Monday, May 15, 2017

A Sobering Thought…. My Eulogy

In the years spent dealing with death, family visitations, grief counselling along with funerals and memorial services, I have had much opportunity to both read and listen to the eulogies expounding memories of people gone, but not forgotten, once loved, but now lost. There have been many occurrences, especially during the funerals of my own family members, that occasions mentioned and relationships rehearsed, brought tears to my eyes. Some of the speakers, on behalf of the families did so with steady voice, while others struggled to maintain courage and strength throughout their presentation. By times, it was suggested that the eulogy be opened to public offerings of memories. I have discouraged this being done at funerals, as there may be quite inappropriate statements made. Sometimes we forget that decorum should be the better part of judgement, and it may be sadly found lacking in some instances.

Through the years, during a few solemn services, there have been outbursts of laughter, and chiding, and while it may have been meant with the best of good intentions, it always left a sour taste in my mouth. I have often wondered why the world seems to find a reason to mock outwardly, during these most obvious times of religious solemnity and meaningful moments in people’s lives. On more than one occasion a bride was heard to comment; “Now you know why I didn’t want that person at our wedding!” But life goes on and I have always tried to calm the hearts of those who were confronted with such outbursts and have always tried to pave the way for God’s presence and blessing, to be both found and felt, in whatever service I was able to render.

I have, down through the years, often thought about my own death. Most of us do I suspect. In my life thus far I have had 3 cancer scares. Nothing drastic ever came of it. I will mention one of those events. I had lost my aunt to thyroid cancer within the past year on one such occasion. She had suffered through surgery and treatments, but the cancer came back and I had one day found her crying alone in her apartment when I went to visit. She had asked for my help to get into a nursing home, clear up her apartment and look after her family affairs. I did the best I could with love and meaning. A few months later, on a trip to our doctor after the usual annual blood tests, I was told that my thyroid count had changed. I had been complaining of hoarseness and having trouble swallowing, so I was sent for tests and the report showed both ends of my thyroid had hot spots, indicating a cancerous condition and I would need surgery, to have them removed. Not good! So I prepared myself, trying to steel my heart for what may eventually happen, as I remembered my aunt and her struggles with Thyroid Cancer the year before.

Of course before these types of surgeries, you are sent to have mapping done. So, off I went to the hospital to have the radiated iodine scan. Lots of prayer surrounded me, and I felt prepared for whatever I was to face. After the procedure, I asked how things went, and of course very little was shared, as usually happens. I was told a report would be sent to my family doctor and he would be in touch with me. Well, the day came for my appointment and I went with a bit of elevated fear, along with as much courage as I could muster, to hear the results and get a sense of what would be taking place. The answer I got was what I least expected. The latest scans were clear and whatever had been noted before on the previous scan had disappeared. So, I was observed for several months and had blood tests to verify the last findings. It has been many years since then, but I will not forget the prayers sent heavenward for me during those weeks.

Did I evaluate life through that trial with the unknown? Absolutely, I did. Have there been times since, when trials have arisen and life seemed unsure, and I looked fearfully at the future? Yes, but perhaps no more than many of my friends and family. Nevertheless it is during these struggles when we find ourselves taking a look at the past, while gazing toward the uncertain future, that we most often take stock of life. On many such occasions I have thought about what could be said about my life. Would I want merely flowery words and sorrowful tears to rehearse my life? Would there be any good or important thing to say, that would add the true meaning of what either my mere living or any striving after a fullness of life had meant, in the context of my years? It was during one such occasion that I had a change in direction, a new vision of what I desired, (if I was to have any say) to be found in my eulogy after my demise.

There is little in life that has true meaning, but that which affects others for good, for righteousness, faith and love for others. We too often measure education, achievements and even single moments, as having value in themselves. It is true, that should one dig up a history of my life, or read a former CV (a resume for employment in general) that there might be milestones, accomplishments and things to warrant some level of praise, but that has become of so little value to me. It is not where I have been, or what it is thought that I have accomplished, that is important… it is how I was capable, prepared, and engaged to undertake, and to some extent, to succeed at what God had seen fit for me to do. Someone asked me one time what drove me to do the things I have done, and the only answer I knew that held any meaning was this; "I have tried my best to follow God’s calling… I know I have fallen by times, but it was God that got me back on my feet and revived my soul toward His ends."

