Category Archives: Death

Good Grief!

I love being an American. The freedoms, the pride, the heritage, the beauty of this land. They stir my heart.

But when it comes to this area of dealing with death and grief… our American culture fails pretty badly.

To start with we are a death-denying culture… Until a big crisis or disaster, we don’t talk about death. We act immortal, like nothing we ever do will hurt us and we can live forever.

And IF something happens that DOES capture our attention in this area, and death hits our own families or perhaps a famous person like Dale Earnhardt or Robin Williams or Princess Di, we couch our feelings and emotions in our own little mythologies… Trying to comfort each other with phrases about how God needed another angel so that must be why that particular person had to die. And our attempts at helping the one struggling with grief usually boils down to well-meaning, yet useless phrases like, “Be strong for your kids,” or telling parents who’ve lost a child: “Well, you can have more” or telling a young boy who’s lost a dad that he’s got to be the man now… and “men don’t cry.”

Most of the time, when we’re dispensing our own brand of seeming wisdom, we’re more likely to simply avoid anyone that we know is dealing with grief.

They feel the pain of loss, and we feel badly for them, we want them to feel better, so we either want to say “the right words” that’ll make them feel better and make their grief go away or we don’t want to be around them because we’re afraid we’ll say something that will make them feel worse… and then we’ll feel worse. So we don’t talk about it.

I’m reminded of a poem I once heard that talked about this uneasiness we feel, especially in America, and how hurtful it is for people to respond that way…

“The Elephant in the Room”

There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting,
so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with “How are you?”
and “I’m fine” …
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else –
except the elephant in the room.

There’s an elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please say her name.
Oh, please say “Barbara” again.

Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about her death,
Perhaps we can talk about her life.
Can I say “Barbara” to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me
Alone …
In a room …
With an elephant.

Paul, in First Thessalonians, chapter 4, writes that he doesn’t want the Christians there to be “ignorant” about those who “have fallen asleep”… those who have died… But his reason is more than to just give knowledge or to be theologically clear… He says that he wants to clear up the confusion surrounding the death of Christians so that the Christians there who are still alive won’t “grieve as others do who have no hope.”

Essentially, Paul is filling us in that there is a Christian way of grieving… there can be “Good Grief.”

If grieving is the process of coming to terms with the feelings of loss… and then finding the comfort we so desperately need so that we can move on with the rest of our life… then part of the question is where do we find that kind of comfort… or as Paul said it… that kind of HOPE… that kind of help.

As Christians, instinctively, we turn to the Scriptures… and the Scriptures declare:

“My help comes from the Lord”

The first way God can help us in times of grief or trouble, is through the Scriptures. We read in the Bible what it has to say about death, about dying, about what follows this life, about what happens to those who die in the Lord… to those who die as believers in Jesus Christ.

In the Bible we find that those believers who have already died are called a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)… and the Bible describes those dead believers as ones who are watching us here like spectators in the grandstands, rooting and cheering for us as we complete our part of the relay race of faithful living.

In the Bible, we find comforting words like Isaiah 57:1 where it says that “The righteous man perishes, & no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity.” And in Revelation 14 we read:

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” –Rev. 14:13

In the Bible we read that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8)… and that when we find ourselves in that resurrection of the dead when we find ourselves before our Lord, we shall be like him as he is… And we know what that will be like because the Bible says that Jesus’ resurrection was the “firstfruits” the downpayment and example of what our resurrection will be like… You want to know what it’ll be like in that final resurrection… you look at what Jesus was like after his resurrection…

Notice, he knew the people around him and they were able to recognize him… and he wasn’t relegated to some lower status as an angel… one who simply serves God and His creatures… No, to die and be resurrected is to step into the inheritance of the kingdom… not become mere lowly angel…

Not only does the Bible help us understand what happens after death for the believer… but it points us to how to find the comfort and help we need in times of our own grief and loss.

We read words like these:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 [2 Corinthians 12:9a; KJV]

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also… I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you… Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”   [John 14:1-3, 18, 27; KJV]

 

“Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”                                                         [Isaiah 43:1b-2; KJV]

Well, if the first part of “Good grief” is the truths of Scripture, the second component would have to be prayer.

