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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+George Herbert Walker Bush+

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On Friday, November 30, the 41st President of the United States died at the age of 94 years, five months, and 18 days. He was born in Milton, Mass., and died at home in Houston, Tex.

At the time of his death he was the third-longest-lived vice president, and the longest-lived president in U.S. history. Since the day he died, U.S. news sources have highlighted his career and family, including wife Barbara, who passed away earlier this year; son George W. Bush, 43rd U.S. President; and son Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor. George H.W.’s personal life was accentuated by boating and parachuting activities that extended into his ninth decade.

President Bush was raised in the Episcopal Church and expressed his faith publicly in numerous ways, including his Thousand Points of Light speech, his support for prayer in public schools, and his pro-life views. His faith was also reflected in the music he chose for the arrival of his body in Washington D.C. to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. The selections played by a military band were Beautiful Savior and A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

People of all ages and physical conditions waited for hours in the Washington cold to enter the Rotunda. Memorable sights were many, including a Boy Scout standing at attention and saluting for an extended period of time; 95-year old former U.S. Senator Robert Dole, in a wheelchair, with great effort standing and saluting the casket with a crippled left hand; and numerous world famous professional sports and political figures.

Yesterday the casket was moved to Washington National Cathedral for a memorial service clearly reflecting President Bush’s Christian faith. The service featured powerful Christ centered preaching, with numerous inspirational hymns and dynamic choral presentations. It was seasoned with both serious reflections and humorous comments from family members and political personalities.

Another memorial service will be held today at 10:00 a.m. CST at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. From there his body will be transported to College Station, Tex., where he will be laid to rest at the Bush Library on the campus of Texas A & M University next to his wife Barbara and their three-year-old daughter Pauline Robinson Bush (Robin), who died of leukemia 65 years ago.

Of particular note to me this week have been the broad and non-partisan expressions of respect and even love for this man, particularly at a time of hugely partisan political division in America. It was also quite encouraging to hear again the clear expressions of his Christian faith.

The New York Times reported: His [Bush’s] longtime friend and former Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him. Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open. “Where are we going, Bake?” he asked. “We’re going to heaven,” Mr. Baker answered. “That’s where I want to go,” Mr. Bush said. Barely 13 hours later, Mr. Bush was dead.

Fox News Sunday reported: Baker, who called Bush his best friend, discussed his peaceful final day. “He had a very gentle and peaceful passing,” Baker said.  “They made arrangements for all of his children to call in to in effect tell him goodbye. His son former President George W. Bush called in to say ‘Dad, I love you, I will see you on the other side’ and President Bush said ‘I love you, too’ and those were his last words. He had a very gentle and easy passing, the kind we ought to all hope we have.”

Guy Benson, Political Editor for Townhall.com, concluded: Death is an inevitability, so perhaps this is the best way to go: Saying final, loving goodbyes to everyone who matters in your life before dying at a ripe old age, after living an incredibly full and consequential life. Bush was a war hero, a Congressman from Texas, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Republican National Committee Chairman, Director of the CIA, Vice President of the United States, and President of the United States.

And I add: “George Herbert Walker Bush, rest in peace. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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.

My New Book

Life, Love, Faith, Family: Perspectives from a Veteran Church Leader. That’s the title of my new book now available for pre-order from Concordia Publishing House. Here’s CPH’s description:

The Christian life is often not an easy one. Struggles occur in marriages and vocations. Death cannot be avoided. Natural disasters and illnesses arise unexpectedly.

With pastoral care, a spiritual perspective, and real-life wisdom, Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Kieschnick has written on matters of life and faith for years. This collection combines some of his best writing on a variety of everyday topics, encouraging you to turn to God’s Word, the ultimate source of wisdom, for guidance in navigating the Christian life.

May these brief musings offer you spiritual encouragement and comfort as you experience all that the Christian life encompasses—grief, happiness, tension, contentment, fear, and joy.

The Preface sets the stage in my own words:

For more than half a century, I’ve served in numerous Christian leadership capacities, from developing a mission church starting with nothing to president of a national church body of over two million members. Throughout those years, I’ve met and known many people who experience much joy, meaning, and fulfillment in life and love. Yet, many of these wonderful people have encoun­tered challenges and difficulties along the way, often in the arenas of family and faith.

 Every week, for the past nine years, I’ve written my personal perspectives on these and a variety of other topics. In this little book, I share one hundred of those stories and reflections for your reading enjoyment, emotional encouragement, and spir­itual enrichment.

Late last week I received word from CPH that this book is now available for pre-order. Go to:

https://www.cph.org/p-32843-life-love-faith-family-perspectives-from-a-veteran-church-leader.aspx Copies will begin shipping on August 15.

My first book published by Concordia Publishing House was Waking the Sleeping Giant (CPH, 2010). It’s an honor and privilege to work again with CPH. I pray this new book will be a blessing to those who read it. And if you happen to have your copy with you next time we’re together, I’ll be happy to sign it.

God bless your day!

Life is a Miracle. Death is a Mystery.

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A longtime friend of Terry’s and mine, Doreen Bohrer, passed away last week. She was a pastor’s wife, talented musician, great polka dancer, dedicated educator, and gifted administrator. She loved the Lord, loved life, and loved her family.

