Saturday, June 25, 2016

Live for Eternity!

     The Christian school class looked at the white board in the front of

their classroom.  Three geometric linear shapes presented 

themselves--a line segment, a ray, and a line.  After explaining each 

specific term, the teacher asked a philosophical question:  "Which of

these is like God?"  After thinking a moment, one young man raised 

his hand:  "The line--because it has no beginning and no ending."  

           "Correct," the teacher responded.  "God is eternal and, like the line, has no beginning or ending.  "Now," she asked, "which is most like man?"
     "A blonde-haired girl near the front raised her hand immediately.  "The line segment--because we are born once and then we die."
     "Good thought.  Yes, that is true--we do have a birthday and a date of death.  But I was actually thinking of the ray."
     The children looked puzzled for a moment and then the teacher explained.  
      "You see, we all have a date of birth, but according to the Bible, we will live forever somewhere.  That means we will continue to live.  For eternity."
       If any theme emerged from the most recent funeral I attended, it would be that.  From the program bulletins, to the singing, to the messages and the testimonies, each person who attended left with that salient thought--each of us will live somewhere.  Forever.  And we best live now for eternity.
      It was more like a celebration than a funeral.  As I entered the lobby to attend the visitation, I noted that our church entry way had been transformed into a miniature museum, with memorabilia from the life of one who had lived as a dear saint of God.  An array of hand-made baby quilts hung above a table, in front of an extended white lattice.  I recognized the blankets as belonging to my own nieces and nephews.  A poem about four little children sat atop a table behind four sets of preserved baby shoes, and a variety of other homespun projects adorned the area.  And then, I saw it:  a small piece of framed counted cross-stitch that announced the theme for the entire occasion:  “Live for eternity.”
             I remembered the day, about two years before, when the woman whose home-going we were celebrating had sat next to me at church.  Her eyes were glowing, impassioned by a dream she hoped to make a reality.  “I want to make something for each grandchild,” she told me, “Something that reminds them of eternity.  I’m thinking of this phrase, ‘Keep eternity stamped on the back of your eyeballs'!”
            The following fall, golden rays danced off the multi-hued maple trees in our church yard.  The woman had returned again to visit and, just after the service ended, had exclaimed to me, “I did it!  I made a cross stitch for all my grandkids.  It says, ‘Live for eternity!’”  I smiled as I witnessed the glow from her face, but neither of us knew on that day just how soon eternity would become this dear woman’s reality.
             Now, Mrs. Elaine Gilmore’s spirit had transcended earth.  The casket containing her body lay open in the front of our church auditorium.  And throughout the lobby, her own beautiful smile—first as a small child, then a budding youth, and finally a young mother and sweet grandmother, adorned pictures on multiple tag boards on easels along the wall.  The most recent photo, taken most recently before with children and grandchildren around, saw the now elderly woman in a hospital room, still smiling, though a long tube extended from her nasal area to a large machine.
       That evening, children and grandchildren alike prepared for the big day to follow.  “This is going to be one long funeral!” a grandson exclaimed, as he read an order of service nearby. 
      “It’s going to be just like Grandma wanted,” his dad told him.
      “I don’t want a funeral service,” the his grandmother had stated months before, “I want a Victory Service!  Because I’m not gonna be here.  I’m gonna be in Heaven!”  
     The funeral—or Victory—service was unlike any other I had attended.  And, as a pastor’s daughter, I’ve been to far more funerals than weddings in my lifetime.  Years ago when the Gilmores had traveled the country as a young family, the boys’ trumpet trio served as a prelude to their dad’s preaching service.  And the children always sang.  What a treat it was to hear three now-grown sons joining together in “I’ve Discovered the Way of Gladness!” 
       Next a large group of grandchildren sang and played stringed instruments.  Many other beautiful and meaningful musical selections followed.  Nearly 25 years before, Mrs. Gilmore had been diagnosed with cancer and did not know what her future held.  A video from that season of her life was shown, along with some more recent video clips, in which she spoke strongly of her faith in God and her desire for others to live faith-filled lives.     
      Mrs. Gilmore filled notebooks with special insights of her walk with God and portions of her writings were distributed at the funeral service in a beautiful booklet.  At a funeral, eternity seems to be on nearly everyone's mind, and on this occasion, believers and unbelievers alike were touched by the message delivered by the life of this one who had chosen to follow Jesus Christ with her life.  
     Understanding then, that each of us will live forever, may each  

of us live as she did--for eternity!  "For what shall it profit a man, 

if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36) 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Remembering Jeremy (What's Your Obituary? Part Four)

