Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Death and Life of V

This morning I did the funeral of V. I had never met her. I know one of V's grandchildren, and she and V's family asked me if I would do this for them. Yes, I will.

Last night I went to the funeral home and met with V's children and a few of her grandchildren. When I returned home after the meeting Linda asked me "How did it go?"

That's a good question. Some of these meetings have not gone so well. They don't go well when the deceased was really screwed up and leaves a wake of chaos behind. They don't go well when there are unhealed wounds and scars in the survivors, who now have no chance of reconciling with the deceased should they even want to. They're angry at their departed one, who is no longer here to feel the wrath of their unmet expectations. These meetings don't go well when the loved one is gone but all the words of love that needed to be said were never said. They don't go well when, behind the funerary mask, the children are fighting for the inheritance.

I responded to Linda: "Extremely well." I added: "V was quite a person."

V had 9 children. 5 of them were at our meeting. One of them told me, "The greatest honor in our lives has been to have V as our mother." The other children (ages 45-75) nodded their heads in agreement. Really? Incredible!

"If there was one word to describe our mother it would be: 'generous'."

I began to listen to the tale of V's outrageous, chart-busting, lavish-though-impoverished generosity towards all humanity. I was captivated. I felt gladness. Because I live in a world of self-centered, shallow people. To hear the story of V gave me fresh hope.

V was born in 1924 in Alabama. Her family was dirt poor. Her father died when V was 6. V cared for her two younger siblings so her mother could work in the fields. Their home had a coal-fired stove. When the coals went out little 6-year-old V walked for miles to a cousin's home with a bucket, filled the bucket with hot, live coals, and walked them back to her house so the oven would have heat. One day V lost a shoe. V only had one pair of shoes. One day the oven fire went out again. V carried the bucket back and forth for miles, wearing only one shoe.

When V and her husband A moved to Michigan and had children, they were dirt poor. V always denied herself material desires for the sake of her children. V was selfless, not in theory, but in deed and in reality. V and A saved up money so two of their daughters could have winter coats. V did not have a winter coat. Occasionally V borrowed one of her daughters' winter coats to go out in the cold. V actively sacrificed herself for her children. Like Someone Else had done.

When V's daughters got older and left home, they made her an Easter basket. That was the very first Easter basket V had ever received. Her daughters cried as they shared that with me. They wanted to give their giving mother everything V had never had. This was good, and V was thankful, but V was not materialistic.

As I heard these things I suffered some shock effect. Here was a selfless person who put loving her family above her own material needs. I rarely meet someone like that. I admire someone who is like this way more than someone who shows me their new Rolex. In her children, I met V.

V never made it past the 3rd grade. She had to take care of her sister and brother. She wasn't allowed to achieve academically. Yet she never, ever complained about her lot in life. The reason was that she had found God, through Jesus, and had placed her trust in Him. V actually trusted Jesus. The Jesus-life was no mere theory for her. She always was telling her children, in the midst of their struggles, that "God will make a way." V knew this, by experience. This is why, as her children told me, she never got "frazzled." She never panicked.

More than this, V was on a mission. She imparted to her children these words, constantly: "Always love and care for each other. Never say hateful things to each other." V gave this away to many people.

V took in the lost and desperate. Once there was a 13-year-old boy named Howard. Howard's parents were abusing him. V heard of this, and took Howard into her home to live. For how long? A week? A month? No, young Howard lived with V for years. This happened with some other children, too, as V became an unknown Mother Teresa living in Southeast Michigan. In her house there were many rooms.

How does a person like this happen? What is the fire that burns within people like V? It was, by her life and her confession and her actions, Christ in her, the hope of glory. V loved Jesus. V was regularly stumbled upon singing hymns from the hymnal. Near the end of her life one daughter came into V's room and saw V on the bed, her arms raised in the air. "What's the matter, mama? Are your arms hurting?" "No," said V. "I'm waiting for the gate to open so I can go home."

V believed so strongly in Jesus and the resurrection that she knew she would be reunited with her husband. I have met people like her before. They live differently and they die differently. They have real hope, and they radiate it.

V trusted Jesus. Not with her words alone. V told her children that words by themselves mean nothing if actions do not follow. V lived a life of trust. Her favorite Bible verse was the words of Jesus in John 14:1 - Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.

By the testimony of those closest to her V lived an inwardly untroubled life in the midst of a troubled world. She regularly told her kids, "Don't you worry about me. Soon I'll be dancing with papa." She told them this just days before she died. And she added words that were all too familiar to them: "Take care of each other. Love one another."

At the funeral this morning I told the people that much of what V said were words right from the heart of Jesus. Listen to John 14:9-17 as I highlight their instantiation in V.

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other."
I saw a free person today. She didn't place high value on money and the stuff it could buy. She didn't look at life's circumstances and play the role of victim. She gave her whole heart to Jesus, and Jesus told her that it's not about the shoes anyway. It's all about Him, and loving relationships, and redemption, and rescue. V knew Jesus as Savior, and engaged in His saving activity.

V lived.

V died.

Because Christ lives, so does she.