Friday, March 09, 2007

Three Funerals - Three Lessons in Love

Core Thought: What will your legacy be?

I did a funeral on my birthday two weeks ago. That was on a Saturday. Then on the next Friday I did another funeral, and the next day, funeral number three. I believe that was a personal record, having three service so close together. That next Sunday I shared with my church a brief (yes, me, brief!) message on my previous eight days.

I told them that the common thread that ran through each life was love lavished on others. Each life reflected the person's desire to impact their families with love in tangible, practical ways.

First, there was Rahn, who loved his country enough to serve in World War II in the 1st Special Services Force (see: This elite force, made up of American and Canadian soldiers, was the foundation for the Green Berets, and other special military forces. Rahn was a hero sitting under my nose, and I didn't even know it. To me, he was a retired power company employee who loved his wife Donita, even after she contracted Alzheimers, and who cooked a full breakfast every day for his kids since his wife had to leave for her job as a phone operator. He also made sure everyone in the extended family knew how to swim as the official family swim instructor. One niece told me that when she was dating a young man who would become her husband, she warned him, "If you don't become like Uncle Rahn, then I'm not interested in continuing our relationship!!" The meal after the service was very upbeat, with photo albums of the family. Oh, and one more thing. Rahn and his wife, Donita, were so successful at passing on love to this family that the family sang "Happy Birthday" to me! Now that's love in the valley of the shadow of death!

Second, there was Clarice, a homebound member who loved her only child, Skipper, her church, her pastor, and her little dog "precious." She also loved her Lord, whom she trusted completely to take her home when the time came. On the day of her death, in ICU, when I came into the room, she said in a labored tone, "Why are you late?" I said, "Clarice, you know I had church this morning." I had only received the news of her transfer to ICU that morning. She responded with a smile, "Oh, you know I was just joking with you." I did. She was very uncomfortable, and that night she passed away. She was one of a few homebound members who would pray verbally for me during one of my visits. I never forgot that.

Finally, there was Betty Ruth. Her funeral was the largest I have officiated over at Denmark. The sanctuary and Fellowship Halls were full. Why? Partly, perhaps, because of her husband's position in local law enforcement, but I suspect a more powerful force was the love she lavished on her family and friends. She has four boys, all married, all with grand-kids (and a couple of great-grands). Betty Ruth, as her obituary said, "Claimed victory over cancer" in her death. She talked to me in detail about her service, and about the peace she had anticipating her death. She told her children individually, "I am at peace, and I want you to be at peace, too." She always sent lots of cards to the grand-kids...with dollars for birthdays, holidays (even smaller holidays), and good grades. She sent siblings in a family a smaller gift on their brother or sister's birthday because she didn't want anyone to be unhappy on someone else's birthday. She played with her grand-kids, too, and she and her husband, hardly ever missed a sporting or school event. Each of her boys married women who looked to her not as mother-in-law, but as another "mama." Seldom have I seen a family so devoted to each other as this one. Even when she was sick from chemo, Betty would routinely write cards to encourage others. The final music selection was an instrumental piece played by Betty Ruth's sister, and selected by Betty Ruth. We put the words in the bulletin. The message was clear in the lyrics of Andrae Crouch's My Tribute: How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me. Things so undeserved, yet you did to prove your love for me? A life ending with peace, gratitude, and a love that goes on in the lives of her family and friends. What a great legacy!

Though people have expressed concern for me with a sudden rash of funerals, I feel grateful that God has allowed me to witness these and other wonderful and powerful portraits of the power of love. Jesus really knew what He was talking about when he said the most important things to do on any given day are to love God and love others! What kind of legacy will you leave this place?

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