I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. I have lost count of the number of individuals who have recently died whom I either knew personally, or were the loved one of someone I know. My heart has been incredibly heavy.
As I sat in a funeral last week and listened to the eulogy, I thought about my own death…and life. While the speaker shared fond stories about the older man, who now was in the presence of Jesus, I kept waiting to hear more. What more I wanted to hear, I wasn’t quite sure; but the waiting to hear it made my spirit restless. Yesterday, I saw a post on social media about the death of a coworker I worked with in my first grown-up job. I couldn’t shake his death from my thoughts. My restlessness increased.
This morning, in the early moments of dawn, a cardinal’s song drifted through my open window, awakening me from my slumber. I burrowed deeper beneath the warm covers, but the remnants of my sweet sleep were replaced by a stirring in the depth of my being. Memories of my life weaved through my thoughts and I, once again, pondered my own approaching death. And I thought about what I would want said at my own celebration of life.
Hopefully, there will be a few lighthearted, humorous things like…
I am short; I know I am short because folks feel the need to tell me. I have heard every short joke that has ever been told. And I laugh, because it is true and there is nothing I can do about it. Most often, I am directed to stand in the front row of group photos and, as a young adult, I was the appointed elf at the annual volunteer fire department’s Christmas party. I’ve sported the endearing nicknames of Shrimpy Sharon, Half-pint, Fun-size, Smurf, Short-stuff, and Li’l Bit.
I am a perfectionist, a tad intense at times and prefer good order and discipline. But I love to laugh. The laugh-until-you-cry, side-clutching, and snorting kind of laughter. I am quick to join in harmless mischief, if it is guaranteed to bring a laugh from the one getting pranked. I may not be quick in response, but I will eventually get even when I am the one pranked. I sneak into coworkers’ offices and leave post-it note smiley-faces. I am genuinely perky, and may or may not be guilty of cranking-up the level of said-perkiness around grouchy coworkers. I have been accused by the office Eeyore of flinging “happy turds.” I always look for the opportunity to encourage.
I love old things and dead people, meaning I enjoy decorating my nest with all things vintage, and I love genealogy. I treasure my heritage and enjoy discovering branches on my family tree. I have concluded that my early family tree is more of a briar-patch…because I am my own-6th cousin.
Then I would want my faith walk to be shared…
Although born seven-weeks premature, which in 1961 was often a death-sentence, by the favor of God, I was healthy. My only complication was an underdeveloped eye-muscle which caused a crossed-eye and was corrected at age six.
I first learned about Jesus at age seven, while attending Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Garner, North Carolina. A compliant and obedient child, I accepted the Gospel without question. I just knew that I knew Jesus was my Savior.
When I started school, I didn’t like my given name; I wanted a cool name like Ashley. It was only after I got my first Bible in 1969, and discovered my name in black-and-white print, that I became satisfied with my name.
In my mid-to-late teens, I struggled in my faith walk. While handwritten comments in my first devotional book prove I was passionately seeking Christ, adolescent insecurities led me to think I was not smart enough to understand the Bible. I was discouraged and eventually stopped trying to learn on my own. That discouragement led me to be disobedient and to make poor choices, including…
…the time I disobeyed my mother and went into the rough surf anyway. I was quickly caught in an undertow; my feet were swept out from under me and I was tossed into the reef. I struggled to surface, but the waves pounded mercilessly. I fought, but my efforts were futile, so I gave up. The sun shone warmly through the water and I experienced perfect peace. I was certain I would see Jesus face-to-face. But then a Marine yanked me by the hair.
…when, as a young adult, desperate to feel loved, I chose to date a man I knew did not share my faith. Dating led to engagement which led to marriage, which led me straight into what I define as my long season as an unintentional prodigal.
And then I realized what my “more” was...
My life story isn’t about me and what I have done. It is about what the Lord has done in me, for me, through me, and with me.
Without a doubt, the biggest pivot in my life was on a cold November day in 1993. It was the day the Lord, in a act of great love, broke my heart; He loved me enough to remove me from marriage, where I had thought I was loved, so He could teach me about True Love. Since then, He has kept me single, so He can fill my greatest longings. He has broken strongholds. He has allowed me to face - and conquer — my fears. He has worked all things out for my good and for His glory.
I have sensed His Presence in all seasons and in all things…
In the big things and the little things.
In the exciting adventures and in the mundane.
In the valley and on the mountaintop.
In days of drought and days of prosperity.
In the middle-of-the-night roaring hurricanes and in the stillness of the sunrise on a summers’ morn.
In the workplace, when I was lied about, bullied, and mistreated.
In the workplace, where I found favor and fulfillment.
On the witness stand, when I was a prosecution witness against a former manager.
At the graveside of a longtime, treasured friend, who was murdered by his greedy half-brother.
In the exam room, where I made the decision to trust Him, regardless of what the test results would reveal.
On my backporch, in the delightful quiet of an awakening morning and in the dark of night when I am serenaded by nightsounds.
Today, old hymns have been dancing through my mind. For the first time, I relate to the lyrics which tell of the beautiful shores of The Sweet By and By; longings for an Unclouded Day; and the homesickness for Sweet Beulah Land. I, too, now long for the day when my faith will be made as sight and I will fall on my knees before my Savior, in awesome wonder and humble adoration. As I listened to I’ll Fly Away, I almost had a shoutin’ spell! Soon and very soon, I’ll be in my forever home in Glory Land! But until that day…
I want to use my remaining breath to testify of the goodness of God. I want to be used by God to accomplish His plans and purpose. I want to love without condition, encourage the discouraged, and make a difference in my circle of influence. I want to boldly speak Truth and always point others to Jesus. I want to be found faithful.
And when that day comes and I draw my last breath, I will not be dead. I will more be alive than I have ever been!
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16