Pre-planning one’s funeral can save money and make things simpler for your survivors. But if you are planning for your own funeral, think carefully about your requests and their impact on the family you leave behind. Two people close to me have died and left definite instructions for their funerals. In both cases, those instructions posed significant problems and make my grieving harder.

In the first situation, my father insisted his memorial service be held on a Sunday. Unfortunately he died on a Sunday night so the service had to be held a week later. That meant that my daughters spent time away from work and school, used their limited funds, and flew out only to be there for the very brief graveside committal and not the memorial service. Even when I asked the officiating minister to have a little bit more at the graveside for their sake, I was told that wasn’t done.

Recently my mother passed away. She insisted that her service be simple and not include the opportunity for people to share memories. Even when I asked as her daughter to share, I was vetoed by the rest of the family, who took her instruction literally. So no one in our family got to say a word about our beloved mother at her memorial service. No one who came got to see her amazing life and how much her children love her. No one got to hear the memories we have of her selflessness, her love for her children, her perseverance in a difficult marriage, her delicious cooking.

Everyone grieves differently, and to insist that your family remember you only in certain ways makes their grief more intense because they cannot process it in a way that is helpful for them. I remind people when this is discussed that the funeral is not for the deceased! It is for those who are left to mourn. You can say that pre-planning every aspect of a funeral prevents arguing among the children. It may also favor the preferences of the one who helps you pre-plan and/or frustrates the needs of the grieving.

My instructions for my own funeral are to do what helps our family. If asked, I can give my favorite songs and Scriptures, and preference for a church memorial service, but time and date of the service, details of the planning, I will leave to those left behind and hopefully they will make it possible for everyone to grieve in the way they need to grieve. I’ll be enjoying heaven and won’t really care about my funeral.

I have been on the verge of tears several times this week. I don’t usually cry at happy endings on movies but I found myself wiping my face a few times. When I heard of the deaths of people my Facebook friends knew, tears came to my eyes. When I read of friends trying to feed the starving poor in Manila, using the sad emoji was not enough. Our pastor could not attend his beloved grandmother’s funeral; my sorrow for his family was real.

It wasn’t until I talked with an overseas worker who has returned to quarantine here in the States that I realized I am experiencing grief. They have it much worse – they had to leave the people they have worked with for years, both expats and locals. Their future is uncertain. Can they go back? When will they be able to go back? We talked about the stages of grief – the denial, the anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and how we cycle through all those, often repeating a few several times before we finally come to acceptance.

But in talking with her, I realized the source of my teariness. I am grieving, as are most people. Grieving for those who are losing their lives, hurting at not being able to be with my mother during this time, worried for frontline workers I know, saddened at the continued bipartisanship of some national leaders even in a time like this.

I used to watch movies about various wars until one day it hit me hard that the wars we have fought have results in thousands and thousands of deaths.  Each was a person with a family, a past, looking forward to a future, and then they were gone. After that, I could not watch any war movies for a long time and even now, rarely. This is a different grief than that experienced when we lose a loved one, but a grief just the same. And we cycle back and forth through these stages.

What comforts us in our grief? There are good memories of previous times (catching up on scrapbooking is good for me), the encouragement of others even if it is online, the doing of daily tasks which at this time often requires more time, serving others in whatever ways we can. Fred Rogers in his words to children said that when there is a tragedy, “look for the helpers.” I once heard a reporter speak who had covered the Vietnam war and the Tiananmen Square uprising. I asked him how he coped with all the horrific events he had seen. He told us the same thing – he looked for people doing good. Reading stories of people who are kind and do amazing things for others brings joy.

For followers of Christ, we are grateful to know the God of all comfort. He sees, He knows, He weeps with us. He also knows the end from the beginning. We cringe at the unknown, but He is already there. He will never leave us or forsake us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life (or viruses), neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39). So in the midst of our grief, we rest in His love and trust His promises. Let it be so and amen.

