The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

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At my mother’s memorial service last month I was invited to share a few reflections. One story I told described the time she washed my mouth out with soap. I can still taste that nasty soap! I was probably nine or ten years old and she had heard me say a bad word. I learned my lesson and never again said that word … at least not in her presence.

The last sentence in the paragraph above illustrates another life lesson I learned—always to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In that sentence I could have said only “I learned my lesson and never again said that word.” But that would not have been totally truthful. The real truth is in the words “… at least not in her presence.”

It was through a stern warning of my dear father that I learned that lesson about telling the truth. Daddy was bigger and stronger than I. So I chose not to test the sincerity of his warning because I had no desire to taste the punishment I’d likely receive if I ignored it.

Accordingly, when it was time to fess up regarding matters of importance about which my father was inquiring, I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It worked. He never had to make me taste his recipe for corporal punishment.

Perhaps that’s why I become so aggravated today with those who don’t adhere to that principle about truth. I see and hear partial truths or half-truths in the lives and words of public figures in the political, secular, and even ecclesiastical worlds.

All too often I’ll hear something said that I know is not completely truthful. It may contain a grain of truth. But if it leaves out critical parts of the story, it falls woefully short of actually being the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

To add insult to injury, when caught, some with that propensity will offer an apology to “anyone who was offended.” But when the apology itself also includes half-truths or omits salient portions of the real truth, disdain and disrespect are further fueled.

That’s particularly true when those who hear the apology don’t know the rest of the story and treat the culprit as a hero, thanking him for his apology, applauding him for his humble spirit. It’s frustrating to see uninformed people misled by someone in a position of trust and authority.

“The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” Prov. 12:22

I love the Old Irish Blessing: “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping!” The same blessing applies to those who don’t tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Beware of twisted ankles! And Happy Valentine’s Day!

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A Celebration of Life

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Credit: Wikipedia

Two weeks ago this morning my mother went to heaven. This past Saturday we laid her physical body to rest in the cemetery plot right next to my father. Most of our family watched as her casket was slowly lowered into its final resting place. Those who wanted to do so dropped a bit of sand onto her casket. “Earth to earth … ashes to ashes … dust to dust.”

Saturday’s memorial service was a wonderful mixture of sadness and rejoicing. Sadness because Mom will no longer be present in our lives. Rejoicing because she prayed for nearly three years that Jesus would take her home to heaven. Jesus finally answered her prayer.

During the week between her passing and burial, her children and grandchildren took care of the multifaceted details connected with death. Funeral home. Casket selection. Flower shop. Informing relatives and friends. Notifying pallbearers. Securing travel and lodging. Planning the family gathering. Communicating with pastor. Selecting organist. Editing photos. Finalizing and publishing obituary. Scheduling cemetery arrangements. Ordering headstone engraving.

Lots of important details needed to be taken care of. The result was a service of thanksgiving to God for our mother’s life and love, followed by a wonderful reception with food and drink, hosted by members of Mom’s church.

There were tears that day. There was also rejoicing. Most of our family members and many friends, both current and historic, paid their respects to Mother and shared their love with our family.

Many gave flowers or memorial gifts in her loving memory. Countless cards, letters, emails, text messages, and phone calls were received, all incredible outpourings of love. It would be nearly impossible to respond to each of those acts of care and concern. Many thanks to all of you!

During Mother’s 34 ½ months in assisted living, many friends and family visited her, almost daily. Many but not all of them signed the guest book near the door. After her funeral I counted the names in the book, a total of 2,080 visitors in slightly more than 1,000 days.

My comments near the end of the service included quotes from the Hymn I’m But a Stranger Here, Heav’n is My Home and concluded with the words: Goodbye, Mother Elda. You’re now home. In heaven. With our father Martin. Rest in peace. We’ll see you again. Someday. At home! 

Our final moments with our mother in that house of God, Cross Lutheran Church in New Braunfels, Texas, were a celebration of life for a woman who was blessed by God to be a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great great grandmother, aunt, cousin, and friend.

To God alone be the glory!

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!

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!

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!

Important Facts to Remember as You Grow Older

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A Facebook friend posted the following thoughts, probably not original:

  1. Death is the number one killer in the world.
  2. Life is sexually transmitted.
  3. Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.
  4. Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks, months, maybe years.
  5. Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.
  6. All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
  7. In the 60s, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.
  8. Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last that long.

Obviously my friend had his tongue at least partially embedded in his cheek. Some of these are more humorous than others. Yet within the humor lies one basic truth. We are mortal, finite human beings. Our human life had a beginning. It will also have an ending.

King David says it like this: “We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.” 1 Chron. 29:15

For Christians, that’s not the end of the story. At the death of his close friend Lazarus, Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever who lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26

To some, that’s double talk. How can someone die and yet never die? That’s the mystery of death, solved only by the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ. For when a person dies, he/she takes off his/her body and moves to another existence. In that new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1) that person’s life never ends.

That’s a truth worth living for … a truth worth dying for … a promise to remember as you grow older.

Thanksgiving

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Today I share with you this story (http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/thanksgiving/short-stories/religious-thanksgiving.html):

Thanksgiving by Bruce Wright

What does Thanksgiving mean to you? I hear one boy say, “It means a big dinner.” I think we all agree with him. Who does not welcome and enjoy a good dinner! I hear Mary say, “Thanksgiving means a day off from school.” I guess you are right too. School is not such a charming place that girls and boys are unwilling to have an occasional holiday.

Now I am going to ask some of the older people what the day means to them. There is a young woman, a stenographer. She says, “Thanksgiving means a day away from the office. I’m at the office every day except Sunday, and I do appreciate, now and then, a day that’s really my own.”

Yonder is a traveling salesman. “What does Thanksgiving mean to you?” He says, “It means a day at home. Last year I spent one hundred and sixty-nine nights away from home. I have three children. I should like to see them every day. There are times when many days pass and I do not see them. Thanksgiving week I plan to be at home.”

There are others I could ask. Each has his or her answer. But Thanksgiving has a special meaning for us. It is the harvest time. I have here an apple. Isn’t this a beautiful apple? What color! Who mixed the paints, who handled the brush to give such color to this apple? God. He, in his infinite love and wisdom, has provided, through the unfailing laws of nature, for the growth, sweetness, coloring and beautifying of all the products of the fields. This apple is but one of many kinds of fruits.

Praise, then, is the great meaning of Thanksgiving. God, our heavenly Father, sends us every good gift. From his bountiful hand come our daily and nightly mercies. We should praise him every day. But the day for the united chorus of praise is Thanksgiving.

Psalm 150: 6: “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.”

Hymn 892 (Lutheran Service Book):

Come, ye thankful people, come; raise the song of harvest home.
All be safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God, our maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied.
Come to God’s own temple, come; raise the song of harvest home.

Terry and I pray for each of you a Blessed Thanksgiving!