Monday, May 30, 2016

To Be Remembered

Growing up, my sister and I loathed Memorial Day weekend more than any of the remaining 51 weekends of the year. It almost always occurred on the tail of the last day of school. While other kids were getting together for celebratory parties, we were piling into the brown station wagon to make the three-hour schlep to my grandparents' farm in northern Missouri. 

The routine was almost always the same. Our aunt, uncle and several cousins would join us around the large table for a farmer's feast of at least two meats and twelve vegetables. These selections would be followed by a half a dozen desserts with plenty of iced tea or coffee to wash it all down. And then we would pile back into the car and head to what felt like every cemetery in a twenty mile radius of the farm. 

A careful routine would continue when we got to the family burial plot in each place. Grandma Great would take a bucket of fern and carefully lay sprays across the ground covering the buried body of a beloved family member. Then Grandma and Grandpa would lay carnations, roses and other flowers on top of the fern. When the burial site was sufficiently decorated, we would make our way to the next relative's gravesite. 

These actions are how we remembered the dead. There were more traditions accompanying Memorial Day than there were Christmas. While we rarely appreciated what was taught to us while standing in the hot summer sun, we could not escape learning a bit more about our relatives and their lives each May. 

I now rarely make it to the family farm on Memorial Day weekend. While I respect these traditions, I've come to imagine different ways of remembering the dead. Or, more importantly, I've sought to imagine more fully how I want to be remembered. 

Just yesterday I saw a picture of three young children whose father died earlier this year. I've never met these children, but I saw their father's face so clearly in each child. Many people continue to live through their children, leaving their mark through facial features, large bone structures or even stubborn habits. But we have chosen not to have children of our own, making me want to plan even more passionately about what legacy I'll leave. And in the last decade of serving Mount Vernon Place, I've seen lives making a difference long after they took their last breath.

At the turn of this century, our congregation was dwindling to a few dozen incredibly faithful senior citizens who had first come to the church as government workers in the 40s, watched it grow to more than 4000 members in the 60s, and then take a nose dive into decline. But a couple of members loved their church enough to want it to continue to make a difference long after their death. They established a $1 million endowment, and without this money on which to draw during very lean times, the church would have likely closed many years ago.

Another church member worked with his three sons to establish a scholarship at a nearby seminary. He gave a large enough gift to permanently endow an internship at our church. Every three years, the seminary gets to use the scholarship as a recruitment tool, the church gets to select an extraordinary incoming student, and the student and congregation get to learn together for three years. I love telling people about Howard's gift and seeing how Howard continues to live through the impact these students make on our community. He would be so incredibly delighted!

According to LexisNexis research, approximately 55 percent of all adults in our nation do not have a will or any plans for their estate. Less than half of us have made intentional plans for how our lives can continue to live after our death. And yet, none of us get to live forever. 

I learned early that one of the greatest gifts older adults can give their children is to make plans for their long term care. I now know that one of the greatest gifts we can give to institutions we love is to make plans for our generosity to be embodied long after we live.

What are the organizations or institutions that have made a difference in your life?

Where do you regularly give money each year because you believe in what they do and want to support it? 

What if one person could have their dream realized every year because of your intentional planning and generosity? 

What if lives could be touched and transformed through you on a regular basis, even after your death? 

It's all possible with careful, thoughtful and generous estate planning.

I'm more than okay if no one ever visits my grave. But I want my light to continue to shine in powerful and profound ways. I want to be as generous in my death as I have sought to be in my life. I want to be remembered by making a difference. 

What about you?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Another Gospel

I'm spending the week at a worship retreat on the edge of Lake Tahoe. It's an extraordinary place where you can find your breath being taken away at every twist and turn - in part because of the thinness of the air in the higher elevation - but mainly because the scenery is so incredibly beautiful. God's handiwork is on full display in this extraordinary place. I've found myself called to prayer often.

This morning's walk led me to an amphitheater near the side of the Lake where the names of the four Gospel writers are powerfully on display: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But there's another pillar there. There is no name attached to it. The bench at the base of it is a little broken while still offering an invitation to come and rest for a while. And yet, the invitation for me was far greater than a place to sit and rest. What I experienced was a call to imagine again how my life is proclaiming the good news. What are the stories my life is telling, the fruit of the Spirit I'm embodying, the images of Jesus I'm reflecting? If God is still speaking, which I believe God is, then how is God speaking through me and my life?

And what about you? How is God speaking through you? If you were to write the stories of Jesus at work in your life, what stories would you record?

It's that question that has challenged me a bit as I realize how closed I've been to some of the movement of the Spirit around me. It's been an incredible start to the year in terms of growth and "success." I'm about to finish my 11th year at Mount Vernon Place where we have seen total transformation of our neighborhood, building and congregation in addition to dozens of lives. I would not trade this time for anything. I regularly say I have the "best job in Washington."

But my prayer for this season is not more people in the pews or anything that can be captured on a statistical report. Rather, my prayer is to see Jesus - to not just open my ears to hear him or my eyes to see him - but to unlock my full life to follow him, to let go of whatever might be holding me back, and to partner with him in such a way that there are more beautiful stories worth telling.

What about you? What stories would you want to include in your account of the good news?