On death, grief, and the bent of my life

We were staying with our Mam Maw, our maternal grandmother, my sister and I were, when we got the news. Mam Maw hung up the phone and turning toward us, she pulled us to herself as she told us that our other grandmother, our dad’s mom, had died.

My sister immediately burst into tears while I, no less sad or bereft, stood there shocked by the loss of death and, if truth be told, perhaps somewhat embarrassed by my stoicism.

Of course if you knew me or my sister as girls you would probably say our responses were spot on. I have always been the more reserved–dare I say the more boring–of the two of us. My sister would drift through the house singing at the top of her lungs and I would be in the quietest corner I could find hunched over a book.

One Halloween my sister and I got the inspiration to trick or treat our own house. Our home at the time had several doors that opened to the outside so we decided we could go “door to door,” in the assumption our mom would indulge us by skittering from one door to the next with the requisite candy.

Meanwhile my dad had his own inspiration to attempt to scare us. He grabbed a sheet and as we made our way across the yard he ran by on the other side of the house with the sheet waving behind him. I was frightened out of my wits, frozen by my fear, unable to move, my mind immediately racing with how and where we could retreat, hide, escape. My sister, on the other hand, propelled me forward, laughing, barely containing her excitement and was it joy?

That’s us in a nutshell, particularly in terms of strong emotion. Me, frozen, thinking, standing back. My sister, embracing, transparent, eager even.

My husband and I received a similarly heartbreaking phone call a couple of weeks ago. This time my husband got the call and he immediately wept upon receiving the terrible news. Our friend Ron had been killed. I didn’t cry right then but prayed over and over, aloud and silently both, “Oh, my God.”

Some of us cry and others of us brood. I’ve brooded much in the days since that phone call as the truths of life and death gain greater weight and urgency. I’ve been moved to action too; in the tradition we Southerners have of marking all of life’s events with food, I’ve cooked a pork tenderloin and a Dr. Pepper cake and a squash casserole, all meager offerings in the face of the family’s devastating grief. Necessary and needful but still inadequate. What is a casserole to assuage the loss of husband and father?

Ron’s death was sudden and shocking. As I brood and ponder, I sometimes cannot wrap my mind around it. How very bizarre it seems, and I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but to consider that one Sunday Ron was there at church with us, serving and conversing and singing and praising, and by the next he was dead and buried? It is sad, unspeakably so. It is heartbreaking. It is shocking. It is sobering.

One thing I can say unequivocally about Ron: he loved the Lord Jesus. That I can assert without a shadow of a doubt. He certainly did not know that the Lord would call him home on that particular Wednesday night but it didn’t matter, not ultimately, because this was the bent of Ron’s life. His love for the Lord marked him; it was how he lived.

All my brooding has led me to this question: should the Lord take me today, tomorrow, or four decades from now, is the love of the Lord the bent of my life? Could you stand over my casket and say without a doubt that this girl lived for the glory of her Savior? It was so of my friend and I want it to be so for me. I think Ron would be happy for this to be his legacy: men and women saved from their sins by the grace of the Lord and living the rest of their lives, however long, however short, aflame with affection for their Savior.

Yes and amen.

Thank you, Elisabeth

The first Elisabeth Elliot book I read was Passion and Purity. I was in college, no doubt brokenhearted over some boy, and I grabbed my roommate’s copy not knowing who Elisabeth was nor anything of her story. I think perhaps I was hoping to find the secret to finding love, true love, and the kind of happily ever after that had thus far eluded me in my twenty years of life.

I read the book in one sitting. Yes, Elisabeth spoke, and quite directly I might add, of relationships but it was her passion for Christ that captivated me. She and Jim so young, so in love, their story so tragic, their abandon to the cause of Christ so complete–I saw in their testimony the beauty of a surrendered life and I wanted it.

I’ve since read several of Elisabeth’s books. As a matter of fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve bought–and lent out–Through Gates of Splendor twice. The pictures and images of that particular book stay with me: those young men full of zeal for the Lord and love for all the peoples of the world, the widows and their babies waiting for news, any news, Elisabeth returning to that same people group who had murdered her husband. Here’s Elisabeth describing how they viewed the possibility of danger:

God gave us peace of heart, and confidence that whatever might happen, His Word would hold…God’s leading was unmistakable up to this point. Each of us knew when we married our husbands that there would never be any question about who came first–God and His work held first place in each life. It was the condition of true discipleship; it became devastatingly meaningful now.

It was a time for soul-searching, a time for counting the possible cost. Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No…their compulsion was from a different source. Each had made a personal transaction with God, recognizing that he belonged to God, first of all by creation, and secondly by redemption through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This double claim on his life settled once and for all the question of allegiance. It was not a matter of striving to follow the example of a great Teacher. To conform to the perfect life of Jesus was impossible for a human being. To these men, Jesus Christ was God, and had actually taken upon Himself human form, in order that He might die, and, by His death, provide not only escape from the punishment which their sin merited, but also a new kind of life, eternal both in length and in quality. This meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed, and more than that, that He would provide the power to obey. The point of decision had been reached. God’s command “Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature” was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant.

I pulled Passion and Purity from my friend’s shelf because I desperately desired true love and the happily ever after of a fairy tale story. Yes, Elisabeth taught me the love of a godly man was worth waiting for, and she was right. She also taught me that true love, sustaining love, the love that will never fail, is found only in Christ. Happily ever after is no fairy tale and its reality is costly. In fact, it will cost my life. “Take up your cross and die” is Jesus’ call to any true disciple. For Jim Elliot it meant martyrdom. For Elisabeth it meant a long obedience in the same direction until, finally, yesterday, the gates of splendor and the glory of her Savior’s presence.

I am indebted to Elisabeth Elliot and her unwavering testimony of the power and sufficiency of the gospel. I am thankful for her life and that she has now received her reward.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you.

 

On death and legacy

Tonight I will go to the funeral home and I will stand in line and I will offer my condolences to the grieving family and I will attempt to pay my respects to a lady I loved and cared about. Perhaps I will tell the family of my last memory of their loved one, a conversation she and I had over punch and finger foods at a bridal tea, a conversation in which she told me yet again that she prayed for me, daily, still.

As I give hugs and express my sorrow for the family’s loss, for all of ours, I will ponder the legacy of this servant of the Lord. I will remember the years she taught young girls in Sunday School and the investment she made in their lives and hearts. I will think of her challenging my husband to a ping pong duel, she many years into her senior adult status! I will remember her question to me about the efficacy of Jesus’ blood at some other bridal tea, many years ago. I will be thankful for her long life and her faith and I will rejoice that her hope is now reality and that she now lives in the glorious Presence of the Savior she loved.

Morbid it may be, but I will also think of my own dying. Will I be young? Or old? As friends and family pay their respects and gaze on my earthly remains, what will they have to say? As others reflect on my life, the good, the bad and the ugly, how will I be remembered? What will my legacy be? One of faith? Or, God forbid, futility? These thoughts both sober and worry me. No one knows the day or the hour, the Bible tells me; I must wonder, am I redeeming the time?

Many of these same thoughts are echoed in a post I wrote a few years ago after watching a documentary on, of all things, Princess Diana’s dresses. After musing over such a strange legacy, I make the following observations…

If I could choose my legacy, what would I choose? How would I hope to be remembered? What mark do I want to leave?

While sometimes I act as if the most critical legacy I could leave is something as trivial as dresses or dolls, it is my sincere desire when I pass from this world to the next that others could look back on my life here and say:

That girl loved Jesus with everything in her.
He was her passion, her joy, her life.

Now may I live like it.

Yes, Lord. Let it be.