Thanksgiving Reflection: The Fragility of Life and Gratitude

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By Joe LaGuardia – A Thanksgiving reflection.

Reflecting on the fragility of life and the significance of gratitude, the poet of Psalm 39 wrote, “Hear my prayer, O Lord . . . for I am your passing guest, a sojourner, like my ancestors” (v. 12).

This author is not alone in facing the finality of life, the gloom of grief, and the dark of night.  Most of us, be it at a funeral, in solitude with God, or even driving down the interstate while in prayer, have contemplated the brief existence that all of us share on our tiny planet in the cosmos.

When that realization comes, people take one of two paths:  Some take the path of despair and resignation, forgetting to give thanks to God.  They brood on the morbid and slowly isolate themselves under the dark clouds of negativity and regret.

This path often ends at the bottom of a spiritual well, where the only light that provides any rescue is far overhead.

The second path is that of gratitude and appreciation.

Even when great calamity strikes, these folks ride above the storms of hardship and thank God for every breath that comes with the gift of life.

Things are not perfect, but hope is accessible.   There may be doubt, but that does not lead to despair.

Happiness may be hard to find, but joy continues to define a life well-seated in trust and faith in God.

People on that second path know that all of life is a movement of worship, even when worship is expressed in lament.  (It is unfortunate we forget that lamentation is a part of worship, not solely reserved for funerals or memorial services.)

St. Paul is an example for those who choose to follow in the second path.  He made an intentional effort to approach all of life in a state of worship even when conflict and the threat of death overshadowed his desire to spread the Gospel of Christ.

In the second letter to Corinthian churches, he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2:14-15).

A pleasant fragrance passes through space and time briefly.  A person enjoys it for a moment, and it dissipates as soon as one feels its breezy touch.  The author of Psalm 39 wrote, “You have made my days a few handbreaths…we go about like shadows” (v. 5, 6).

From Paul’s perspective, even a moment in the presence of God provides an eternity of bliss and fulfillment.  Each passing instance was a gift from the Lord.

Do you see life (as fleeting as it is) as a breath that passes through the universe or like a sweet fragrance rising before the very throne of God?

In his commentary on Psalm 39, scholar F. B. Meyer noted that the good news in this poetry, even for those who face uncertain days and have but miniscule joy, is that God will never leave our side:  “We are sojourners ‘with God,’ he is our constant companion…We may be strangers [in life], but we are not solitary.  The Father is with us.”

After spending many years in ministry and too many days beside the beds of loved ones facing hardship, I have come to realize that all of us face a choice each day: Will this day be lived out in desperation and self-centered striving, or will the day be welcomed as a gift to be enjoyed, one filled with the promise of hope and gratitude, held firmly in the embrace of the God who promises eternal life?

Bearing witness to the life of Mary Lumus

aging-handIt is common for people to skip the book of Numbers when they read through the Bible.  After all, it seems that, chapter after chapter, the book gives a dry and droll account of the families, clans, and tribes of Israel.

What seems like a boring list to us, however, was very meaningful to the ancients.  Even the lists of ancestral names in the New Testament–like those found in the gospels recording Jesus’ ancestry–carried great meaning.

The truth is that the ancients believed that a person’s life was enshrined and honored by the memories that a family held so dear.  Families were obligated to bear witness to the lives of their relatives in order to bring honor to the deceased.

Still today, some of us, especially clergy, bear witness to the lives of folks who pass away.  We advocate on behalf of the deceased by speaking truth about a person’s life, and we encourage people to “never forget” even one precious child of God.

And, so, in this column, dear reader, I am obligated to bear witness to the life of a person not many people knew, a person who simply loved her dog, worked hard, and finished the race of her life peacefully in Room 100 of Westberry rehab here in Conyers.

I met Ms. Mary Lumus through one of our parishioners, Denise Criswell.  Denise, who helped care for Ms. Mary over the years, encouraged us to reach out to Ms. Mary when the permanent move to Westberry was inevitable.

Ms. Mary was a very solitary person.  She had no living children (her son, a police officer in Atlanta, died years ago, only to be followed by the death of her grandson a year later).  Her siblings are deceased.  She was thrice married, but all her husbands are deceased as well.  She didn’t have a church family.

Ms. Mary described herself as a “wild child” so she neither built lasting bridges over the years nor had many bridges to burn. Instead, she quietly worked as a secretary for the state of Georgia until her retirement, and she cared for her best friend: a German Shepherd named Joey Boy.

I met Ms. Mary a little over a month ago.  Upon realizing the magnitude of Ms. Mary’s solitude, my church and I immediately set up a web of support around her.  Matt Cook, youth pastor at Milstead Baptist Church (only a mile from Westberry), committed to meet with Ms. Mary at least once a week.  Other folks stepped in to visit and pray with her.

Our church’s children made Ms. Mary cards and colorful posters that Matt delivered to her–complete with flowers and balloons–during Holy Week.

She was only one month away from turning 95 when I received news that she had passed on Friday, April 5, 2013.  Before she passed, she told Denise that she didn’t want any visitation or funeral.  She didn’t give any specific instructions for a burial.

She did, however, have a savings account for Joey Boy so that someone would have the resources to take care of him.  She had specific instructions for his care and safety.  We are thankful that Joey Boy moved into another loving home right before Ms. Mary passed.

Matt and I still find it hard to comprehend not having a funeral for one of God’s children.  So, this article seems quite appropriate.  No one, not even Ms. Mary who kept to herself the second half of her life, should die without at least some acknowledgment of her memory and dignity.

Denise and I plan to light a candle for her at Trinity Baptist sometime in mid-May.  We will have flowers on the communion table for her too.  But when all is said and done, we few who ministered to Ms. Mary–including many wonderful nurses at Westberry–were all the more blessed for knowing her.  We will miss her, and we hope that this record–like those long lists in the Bible–will be a lasting testament to a life well-lived by a very unique and precious child of God.

“From Ashes to Ashes” (An ode to Becky Wilson)

In honor of Becky Wilson’s interment, Eastertide 2013

They say, “From ashes to ashes,”
I don’t know why.  For sympathy I suppose.
It sounds scriptural, yet
It all seems so fatalistic to me.
Perhaps it’s the “from” part I don’t like.

We are always on the go
From one place to another.

I like emphasizing the “to” instead.
From death to life.
From faith to faith.
From glory to glory.
(Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.)

We are consumed by the goings on from one place to another
Somewhere between here and nowhere,
Or anywhere for that matter.

But it’s the destination that counts rather than the journey.
I lived my journey, and now I am finished.

Now its rest.
Rest in God’s presence.
Rest beside still waters.
Rest at a great banquet set before me.
(My cup overflows.)

So don’t go around saying,
“From Ashes to ashes” for my (or your) sake.
Makes no difference to me.

Instead, say that I lived life and lived it well.
Say that
I still live even now
Someplace where the “from”
No longer counts.

Ms. Rebecca Sue Wilson died on January 18, 2013.
She was a founding member of Trinity Baptist Church, Conyers, Georgia.