Finding the Right Words

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This weekend our family will celebrate the life of our dear mother and will lay her mortal remains to rest. We thank God for her legacy and are truly thankful for the many expressions of love, care, and concern that have come from friends around the state and across the country.

What does one say when a friend’s loved one dies? At such times in my life, I think carefully, trying to choose the right words. Sometimes I think I succeed. At other times, not so much.

My thought is that what to say depends on the circumstances of the death of the person in question. What was the cause of death? The age of the deceased? Was it expected, after a lengthy illness? Or was it sudden? Did the deceased leave young dependent family members? Was it an infant who died? Had the person who died lived a lonely existence for many years?

My father died 36 years ago after more than a year of struggling with cancer. He was only 66. My mother and her four adult children weren’t ready for him to leave. Neither was he.

Mother died peacefully in her sleep at 102 years and 9 months, quite alert and fairly active till a few days before her death. She was ready to go. It would have been selfish for us to pray otherwise.

At Daddy’s death our family was grieving. His friends were also grieving. The words they shared with us reflected their sadness and disappointment following the death of a man who had only rarely been sick. Their words also focused on how much they knew we would miss him.

In Mom’s case, most people knew she had been praying that the Lord would take her home. So had her family. She had terminal congestive heart failure and had lived alone 36 years, the last 34 ½ months in assisted living. She wanted to go to heaven. Her death was a blessing.

Notwithstanding those circumstances, at Mom’s passing many friends of our family shared their love and concern in words expressing sorrow, condolence, and sympathy. My first words a week ago when I heard the news that she had passed were “God be praised! She’s now in heaven!”

Some of our neighbors brought a floral arrangement to our home with a card that said “May all your days be filled with the beautiful memories of your mother!” A second floral note said “May the certainty of the resurrection bring you joy even in the midst of your mourning.”

One thoughtful card said “We are among the multitude of saints rejoicing that Elda is now in the presence of the Lamb!” Another note said “We thank God for the mother who gave birth to you, a blessed woman of God indeed!  Now the cloud of witnesses just got stronger!”

Here are three points to consider when finding the right words to say at a time of death. First, put yourself in the shoes of the survivors and try to imagine what you might want to hear if it were your loved one who had died. Then say or write those words from your heart.

Second, try very hard not to let your anxiety and fear about what to say prevent you from saying or writing anything. Just knowing you care enough to express your love is priceless.

Third, don’t forget what Christians believe about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Those are promises of God that bring hope, comfort, and joy!

Rest in peace, dear Mom. We all love you more than words can say!

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I Wish I Could Wave a Magic Wand

People, Father, Daughter, Smile, Happy, Hug, Carry

Not long ago I was waiting for a plane that would take me back home to Terry after a long weekend of preaching, teaching, and visiting with folks about estate planning and charitable giving. The plane was delayed two hours. I was tired and ready to get home.

After the plane finally arrived at the airport, an attendant announced that passengers on the flight should begin to line up according to the number on their boarding pass. Travelers reading this post probably know by now that I was traveling on Southwest Airlines. But I digress.

In the line for passengers needing additional assistance I happened to notice a young girl, probably six or seven years old, holding on to an adult male, probably 35 years old. She was crying softly but emotionally. He was trying to console her, without much success.

As the little girl cried, she wiped away her tears with her hands, apparently having no tissue or handkerchief. The man, whom I surmised to be her father, held out a corner of his jacket for her to use. She dried those tears, which were very quickly replaced by a new flood.

When it was her turn to board the plane, she clung more tightly to her father. After she had finally let go of him and walked down the jet bridge with the attendant, I passed him on my way to the plane, stopped, and simply said: “You’re a loving father. It’s not always easy.”

I had fairly quickly concluded that the young lady was visiting her father over the weekend, that he lived in the vicinity, and that her mother lived in Austin, the destination of my flight.

Those conclusions were confirmed after our flight landed in Austin. At the arriving passengers baggage claim I saw the same young girl. She was with an adult woman, probably 35 years of age. Their greeting at the airport of arrival did not appear to be nearly as tender as the one I had witnessed at the airport of departure. Yet it appeared that she was back with her mother.

The custody of a child shared by two obviously separated and probably divorced parents is not uncommon in today’s world. Yet the frequency of such custodial relationships in no way lessens the emotional tug-of-war that characterizes the lives of many such young girls and boys. It’s not easy for a child to move forth and back between his or her parents.

