having an earthly success if you’re on your deathbed in a state of torment, because you know it means nothing in your eternal home, whether that turns out to be. Others might say, as I have often said, success is had when you’ve made it in this crazy society with your sanity intact. Do you see where I’m going? So the way to handle this is to expand upon the hollowness of the word’s use by elaboration or coming up with some criteria for what constitutes success as it is not always measured the way society has defined its ultimately reality to be; namely, in materialistic or monetary terms.
Without a doubt, I’m grateful for having the things that allow me to write. I’m grateful for the few material possessions that allow me and my family to have some fairly decent level of comfort (a circumstance that can change in a heartbeat as circumstances tend to hang always on a thread), but I’m thankfully aware that there are other barometers of success. Were this not so, can you imagine how much worse society would be? There would be greater civil unrest than what we see today. What keeps things from not becoming an even worse collapse is the hope provided in a silver lining that, if you're visually astute, you'll notice shining through all the pessimistic clouds that are a part of life. We are truly blessed if we are able to discover it. It's that great something that makes our existence here worthwhile or at least bearable. Oh, by the way, let me throw out a few more possibilities. Is success defined by the one who has less dependency upon the constant and forever flowing “perceived” necessities of the world? Or is it happiness that constitutes success? If I have the most toys, do I really win? Does that make you happy and as well successful?
Finally, before closing, I’d like to say that death, whether it occurs sporadically one by one. Or whether it occurs en masse, or in small series, like the one I illustrated at the beginning of this article, doesn’t really matter. Because however it occurs, there is always an urgency about it. Those who remain living must face it and think about it and deal with certain priorities attached to it. Experiencing the death of others may be seen as a respite from all your usual activities, especially the ones that are fun and lighthearted and thrilling. It forces you, if it hasn’t already, to ponder upon crucial questions like origin, purpose, values, and destiny. Right now, I can say that as for me, many of the things that were important to me no longer stands. Right now I’m blessed for every waking moment. To be awaken affords me the opportunity to express thanks to my Creator for all the goodness, grace, and mercy that he has bestowed upon my life personally, the life of those I love and who are close to me, and I’d like to add humanity in general. I’m thankful that whatever unfolds, I have also the opportunity to overcome the trials of life and to count it as joy (James 1:2-3). I also would like it very much if I can help or make a difference in the life of another human being. If I can bring a message of joy and hope that causes someone’s eyes to sparkle or voice to exude with the sound of joy, then I can say that I am successful. That, to me, is a mighty fine definition of success. It’s a beginning.
Until next time, be not stressed. Be blessed. This is Lesmotsique signing out.