The Bible tells us that if we seek God, we WILL find Him… When we look for God in prayer, He WILL be found by us. (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

In another place, we are told that God says of us: “He shall call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. (Ps. 91)

And again we read: “If you abide in me and I in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)

If we want to know His help, his comfort, we have only to ask…. and God will be with us… In fact, at Christmas time we hear how one of the names of Jesus is “Emmanuel”… which means God Is With Us. (Matthew 1:23)

Part of the “good” experience of grief we can have as Christians is through our seeking God in prayer.

The third component of this “Good Grief” I want to share with you this morning comes from the body of Christ itself… through the people of God, the believers.

In the book of Romans we read that as children of God, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are expected to “rejoice with those that rejoice & weep with those that weep…”

God, through his people, weeps with us, even as we stand in line to pay our respects, or bring food to the family so they don’t have to cook or buy groceries in the midst of those crucial first days when they are just coming to grips with the enormous loss in their lives.

God is with us, in a baby’s laughter, which is so contagious… so wonderful, so releasing… And we hear God reminding us that life and love go on.  I can’t tell you the number of times when God has used the children and the babies as a healing touch from Himself during the days leading up to the final goodbye to a parent, grandparent, brother or sister.

But God is especially with us, through his people, when we sit around and remember the good things of our life together with the one we’ve lost. We share the stories… We share the memories… even the heartbreaks.

That’s why it’s such a ministry for churches to offer funeral dinners, not as a fundraiser, but as a ministry… because after the final goodbye… it’s time for the people of God to help those who’ve lost a loved one to remember the ways that God touched their lives and the life of the deceased… That way, no one ever gets left in a room alone with an elephant.

God is with us when we, the brother or sister in Christ, takes time out to just listen… not to give the right answers… but to be the right listener… Even though the grieving person may sometimes not make sense or may repeat themselves. Sometimes, it’s just hanging out with someone… and sharing silence… together.

Part of our healing comes as we sepnd time together with the rest of the body of Christ… that’s why it’s so important to remember to include those who’ve faced loss in our plans…

And just one more word about grief and loss, particularly as Christians, before we wind this up…

It’s not just the death of a loved one that leads us into grief is it?

There are all kinds of deaths and losses in our lives… even as Christians.

Death of a marriage, estrangement of a son or daughter… or parents… loss of health… loss of a job… and more…

These all lead us into grief… and, as Christians, there is a “Good Grief” available as we turn to the truths of Scriptures, turn to God in prayer, and turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ and let them help us walk through the pain of grief and loss.

This morning, I want to especially invite anyone who is especially feeling the sting of grief, the effects of loss, whether because of death or some other loss… I want to invite you to pray with me… Please feel free to come to the altar rail and I’ll pray for you here and now… Maybe that prayer is right there where you are in your pew… and maybe you want to just jot me a note that says “Pastor, I’m facing that kind of pain, the pain of grief, in this situation… or that…” or maybe you just want to let me know you’d like to talk later…

Perhaps, you realize that you’re in the throes of grief and loss, but have never accepted Jesus as your Lord, your Savior, and so you don’t feel His comfort… you’re missing out on His help. Remember, God Himself said He’d be found if you just started looking for Him… Ask Jesus to come into your life and heart and make you one of His children.

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FLASH BACK: Half-Full or Half-Empty

On this Halloween 2016, a FLASH BACK to one of my classic posts: “Half-Full or Half-Empty from October 2006… and the essence of last week’s Sunday morning sermon…

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waterFor this week’s sermon, I started with an object in hand: Half a glass of water. My question to the congregation was simply, “Is it half-full or half-empty?”

The answer of course, depends on your perspective… the way you choose to view the glass.

Are you an optimist? Then it looks half-full to you, doesn’t it?

Are you a pessimist? Then it looks half-empty, doesn’t it?

It all depends on your perspective!