The natural relationship between a child and parents is for the child to live with and be raised by both parents. Divorce changes that natural order. In most cases a dependent child must share time with two different people in two different homes. Divorced parents most often still love their child deeply. And the child most often still loves both of his or her parents unceasingly.

In many cases, as in the one I’ve shared with you today, that love is often accompanied by tearful goodbyes. I wish I could wave a magic wand!

Words of Wisdom from Andy Rooney

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Credit: Wikipedia

At the beginning of this New Year, I thought it appropriate to share with you some wisdom from Andy Rooney (1919-2011), who had the gift of saying so much with so few words.

I’ve learned….That the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.

I’ve learned….That when you’re in love, it shows.

I’ve learned….That just one person saying to me, “You’ve made my day!” makes my day.

I’ve learned….That having a child fall asleep in your arms is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world.

I’ve learned….That being kind is more important than being right.

I’ve learned….That you should never say no to a gift from a child.

I’ve learned….That I can always pray for someone when I don’t have the strength to help him or her in some other way.

I’ve learned….That no matter how serious your life requires you to be, everyone needs a friend to act goofy with.

I’ve learned….That sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold and a heart to understand.

I’ve learned….That simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.

I’ve learned….That life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

I’ve learned….That we should be glad God doesn’t give us everything we ask for.

I’ve learned….That money doesn’t buy class.

I’ve learned….That it’s those small daily happenings that make life so spectacular.

I’ve learned….That under everyone’s hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved.

So, my dear friends, I pray that such wisdom, seasoned with the amazing grace of the Creator of the universe, the Savior of the world, the Comforter of mankind, will penetrate your heart and guide your footsteps in the year of our Lord 2019!

The Twelve Days of Christmas

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Credit: Wikipedia

One tradition I particularly enjoy during the Christmas season is singing carols and songs. One of my favorites is The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The carol has its roots in 18th-century England. Several theories exist regarding the meaning of the lyrics. One suggests the song was a memory-and-forfeit game sung by British children. In the game, players had to remember all the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, a kiss or a piece of candy, to the others.

Another theory connects the carol to the era when Catholicism was outlawed in England, 1558-1829. That source says the carol was a song to help young Catholics learn the faith, which could not be openly practiced in Anglican society.  Here are the verses with their suggested meaning, according to that interesting but unsubstantiated theory:

  • A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Jesus Christ
  • Two Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testaments
  • Three French Hens – The three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity
  • Four Calling/Collie Birds – Four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  • Five Golden Rings – First five books of the Old Testament
  • Six Geese-a-Laying – Six days of creation before God’s rest on the seventh day
  • Seven Swans-a-Swimming – Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Eight Maids-a-Milking – Eight Beatitudes
  • Nine Ladies Dancing – Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • Ten Lords-a-Leaping – Ten Commandments
  • Eleven Pipers Piping – Eleven faithful disciples
  • Twelve Drummers Drumming -Twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed

The Twelve Days of Christmas refer to the 12-day period from Dec. 25, celebrated as the birth of Jesus, to the day before Epiphany, which is actually celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day when the three kings/wise men visited the baby Jesus.

Regardless of which explanation you choose to accept, observing the Twelve Days of Christmas is a good way to extend our remembrance of the birth of Jesus, the reason for the season!

Merry Twelve Days of Christmas!

Christmas Cards and Greetings

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It’s that time of year when our mailbox is the recipient of scores of Christmas cards and greetings. Terry and I enjoy reading every one of them and place them in a special receptacle on the hearth of our fireplace. They are warm reminders of friends we’ve made throughout the years.

Your mailbox probably also receives Christmas cards and letters. Those of you who know us may be wondering why one of the greetings you receive does not come from us.

The reason is quite simple. Over the nearly 53 years we’ve been married, Terry and I have been blessed with a formidable number of friends. The question is who should be included on our Christmas card list and who should be omitted. We have found no easy answer.

To include everyone we consider our friends, the printing, signing, addressing, stuffing, sealing, stamping, and mailing of Christmas cards would be a huge task. And Terry would find it difficult to resist the inclination to add a personal note to each one. Sending electronic greeting cards is an option but we have not yet been persuaded to go in that direction.

Instead, over the years we’ve discovered great joy in redirecting to our favorite charitable causes the money we would otherwise spend on Christmas cards and letters.  Accordingly, please consider this article our way of saying we love you and thank God for you.