Her memorial service was held earlier this week at Christ Lutheran Church in Austin. A good friend of mine, Dr. Bill Knippa, preached and led the service. I was also invited to participate by reading scripture, leading the prayers, and offering these pastoral comments:

It’s never easy to lose a loved one, either after a long illness or unexpectedly and inexplicably. Death is a part of life. Old Testament King David said: “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. 19:14-15

Who can understand the miracle of life and the mystery of death? Life is a miraculous co-mingling of systems: circulatory, digestive, endocrine, exocrine, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, renal, reproductive, respiratory, and skeletal, each working with the others to sustain in the body what we call life.  

Death is a deep, dark mystery. One moment a person is warm, animated, conversant, mobile, alive. The next moment the body of that same person is cold, still, silent, vacant, dead. A beautiful woman or handsome man in a casket deteriorates into a pile of dust and a box of bones or is reduced in a cremation furnace into only a pile of ashes. Death is a reality of life that awaits us all. 

The most helpful insight I’ve ever heard about life and death came from Terry’s and my own daughter. When she was three years old, little Angie asked the thoughtfully perceptive question: “Daddy, when a person dies does he take off his body?”

For a moment I was completely stumped! After reflecting and recovering, I replied: “Yes. That’s exactly what happens when a person dies.” To this day, over 45 years later, I still turn to that insightful understanding when death occurs.

To me, the most easily understandable explanation of life is that everyone has a body in which that person’s soul or spirit, that person’s real being, resides as long as he or she is living on this earth. When death occurs, that person’s soul or spirit leaves the body and moves on. Angie had it right. The person who dies takes off his or her body and leaves it behind.

That’s what’s in the box in this sanctuary – the physical body inherited and inhabited by the soul, the spirit, the real being, the true essence of the woman we knew and loved. That body was baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That body was the home of a soul redeemed by the blood of Christ. That body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. That body contained the woman who lived her life as both saint and sinner.

Where has that real being gone, the soul or spirit that animated her body for over 79 years? Jesus answers that question: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The real being that resided in this body has gone out of this world to eternal life in heaven. Eternal means everlasting, undying, perpetual, endless, ceaseless, timeless, infinite, immortal, never ending.  

It’s hard to comprehend how someone can go on living or existing forever, in a place where the pain and problems of this earth no longer exist. But that’s the promise of God, through Christ our Lord.

Believing that promise gives me hope. And I pray it gives hope and comfort to each of you as well!

Doreen had taken time in advance of her death to plan her memorial service. It’s tough for family to try to guess what their departed loved one might have wanted. Taking care of those important details is a great relief to an already grieving family.

We at Legacy Deo have a Funeral Planning Guide – Celebrating  Victory in Christ – available to you at no cost. Request your electronic or printed copy by emailing me GBJK@LegacyDeo.org.

God bless your day!

The Precious Gift of Life

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“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” That’s how the book of Genesis describes the beginning of life on earth.

Since the time of creation, mankind has survived tragedy and trauma, death and devastation. People have experienced joys and sorrows, blessings and difficulties, victories and defeats.

Through it all, the precious gift of life has been passed from one generation to another. The normal cycle of life is for babies to be born and for old people to die. But things don’t always happen as predictably as that.

This week Terry and I attended a memorial service for the daughter of a longtime friend, Nita Horn. I buried Nita’s husband 33 years ago. In the past few years she’s also lost her son, son-in-law, and daughter. That’s not the way things are supposed to be, even for a 90 year old.

Also consider the seemingly countless number of recent incidences of unexpected violence. Yet another one occurred this past Sunday at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Like many of the 3,000 small towns in Texas, Sutherland Springs was virtually unknown until last Sunday. Now this small community about 30 miles east of San Antonio is etched into the memories of people around the world, all because of the demonic act of one man who killed 26 people in a church. Many of them were children, with most of their expected life ahead of them.

In all cases where life is lost, especially unexpectedly, I’m struck anew by the precious gift of life and how fragile that gift really is. So take a moment to call, write, or in any way possible to tell someone you love how precious he or she is to you. And thank God for bringing that person into your life.

Pearl Harbor and Hacksaw Ridge

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As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, the decision was made earlier this week to continue with another volume of Perspectives articles. Thank you for the encouragement expressed by so many of you for me to keep writing. It’s not a simple chore, so I do appreciate your appreciation!

This past weekend Terry and I watched two movies at home. Pearl Harbor was produced in 2001 with Ben Affleck as Capt. Rafe McCawley, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot who bravely responded to the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Hacksaw Ridge was directed by Mel Gibson and released in 2016 with Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who was ostracized by fellow soldiers for refusing to bear arms. In the Battle of Okinawa Doss risked his life, unarmed, to save 75 men.

Both films graphically and gruesomely show horrific realities of war. One such reality, in real life and also in cinematic portrayal, is the traumatic injury and death inflicted upon young men. Many are still teenagers anxious to serve their country yet unprepared for the powerful persistence of the enemy.

In that context, a quote originally attributed to Greek historian Herodotus was repeated by a soldier in Hacksaw Ridge: “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”

Though I am a son who has buried his father, I have not borne the pain of burying a son or a daughter or a grandchild. I have great empathy for parents or grandparents who have, including some of you.

As a Christian I’ve often marveled at God the Father’s experience of seeing his son buried. The song writer says it well:

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure… that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there, until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.