A colleague shared her CaringBridge site a week and a half ago, and her photo drew me in. There she was, a woman who appeared to be about ten years younger than me, smiling with her four-year-old twins, another child and an adoring husband. I clicked on the link and learned she was a Lutheran pastor in Minnesota who was recovering from a routine procedure when she fainted on August 26. After being rushed to the hospital, it was discovered she had a major blockage to her heart and then a brain bleed. I've returned to her site many days this week, joining the multitude of parishioners and other people who prayed whenever their breath was no longer being held. There were two posts on Thursday. One celebrated the power of a medical team and success on a heart bypass machine. The other reported she had died at 11pm on Thursday night, a beloved child of God.
I didn't know her. But I cannot stop thinking about her--this clearly gifted pastor and doting mother of three young children who was carrying on with life as usual only to tragically die before her twins start kindergarten.
I wonder if she was prepared to die.
More importantly, I wonder if we--you and I--are prepared to die.
Our nation's attention was captured last weekend as two powerful lives were celebrated. Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul, one whose music made our hips sway and our souls ignite. Her funeral was over eight hours long. And while some people are still talking about some of the musical performances, most people are talking about their disappointment with the pastor's homily or the placement of another pastor's hand. It's now reported that Franklin died without a will. She made no plans for how her life could continue to live through her $80 million estate, leaving her heirs headaches and possibly heartaches.
On Saturday morning, the television cameras took us to the National Cathedral where we watched the most beautiful display of bipartisanship since Justice Anthony Kennedy was confirmed unanimously. Senator John McCain left a final letter which was read in advance of his service. He selected the song, "Danny Boy." He named the men who would accompany his casket. And, he called two Presidents--one Democrat and one Republican--long before he took his final breath to ask if they would honor him by speaking at his funeral. I watched the entire thing before asking God for some of Meghan McCain's prophetic courage.
Senator McCain was prepared to die while one is left to wonder if the Queen of Soul imagined she could live forever as she put off incredibly important details.
What about us?
Have you confronted the fact that death is one of the few guarantees in life with the other being taxes?
Do you have a plan for how your life can continue to live beyond your death?
Two former members of our church have powerfully demonstrated how one's life can continue to live through how they planned for their assets to be distributed. I never met one of them as she died several years before I became the pastor at Mount Vernon Place. But every December our church receives a check from her family foundation in the range of $18,000 to $22,000 depending upon the market performance. The check is accompanied by a letter from the chair of their family foundation that informs the church how a similar check will continue to come until all assets are depleted. I don't know how much this woman gave to the church when she was living, but I suspect this allocation has more than continued her tithes and offerings. The check is an extraordinary gift that makes a profound difference in our church's ministries every single year.
A man named Howard taught me the most about how one's generosity enables one to continue to live long after they die. In his last year of life, his sons worked with me to create a paid internship at MVP. Every three years, I have the joy of selecting an incoming student at Wesley Theological Seminary to serve at our church during their time in seminary. We call the student the "Howard Martin Ministry Intern." His name is in our bulletin every single week. He's now played a role in forming and shaping a handful of students who are serving the church in different ways. It was Howard's example that motivated Craig and me to make plans to create a similar scholarship at my seminary upon our deaths. I want my life to keep living--to keep making a difference--to play a role in someone's transformation--even after I die.
(Howard is second from the left. This pic is the weekly Bible study in 2006. How things have changed!)
What about you? How will your life continue to live?
And what about your funeral? I want my seminary friend Manisha to preside at my service and my dear clergy colleague Alisa to preach. I long for people to sing "Blessed Assurance" and "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with gusto. I would love for people to feast at a table prepared for all. My service can be at whatever church I'm serving or the one where I am connected at the time. And, I'd be more than okay for my body to be interred at the natural burial sites at Holy Cross Abbey where I have retreated annually for more than 15 years.
I don't know when the time will come. But I long to live as one who is prepared to die--by maximizing every single day, always seeking to faithfully follow God's call on my life, embodying generosity as a spiritual discipline, trying to be more patient, and allowing my light to shine--the light of Christ--wherever I am.
What about you?