There is only one glass, only one quantity of water, yet there are two different views you could have regarding that glass and that water. You could believe it to be half-full or you could believe it to be half-empty. And both answers seem to be acceptable answers and both seem to be right. It all depends on your perspective.

During this next couple of weeks, everyone around us will be focusing on the fun and festivities of Halloween, and many of us here in this sanctuary right now have already made plans for what our family will be doing that evening.

Halloween can be a lot of fun. If you are allowing your children to go trick or treating or to a Halloween party or whatever, I hope it is a fun event. It ought to be.

Throughout my adult life I have run the gammet on what I believe with Halloween as a Christian. When I worked at the Olean General Hospital as an orderly, I guess I still didn’t think about it too much. Somehow I would always end up working on October 31st, and the tradition was to dress up as a character of some sort. The only one I remember was that I spent one Halloween night (3:00 to 11:00) dressed as a modern prince. You know, three piece suit, cape, sash, crown, rings, dress shoes. Trying to do my job in that get up was a royal pain, to say the least. Especially when a patient died and, as the orderly, I had to take her to the morgue… dressed up in a suit… on Halloween night… and there was a full moon to boot.

Other years, as I’ve come to understand some of the realities of what all happens on Halloween night, like the razor blades, the drugs, the occult practices, I’ve refused to participate in the day at all. I had more of a fear of all the occultic stuff I guess.

Bit by bit, though, I have come to understand that it’s my perspective that makes the difference. Just like that glass of water… half-full or half-empty… it depends on your perspective.

I COULD look at Halloween as an evil holiday, originally instituted as a druid festival with heavy emphasis on the occult. I COULD focus on the druid “Lord Of Death” that supposedly sent evil spirits out on the night before ALL HALLOW’S DAY to roam the earth in search of food which, if not given, would cast an evil spell on the person who would not help. I COULD focus on the masks and costumes the Celts wore to try and convince the Lord of Death that they were just one of his spirits, so he should leave them alone.

And all of those things are true. They are the reason behind our “give us a treat or we’ll play a trick on you” attitude of trick or treat and our dressing up in costumes. But I think that just might be the wrong perspective. That’s fear speaking.

We have been taught as Christians that we are in the world but not of it. We have to be a part of the world. We’ve been called to be in the world… rubbing shoulders with the everyday people, with sinners, with mean people, and yes, even with those who don’t understand us or our Lord. We, as Christians, will continue to encounter those people every day, because we are IN the world. But we don’t have to be LIKE the world. Because we’re the ones who know the HOPE that there is through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, that we are to be salt. (Matthew 5:13) Salt is never very good on its own, but it always changes the taste of the food it is put on. And the salt itself never gets to really choose what food it will affect…it has the same effect on every piece of food it touches… it makes it more salty. It gives it a new taste.

I guess that’s where I am now with my understanding of my responsibility as a Christian when it comes to Halloween. I must be salt and help change its flavor. I need to help redeem this holiday like Christians in the past helped to redeem midwinter pagan rituals and gave rise to our current birthday celebration for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

What does that mean, in practical terms, for me as a Christian then? I have discovered two practical ways that I can help redeem this holiday as a salty Christian. I’ll take the good of this holiday and focus on that and draw people’s attention to the truth.

First of all, I can emphasize the good things, while taking a stand against the evil. As our children have grown, we have deliberately allowed them to dress up for the Halloween parties at school, and let them go to select neighbors’ houses for trick or treat… but never were they allowed to hide their faces behind a Freddy mask or dress as a goblin, a witch, or a vampire. We reject that part of the ancient traditions of Halloween of trying to convince the evil one that we are just another demon spirit so that hopefully he’ll leave us alone. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is greater than any other spirit. And followers of Christ have nothing to fear.

So we could allow our girls to play dressup, and still take a stand against the false belief that we must fear the evil spirit lord. In fact, for this next weekend’s costume party out at the church camp, thrown by the youth group for ALL of the church, my kids will have the option to be dressed up if they want, without a mask, without the evil disguises. And without the fear.

One year one of the girls decided to be an angel and the other was Sleeping Beauty. One time Michele was Pocahontas and Sarah was a skunk. They dressed up and had fun. And they can again this year as well.