When asked about my education, as I have enough to get me by, my answer has always been since my early adulthood; “I finally know now that I don’t really know anything… education itself has proven that to me!” I have met people with no formal education to speak of, yet they have wisdom beyond our imagination, where experience has taught them far more about life, and existence in this world, than perhaps it is naturally understood in today’s culture. I went kicking and screaming to university as a young adult. I had a wife and 3 children in tow. I wanted a quiet life, yet God took me to situations, position and before people that caused my heart to tremble and He saw me through it all, not by my education, courage, strength or personality, but by His will.

What could my eulogy say that could meet the need of my heart and not the need of family or friends to aggrandize a life that was normal, simple and for the most part shy and afraid? Life plays games in the hearts of the beholders, the onlookers, those who watch from afar, even those who, under the wing of family care and relationship, cannot see or evaluate fully the inner being of the person they have striven to know. We love our loved ones! We care for our peers and community. We hold them in as much respect as their value to us seems worth, and then in death we oftimes heap accolades of praise upon their memories, which may be merely tinkling symbol or sounding brass to our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer God.

You may begin to see that at this juncture in life; I see my life as rather insignificant, other than perhaps the mixed levels of joy at my presence to my family and a close circle of friends. To most we become either a convenience, should we be needed for a specific reason, or merely as a matter of comfort, as people relate to the stability of community and circles of friendship that become more remote as years pass us by. It may surprise you to know that in conversation with many seniors, down through my many years of ministry, even outside the professional context (and I disliked that label, but had to live with it) before I entered pastoral ministry, that many seniors relate to the sentiments of the teacher in Ecclesiastes 1:2-3. "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless…." We find ourselves unable to justify all that has taken place in life, outside perhaps that most meaningful of activities,being childbearing. Yet, even there the context of our influence is so miniscule, as life and its living steers our children, perhaps even more than the training we give during their early years.

I would never want to be thought of as a pessimist. These thoughts today are merely mine in the context of what I value most in life and want said at my death. It is neither meant to change the mind of others, nor to diminish the desire of others to speak of their loved ones departed. It is merely here for some to read and perhaps for others to take into consideration. Should I have family who read this and surrender, bowing to my wishes, beyond any need to speak otherwise... I would be thankful.

My Eulogy
(Ps 103:13-19 NIV) "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children; with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts. The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all."

Man is like the grass of the field, and this man we have known, now taken up into heaven, has a desire for 2 things from those who remember. First he wanted no credit for anything said, accomplished, or given in his lifetime that brought joy to your lives. Secondly, for those who may, please forgive, as the Father forgives, for any sin spoken or done in the weakness of the human flesh against you, for we all have fallen short of the glory of God; we all are sinners saved by grace.

Each breath he took, he gave credit to his Heavenly Father, each gift he received, from family to friend, he knew it was a blessing come from God. There may be some here today who will desire to give credit in some way, for a human context of thanksgiving for a life lived, but to God be all the glory! As Edwin most often said following sermons or after long hours of facilitating meetings; “God provides; I am merely the agent of delivery.” Without God, Edwin would not have had the many blessings that he felt he received during his lifetime. Even in respect to God's gifts.. he felt that they were most undeserved; yet he coveted the love of his wife, children, grandchildren, and those who would chance to call him friend.

It is not important to remember the “man”, the flesh that has carried the name Edwin D. Allen up to this day, or into the days following. If you are to remember anything, this is his wish; ”Life brings to our feet the good and the bad, it surrounds us with potentials for uplifting joys and overwhelming sadness, but through it all "there" is God. He is our Rock and our Stronghold.. and in Him I placed my trust! Do not shed tears that my life has passed, only in joy that God’s grace has granted me an eternal home in his presence. Do not be fearful of being alone without me, for I have only been the human touch of God’s hand, if comfort has been known by my presence. God remains, and it is His peace that will carry you through. I have lived by His strength and in the joy of your presence with me, but let me go… this tent of human flesh I’ve shed and a heavenly robe I now wear. Be glad for me. Love as the Heavenly Father loves you … love each other, regardless the chasms of separation you feel… I wish I could have done it better… I tried and sometimes I failed; But I loved the best I could, in God’s strength!”

