If Jesus tells me ‘Well done!’ when my life is over, it’s because of this…
My roots are showing. That’s why I’m thankful. Not my hair, people. My Christian heritage.
This weekend I attended a celebration of life service for a friend who died suddenly at 64. So many people gathered to love on those left behind as well as honor the life my friend Steve had lived so well. He loved Jesus, and that love guided his life.
The service provided a mix of emotions. Certainly, I cried. But I also laughed at the stories shared by friends and family. (And I found myself unconsciously grading Steve’s son, a former student, when he gave his eulogy. I gave him an A. Honoring and humorous remembrances, perfectly delivered.)
Though I shed many tears in that service, I rejoiced even more. Steve had had a small interval of just days between a heart attack and his sudden death. Long enough for him to realize he might have taken “the glory train” out of here and express the love and thankfulness he might have left unsaid otherwise.
It was a joy to sing praises to God surrounded by old friends. (Even a couple of friends from my youth group were there!) What a pleasure to talk and catch up with those I rarely see now. As I chatted with one friend, I looked around the room and made this observation:
“They say you can tell the kind of person someone is by the friends they choose. I’d say Steve was a wonderful person — and since these are all our friends, too, so are we!”
Lori held up her hand for a high-five in a celebrated agreement.
On a different sideline
I am thankful for the people God has placed in my life through the years. We’ve gone our different directions as our children have aged out of school and sports. We’re no longer sitting on the sidelines together erupting into cheers or questioning the eyesight of the referees as our children score or don’t score, as the case may be.
Saturday’s service was a different kind of sideline. We celebrated a life well lived as we contemplated our own. Do my loved ones know that Jesus is my first love? Have I represented Christ’s love in a way that attracts people rather than repels them? Am I making a difference for His kingdom?
What would friends and family speak of me when I die?
I envision Steve in his new sideline, that cloud of witnesses, urging me to run my race well so that I, like him, hear my Savior say to me, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
My family tree
If I hear those words, it is because I have been blessed with a Christian heritage. Because my sister Cyndi trusted Jesus and His death on the cross to pay the penalty for her sins and then told my parents. It’s because my “twin” sister Trish went forward during a church service to receive Christ and I wanted to do what she did.
It’s because my parents, new Christians, hungered for God so much they traveled long roads without gas in the fuel tank to get us into a Bible-believing church.
(We sang praise songs as my father drove, convinced God could power our car when the tank ran dry. We always made it to our destination.)
It’s because someone mailed my parents a hundred dollars in an envelope with a business-size card that simply said, “God loves you.” Someone bagged clothes — just the right size — for each of the five children in our family and left them on our doorstep.
As a child, I saw God provide for my family when my parents’ efforts were not enough.
My ‘friend tree’
It’s because Marge Whitehurst taught me about grace, God’s “unmerited favor,” while leading our Royal Rangerette Trailblazers group. (I kept confusing grace with mercy. I needed both.)
It’s because a youth leader, Becky Taylor, drove to my house and then to my best friend’s house to take us to dinner at McDonald’s each Wednesday night before youth group. Over Quarter Pounders with Cheese, fries, and Cokes, she poured her life into us. Year upon year.
It’s because my youth pastor, Rick Bussey, believed that the junior high youth were the ones who could make the difference in the older students. So he taught us how to pray and lead — and we did.
It’s because Jennifer Osmer and Krissy Longo came alongside me and loved Jesus, too. Because I met Pamela Schrock, my sunshine friend, who later would send me letters and sticks of gum and keep me rooted in my faith during my semesters away from home. And be an anchor most recently when family faces faded and home didn’t seem like home.
It’s because I had a crush on Glenn Walker and Mario Solari told me that “his eyes are so fixed on Jesus that the only way he’ll see you is if your eyes are fixed on Jesus, too.” So I fixed my eyes on Jesus. And my relationship with Him has far outlived my friendship with Glenn.
It’s because I shared a room with Donna Beede when our pom pon squad went to drill team camp one summer. Because she asked if she could play Amy Grant cassette tapes. And I said I hoped she wouldn’t mind if I read my Bible. We became sisters in the faith (and the only two from our squad who lasted the entire week — and won the “spirit pom” for our efforts!).
When Donna later went on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ after attending the University of Florida, and I was transferring there for my junior and senior year, she pointed me to Bev Jones, who had discipled her.
It’s because of Donna’s urging that I found Bev and Campus Crusade and grew in my faith among newfound friends on a huge college campus. Through Bev, I met Barb Caulkins, who encouraged me to go on a Campus Crusade summer project in Wildwood, New Jersey.
My ‘faith tree’
It’s because I met the first love of my life while on that summer project, Bill Olson. We got engaged on what we called our “hello forever day.” Our forever wasn’t long enough.
After Barb lost her leg to cancer, and I lost Bill to a medical complication, she and I ended up roommates, encouraging each other that God is good all the time. Even in our losses.
It’s because Grant and Deb Olson loved me through the logistics of losing a spouse. And my church family became the arms of God, individuals embodying Jesus, loving me through my grief.
Judy and Ben Schwab welcomed me into their home each week for dinner. Kim Dent called, heard tears in my voice, and came and saved me from my sadness with hot, lemony tea and loving conversation.
It’s because Esther Yee offered me a place to stay and her small children asked me the hard questions. Where’s Mr. Bill? Why are you crying? Isn’t Mr. Bill in heaven?
It’s because Becky Richburg asked me to pray for a man as his wife lay dying, about to leave four children motherless. It’s because that man started reading my columns and articles in the newspaper.
It’s because God gave me that man, my Steve, and his four children — and the one we created together — as my new family and showed me how much I needed to grow in my faith. How much I needed God’s strength (and ingenuity) to be the wife and mother and Sara He wanted me to be.
It’s because Bonnie Schmidt and Teresa Fletcher reached out — at my wedding reception — to invite me to their Bible study. It’s because so many people had prayed for both Steve and me — and continue to do so.
As I looked around the church at Steve’s funeral, I saw fellow teachers and students, my children’s friends and their parents who have made a difference in my life and made my Christian heritage so much richer.
That was possible because Leigh Glover saw a teacher in me — a “retired” journalist and homeschooling mother of five — and invited me to teach writing to a one-room schoolhouse filled with homeschoolers ages 5 through high school. And then created Cornerstone Academy and made a place for me there.
It’s because God has put me near fellow sojourners of the faith all the days of my life. And I am so thankful.
More so, I am thankful for Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith. The One who paid the price for my sin by dying on the cross so I can have free admittance to the kingdom of God in heaven — and all the resources I need to live by faith here on earth. Because of Him, I can live in fellowship with God and with other believers who enrich my life.
Our connected roots
The morning of Steve’s funeral, I walked with my newest friend in the faith, Janice Harrell. We had walked earlier than usual because she and her church family were doing service projects that morning.
“I’m attending a service for a friend whose husband just died — at age 64!” I told her.
“You mean Gina?” Janice said.
It turns out Janice and I have more than Jesus in common. We have many friends, too. Friends who I want to tell “thank you” for the ways they’ve touched my life. Just as Steve Hare did before he did take the “glory train” home.
Oh, my Christian heritage — my roots ever-deepening and spreading — is beautiful because so many people have blessed me through the years.
And for that, my friends, I am thankful this Thanksgiving.
Those little things you do for others, my friends? Keep doing them. Big hearts and even small kindnesses make a longer-lasting impression than you might know.
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