And yes, if kids come to our door this year for trick or treating, we’ll have a treat for them… not because we’re scared of the repercussions if we don’t, but because my Bible speaks of generosity, and “suffering the little children.”

The other aspect of what I need to be doing as a Christian when it comes to Halloween is to recognize the underlying spiritual message of this holiday.

The message of today’s modern Halloween is still spiritual, and I don’t just mean the occultic influences…. it is a pre-occupation with death… and what comes after we die. Just take a look at the decorations in the stores, on homes, and on the TV… We have ghosts and skeletons and gravestones and the un-dead (whatever that’s supposed to be). We hear of evil spirits and witches and “bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble.” And Hollywood always seems to have a new thriller/horror movie out that packs the movie theatres.

Halloween, and the time leading up to it, is the one time of year that our society says it’s OK to deal with death. And seemingly everyone becomes fascinated with it. My responsibility as a Christian, trying to be salt and redeem some of this holiday, is to recognize the spiritual hunger that I see during this Halloween season.

Because we all hunger for a reality in the spiritual world. We long for there to be forces at work on our behalf in the spiritual dimension. We have a society that literally cries out in abandon at Halloween for there to be an answer to death… to spiritual life. And they fall back on “ancient wisdoms”. They try to control the spirit world on demand, they try to conjur and channel and image. They look for spiritual truth.

And so often, we Christians deny there’s any spiritual dimension to the day (or we go the other extreme and refuse to even acknowledge it). I believe we have a responsibility to acknowledge the spiritual hunger… because we are the ones who have the bread of life… Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior.

And we are the ones who know the most about death… because Jesus came back from there and said,

 

I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.

We have nothing to fear from death, because Jesus defeated death. All death has left, is fear.

Knowing that we would have trouble understanding this, Jesus, just before he went to Calvary, took the disciples aside and spent some time with them explaining what was on the other side of death and how to face it on this side during our lives. He didn’t say we had to wear evil disguises and hide our faces. No treats or offerings to demon spirits were needed. He simply said that we shouldn’t be afraid… and then went on to tell us about the other side of death, for those who allow Jesus to be both their Lord and their Savior. He simply said:

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
Because I live, you also will live.
Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

When Jesus spoke of us as salt, he never expected us Christians to just act like Christians when we are at church. He spoke of us as salt so that we would get a clear picture of our role in this world. We help even the bad stuff seem better. Not by sugar coating evil nor by compromising our standards, but by recognizing spiritual hunger and offering spiritual bread… a life with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Because, when all is said and done, and the final analysis is in, it is JESUS that this Halloween minded society is looking for. The questions concerning spiritual forces are answered when Jesus proclaims I AM THE WAY. And in all our uncertainty, Jesus answers even our unspoken, unuttered questions, by declaring I AM THE TRUTH. And our questions concerning death and the afterlife are answered when Jesus reveals: I AM THE LIFE.

I have a mission this Halloween… to redeem what I can of the good, take a stand against that which is evil, and to lift up the truth of Jesus Christ.

Because you see… the glass really is… half-full.

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First Fruits

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

–1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV)

I grew up around a farm. I didn’t really live there, I just hung out there a lot. It was my grandfather’s and I basically just visited on the weekends and stayed most of every summer, but I proudly considered myself a “farmboy.”

Truth is, I helped in the haymaking each summer, and usually got to go out with Grandpa gathering sap once or twice each Spring, and a couple of times gathered eggs from the henhouse. That’s it. Not much of a farm life after all.

BUT, I remember the wait for the fresh peas and green beans from Grandpa’s garden. Oh, and the corn on the cob, too! I could hardly wait for Grandpa to say they were ready, ‘It’s about time we tried some of those peas and beans.’ (He actually liked the onions and turnips and asparagus too, but even grandparents can’t always be perfect, I suppose).

And that first small serving of fresh vegetables, that first taste of the fruit of Grandpa’s hard work, was delicious! But with that first taste of those “first fruits” came the knowledge that much more was on its way! We wouldn’t have to wait much longer!