If there be ears let them hear…

End Note: Be aware… I am not going anywhere yet…  scary as the thought of my remaining might be. :)

Shoes Worn Through, No Socks and Blistered Feet

Noon on Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC that summer was both hot and crowded. It was not my first rodeo down there, but we were back as a family this time, to visit the tourist haunts, so that our children could soak up a bit of the history of our neighbor to the south. It was our tradition during that decade to take some major North American trips every couple of years. It meant saving up all our extra cash and any tax refunds that we might be fortunate enough to receive, but we saw it as an important part of our children’s education.

People seemed to be shoulder to shoulder that day. There were long lines for the Whitehouse, the Capital building and in some cases the National monuments and museums. It seemed like a never ending battle to decide what was worth either the waits or the maintaining of presence in the line-ups. Everything moved at a snail’s pace and concern for meals and heat exhaustion were preeminently at the forefront of our concern. But, we had stopped on our way west to give our children this advantage in their lives, that not everyone was blessed enough to experience, so we stayed the course.

Amidst the throng, as the noon hour progressed, people were partaking of the fares and wares of the local vendors. These summertime entrepreneurs likely did a great business, while charging excessive prices for everything. Still in all honesty they were fulfilling a need created by the numbers of unprepared people who swarmed like ants throughout the venues. Not everyone was there to visit museums. There were others who were there by necessity. It was a blatant shock to our senses and an eye-opener to our children, as they gawked open mouthed, at those “others” who made their way among the throng of tourists.

It can be a shock to both our sense of reality and our moral fiber to watch what unfolds before us by times. I will tell you of the harshest of these realities that made a difference in both my life and the lives of my children that day. What looked like a middle aged man was making his way up the avenue. He was a bit stooped; he wore a dirty felt brimmed hat, old shoes that didn’t fit properly and believe it or not a long dirty trench coat that covered his filthy apparel down to his shins. His pants were short, he had no socks and from all appearances he had holes in the miss-fitting shoes. His eyebrows were long and bushy; he wore a heavy long beard and the most distinguishing feature was his very long blackened curly fingernails. Those types of nails I saw again, in later years, in India on my various trips there.

The gentleman paid no attention to anyone at all. His task was simple and filled an immediate need; to find food, to scrounge every garbage can, picking up half-eaten burgers, uneaten fries and even finishing off any leftover drinks that had been discarded that day. If something was worth saving he shoved it into the pocket of his coat, to be eaten later. We had seen people on the freeways coming into New York, on our trip down to Pittsburgh some years before. They were common elements, quite often seen on our trips, to be found entering major cities in the east. They sold practical objects to people in cars, trucks, campers and big-rigs, as traffic came to a crawl and then halted in rush-hour tie-ups. It was how they earned their living, but his man in Washington ate out of garbage cans to stay alive; this was vastly different.

We could ask ourselves how this could be happening in this day and age. How could someone be so radically isolated from assistance, when this was taking place in the very capital of the most powerful country in the world? It may come as a shock to some to find out that power, affluence and economic prowess does not mean an automatic equality for all people, in or under a country’s, state’s, business’s or family’s care. While society, due to the nature of the egregious offence to its have-not elements, does its best to secure a path toward some practical fix, many still remain outside the parameters of any assistance at all. The political/economic machinery needed to run programs, along with the financial support, for both their inception and continued presence in needed areas, most often become sadly forgotten and oft times falls prey to diminished budgets. The argument for refocused efforts toward the forgotten in society, often goes unheeded, and a blind eye excuses both the deficiency and the mediocracy of the political conscience. Meanwhile billions of national budgetary dollars are spent with blatant excess on superficial pursuits, having little to do with primary health care, social support, education or even pivotal superstructure renewal.

In our local neighborhoods, here in middle-class affluent North America, it is hard to see and experience first-hand, a great deal of blatant oversight in social services and care for the forgotten and indigent of our country. Other avenues of assistance spring up to take up the slack through programs in our cities, towns, villages and religious institutions. Yet, there seems to remain a programmed overall desire to isolate ourselves from the hands-on practical participation in recovery for those in financial tribulation at varying degrees. It is easy to drop a few coins in the box, to write a cheque as the canvassers ring our door bell, but is there an actual conscious/proactive awareness of the plight of so many, defined as the forgotten, the have-nots, and the beggars who live on our streets?