You’ve noticed it. You’re in a conversation with someone, and no matter what you say when you’re done, they have a response. Even when you try to end the conversation, they come back with something even if it’s to say good-bye after they’ve said it already. Or you send an email or text, and the other person keeps going long after the discussion is over until you don’t respond.  I call it the “Last Word Syndrome.”

The problem is its outworking and its cause. I’ve seen it in children. Why do arguments break out? There can be a lot more to it than this, but is often because someone wants to have the last word, to win the quarrel, to walk away satisfied. When I tell my grandchildren (who are perfect, of course) that it takes two to argue, they still struggle not to say anything back. It gets more serious with adult relationships. Conflict can be painful and destructive, especially when partners seek to compete instead of resolving the issue.

Why is it so important to have the last word? Because it demonstrates control and power. If you have the last word, regardless of who started the exchange, you are the one in charge.  Sometimes this comes from insecurity or egocentrism, but it certainly demonstrates the desire to dominate.

How to respond? When it’s a simple information exchange, the temptation is there to be frustrated, but in some ways it is just humorous, and I usually just let them have their final word. They feel better, and frankly I don’t care. For one thing, a person who insists on the last word will keep going ad infinitum and ad nauseum. But really, this is a battle not worth fighting.

If you are debating an important issue, chances are you are not going to change their mind. Have you seen the political comments on Facebook – aauugghh! Proverbs 26:4,5 says “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

For me, that means at times I will give a response to try to plant a seed in the other person’s mind. But I don’t keep the discussion going. There is a strategy called “Drop and Run” that suggests you make a suggestion and then leave the room or the page or the conversation. In other words, state the truth, but don’t beat them over the head with it.  At other times, I don’t respond. A simple “I will think about it” or “Thanks for that idea” or “I understand what you are saying” is best, and I expect there to be a response to which I do not reply.

There will always be those who want to have the last word. Most of the time, it’s best to just let them have it. And that’s my final word on the subject.

You probably think I am going to say I did it right, was a fantastic mom, and you should listen to me. Not hardly.  I recently found an old journal I kept, albeit rather sporadically. I was pretty honest, and it reminded me that being a mother is NOT easy.

There were entries in which I had a problem with one of our girls and I didn’t know how to help them. Areas such as potty training, staying in bed at bedtime, incessant crying, bickering were all frustrating.  In one entry, I lamented how awful a mother I was, and maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be a mother. Each of our daughters had their own challenges in self-control, and I certainly had to learn it myself.

I survived and the girls grew up to be wonderful mothers themselves. None of them are perfect mothers, just as I was not. We do our best. We ask for forgiveness when we fail. And we continually bring our children to the Lord in prayer. That never ends.

Are you stuck at home with your children during this coronapocalyse? Take care of yourself by taking breaks when you can. But when you blow it with your kids, forgive yourself and ask them for their forgiveness. It’s an important lesson for them to see modeled.

Because of my calling, I am used to having virtual meetings. 15 years ago I hosted a memorial for one of our educational consultants via Skype. I have had numerous other Skype meetings. Lately my distance meetings tend to be via Zoom. Most of the time, the meetings have gone well, and with Zoom, it is nice to be able to see the others.

There are definite advantages to virtual meetings.  Savings in time, travel, and money can be phenomenal. You can mute your sound if you are not speaking. But when you speak, the others can see and hear you and see your nonverbal communication.

There are some disadvantages. Do you remember the BBC interview of an expert in his home when his two children came into his study one at a time, including the baby in the walker? Someone soon came and took the children out. During the ongoing coronapocalyse,  Morning Brew, a finance reporting agency, is posting embarrassing incidents of people in the midst of virtual meetings. And of course there is a commercial showing a man in a meeting who accidentally bumps his computer and it shows him in his briefs. Funny, maybe embarrassing, definitely a bit of an interruption.

Other disadvantages?