It doesn’t take much of a farm boy to recognize the parallel in our Christian walk when Paul talks about death and uses Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection to eternal life that all believers will experience. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we can look at Christ and recognize that His resurrection is merely a “firstfruits” of ALL believers’ resurrections to come. There is HOPE of what is yet to come! For us… and for our loved ones in Christ who have already “fallen asleep” through death.

Oh Christ, You are only the FIRST fruits of resurrection. HALLELUJAH!!!

I stumbled across a devotional I wrote for the Lenten Devotional our worship committee created in 2001 at our Trinity UM Church in Patton, PA. We invited the congregation to reflect on a list of Scriptures and pick one to write a devotonal about.

This was my meditation reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15:20.

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Times and Seasons

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”  – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

This past couple of years, and especially this past month, has seemed like we, the Mix family, were shooting a video to be used to illustrate this Scripture passage. It seems like our lives have been a blur of changes and traveling and trying to keep up.

It started last April when we got our first chance to start having visits with our granddaughter Elizabeth in foster care 300 miles from here in Berks County, PA. Then the next week Gay’s Mom, Grandma Sherry died… three days before Holy Week. She had lived with us for five years and became an integral part of our family. She had been so excited for the chance to eventually meet and hold her great-granddaughter.

Throughout that time of grieving and mourning, we were also beginning to understand that there was a chance that Elizabeth might be able to come live with us through a foster care program called “kinship care” and with that in mind we continued monthly, then weekly, visits in Reading, PA. In the Fall we realized we would need to hire a lawyer in Berks County to help us navigate the legal roller coaster involved with trying to get Elizabeth, but how on earth could we afford such a thing? That week we received a reimbursement for $1,000 we had been overcharged in co-pays and such with our insurance! Then, with the lawyer’s help, in November, we went to court and were granted physical custody following a transition period of a few weeks. Finally, on December 19th, Elizabeth “came home” to her new home.

Meanwhile, the caseworker who had done our home study that spring noticed that Joshua had an empty bunk in his room. Thus it was that this year, on Easter weekend, we became foster parents to David, a teen who needed a home and a family. Last month the McKean County Court granted us permanent guardianship. As Gay worded it: “We are now parents of a bouncing baby 17 year old!”

Which brings me to this past month of October. My Dad was lifeflighted to Hamot Hospital from where he was living in Potter County at the  tail end of September with an aortic dissection. While we initially thought he wouldn’t make it through the night, he did. In fact, over the next two weeks he  got better and I got to see him and talk with him and just spend time with him 10 of those 13 days. I hadn’t had a chance to live with my Dad since I was 11 years old, so this was such a gift. AND my children got to know Grandpa Don better and he just soaked in their loving. The night before he was to be discharged, he died quietly and peacefully in his sleep. And amidst the grief, we celebrated that he was ready for death and we had been given the gift of time during that last couple of weeks.

As we step into November, we anticipate one more major change: the adoption of Elizabeth as our daughter is probably going to be around Thanksgiving or early December. We appreciate your continued prayers.

In the middle of all these ups and downs, the mourning and the dancing, the anxieties and the expectations, the weeping and the laughing, we have sensed God’s presence with us through it all. Every time we unexpectedly  needed something extra, God has provided through His people: a check in a card, a reservation with extra “points” someone had with a hotel, a baby blanket (or quilt!), extra diapers, and even food!

In the book of Romans, Paul describes how we as Christians live out this Old Testament passage from Ecclesiastes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.(Romans 12:15, NIV)

As we continue on in this journey of life, we thank God for YOU, our friends and our family, for walking with us, rejoicing with us, and mourning with us. Praise God! And Thank You!

(This originally appeared in the monthly newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church).

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Memoirs & A Message to Remember

Sometime yesterday, a link was sent to me for the Memoirs section of the Annual Conference (Western PA) 2013 Journal . I have always enjoyed (that’s not quite the right word) and appreciated reading the stories of faithful men and women, clergy and laity both, who have now received their eternal reward.

