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Posts Tagged ‘funerals’

Jo 17Recently, courtesy of a new DVD player and an old video converted to a DVD, I was able to view my parents’ Golden Wedding celebration in 1989 once again. My cousin who filmed it had caught snippets of conversation as she slowly panned around the room, surprising aunties, uncles, cousins and close friends in mid-sentence. What an eye-opener it all was!

First off, there was the shock of seeing our clothes and hairstyles back then—not to mention my ornate glasses I must have thought were so stylish! And my sister and I looked … well … so very young! I actually had dark brown hair back then—what could have happened?

But immediately too so many memories came flooding back, as I saw the faces of my aunties and uncles, some friendly and interested, some a little aloof, and heard the familiar tone of their voices again. One aunty was holding forth on all sorts of matters and sounding so definite, as she always had. Another beautiful, gentle aunty sat smiling and listening quietly, as she let the conversation wash over her. There was an uncle too, passionately expounding on some issue, while nobody around him seemed greatly interested. And yet another aunty sat back with an almost amused look, keeping her usual slight distance between herself and everyone else. What an important part of our lives they all were during my growing-up years! Was the extended family more important back then?

As I watched and listened, however, I was shocked to realise that, apart from one cousin, my sister, me, and those of our children who were able to be present, not one of those there that day is still with us. Of course, I should have known that was inevitable. After all, most were around the same vintage as my parents—and they were celebrating fifty years of marriage. But how are they being remembered now? What difference did they make in this world? No doubt they each left some money or possessions to family members, but what sort of lasting impact did they have on those close to them and others whose lives they touched?

My mind then turned to my own life. My husband and I have celebrated our own Golden Wedding now and, soon enough, our whole generation will no longer be here on earth either. So what sort of legacy will I leave behind? How is my life impacting those close to me and those I meet along the way in all sorts of contexts?

There is a particular verse I would like read out at my funeral that I hope and pray will be true of my life when it ends:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

When my time comes, I hope I will be remembered as being more like that lovely, gentle aunty of mine than the one who tended to tell us what to do. I hope I leave a positive legacy behind and that family and friends have felt encouraged by me in their own journeys rather than discouraged. I hope I finish well, still engaged in that fight and still honouring God with my whole heart.

Is that your hope too?

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Jo 17Who would have thought? Way back in July 2009, I started my personal blog journey, wondering whether I would continue to have enough things to write about. Yet here I am, five hundred blogs later, still finding something each week to share with others.  Also during this time, I have written over ninety blogs for various Christian author groups, sharing lessons from my writing journey and encouraging other authors. Phew!

Now that represents a lot of words cobbled together—around 325,000 in fact. If I had decided not to blog and instead shaped all those words into full-length books, I could have produced three and a half more novels in that time, to add to those I did manage to complete and see through to publication. No one made me choose to churn out those blogs each week, but I continued doing it for various reasons.

Firstly on a practical level, committing myself to producing a blog each week—or perhaps several ahead of time, if I planned to be away or had a busy schedule coming up—has kept me writing consistently, even if that meant less time to spend on bigger writing projects. Also, for wordy writers like me, it is good discipline to restrict myself to around 550 words, while attempting to say something worthwhile each week!

But perhaps more importantly, writing my blogs has become a little ministry that seems to suit my particular gifts and personality well and provides a way for me to connect with those I have known in past years, as well as many readers I don’t know personally at all. It is a way I can encourage others via sharing something God has done in my life or some lesson I have taken to heart from God’s Word or perhaps something God seems to highlight in the people, places or events in the world around me. And in the process, I often encourage myself all over again, as I reflect on what I feel God wants me to say and crystallise those thoughts running around in my brain.

Recently, I chatted with a friend who was preparing a eulogy for the funeral of a close relative. I shared with her how some of Jesus’ words as he prays to his heavenly Father, just prior to being arrested, had challenged me that morning:

I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. John 17:4

How wonderful it would be, we decided, if we, like Jesus, could truly say that at the end of our time here on earth! It is what we both aim for in our lives—to do the work God has given us to do, however big or small that might be. And I feel that my writing, including my little effort with my blogs, has been part of that work God has gifted and enabled me to do.

