by Joanie Butman
We finally held my father-in-law’s memorial last weekend. Though he passed away in February, this was the first opportunity we’ve had to gather long-distance family and friends together to celebrate his life. My husband did an outstanding job eulogizing a complex man who was a study of contrasts. Paul led a fascinating life, was charming, kind when he wanted to be, and generous beyond belief. However, he also had a dark side few could tolerate. It was refreshing to hear an honest accounting of someone’s life for a change – complete with the unpleasant memories most would just as soon forget. Perhaps that’s why so many portray their loved ones as more saintly in death than they were in life – something I avoided by writing my own eulogy, thereby giving my family license to be honest.
Let’s face it. We are complicated beings, born with a tremendous capacity for good and bad. We spend our lives battling our darker tendencies, eager to keep them well hidden. Some choose to feed the beast within, but most of us try to nurture our good characteristics while keeping a lid on our baser instincts. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we don’t. Reminds me of Colton Dixon’s song:
I have won and I have lost,
I got it right sometimes,
But sometimes I did not
Life's been a journey,
I've seen joy, I've seen regret,
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it
Even the biblical giants were incredibly flawed. They were an eclectic bunch with personality flaws of all kinds. Yet, God used them to accomplish great things. And He promises to do the same for us. God doesn’t love the cleaned up version of us. He loves and uses us just as we are – warts and all. And that is exactly what Jesus instructs us to do for others, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34)
Knowing you are unconditionally loved frees you to fulfill that command. If Christ can overlook my faults, why shouldn’t I choose to do the same for others? A timely devotional this week encouraged, “We are all imperfect. The more we can let go of past hurts or judgments against our brothers and sisters, the more we will see that Jesus loves everyone, even those that rub us the wrong way.” And if He loves them, so can we – but only by choosing to nourish the Divine spark within. That’s the only power strong enough to dispel the dark corners of our soul. The more we feed His flame, the easier it is to accept our imperfections and overlook those of others, extending God’s grace and love to even the toughest curmudgeon. When you choose to see the best in others, it’s easier to love them.
The morning after the service, I was sitting thinking about what would be said at my memorial – a good exercise to practice periodically to remind yourself what’s important in life. It brought to mind the lyrics of another song I chose for my own funeral.
When it’s all been said and done,
All my treasures will be nothing.
Only what I’ve done for love’s reward
Will stand the test of time.
In the middle of my reverie, my husband asked what I thought our children would say about us. Hard to know because I made plenty of mistakes as a parent and even more as a human being. Even so, I pray they reached adulthood knowing how much they are loved as I hope my extended family and friends know as well.
What I found so reassuring and uplifting in Bob’s eulogy is the fact that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. I know that truth in a Divine sense – that’s God’s promise. As amazed as I am that the creator of the universe loves little old me, the fact that people might choose to remember the positive in me is comforting because there's plenty I’d like them to forget!
Based on Bob’s speech, and those of others, despite his faults, Paul was definitely loved – at least by me and apparently, by the crowd of people who attended his service. He wanted to be remembered for his work on the hydrogen bomb and spent his waning years writing copiously about his work at the Atomic Energy Commission. He told me he wanted his children and grandchildren to know that he was more than just an old man and that old gramp played a meaningful roll in the early nuclear fusion program. Very impressive, but I think his crowning achievement was raising a close, loving family. I think that’s the best legacy any of us can hope to leave.