The memoir for Dave Panther, who had served most recently in Butler, shared an excerpt from his journal, which was also read at his funeral. It challenged me on this Friday morning.

At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212, water boils – produces steam – that can move engines. One degree is the difference between hot and boiling. One degree can make all the difference. How does the church go from hot to boiling? What is the one degree that takes the church from “stirring” to “steaming”? What is the one degree that turns the wheels of machinery? System. Strategies. Plans. Consultants. Books. Research. What is hot – what is not? Acts – the early church had No consultants, No books, No early pioneers, No system, No research. – Yet one simple strategy…. Trust the spirit. Pray – listen – trust – act. Their steps were bigger. Their courage; much more. The risk: their lives! Pray – listen – trust – act. O God – I pray to you today – help! Help me to know where you are leading, where you are working! People watch me…. Please do not let me drown in doubt – or be swallowed up in fear. Help. …That one degree – it is You. You can make the difference between Hot and Boiling. I desire your spirit to take me to the next level – I desire your spirit to take our church to the next level.

 

Check out the entire memoirs section here.

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First Taste of Grief

 

I entered a give-away contest online hosted by Thom S. Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources.

In order to be entered this time, we had to answer this question:

 

“When was the first time you experienced grief?”

 

It got me to thinking. Here is my response:

“When I was in first grade I remember the anticipatory grief because my favorite uncle, Uncle Dave, had cancer (also the first time I’d ever heard that word). And the day he died, my Grandma Mix took me to the nursing home and explained what I would see, how he wouldn’t be breathing, and explained he was with the Lord now because he knew Jesus. She even let me touch him.

“By taking away the mystery and the ‘hush-hush’ she freed me to be able to grieve, but not as one who has no hope. I could cry and miss him, but God could build and strengthen my faith and my own hope as I grieved.

“God bless Grandma!”

 

 

http://thomrainer.com/2013/02/08/friday-is-for-freebies-hcsb-ministers/#comment-14875

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“Beyond the Sunset” with Grandma

Today, June 27, 2012, was the funeral for my grandmother, Ethel Pauline (Haynes) Mix. The pastor at our home church, The Rev. Rebecca Edwards, officiated the service while I preached the eulogy. These were my basic notes. These are speaking notes, so grammar wasn’t my concern. And as always, I can spell pretty well, but am a lousy typist, so be gracious!

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Some of my favorite memories about Grandma Mix are how she shared her emotions:

  • If Grandpa had been away too long, or was frogging around in the barn or the basement for what she thought was too long, she had a summons: “YOOOO-HOOOO!”
  • If she was interested in what you were saying, she simply said “oh?”    or  “well…”
  • If she was ever so slightly disgusted, it was “hhhwwwWELLllll!” OR the show stopper itself: “Well, good NIGHT!”
  • If she was REALLY fired up and ready to just bust loose, you could sometimes catch her counting… “1-2-3-4-5-.” She believed counting to 10 would always help you get your anger under control.  BUT Sometimes, there weren’t enough numbers. And she was still ticked. Those were the times when I can still remember Grandpa Mix saying, “NOW ETHEL… you know the one thing you’re never supposed to do when you’re angry is don’t you??” She would curtly say “WHAT?!” and with a smile on his face, he would simply reply, “Laugh!” and she would lose it and start laughing… and say “Well good night!”
In Psalm 116:15, we read:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  

In Revelation 14:13, we read:

“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” ”             

Ethel Pauline Haynes Mix

July 7, 1918 to June 24, 2012

When we want to honor someone who has lived their life and then died, we highlight the year they were born (and for Grandma that would be 1918) and then put a dash followed by the date they died (2012 in our example). Seeing those dates, 1918-2012, are supposed to help us understand how long and blessed a life the deceased was able to live.
There is a great poem that talks about how that dash in between those two dates is such a poor summary of an entire life, and it challenges us all to live our lives in such a way that our ‘dash’ has great meaning. But this morning, it’s those two dates that really capture my attention.
Ninety-three years! Almost a century!

