Tuesday, July 19, 2011

a life well-lived

When someone dies, our memories of them are magnified and suddenly the little things they did may be seen in proper perspective.

Grandma Dorothy was one of the most cheerful people we knew.  We got news several months ago that she was dying, so Danny called her right away to say goodbye.

"They tell me I'm dying," Grandma told him cheerfully.  "But I don't feel any different than I did yesterday.  It's kind of like a party.  All the people I love are coming to see me, and everything is taken care of.  I don't have to do a thing." 

She was ready to go.  Her faith was strong.  She spent a week at the Hopewell House, the hospice care facility where Danny's dad spent his final days back in 1995.  But then, against all odds, Grandma went home.  Not heaven, mind you.  Home to her earthly house.  The Hopewell House didn't really know how to handle a discharge.  All of their other patients leave in hearses.  But not Grandma.  They backed off her oxygen at her request, expecting that without a ventilator she would breathe her last.  But she didn't.  Grandma kept right on breathing, so they sent her home.  I don't know much about her last weeks and months, but I do know that she was at home, sleeping peacefully when she died.

We'll miss her bright smile and cheerful greeting.  We'll miss her double birthday cards (one for Danny and one for me in the same envelope since she couldn't remember when my birthday was and didn't want to forget me) with $5 to buy a milkshake.  We'll miss her faithful financial support, spanning the whole 9 years since we started ministering with SIM.  She was a dear lady.

We were in Oregon for a family visit when she died, but we just missed seeing her.  We're staying an extra week so that we can attend her funeral, and our kids will get to attend VBS at Calvary Mennonite Church, our home base here.  The community at Calvary is feeling sharply the loss of another dear soul this week: Bonnie.

Bonnie was quiet, but she had a fun giggle you could hear if you hung around her long enough.  For as long as I attended Calvary Bonnie came daily to volunteer.  Yes, I said daily.  All year round. She was not the up-front type of person, but now that she's gone the congregation is gradually realizing what a vital role she played here.  Bonnie died suddenly and unexpectedly this spring of complications from the flu.  Most of her volunteer hours were spent in preparation for children's ministry.  She kept attendance records, prepared supplies for crafts, organized classrooms, decorated bulletin boards, and did countless other things behind the scenes that the rest of the church is only now beginning to realize.  She was heavily involved in VBS every year, and without her help the team has been stretched very thin.  Bonnie didn't live for fanfare.  I don't remember ever hearing any public thanks or acknowledgement of her service.  She just kept on serving, day after day after day.  That's what faithfulness looks like. There is no shortcut.  It's a "long obedience in the same direction" as someone has said.

The measure of a life well-lived is not some great moment of faith or generosity or service.  It is the gradual accumulation of consistent faith, consistent generosity, and consistent service.  We will not be remembered for what we did once, but for what we did over and over, day after day, and year after year.  What does it take to be great in God's kingdom?  If we wait for our "great moment" it may never come.  Living well requires a thousand thankless acts of service, a thousand smiles, a thousand gifts given little by little.  Thanks Grandma, and thanks Bonnie, for living well and showing us the way.

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