Friday, January 6, 2017

A Beautiful Life

At present, it is snowing here in the Deep South.  We don't get a lot of snow, but we usually do get some the first week or so of January.  I am snug and warm, and for that, as well as for many other gifts I'll share in this post, I am grateful.

Earlier this week word came that a family friend, a man I've known all my life, from my "home church", had suddenly died.  Mother, who told me, also relayed that she, my sister and I had been asked to sing at his service.  My sister lives near me, relatively speaking (sorry...couldn't resist).  We both arranged to attend and pay our respects, leaving from my house yesterday afternoon.  In the meantime my mother had texted, to ask if I could sing the bass part on a requested song.  "No, mother, I can do a lot of things, but not that..."  She said she'd ask cousin Robert to help.  "Ok."  It was about this time she informed me I would be playing piano for the funeral too....  "Ok."

We arrived just after six, when the six to eight o'clock viewing had begun.  Our friends are a very small family - - the father, an invalid mother, one middle-aged daughter and the mother's one sister. Lately, due to the mother's extended illness all of them have "had their hands full".  They all live in their respective homes on "family land" and do their part.  No one expected the father, who had faithfully fed his wife the meals she ate for the past two years, to "pass" before she did.

After the viewing we went to the local pizza place to get a late dinner.  With my mom, sister and me went my brother and his wife.  We had a great time, just talking.  Their son recently announced his engagement and will be getting married, hopefully, sometime this year.  We reminisced about other weddings of mother's grandchildren.  My brother had been at our house yesterday to repair one of our ailing heating systems; the news is not good there.  We enjoyed our pizzas and then headed to mama's.

We were supposed to meet my cousin, Robert, after dinner; he arrived in short-order.  We practiced a few minutes, after which we spent the next couple of hours just sitting in "the music room" - - talking and "catching up" on how various relatives are doing these days.  We had not had a chance to just sit and talk with him, in ages.

This morning we got up with our minds on the weather and on doing an honorable job at the service for our long-time friend.  We were to sing two songs, the one we practiced last night with our cousin and one more, which we had to select.  My sister said she could not sing anything in an altered key unless she sang lead.  We bargained and negotiated and finally defaulted to "Amazing Grace", always appropriate.

The funeral was at to be at 2:00, with the bad weather to start at our houses (almost 2 hours away) by mid afternoon.  So, we were leery ... but resolute.  About mid-morning we headed to town to do some shopping.  The man who had bought a local mom-and-pop (in this case just Pop) department store before I was born had died recently, way up into his nineties.  At his store today we encountered the  two elderly women who worked for him ... for nearly 60 years.  Surviving him (obviously) they are overseeing the selling off of the store's remaining goods.  He had no children, no apparent heirs.  The end of an era in my hometown...
After we picked up a few things and told the ladies "good-bye", we walked next door to the local diner for lunch, keeping a watchful eye on the TV, which featured wall-to-wall weather reports.

Upon arriving at the funeral home we got our stuff together; and, as soon as the first guest arrived in the chapel, I began to play.  Now this was a curious thing:  as I listened to the first minister, I thought about how few folks my age still have the privilege of hearing two of the three preachers whose ministries they sat under during the years they were a child and youth?!  What a joy!

The first pastor I ever remember was the first one to speak today.  He still preaches occasionally and also hosts the morning show on the local radio station, the one my elderly aunt (and family) still own and manage. (By the way, my aunt still plays the organ at First Baptist - - - after 60+ years in that position.  But, that's another blog post.)

The second minister was the one who came to our church when I was about 14.  In fact, I was appointed to the pastor search committee that brought him to our little, country church.  I can't imagine why they chose me for that ... honor.   In my self-centeredness and immaturity this teenage "church organist" just had one question for our only candidate:  "If a musician has prepared an offertory, should she get to finish it if the ushers have quickly finished collecting the offering?"  He replied, "Absolutely!"  And, that sealed the deal for me.

Well, after a few years as our bi-vocational pastor - - the only kind our little church has ever had - - he moved on from that pastorate.  But, he didn't move on from the community.  He and his wife had put down roots there, and stay there they did, living for 35 years in my grandaddy's homeplace. Over the decades he became "closer than a brother" to the man whose funeral he preached today.  In fact, his voice broke as he eulogized him.

This might be a good time to mention the title of the other song we sang today: "A Beautiful Life", which was also the theme of that second minister-friend's remarks.  The man we remembered today was not a celebrity.  He was not famous or wealthy.  He was a good, kind, honorable, Christian farmer who loved his Jesus, his friends and family as well as the family of God with whom he fellowshipped and worshipped.  He was a deacon, Sunday School teacher and humble friend, who "walked the walk".  By the grace of God, he lived "a beautiful life".  Now, (praise God!), he is in his heavenly home...safely home with his Savior, forever.

And, by the grace of God, the weather held off until we made it safely, late this afternoon, to our earthly homes.
This life with Jesus, who stretches out His arms and invites us to come to Him, walk with Him, become like Him ...yes, it IS a beautiful life.  A life that, filled with joys and sorrows, will lead to a sinless eternity with the One we love, the One who loves us the most.

How beautiful is that?!

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