Grandma Mix was born at a time when

  • a 30 hp Touring Car could be bought for about $2,000.00,
  • a Steinway piano for $550.00,
  • a nice woman’s nightgown was 98¢ and
  • an evening gown went for about $37.00.
  • A daily newspaper was 2¢, 
  • a Sunday paper was 5¢ and 
  • a ticket to a Broadway show would set you back somewhere between 75¢ and $2.50.[1]
 When Grandma was born, 
  • Irving Berlin hit it big with his song “Oh! How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning.”
  • The United States was averaging about $291 million in surplus.
  • World War I, the “Great War” to end all wars, was in its last few five bloody months, ending on November 11, 1918.
  • An influenza epidemic broke out that would kill 25 million people worldwide, 500,000 in the U.S. alone.
  • Life expectancy of a girl born at this time was estimated to be about 54.6 years.

It’s that last statistic I want to draw your attention to: A girl born in 1918, it was calculated, ought to be able to live until about their 54th birthday before they died.

Grandma REALLY beat the odds! By about 4 decades!

I remember back in 1982 that Grandpa Mix worked with the rest of the family to pull off a surprise 45th wedding anniversary party because no one expected Ethel Mix would still be alive 5 years later for their 50th anniversary! This past Saturday Grandma Mix saw the 75th anniversary of their wedding day! And Grandpa has been gone 18 of those years.

Time and time again, we thought Grandma was going downhill and maybe it was time to rally the family. And every single time, until this last week, she beat the odds and, as Aunt Bonny remarked at one point, Grandma was like the Energizer Bunny!… STILL GOING!

In the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, we read, there is a time to be born, a time to live… but we also read that God has also established a time for death… a time when each of us will die. For Ethel Mix, that God-appointed time came early on Sunday morning, June 24th, 2012.

How do you gather together the essence of a life well-lived?

One day about a decade and a half ago, I was asking Grandma about some of what made her tick, what made her unique. You know, what’s your favorite color (she said PINK), her favorite animal (she said she didn’t have a favorite… but had always had a DOG), favorite music (country western or hymns), favorite author (Grace Livingston Hill), favorite vacation (she said the trips to California with John), and her favorite place (She said “wherever home is.”). I also had asked her about her favorite food and there I got a story:

 My favorite food’s always been potatoes. When I was growing up, I’d always have potatoes. Then if we had desert, I’d have desert… and then I’d have another potato to wash it all down.”

And to just make sure there was no misunderstanding, she added:  “I always liked potatoes.”

At one point, I asked if she had a favorite Scripture and she said she didn’t, although later waivered and said “maybe Psalm 23… I like the psalms.”

She didn’t claim to have a favorite song, but back in the 80’s she and grandpa were telling Aunt Nancy and I about Grandpa (John)’s grandmothers’ funeral and how they had played (or sung) “When it’s Good Night here, It’s Good Morning up there.” And then, almost as an aside, she said: “I’ve always wanted Beyond the Sunset at my funeral.”

You know… I’ve heard that song on Gaither videos, but I had to go look it up.

There are four verses to that old hymn. Each one speaks of another realization of what Heaven is like after each of us dies… and goes Beyond the Sunset.

Verse One:

“Beyond the sunset, O blissful morning, when with our Saviour heav’n is begun.
Earth’s toiling ended, O glorious dawning; beyond the sunset when day is done.”

This first verse talks about those first few moments of a Christian “waking up” in heaven and realizing that our life here on earth was just nothing compared with the time of eternity in Heaven with Christ. Waking up and realizing that all of the work and struggle of this life is now gone… and an eternity of rest and joy awaits those who know Jesus as Lord.

The apostle John, in the Revelation that ends our Bible, saw a similar sight, a ‘new morning’ in Heaven, like this…

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. (Rev. 21:1-2, NLT)

Nothing will be the way it was here in this life. No more Hopelessness… just Hope fulfilled! Bliss! Joy! The beginnings of your life in Heaven!

In verse two of Beyond the Sunset, the description of Heaven goes on:

Beyond the sunset, no clouds will gather; no storms will threaten, no fears annoy;
O day of gladness, O day unending, beyond the sunset, eternal joy!

