If this blog post affects you like me, you might want to have some tissues ready.
I was driving home from church on a sunny, beautiful fall day recently. My route takes me directly beside the cemeteries near where I live. It always makes me a little sad each time I drive by and remember my parents, sister, and other relatives who have died. But it also makes me happy to have my memory jogged to remember them. Just like always, my mind thought as I drove by after church, maybe I should just drive in and see the old family plot area, and see my sister’s niche that I’d never seen before. I didn’t think I would like usual (I am afraid of driving in new or little-known places, on narrow roads, etc.), but my car signaled the turn and drove on in. I guess my mind/heart had decided to go. I found my family’s area on the first try and with ease. I parked and began a peaceful walk on a beautiful hill with many lovely old growth trees, with golden, bronze, and orange leaves waving in the breeze. The same old large plaque saying “The dead in Christ shall rise first” was still there. I love walking outdoors in the fall—there are few things more beautiful to me. I grieved my loved ones, but it was a healing and beautiful processing.
My mind started to accuse me of guilt for not bringing some flowers or something to place on my parents’ graves, but I dismissed it immediately. My mother told me to be sure to give flowers to the living, and not to the dead. [Mental note: I need to follow through with sending the flowers to someone on my mind.] I walked some loops. I looked over grave-sites and markers, randomly. A baby died and was laid to rest here. Prayed hard for that family. A young man in his 20s died and was resting there; prayed for that family too. I find it interesting that we never know when someone is praying for us—maybe even a complete stranger we’ve never met. I pray for strangers all the time; for the families of the dead in cemeteries now, and for people I pass on the street or “randomly” see in public each day. (I don’t believe in anything random, but I believe God is sovereign and guides and directs all my steps and prayers.)
I usually avoid going to cemeteries. They give me the creeps. I’m not afraid of confronting death and dying, but I can’t stand to think about rotting corpses and bodies being eaten up by bugs, all lying a few feet beneath my feet. That is the reality, no matter how much you pretty up the casket or how much money one spends on embalming, etc. I have sad memories of the funerals I’ve attended there, especially of my brother’s after his tragic death in Vietnam and that loud and scary gun salute. I was 11 years old when he died and failed at the time to comprehend the enormity of the loss. I have been grieving that loss all my adult life as I’ve realized the incredible injustice of the circumstances that conspired to cause his death at age 19. So I was pretty surprised when my heart drove me in to the cemetery by myself. But this time, I felt less creeped-out and more at peace with visiting the resting place of many of my relatives. It was a beautiful moment.
I wish to be cremated after I die. But I’m considering what should be done with my remains afterward. Yes, this is kind of morbid, thinking ahead about this, and many don’t want to think of these things, understandably. But I want to get my last wishes in order, including pre-planning my memorial and last wishes for my remains, so I can then be freer and readier to live out the rest of my life. So my next stop was to go visit my late sister’s niche in the mausoleum, to honor my sister’s memory and see how cremated remains are handled. I had never been in a mausoleum in my life. I didn’t know what it was going to feel like. Scary. It is a beautiful old building filled with both entombed caskets and niches for cremated urns. There were many statues and it had the feel of a catholic church to me—kind of somber and formal. I paid respects to my late sister, and immediately realized the best way to honor and remember her is to continue to reach out to and try to support her family. By God’s grace, I will continue to do so and hope to do so better somehow. The best way, I believe, we can honor loved ones we have lost, is to reach out to and support and love the living around us. This is now my mission in life—just to be kind and helpful to others in the Name of Jesus. This is so much easier said than done.
There are also scattering gardens available at the cemetery. I think this is probably what I will opt for, but I’m still praying about it. Ideally, I would desire to have my remains scattered along the rocky shore line at the South Jetty, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean –which is one of my all time most sacred and favorite spots at which to worship God and be in awe of His creative powers. However, I researched Oregon law, and it is illegal to scatter human ashes (even though they are completely sterile and harmless to the environment) on any Oregon coast beach. I do not wish to have breaking the law of the land be one of my last wishes, so that is out. However I decide to arrange my last wishes, I hope anyone who wishes to honor my memory will take a nice trip to the Oregon coast and worship God and remember me.
The thing that struck me most at my very meaningful recent cemetery visit is this – cemeteries don’t lie. They tell us the hard truth, that this earthly life is only temporary, and death –the great equalizer—can strike at any time. Young, old, everyone will die and meet their Maker one day. The Bible says that only a few humans who “are alive and remain” who are believers in Jesus will have the opportunity to fly up to meet Jesus without having experienced physical death first. Except for those few people, everyone else will experience death and be ushered into eternal life. Believers will be ushered into a beautiful eternity and those who reject Christ I’m sad to say will be ushered into a terrible place of God’s righteous justice.
I’m sure many of my family, loved ones, and friends feel like I am a broken record on my shout outs about God and being ready to die. Oh, that I wish I were even more faithful and consistent in pointing others to their need for Christ. Not just in the words I speak, but by my example and faithfulness as well. I can’t apologize for my passion in this regard, for it has come from the study of God’s Word, the Bible, and my personal relationship with God over the past 31 years. The Apostle Paul implored others to believe in Jesus and be saved from God’s wrath to come. I do the same. I don’t want anyone I know or love, who has crossed the path of my life in even the smallest way, to be able to say to God on Judgment Day – “Hey God, that Beth over there – she never even said a word about You – she never warned me at all!” As I’ve recently learned from an overview study of Romans by my pastor, we must lovingly warn those around us. Though it seems counter to the culture around us, it is the single most loving thing a person can do. And so I do warn, and I implore. Mostly I pray and pray and pray, for everyone I know and love to find the joy of knowing Jesus Christ and the peace and hope of a wonderful future. I want you to be there with me and most of all with God. And if you think there is no God-or you think you will have time to decide about God after you die–that is a terrible lie. Please think again before it is too late. These words were written by Paul, inspired by God, for what happens for believers only:
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep [DIED]. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
There are many Bible passages which explain God’s righteous wrath and judgment against unrepented of sin. It’s something I hate to contemplate, but ignoring God’s truth doesn’t change it. I won’t try to cite more verses here. Please see my earlier post “Bad News/Good News” which explains the gospel, and please be in touch with me if I can help you in any way in seeking peace with God. I’m praying for you. Believing friends and readers–may God help us all to live our lives in a manner worthy of our great calling, and may God make us effective in pointing others to our Beautiful Savior.