  1. It’s great to share forms and documents but having to navigate back and forth between those and the meeting is irritating. I usually end up printing anything I want to see during the meeting.
  2. The technology always seems to take 10 or 15 minutes before everyone is in the meeting. Meanwhile those in the meeting room are sitting waiting for the meeting to start.
  3. At times, internet glitches or slow internet can delay or interrupt meetings. Then what was said has to be repeated.
  4. It is easy to get distracted by whatever is going on at home. My desk is in front of a window, which I love for seeing birds, plants, even people going by. But it can easily distract me from what is being said in the meeting. Others are distracted by work, e-mail, instant messenger, and Facebook.

In fact, one business survey showed that only 23% of managers gave their full attention during conference calls, while 25% dealt with their e-mail, and 27% did other work. This level of distraction is much higher than in face-to-face meetings (Hall, 2007, p. 53).

  • Coming across effectively in a virtual gathering is tricky. While modern software makes it possible to see other participants, they may not be listening or they may be distracted. You have no way of knowing if they are really listening as you would better know if you were all in the same room.

But the other reality is that even with all the wonders of the technology, it is just not the same as being in a room with the people you are meeting with. You can’t shake hands or in some meetings give a hug, that human touch that is a strong connector.  It is also a bit harder to have free-flowing conversation unless the leader intentionally seeks and manages input. Most participants mute their microphones so everyone can hear. This is courteous, but it also makes it hard to be engaged in the conversation. Ending the meeting seems more onerous when you are just closing the program instead of getting up and perhaps even doing something or going somewhere with someone in the room.

Perhaps the younger generation is more used to podcasts, though I would think it would be harder for them to maintain attention to someone just talking. I struggle with the amount of time podcasts take when the same thing could be said in a fraction of the time. I seldom listen to blog podcasts. I can read a lot faster.

As with most tools, there are obviously pros and cons to virtual meetings. At times the cost savings make it imperative. Some businesses involve people in various locations, not in an office. However, face-to-face meetings are important to have at least occasionally.

At this time, with the corona virus closing businesses and churches temporarily, you can’t help but be immensely grateful for technology that allows us to connect with folks.  Certainly the ability to actually meet and see and hear the other people in the meeting allows for a level of productivity in businesses that would have been absent decades ago. At the moment being with others is not even an option, yet we can stay connected through the internet. For that, we can be thankful.

Faded photographs…memories in bits and pieces. The old Lettermen song came to mind as I went through photos and memorabilia from our youth. So many happy faces on our friends and families, and so few lives turned out the way we thought they would.

The girl I helped rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses callers, now long dead from a horrible disease. The smiling young couple, devastated by a bitter divorce. The happy family, devastated by a wayward son who continues to disrupt their lives. Ministry families torn apart by sexual sins.  So many lives torn apart by tragedies, turmoil, unfaithfulness, sorrow.

It all started out so well – all the major rites of passage successfully navigated. Graduation, first job, first home, children growing the family. Then a job lost and feelings of inadequacy. A cruel disease and beauty deteriorating to death. Rebellious children and hours spent trying to help them.

Yes, there are a few families who seem to always be happy. Life goes well for them in every way. Success, financial stability, children who follow the Lord. Each of them will say they have had their difficult times in life, and they have. But the trajectory of their lives is always positive. They are truly blessed.  Other homes seem almost cursed with continual serious illnesses and premature deaths. Some couples are fortunate to have long happy marriages, while others struggle with disappointment, disillusionment, and dysfunction.

Robertson McQuilken told a chapel full of Bible college students, “So few finish well.” He had seen it too many times, young graduates off into their lives of family, community, ministry. But so many of those lives shipwrecked or tortured by heartache. And even a cursory study of Scripture shows this was true of those whose stories are recorded there.

