This tomb, seen along the roadside in Israel, reminds me of another tomb where God testified regarding eternal blessing and renewal.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I received a blessing yesterday morning as I sat for the second time in a week among family during a memorial/funeral service. The blessing was an analogy, and I liked it. Credit for this picture/analogy goes to longtime friend Mark Howell, pulpit minister at Sugar Grove Church of Christ in Houston. Mark studied accounting with Barry in the 70s, and we shared together our ministry with young people: Mark and Karen worked with the youth at then North Side Church of Christ here in Austin, and Barry and I worked with the youth at Round Rock Church of Christ. We saw each other regularly and have remained loosely connected through the years.

Standing on the beach, a man looked out to sea at just the right moment to catch sight of a tall ship, sitting only a few hundred yards offshore, her bow and stern equally visible as she seemed to rule the horizon of the setting sun. The sight took the man’s breath, so perfect was the canvas before him. Though her sails were at rest, he could see the crew scurrying about the deck, preparing to sail. For the moment, however, all was still. In an instant, he felt the moisture of the cool ocean breeze gust against his face, and at just that moment the sails caught and furled fully open. The stark white sails expanded against the burning sky, and the ship turned and began to drift out to sea.

The man stood silently, watching her dignity as she slipped away, slowly at first and then picking up speed. Seemingly, within moments he saw her reach the distant horizon, white sails like a small wispy cloud at the edge of the earth. Then she disappeared.

“She is gone,” he said.

As the words left his lips, however, he seemed to hear another voice from the other side, and that voice was calling expectantly: “Here she is! Do you see her? She's coming!”

She was not gone; she had merely gone from his sight.

I like this picture. The story reminded me of Phyllis, my kids’ adopted grandmother in San Antonio. When she learned of her lung cancer and received the poor prognosis that she would likely die within the year, she said to me: “I am not sad. As we live our lives, we say goodbye to one we love and then another. Soon we realize there are so many we love on the other side. Death will be a great reunion.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Remnant

On New Year's Day, 2009, I heard a good friend of about my age say that he lived life on purpose by “numbering his years.” As a young man Albert determined, given his family history, etc., that he could likely live until he was 77--Lord willing, of course. As a young man in his twenties the time seemed far distant. By 2009 the day draws nearer, so he announced on New Year’s Day that he would prioritize his activities in 2009 based on the assumption that he had 19 years to live.

I have tried without success to articulate the effect of these words as they seemed to bounce and echo around me. 19 years? nineteen YEARS? NINETEEN years? To a young man or woman, nineteen years may seem long enough. They have yet to pack their eldest off to college at 18, then attempt to hang on as life becomes one rapid succession of graduations and departures, marriages, and births…then graduations, marriages, and births. My children have yet to bury a parent (praise God), but they could any day—or maybe in 19 years.

It was only nineteen years ago in 1990 that our family returned to Austin, TX, after a 14-year absence. I tend to think of this period as recent life. Although my youngest and soon-to-be 27-year-old son was a third grader at the time, it seems like yesterday. Could it be that I have 19 years to live? In truth, life could end much sooner or it could last longer, but Albert's point bears significance. Life on earth will not continue forever, and that fact should impact this day's events.

Albert’s New Years announcement did not stun me because of its import regarding a purposeful approach to life. Like Albert, that idea was not new to me. For the most part, I have lived a life of purpose since a very young age. Within the last ten years I have seen (and misplaced) a copy of my "Life Mission," written around age 30--the suggested assignment from some seminar, class or friend--I can't remember. In it I dedicated my life's work to ministry and to doing all I could to help other women do the same. Thus the mission statement for the non-profit I originated and now direct evolved out of early life convictions: Come before Winter exists to renew, equip, honor and unite women in ministry around the world.

Albert’s words did not speak to me for the first time regarding the need to discriminate between opportunities. Though I may lack skill in this area, I do purposefully make such decisions. I very resolutely decided not to pursue a career in journalism as I had planned when I earned my degree from the University of Texas--and it had nothing to do with any lack of respect for the profession. I truly appreciate the men and women who do their best to report life as they find it in this world. I believe with Thomas Jefferson that given the choice between a country without a free press and a free press without a free country, I would choose the latter. However, I valued the pursuit of my mission, and that pursuit required laying aside early goals.

Albert’s plan did not tutor me regarding the need to move forward or to mentor others who might one day carry the baton through the next leg of the race. I take mentoring seriously; I have had many excellent mentors and attempt to mentor protégés along the way. After all, I can see my face in the mirror; I know that I am aging, that I am a grandmother, that my husband has lost his hair (sorry, honey), and that life should transition once more. Just last year, I dedicated 2008 to positioning Come before Winter so that the ministry might endure through a leadership transfer.

No, Albert’s words did not begin to skip and bounce around the room because they represented ideas I had never considered. What captured my consciousness on the day of Albert’s announcement was the time. A specific, calculable number of years that I could easily imagine--even remember. The concrete brevity of life caught me off guard. Only nineteen years. The specificity touched off alarms as if reality had only at that moment come into focus. How long had it been since I had examined the remaining fabric to determine how it might best be used—to adorn or repair, to accent or reconstruct, to craft or to give away? If I died tomorrow, I would have already received a beautiful garment called life—one commissioned, purchased, and well worn. But what should become of the remnant? Beautiful and useful fabric should not lay disregarded, unapprised, and undervalued. I must be purposeful about that piece, as well. Thus, Albert’s words have spawned all degree of evaluative thought.

Time is precious and time is limited, but life is precious and life is limited. Just last week, we said goodbye to "Dad," my father-in-law and a man of great influence in my family's lives. He left a legacy of love and integrity, of hard work and simple living. Dad was a wise man that will influence generations through the time he invested in us all—great grandchildren included. He knew for years that his time was limited, and I know he thought about it, but he didn't change much. He didn’t decide that he had better hurry or he wouldn’t leave his mark on the world. He didn’t return to school to earn the degree he never started. He didn’t write a “bucket list” and set off to see the world or experience various encounters. He got up every morning and had breakfast with his wife, then he headed out the door for coffee with his friends. He deliberated the cost of hay and laughed about the mess he found when he returned home after the cows got locked in the garage. He worshipped God and he worked hard, feeding the cattle on two ranches; but he also took naps and watched “Judge Judy.” He loved God and the church. He adored his wife and told her so often. He talked to his children, treasured his grandchildren, and got to know his great-grandchildren. He laughed and cried and celebrated his full and happy life.

I don’t know if I have 19 years to live or two weeks or 29 years, and I haven’t decided what to do with the scraps of life, but I remember Dad, and perhaps my plans for those pieces of cloth may not be so grandiose as they might have been at one time. Like Dad, I hope I honor those who love me—my Lord, my husband and family--my friends. In the end, our most enduring legacy will live on through those we know, love and influence. I still have a beautiful swatch of fabric left. Thanks to Albert, I am pondering how best to use it.