 July, 1991
A big, white bus headed for the two-story home near the corner of Schroeder Avenue in Eagle, Wisconsin. The casual observer might think the driver a bit strange, for he was not your typical serious-faced adult but a clown, complete with makeup and a multi-colored wig.

Even though it was 7:45 on a Monday morning in the middle of summer, the bus was stopping to pick up children. The Manheim residence was next.

The Manheim kids sighted the bus and ran eagerly toward the door. Madison, slightly overweight but full of grins, plopped down on the seat directly behind the driver. Rose and Madison weren’t speaking to each other, so Rose headed all the way to the back, followed by Sally, the littlest Manheim of them all.

“Is Jeremy coming today?” the clown driver wanted to know.

Before his sisters could reply, six-year-old Jeremy, dressed in a blue tank top and shorts, grinned mischievously as he plunged out of the house in a flurry and rushed onto the bus.

“Mistow Hanson!” he shouted, giving the clown a big hug.

I was a high school student on the bus that day, helping fill out registration forms for all the new kids. As I wrote down the essential information for our Vacation Bible School files—phone numbers, addresses, parents’ names, etc.--I couldn’t help but appreciate these children. The Manheims were full of mischief and fun bundled together. Life was an adventure and a breeze, where fun lurked at every corner and blew bubbles in your face. 

Thus begin my recollections of Jeremy Manheim, whom I knew for a total of ten years, before he left this world for eternity.

April, 2001
Jeremy had moved to a concrete world. Below him, sidewalks stretched endlessly; roads criss-crossed in mazelike fashion; and colored rocks, like misshapen artwork, stared boringly into the sky. As far as the eye could see, brick dwellings and cement buildings stood frozen in the harsh environment. No greenery or mud, not even a stray dandelion joined in the chorus that was spring. 

Underneath his fifth-story room, cars, like finger-paint canisters on wheels, sat in an adjoining parking lot. He liked to count them, noting their makes and models, remembering the posters in his room at home.

Shuffling footsteps and clinking silverware told him lunch was on its way. What had he ordered? The tired menu had not changed once in his month-long stay. A woman appeared in the doorway. “Food service,” she said, placing a tray with two corndogs, potato chips, and a 20-oz. Mountain Dew in front of him.

“Thanks,” Jeremy said, adjusting his bed and moving the tray so that he could enjoy his meal. He liked it when his parents or sisters were here. What are they doing right now? He wondered, twisting the cap off his favorite drink. While he was stuck in this stuffy hospital room, they were probably enjoying the gorgeous weather. He set down his soda to turn on cartoons. Who said a sixteen-year-old couldn’t still enjoy the best of kids’ television? After all, what else could a guy with brain cancer do?

Of all the kids in the world, he’d never imagined it would happen to him. Neither had Sally, or Rose, or Madison, his sisters. Neither had Al and Judy, his parents. But it had, and he was stuck with it. And it seemed like nothing could be done.

It had all started that day at school, when he’d fainted—at least that’s when people discovered something was wrong, Jeremy thought, dousing his corndog in mustard and taking a large mouthful of his meal. With half of his lunch yet uneaten, Jeremy leaned back on the colorless pillowcase and thought. Images of the past few months appeared rapidly on the giant-screen TV of his mind.

January 2001 
“Hey, Jer, you comin’ to the game tonight?” Willis and Jeremy were late for lunch, but they took their time anyway.

“I dunno; I’ve been really tired the last few days,” Jeremy slurred, shifting his backpack to his left shoulder.

“Tired kired,” Willis rhymed, but Jeremy didn’t laugh.

“At least you wouldn’t have to do Algebra,” Willis countered. It was some kind of “experiment” their algebra teacher, Miss Stokes was conducting. Tonight’s game would count as homework if they attended. But Jeremy wasn’t listening.

