Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"When I needed him, he was there."

I'm sure that I will write more later, but at midday Tuesday we arrived back from 2 1/2 days, about 1250 miles and two memorial services for my cousin Gary.

On Sunday afternoon, Gary's earthly body was buried in a small family cemetery at least twenty miles from nowhere and very close to home. Nestled among the graves of his ancestors, they are surrounded by a beautiful while fence that Gary himself erected not long ago with the help of his daughter Brette.

He was buried in a simple pine casket crafted by one of his dear friends and covered with the brands of family and other close friends. With his casket sitting on the ground near the grave, well over 100 people gathered in close for the service as a gentle breeze blew through the scrub cedar that covers that mountain.

I shared that God is the God of all comfort, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. I then invited those whose brands adorned the casket to, if they would like, offer some of their own experiences with Gary. What happened next is unique among the many funerals I have performed. One man after another stood forward and told stories, mostly of how Gary had helped them when they needed him. Here's a sampling...

"When my son died, Gary came (a 150-mile drive) and stayed three days. He didn't try to say much; he was just there for us."

"When my little boy was killed, I wanted to build a concrete slab as a surface for kids to play on (this man lives in a rural area). Gary showed up and helped me until we got it done."

"When our family needed help at our ranch, Gary just came."

One after another, men (and at least one or two ladies) talked about the way he had invested in their lives with kindness, care and hard work. A few told funny stories. Mostly, people talked about how much it meant to them to have known him. And how much they will miss him.

Gary wasn't much of a "churchy-type" guy. As I stood there Sunday afternoon, though, a thought hit me...

For many years I have been preaching sermons. All the while he was living one.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

M-O-M: Three Letters Aren't Enough

The 8-year-old boy stood with his family along a crowded pew. The packed church was singing a moving tune, inviting people to give their lives to Christ and receive forgiveness for their sins. He gripped his hymnbook harder as his heart kept leaping into his throat. He knew what he needed to do. Wanted to do. But he was afraid. He stood firm.

The guest preacher stopped the song and said a few words, adding to the plea, then asked the church to sing again. The boy looked and noticed one of his friends had made his way to the front to share his commitment with the pastor. Behind that friend was a second friend. Their presence stoked the boy's courage. He closed the hymnbook, slipped out from his family and made his way up the aisle.

"Why have you come?" asked the pastor. "I want to dedicate my life to the Lord," the boy said, tears streaming down his cheeks.

That event happened on Mother's Day. The boy's mom told him that it was the best Mother's Day gift he could give her. Years later, the boy still remembers snippets of that day in vivid detail. It's on his mind today because it took place on May 8, 1960. Fifty years ago yesterday.

I will see my mom today. At a graveside. She will weep with empathy as she watches her nephew's body lowered into the ground. Her empathy comes from knowing. She knows what it is to lose a child. She knows the shock that gives way to searing pain. She knows the joy of being surrounded by comforting loved ones followed by the raw loneliness that eats away for months -- even years -- afterward.

She also knows resilience. She knows what it's like to rebuild from the sorrow. She has found ways to carve hope into the granite face of grief. She knows how to give herself away in the midst of the pain, bringing joy to others and thus back to herself.

A younger generation may not remember the song penned by Howard Johnson 95 years ago: "M is for the million things she gave me..." "Put them all together they spell MOTHER," he concluded. But I have long called her "Mom." And you can't spell that in three letters.

On this Mother's Day, let me say that I know a growing chorus of women who could vie for the title of "World's Best." In addition to my mom is Cathy, the mother of our children. And her mom. And my daughters. And my sister and sister-in-law. And Cathy's sisters. And...

Happy Mother's Day to you all!