The Bible reminds of Christ’s stories, (parables) of those who were the forgotten and rejected, and our need to be found “hands on” in our application of both concern and love for our fellow man. On Pennsylvania Avenue that day we sadly only watched, much to my sorrow and shame today. But the effect it had on me that day, soon moved me to volunteer in our local food banks, work as a volunteer with sheltered workshops and finally across the world to both teach, and give financial assistance, as much as I could, for several years.

The parable of the Good Samaritan epitomizes the various facets of how society interfaces with such problems. Can we imagine not helping someone in need? Yet, as hard as it may be to accept, many would rather pass to the other side of the highway and be on their way. To become involved means both responsibility and commitment. In the above mentioned parable, not only did the Good Samaritan take care of this broken man who was not of his religion, but he also left resources with the innkeeper to continue his care, along with the promise to cover any deficiencies in the cost not covered, on his return. (Reference: Luke 10:25-37)

Imagine if everyone cared that much. What a different world we would live in. Loving our neighbor as we would be loved should be our motto; value being placed on meaningful interaction on a regular basis. God has given us the resources as a gift from Him. We claim to earn our own living, but who has created all that is; even the resource from which the manufacture of goods and products come, by which we receive wage and compensation? I tend to view life as a gift in itself, and the joy of sharing has become foremost in my mind and my principle of practice.

The gentleman on Pennsylvania Avenue showed no shame in what he was doing that day. He was living on the edge. Had his life taken such a sharp turn that he was no longer able to maintain a standard lifestyle as we know it, or was he dislodged by indifference and just slowly became one of the forgotten? I am able to gain peace by walking along our beaches and shorelines while gazing out at the ocean. I lie down in a comfortable bed at night and eat regular meals; I have great health care and the blessing of a caring and loving family for support.  If everything suddenly changed for me, in the twinkling of an eye, someone would be there to pick me up, but I have seen thousands now, in my lifetime, who have no options; or very few to say the least. For the most part we here in North America are blessed beyond our true comprehension. We have much to give thanks for, even though there are days where heaviness of heart may bring the weight of distraction to our shoulders. Yet, still among us are the silent sufferers who surround us; the forgotten or the lost, striving to eke out a life daily, while hidden in our blindness and oversight!

If you are walking near the edge today, and that edge drives you to distraction, take opportunity to pause and look outward for a few moments. My grandmother told of a young woman who was driven by the desire to be beautiful. Every living moment she reflected on that possibility and it created not only personal dissatisfaction, but also animosity in both her peer group and especially within her family. One day her grandmother took her aside from the mirror where she was standing gazing at herself, and told her that if she began to concentrate on helping others in their need, she would be blessed with beauty. Years passed and she was able after a while, entering her teenage years, to finally defeat that constant bane to her existence. While working in a native village as a missionary a decade later, she was invited to visit a special reflection pool, which an older young lady she had been helping, often frequented as a matter of blessing. After walking for what seemed miles and sharing her experiences with the young girl, they finally arrived at their destination. The young missionary sat at the edge of the pool taking in the beauty of the surrounding vista. Without thinking, she glanced down and was surprised at the face staring back at her from the calm surface. Comely and attractive features had replaced what had been in her childhood a “plain-Jane” face that brought sadness to her young heart. She began to cry and murmured quietly; “What precious time I lost in longing for what came so naturally; as I was giving to others … God was quietly giving to me”.

It is not easy to forget about ourselves and focus more on others. It is hard to imagine both the context and quantity of hardship there is in the world, but it still remains. But as you stand amidst your own trials, there at the edge, what is happening may not be so terribly bad as it may then seem. It may just be personal, and what happens to us personally is most often felt in its extreme. Take time to pray about it. See if there is another outlook, another avenue, not to deflect or put off a resolution, but to give time to put life into perspective, beyond the immediate collapse of life as you know it. Perhaps that is what God was doing for me on that extremely hot summer day in Washington DC. I was soon given another chance to respond… after all there were lots of shoes worn through, no socks and blistered feet that confronted me in my years of travel that followed that first face to face experience with abject poverty. Maybe God has something for you to do… perhaps to sooth just one tired blistered foot (or heart) at a time. It can take you to the edge of a different class altogether... but it brings a deep satisfaction and a beautiful joy to your heart!