“Hello—Jer, are you there?” Willis rattled on, waving his hand in front of his friend’s face. Willis was like that, always moving, shuffling, trying to get attention. And patience was not his forte. Waiting for an answer, definitely not a strong point. “What are you on, Man?” Will asked as he turned the corner and nearly collided with his physics teacher, Mr. Darrow.

Suddenly, Jeremy collapsed.

“Are you ever clumsy,” Willis called back, throwing his backpack into the air and catching it with his pinky. He started walking backwards toward the lunchroom, snapping his fingers to some tune while he waited for his friend. But Jeremy didn’t retort.

Willis wasn’t buying. “Always thought you were a born actor, Jer,” he continued. “Good one, Jer, Bravo!” But as he headed back to where his friend had dropped, Willis caught a glimpse of Mr. Darrow’s face and suddenly knew something was wrong.

Rushing back, Willis found his best friend’s body crumpled on the hall floor like a discarded tissue. Ashen, pale, and nearly lifeless, Jeremy’s face removed all doubt. He had not been joking. This was no stunt. Mr. Darrow was fumbling with his cell phone, muttering something about 911 as Willis plunged down the hall.

April, 2001
When the woman re-entered for Jeremy’s tray, she discovered him fast asleep, corndog stick in hand. 

That day, my sister and I came for a visit. The brain cancer had grown, we learned.  Now it was all up and down his spine.  And there wasn't much hope for his survival.  

How was he doing—really doing? we wanted to know. 

Life was ok up at the hospital, he said, where he got to watch TV when he felt like and didn’t have loads of schoolwork—school was never his favorite thing, after all. 

We spoke of memories of Jeremy at our church. We left him with Scripture and reminded him how important it was that he knew for sure he was on his way to Heaven.  Jeremy was closing his eyes, and we knew he couldn't talk much longer.  We said our goodbyes and left.  It was the last time we saw him before he left this world for eternity. 

June, 2001
The funeral parlor was jam-packed with teenagers of all ages, and the rooms were filled with smoke. Many young people sat around talking. I looked at them. Some of their faces were familiar; they’d visited church with one of the Manheim kids at different points in the past. Baggy jeans and disheveled hair made up the outside of many of these teens, but their hearts that day heard a message delivered from my father, who spoke of what Jeremy would want them all to know. He preached the love of Christ and warned the needy group of the reality of Hell for those who failed to trust Him.

At the grave side service, I looked again into the faces of the family, of friends, and of dozens of teens. Laid to rest near the bodies of elderly folks and children alike, Jeremy’s casket was placed. Come and gone Jeremy was. Just yesterday he was that tank-topped kid on the bus and today, well, he was enduring eternity somewhere.

Did he know Jesus? I hoped for the best—that was all I could do. Sure, he’d professed Christ, but what kind of impact had Jesus made on him?

June, 2016.
Jeremy's short life reminds me that I have a long way to go in ministering to others like Jesus did. Christ's entire purpose was rooted and grounded in “seeking to save that which was lost.” The profession of Christ is so common today, but the reality of His possession upon our hearts, minds, and spirits is another thing. I long to see fruit that evidences the complete deliverance that Jesus brings.  Such a ministry may mean more than making occasional visits, praying regularly for those to whom I minister, faithfully involving myself in ministry, and willingly confronting others with the truth.  

I am beginning to see that such radical change to how I "do ministry" begins with perceiving the world as God does.   If two commands summarize all of the law and prophets--loving God first and loving others second--then these two commands should likewise clearly define my ministry.  Recently, I've been praying for God's love and have asked the Lord to help me perceive His love which, like air, is everywhere--always constant.

Because He is a faithful God, He is guiding me on a course of training in this brand of love, which "passes knowledge" and fills us with "all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:19).  I have much to learn but I anticipate that as I continue to minister to more children like Jeremy, our gracious Lord will fill me "with all joy and peace in believing, that [I] may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost" (Romans 15:13)--hope that Christ can and will revolutionize hearts and lives, beginning with my own. 

Note:   Although the stories are true and the characters are real, the names of the individuals in the last two articles in this series have been replaced with fictitious names.