In John’s Revelation, we read almost the exact same sentiment:

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.   4 He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:3-4, NLT)

I can see the attraction for Grandma in these passages… She was born before the Great depression and had a sense of what ‘normal’ was like. But shortly after her 11th birthday, everything that could go wrong did. The stockmarket crashed. People began to know what it meant to have to do without. When she and Grandpa married in 1937, they were still in the depths of the Depression.

She once told me about a time shortly after they were married when she was feeling so lonely while Grandpa was out working. She said:

When we lived up Eleven Mile, I remember the telephones weren’t very good. So one day I wrote a letter to my mother… we were so poor at that point that it took several days to save up the 3 cents I needed for a stamp, but eventually I got three cents and walked down and bought a stamp and finally mailed the letter off to my mother. That was the hardest up we ever were…”

This woman had learned how to save that which was precious… You couldn’t take it for granted that you’d have everything you needed down the road… so you’d better save some.

As a kid, I loved going to Grandpa and grandma Haynes’ general store because they had SO MUCH of anything you could possibly want or need. But going to Grandma Mix’s was almost like being in that store. She literally stockpiled food, supplies, and necessities… just in case.

Most of us in this room that were ever in her house (and especially those of us who helped move Grandma out of her apartment or before that moving Grandpa and grandma off the farm) knew that part of Grandma… there were cans and cans of food that had been saved “just in case” (to the point where they had outlived their expiration date by years and sometimes even decades).

And most importantly, you always had enough toilet paper…

But that song’s second verse, and our second passage of Revelation 21 also promise that there will be no more tears…

Grandma knew that dimension of life here on earth as well, didn’t she?

The loss of babies, the pain of losing a son to cancer in his 20’s, caring for him and later both Grandpa and Grandma Haynes as they approached the end of their earthly lives, and then Grandpa Mix in 1994.

She knew what it meant to have troubles… she knew what it meant to have tears…

And the promise that neither of those go with you into Heaven, warmed her soul and spirit with expectation.  No more clouds, no more tears, no more fears… just gladness and joy.

Verse three of Beyond the Sunset goes like this:

Beyond the sunset, a hand will guide me to God the Father, whom I adore;
His glorious presence, His words of welcome, will be my portion on that fair shore.

The song talks about being guided and introduced face to face with God Almighty, the Father of us all… and hearing Him welcome us… In Revelation 21, John gives us a peak at that moment:

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”   (Rev. 21:5, NLT)

Ethel Haynes Mix knew that God Almighty had given us a written record of what we could expect and what we could look forward to… and she trusted Him and His record. One of my favorite memories is still being there when Grandpa, Grandma, and Aunt nancy would be sitting in the living room and Grandpa would open the Bible and just start reading.

It’s like the Bible was the letter of introduction to the Heavenly father, helping her understand what she could expect.

 The final verse of Beyond the Sunset, goes like this:

Beyond the sunset, O glad reunion with our dear loved ones who’ve gone before.
In that fair homeland we’ll know no parting-beyond the sunset for evermore!

John’s Revelation continues:

6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega — the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

The song speaks of the “glad reunion” with “dear loved ones who’ve gone before” and the joy that there will never again be a separation for those who know Christ.

The apostle called it the “finishing” of all that was before.

This woman we called “Mom” or “Gramma” or “M&M Gram” knew what she could expect… and longed for that day.

But she also longed to come to the end of all things, beyond the sunset, and find her family there with her at the end of their journey.

She knew the joy and expectation, but she also wanted to be surrounded by her loved ones.

You know, the Bible’s pretty clear on that as well… for any who REPENT of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we too, will find our place where grandpa and Grandma now are… beyond the sunset. God won’t force you to go there. As sinners none of us can get there… but of we give up our sin, then we will find that welcoming presence when our days end guiding us to God… and the glad reunion this woman before us is now experiencing.

 

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This post also appears on my Mixed Genes blog today.

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Filed under Death, family, Funeral Sermon, Grief