Life happens and many times it is not what we expected. How can we end well? How can we take what life throws at us and continue to walk in God’s love? We hear, “Claim his promises” and that is true. Because as you look at the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, many if not most died without receiving the promises of God, but they still trusted Him. We suffer in this life, and Jesus warned about that:  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

This life is not final. Jesus promises to those who follow him eternal life with him in joy. My friend who died of a horrible illness is enjoying that now. Those we love whose lives are in turmoil will enjoy it in the future. Someday all will be made plain, the truth will out, those who have wronged others will finally understand their own fears and misdeeds or they will receive their due. In the meantime, Jesus has promised that He is with us. His purposes will be fulfilled in our lives and in the world.

“The church is full of hypocrites.” I heard it again in stronger words a few days ago, used again as an excuse not to follow the Lord.   Sadly, the statement is partially true. But thankfully, Jesus knows that.

Not everyone in the church is a hypocrite. We are all sinners, and as believers, we still sin. If you are looking for followers of Christ to never sin, you don’t understand human nature or the Bible. Why else are there so many Scriptures admonishing Christians to love one another, forgive one another, seek reconciliation, hold each other accountable.

The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player.” The Greek word itself is a compound noun: it’s made up of two Greek words that literally translate as “an interpreter from underneath.” That bizarre compound makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

The Greek word took on an extended meaning to refer to any person who was wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone or something they were not. This sense was taken into medieval French and then into English, where it showed up with its earlier spelling, ypocrite, in 13th-century religious texts to refer to someone who pretends to be morally good or pious in order to deceive others. (Hypocrite gained its initial h- by the 16th century.)

It took a surprisingly long time for hypocrite to gain its more general meaning that we use today: “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” Our first citations for this use are from the early 1700s, nearly 500 years after hypocrite first stepped onto English’s stage.

So yes, some in the church are hypocritical. I know that from very sad personal experience. I have seen pastors preach the Bible clearly, yet hide their own grave sin. I have watched as well-known ministers have been caught in adultery or lying or other sins they were finally called out on. Sadly, we all have found out these “spiritual leaders” are not so spiritual after all.

This doesn’t surprise Jesus. He was well acquainted with Pharisaical hypocrites, reserving some of his strongest words of judgment against them. He called them “white-washed sepulchers”, i.e., tombs with only bones inside. But it may surprise you to know that he told his followers to “therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them.” (Matthew 23:3, New American Standard Bible). They were teaching the Law, so Jesus told them to observe the requirements of the Law. But they were not keeping the Law, so Jesus told his followers not to do what they did.

It is the same for us. Even though we know there are true hypocrites in the church, it does not excuse us from our responsibility to worship and obey God. Since we all sin, we all need the grace and mercy and

salvation Jesus provided for when he died and rose again. And we need His grace and forgiveness throughout our lives.

The people who are most upset about hypocrites in the church are often either legalistic or pointing the finger so as to excuse their own sin.  It saddens me deeply when I see people I care about become so bitter toward the church’s poor examples that they blame God and refuse to listen to His Word. How it saddens the Lord from both standpoints, that there are serious hypocrites who claim His name but live as they please, and that some become hardened toward Him because of it.

It’s a phrase I’ve used many times, and for some it could be just a catch phrase, similar to “Bless your heart” in Texas. The cynical among us would pooh pooh someone telling them that. And it is true that for some, it’s an excuse not to provide practical help or concerned listening. But if you think about it, being in someone else’s thoughts and prayers is a good thing.

First, it means that they care enough to be thinking of you. Assuming they are not judging or condemning you in their minds because of something you’ve done, isn’t it a good thing that someone is remembering you at times when they are not with you. One of the symptoms of being in love is thinking about the object of your feelings constantly, as in “I can’t get you out of my mind.” Having someone come to mind means at least that there is a connection, perhaps a friendship.  That a person reached out, even with a catch phrase, took effort on her part.

Second, when I text or email or say   “You’re in my thoughts and prayers”, I pray for them right then as well as other times as they are brought to mind. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the prayers I can get. I need others praying for me for a variety of reasons. We often lift others up to God when they are going through a difficult time, but we need prayer even when things in our lives are going fairly smoothly. I am thankful when someone prays for me!