Terry and I are well, enjoying the special blessings of good health and happiness. Our daughter Angie, her husband Todd, our grandson Kolby, our granddaughter Kayla, and our son Andrew are all doing fine and bring us great joy. We love them dearly and thank God for each of them.

My mother Elda is still here at the tender age of 102 years, 8 months, and 10 days. She prays every day to go to heaven to be with Jesus and her dear husband Martin, my Dad, who has a 36 year head start. We tell her that Jesus is not yet ready for her but that she gets closer each day.

We’ve been in our “new” home in Georgetown, Tex. 3 ½ years. It’s a new residential area in the country but still close to town. Our neighbors are wonderful people who love to socialize and genuinely care for one another. We are some of the most senior citizens in our subdivision, yet Terry and I find great joy in sharing Christian love and concern. We’re not alone in doing so.

So please accept this sincere and heartfelt greeting, with its mercifully brief personal and family update, along with our prayers for a blessed Christmas celebration of the birth of baby Jesus!

Correction

Oops!

Thursday’s Perspectives article was discovered to have a faulty link to:

  • Life, Love, Faith, Family by Jerry Kieschnick (CPH) — Perspectives from a veteran church leader

Try this link:

https://www.cph.org/p-32843-life-love-faith-family-perspectives-from-a-veteran-church-leader.aspx

Please accept my apology for any inconvenience. Many blessings!

Necessities of Life and Financial Priorities

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Before getting into this topic, here are two recently published books for your consideration:

  • How Long, O Lord, How Long? by Dale Kreienkamp (Tenth Power) — The unemployment journey
  • Life, Love, Faith, Family by Jerry Kieschnick (CPH) — Perspectives from a veteran church leader

Dale, a friend of mine, shares both practical and spiritual insights on life after losing a job. Most of you know the other author. My book is available at www.cph.org/p-32843-life-love-faith-family-perspectives-from-a-veteran-church-leader.aspx. Dale’s is at howlongolord.org. Take a look at both.

Providing the necessities of life requires paying attention to financial realities people face every day. Should I buy the Lexus or the Lamborghini? The Maserati or the Mazda? The Starbucks Toasted White Chocolate Mocha for $6.00 or the McDonald’s Peppermint Mocha for $2.00? You get the picture.

Perhaps except for the wealthiest among us, people are cost conscious, to a greater or lesser degree. But many people around the world have never even thought about decisions like those above. They are concerned about the necessities of life and can’t even begin to think about the luxuries, even if they knew they existed. In many cases that is highly doubtful.

In a recent sermon I said: Making decisions about what to eat and what to wear are first world issues. Many folks in third world countries have only one choice and it’s not made from a full cupboard or a multi-wardrobe closet. Their choice is often: “Do I beg for food on the street or go to the dump to try to fill my empty stomach?” And “Do I wear my one pair of pants and my one shirt before or after I wash them in the Ganges River?” By the way, the levels of fecal coliform bacteria from human waste in the waters of that river near Varanasi are more than 100 times the Indian government’s official limit.

The topic of necessities of life became even more vivid for me when I read an Aug. 25, 2018 article in The Wall Street Journal: Pet Insurance Not So Niche Anymore. It stated, among other things:

  • In 2017 Americans spent $17 billion on routine veterinary care for cats and dogs
  • Pet accidents or illnesses can greatly increase veterinary costs
  • The old method of repairing a dog’s torn cranial cruciate ligament (canine ACL) costs $1,200
  • Setting the bone and putting in a plate to make the knee as good as new costs $4,500
  • In the face of such rising costs, Americans spent $1 billion for pet insurance in 2017
  • These policies cover only 1% of the 94.2 million cats and 89.7 million dogs Americans own
  • With 12 million puppies and kittens being born every year, that number will explode

While it may be difficult to consider all pets a necessity of life, they are often very significant in people’s lives. For example, service dogs, comfort dogs, seeing-eye and guide dogs, owned by people who live alone, especially the elderly, are among the animals who play a very important and necessary role. Cat owners could probably articulate better than I how the feline species fills significant roles as well.

Puppies and kittens are God’s gifts to mankind. Yet spending billions to care for them in the face of worldwide poverty causes one to scratch one’s head about necessities of life and financial priorities. That’s particularly true as Christmas approaches. Especially during this season, Terry and I are acutely aware of the people and possessions God has entrusted to our care. He has blessed us with the necessities of life and many of the wants. Thanking him as good stewards is our Christian privilege.