Recently when I spoke at an event, I mentioned some similar words that the Apostle Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy and that I would like at my own funeral:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

I hope I can say that when my time comes. Is that your hope too?

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What drives me to keep writing? I ask myself that question quite often these days, as do others from time to time. Surely, with five novels published and a sixth waiting for acceptance, I must have used up all the ideas I have in my head for plots?  Sometimes I look at all the effort involved, not only in writing a novel but actually getting out there and promoting it, and am tempted to think that maybe I’ve written enough. But then something happens—and I’m spurred on yet again to keep at it.

This past week saw my husband heading to Canberra for the funeral of a colleague who has spent many years in ministry. When I saw the order of service my husband brought home, I realised this gentleman was around the same age as I am. There was something quite stark and almost shocking, I quickly discovered, in seeing the same year as I was born printed on this order of service. I am mortal, I found myself thinking. There will be an end to this life I’m living and this writing and speaking and editing – perhaps even sooner than I imagined.

Now I did already have an inkling this was the case, of course. But somehow in being so focused on the tasks at hand, all needing to be done in a certain time frame, I had lost sight a little of the bigger picture. This salutary lesson was then quickly followed by another a few days later—something I find God is very good at when it’s necessary to get my attention. There I was, happily reading through 2 Corinthians 4, when I came across the following verses:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (4:16-18).

Hmm—so all these books I’m spending so much time creating won’t last forever. Yet if God has called me to write them, then they are definitely important.

It seems to be a matter of balance, don’t you think? We are called to work with all our might at what God has given us to do, but at the same time, we are to remember they are not an end in themselves. While we have to deal very much with the ‘seen’ in our lives on a daily basis, we are nevertheless to focus on the ‘unseen’ through it all—even the troubles we have along the way. For me then, this means I am to live and write and speak for God to the best of my ability, knowing it’s for God’s glory and not my own, and also knowing I could step into eternity at any time. I won’t be here forever, but while I am, I am to work for the things that truly will last forever.

So I hope I’ve taken God’s gentle reminders to heart.  Right now, I reckon the gentleman whose funeral my husband attended is enjoying that eternal glory with God in heaven. And that’s where I want my focus to be too. I want to write for eternity.

How about you? Where is your focus?

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Many years ago, one of our daughters who was only very little at the time was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer was a doctor or – wait for it – a shepherd! She had heard various bible stories about shepherds and must have decided they were a kind lot who helped and cared for others. The interesting thing is that while she did not take up either of these occupations, she nevertheless clearly conveys these traits in the way she has related to others throughout her life. Next year she is heading out with a volunteer organisation to spend some time working with orphans in Rumania – still the doctor and the shepherd at heart.

I think of her almost every time I read or speak on Psalm 23. This psalm is so well-known that the temptation is to gloss over the richness of its words and to read it only at funerals or memorial services. Yet I think it gives such encouragement to us as we seek to live our lives well right now, and deep comfort whenever we find ourselves in a hard place.

Right off the bat, the psalm begins with the strong assertion that ‘The LORD is my Shepherd’. What a statement! David, its author, is declaring that Yahweh, the most high God, the ‘I AM’, the one whose name was too holy and too awesome even to be spoken aloud by the ancient Hebrews, is prepared to take on the lowly role of a shepherd and, furthermore, lead and guide him personally through his life. That blows my mind and immediately takes me back to my teenage years when I realised for the first time that the mighty God of the whole universe knew me and cared about me personally – enough to send Jesus to die for me, in fact.

As the psalm continues to unfold, we read wonderful statements about the Lord that I have found so true since then:

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the present of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

The key factor in it all is that presence of the Shepherd walking closely with me, strengthening me, showing me the way forward, defending me, healing me. My task is to ensure I keep my eyes on my Shepherd, listening for his voice, trusting him when he takes me in a particular direction. In John 10:27, Jesus himself says:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

What a privilege to have Jesus, the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:14-15), intimately involved in my life journey, with all its twists and turns! In fact, he has told us this relationship will never end, that no one can snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). So it is with a grateful heart that I agree with David as he concludes his psalm:

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Can you hear the voice of this faithful Shepherd too? Are you listening?

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