Finally, when life circumstances mean I can’t step in to provide more practical help or sometimes even extended listening time, I can always pray for them. If we believe in prayer, then that is no small thing.  God hears us, and promises to answer prayer in a way consistent with His love and wisdom. The Bible tells all believers to pray, and He responds. Who knows what God has done in response to the prayers others have lifted up for someone.

So please know that if I use that phrase, I mean it from my heart. And I will trust that you do as well. And if you read this, ou’re in my thoughts and prayers.

Do you have Puddleglums in your life? If you have read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia,  you will remember that Puddleglum was a main character in The Silver Chair. He considered himself quite cheerful among his species, the Marshwiggles. Yet he is gloomy and pessimistic. He sees the negative in everything and assumes the most dire outcome in any situation.  Here’s a sample: “Good morning Guests” he said. “Though when I say good I don’t mean it wont probably turn to rain or it might be snow, or fog, or thunder. You didn’t get any sleep, I daresay.” I think it is significant that Lewis said his gardener Fred Paxford served as a model for Puddleglum.(Sammons, Martha (1979), A Guide Through Narnia, Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw, ISBN 0-87788-325-4, pg 154). I.e., Lewis could see the Puddleglums among us.  Psychologists call it “dispositional pessimism.”  A pessimist’s usual frame of mind is dejection, gloominess, cheerlessness, joylessness and unhappiness. She is given to worry and critical and judgmental toward others. He has a generally gloomy outlook on life, himself, the past and the future. It is not easy being friends with a Marshwiggle type person. No matter the circumstance, he will see the problems, expect the worst, bemoan the person who got him into the  situation, have a critical comment about everything. Being around constant negativity can drain even the most optimistic person. A “wet blanket” can remove the good from any situation. Solutions are offered: Give her an antidepressant. Get out of the relationship.  Ask him to think about what is possible, instead of listing all the potential problems. Look for explanations.  Listen attentively, ask questions and offer support, even if you think you really do have more to complain about. But we don’t have to get rid of a person because they are negative. Sometimes that is not even an option. It’s easy to let a more negative person bring us down, but we don’t have to let our outlook depend on someone else. We can find other appropriate outlets to support us: friends, clubs, books, or a place of worship. At the same time, we have to look beyond the gloom to see the steadfastness of many Puddleglums. In Lewis’ story, Puddleglum is the one to whom the children cling in Underland. He is the one who breaks the Lady of the Green Kirtle’s spell by stomping out her magical fire, badly injuring his foot in the process. Puddleglums often have a heightened sense of loyalty and determination that leads them to persist in something important when most people would give up. They tend to be committed to friends and family more than is usual. One could argue that the children in Lewis’ story eventually said an affectionate goodbye to Puddleglum and didn’t have to be his companion anymore. But they did learn to accept his negativism with a chuckle. I once saw a movie in which the stepmother was spoken to rudely by her stepdaughter. Her friend told her, “That’s just Angie being Angie.” Sometimes we have to just chuckle and say that’s just Puddleglum being Puddleglum and love them for their good qualities.

In just a few short years, my body has rebelled against my inner being, aching, stiff, fat, clumsy. I used to call it my “Uncle Arthur”, but arthritis is hard to joke about now. Lately as I watch TV or see younger people effortlessly run, exercise, climb, jump, my heart is sometimes filled with sadness as I realize I will never do many of those things again. My joints would give out on me, and I would break a bone. Even climbing on a stool is rather scary. I have had to say good-bye to many activities that I love. And I’m not even that old – just into retirement age.

Yes, I can be thankful for what I can enjoy. I walk 2¼ miles 4-5 times a week, ride my bicycle all over the neighborhood, swim, and kayak. But it is not effortless anymore.

Recently I had an episode that landed me in the hospital for a couple of days and led to a diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation. Now this is liveable and treatable, but the medications include a blood thinner, which means I can no longer take the nsaids (meloxicam, naproxen) that relieved my arthritis so well.  And those new meds have to be taken on time every day. Just a few short months ago, no medication I was taking could cause harm if I didn’t take it for several weeks.

