Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Leaving a Legacy - Reflections on Memorial Day

Memorial Day came with certain traditions in our family. Each year we would pile into the brown station wagon and head to Northern Missouri. A feast would await us upon arrival at the Claycomb family farm - ham, turkey, homemade pies and several sides. But we could not get to the table without walking by buckets of fresh flowers that Grandma had picked earlier in the day.

When our bellies were full, we would pile back into the car and head to the cemeteries for what seemed like a tour of every burial plot in a sixty-mile radius. At each stop, we would go walking through the large grave yard until we found the plots where relatives were buried. Grandma would then repeat a carefully thought out process at each plot. Ferns were laid first as though covering the body and then flowers were placed on top of the greenery. It was an act of remembrance for each person who once graced the earth with their presence, playing a role in making members of my family who they are today.

I don't miss going to the cemetery.

I used to regularly tell my mother that I would plant a rose bush on her grave so she would always have flowers even if I did not visit.

I don't think we have to go to cemeteries to remember people. In fact, I'd be perfectly fine with no headstone at all when I die. I'd rather my legacy be remembered in different ways.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How do you wish to be remembered?

Each December I receive certified mail from a local CPA. The letter inside reads the same each year starting with the words, "It is my pleasure to inform you that it is time once again for the ---- Family Foundation to make its annual donations to the beneficiaries named in the foundation documents." The letter then tells me how the woman was an active member of our church until her death nearly 10 years ago. The check that arrived with the letter last December was for over $21,000. A similar check has arrived every December since 2005. What an amazing legacy! One could look at our growing children's ministry and see this woman's face as she is making sure we have money to tell our children the stories of Jesus. One could listen to music playing in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and think the same. One could visit a small group during the week and hear this woman's voice making sure that Mount Vernon Place would be a strong presence in the nation's capital for years to come. Or one could visit the shower ministry and feel hot water pouring out of spouts and upon people who are able to get clean. This woman's generosity is making a real difference - nine years after her death. What an amazing legacy. What a way to be remembered!

Last year our church lost a member who meant the world to me. Howard was almost 104-years-old when he died but was still at weekly Bible study a few months before. He loved watching our church grow. On communion Sundays, he would regularly count the people coming down to receive the sacrament and inform me how many people were in church, often telling me how much our church had grown in the last month alone. I adored this man, and I get to see his light every Sunday through the gift of a seminary student who is in ministry with us. This man's final gift to our church was the establishment of an endowed scholarship at Wesley Theological Seminary - a gift that provides a generous scholarship to a student who then serves at our church 10 to 12 hours a week. Each time I see Rachel, I get to remember Howard. Each time I watch her claim her gifts and grow more confident in her call, I get to hear Howard cheering her on and our church on, as well. What a way to be remembered!

Not long ago, the New York Times wrote a story about a man who left millions to no one. He was bright, educated and successful. He amassed a wealth worth $40 million when he died. And now this $40 million will likely be turned over to the state because there are no living heirs to be found. Imagine all the ways $40 million could be invested - in schools, churches, synagogues, playgrounds, communities, ministries far and near. Imagine the difference $40 million could make. I cannot imagine a colder death than this one. Who will remember him?

There is life beyond death - I believe this with my whole heart. It's one of the reasons I regularly proclaim the good news of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. But we also do not have to wait until the second coming to live again. We can continue to live through the choices we make today about how what we have will be shared and distributed to others when we leave this earth.

When I die, please don't worry about purchasing an expensive headstone. You do not need to lay flowers on my grave. Rather, keep remembering me through ministries I love - a seminary that formed me, churches that caused me to become a more faithful pastor, places that made a difference in my life and will continue to make a difference in the lives of others in the years to come.


Jerry Roberson said...

Every Memorial Day, I would visit three or four cemeteries with my parents, decorating graves and pulling weeds. It was, and is a tradition that I miss ... now that I don't live in Oklahoma. It was family time for us. We would not only talk about beloved family members who had gone before us, but I'd always learn something new about who was related to whom. Coming from a family of geneologists, I always found cemeteries to be a combination of museum and playground. Occasional family reunions might include a large tent and potluck meal on the edge of the cemetery. For us, it was a custom that was deeply personal. Friends may have been at the lake or doing Memorial Day cookouts. We made Memorial Day OUR day ... just for family stuff ... and for remembering those we loved.

Susann said...

I want to be remembered as a woman who dared. I have some work to do.