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Write Your Eulogy

June 12, 2019

Walking through cemeteries isn’t my hobby, but Debbie and had a couple of free hours while we’re working with the Prague Christian Library as part of our ministry with Open Door Libraries, and took a long, slow stroll through a huge (and ancient) cemetery a few blocks from the flat where we’re staying.  It was shaded by ancient trees, and quiet and peaceful as we walked to the center, away from the noise of the street.

I’m pretty sure “perpetual care cemeteries” don’t exist here in the Czech Republic.  As beautiful as it is, this one isn’t in that category, anyway.  Most of the grave sites have been cared for, but many of them were overgrown with ivy, covered with dead leaves.  Some had broken headstones or monument markers.  Some had aged more gracefully than others.  There were no simple, modest ones, though.  Some were more grandiose than others, but they were all large and imposing by American standards.  Many dated back to the 19th century, a few before that.  Others had this year marking the passing of a family member.

Our couple of hours on the walkways of the cemetery was worth the time for me, in at least this way: it made me reflect, again, on the nature of life and death.  The old saying is true, nobody’s going to get out of this alive.  Well, unless Jesus returns before you die.  But, please, let’s not argue about eschatological viewpoints…

One of the advantages/disadvantages of ministry life is that in the last 45 years (yes, I’m an old guy) I have conducted and participated in many funerals.  There is perhaps no other time when the ministry of being present is more powerful and  important than then.  I have been confronted with the uncertainty of life many times.  I’ve been reminded often that it is fragile and much more temporary than I want it to be most of the time.

I learned this for myself on January 10, 2011, when I died a few times of an LAD heart attack in Scottsdale, AZ.  I wasn’t present for the event.  I have no memories of it after I thought, “I’ll just lean my head back here and rest.”  When the lights went out there on Shea Boulevard, they would have stayed out permanently had it not been for the quick action of my friend, Danny Hinkle.  He saved my life.  I’m happy to report that I’ve been given a clean bill of health from my cardiologist since then.  After a 6-month convalescence and recovery, I was able to go back to work, and have been showing up most every day since then.

Funny how the knowledge (first-hand knowledge) of the fact that life is temporary fades.  Actually, not funny.  Unfortunate.  For many months after my medical crisis I was keenly aware of the brevity and insecurity of life.  Every day was a gift.  Every kiss from my wife, every hug from a friend, every phone conversation with my daughters was a gift to be savored.

It’s been 8.5 years since that fateful day.  This morning, I didn’t wake up thinking, “Thank You, God, for this precious gift of another day.”  I woke up complaining to myself, to Debbie, to God about my jet lag and achy back.  The impact of 1/10/11 seems to have faded.  This is unfortunate, indeed.

A walk through a Czech cemetery rattled my cage enough to remind me of what I knew, but had lost track of.  My next project, my next day, my next breath isn’t guaranteed.  They’re not a given.  Each is a gift from God for me to seize and steward.

In his profound book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes that we’re writing our own eulogy.  How we live, what we say, what we do, who we are in other people’s lives are writing it.  It’s easy to forget this in the fury of phone bills, dirty diapers, dirty dishes, noisy neighbors, too-long pay periods and too-short paychecks.  In other words, normal life.  But it’s a fact that each of us has to put before ourselves and keep reminding ourselves of often.

I’m assuming that pretty much everybody who reads this is a parent or a spouse.  (If you’re not in either category, I’m honored that you’re reading this!)  With all the things pushing against you and pulling at you in those roles, it’s easy to lose sight of the long range, the end-game, your eulogy.  All I want to do today is challenge you with the idea that even with the demands of the day, today is a good day to re-calibrate against this fact of life.  You’re writing your eulogy, whether you think you are or not.  It’s a good idea to remind yourself of this, and to be intentional about building the content of it by what you say, how you say it, and how you are with the people in your life.

You don’t have to take a walk through a cemetery to do this, but you might want to.  Just sayin.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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