Add to all that (and I am not trying to whine, just giving a full picture), Dave’s back has been really bad for 4 months or more. He is scheduled for minimally invasive surgery in a few days, and we have hope that will ease the pain. I hurt for him, but it has also meant no travel with him, few activities away from home. I feel like an invalid, and I feel in-valid. I see people’s hopes and dreams on Facebook and I truly am excited for them. But I don’t have dreams anymore. At times I feel like my life is over.

Caretaking for a close family member also takes a toll. I love her so much, but there are limits to what we can do together.

I am very thankful for family, a comfortable home, friends, and the medications that treat my conditions. I am also thankful because I well know that I could have a lot worse health problems.  But I have to admit. It is hard at times. Hard to think that I will never again hike up a mountain, swim across the lake, go up and down two flights of stairs easily.

So what is one to do? I don’t think I’m dying soon unless the Lord has something unexpected for me. What lessons can I take hold of in all this?  Well, here are some:

    1. Enjoy your youth. Take advantage of the strength and mobility the Lord has given you. Don’t wait to do the things you want to do. Do what God is calling you to do now. The Dalai Lama said, “Live a good honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.”I think I did enjoy my life. I have scrapbooks of travel, pictures of things I experienced, and yes, it is fun to look back and remember those people I’ve been privileged to meet and those adventures I have had.
    2. Stay as active as you can. There is a commercial of a retiree on his kayak looking at the young guys zip past him. He makes a statement to the effect of, “I accept that I won’t ever be able to do that again, but I won’t accept not doing all I can.” So I will enjoy kayaking and hiking even for shorter distances. I will enjoy traveling when I can with whom I can. Tennyson in Ulysses says, “Tho’ much is taken, much abides.”
    3. Don’t be afraid to grieve your losses. “Only one course is open to you. Talk at length to the one or two who might invite it, and learn to weep alone in God’s presence without despairing. Jesus is a fellow member of your society of suffering.” Harold Burchett, Last Light
    4. Be as involved in ministry as you can be. I may not be able to die with my boots on or never retire (which sounds good when you’re young, but may be impossible when you’re old), but I can help with community service, be involved in the music ministry, perhaps be involved in a Bible study.   However, women and older people are not as accepted in ministry in the U.S. as they are in Asia.  I recently talked with a friend of mine who like me was involved in Bible teaching, music ministry, and education overseas. For both of us, finding roles in those areas in the U.S. has proved impossible. Rather than respect for our experience and learning, we are considered too old to accept jobs where we could make a lasting impact.  Thus “be involved” as much as you can be. It’s frustrating, to be sure. But we persist in asking God to open doors for us.
    5. Do not depend on your spouse for your social life. Again, this is hard in a climate where couples are expected to always be together, and some social events do not include singles or widow(ers). There are many events I would like to attend in which my husband has no interest. At times we will go to what the other wants for the sake of our relationship. But there are some things I can do on my own, and not bother him with it. We have learned over the years that this is perfectly acceptable. At the same time, we look for activities we can do together.
    6. Finally, spending time with children and grandchildren is a wonderful plus at this time of our lives. I never want to wear out my welcome from my children – they have their own lives, and that is as it should be. But I am so grateful that they include me in their lives as much as they do!

I’ve heard everything from “Grow old gracefully” to “Old is a frame of mind.” It can be, and I could easily throw in the towel and die before I’m dead. But my innate realism forces me to acknowledge the real drawbacks in getting older, while enjoying as much of this time of life as I can. A friend chanted about possible death in a frightening situation, “Not one day more, not one day less.”  Adjusting to the limitations is only for a time. When death opens the door to heaven, or Christ comes for His followers, I’ll be running and climbing and jumping with the best of them. And never again get older or have medical problems. I believe there will be so much to explore and learn, and that will be the best stage of life, ever.