What story are you writing?

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A week ago, my husband gathered us all in the living room to share news that would rock our world. My father-in-law, whom we had tucked into bed the previous night and left sleeping at home, had died peacefully in his sleep. I canceled all my writing obligations. The only thing I wrote all week was note or two for a eulogy for my husband to deliver.

When a family gathers at a funeral to celebrate the life of someone dear and to console one another in their grief, the words of a eulogy can have tremendous power. Eulogies are gifts, even more for the people who mourn than for the deceased. As I went about my business all last week, tending to the myriad of details I had previously never even considered, deviating so far from my original plan for the week that it was barely recognizable, I considered what makes a good eulogy—not what makes a stylistically good eulogy, what makes stirring oration, but what makes the summation of one’s life “good.” What really is a life well lived?

 

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One thing struck me again and again. All those clichés about living like you’re dying and not being able to take it with you? They are rooted in absolute truth. My husband’s father was a few weeks shy of turning 90 when he died. He lived a long, full life of honor, serving admirably both in the military and in the marketplace. But when I took the time to ask his young adult grandchildren what lessons they learned from his life, the answers were all tucked into little and hidden moments.

 I know there are people who will beg to differ, but I think a life well lived puts relationships before resumes. A life well lived is one where all of the big decisions and most of the little decisions are made with the intent to meaningfully engage in the hearts and the souls of the people God has entrusted to us. The things that matter most in life are the things that are mostly hidden from the world; the gentle movements of hearts towards one another. A life well lived is a life full of those moments.

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Often,
the big decisions that frame a genuinely good life come at the expense of power
or money or worldly acclaim. We have to sacrifice an opportunity or a promotion
or a bigger paycheck to invest instead in a boy in a baseball cap or a marriage
straining as a family expands.  We
choose a job closer to home, turn down the chance to travel, or perhaps we
choose to stay at home and forego a paycheck altogether. The questions we ask
ourselves when such decisions are to be made are questions of eternal
significance and the answers often contradict the message of the world.

Did
you ever stop to think what could be said about you in the first few days after
you die? One of the greatest management principles going is to begin with the
end in mind. I am not theologically astute enough to offer here an idea of what
happens to a soul right after one dies, but I have to think that God is more
concerned with the hidden moments of the heart than He is with the resume. I
have to think that the peace in leaving and the peace we leave are both about
the way we loved when we still had time. And I can tell you firsthand, what
people remember are the ways that you loved.

One
day, someone will write our eulogies. Right now, we are writing our lives. From
my perspective, in the front pews, with the people experiencing great loss, the
lives best lived are the ones that seize all the little opportunities offered
each one of us every day to stop and have a conversation, to offer our help, to
serve in the smallest, least noticed ways. What really defines the life of a
truly great man are the decisions–big and small–he makes to live a life that
is a genuine expression of love.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. says

    This will be printed and tucked into my Bible. Thank you, I know I will enjoy this over and over again and someday, when my children open my old, worn out Bible, this will fall out.

  2. says

    So beautiful and true.
    It makes me think of my father-in-law’s funeral. It was attended by dozens and dozens of friends but his wife and children did not cry at his funeral.

  3. Dad says

    Your writing is very meaningful to me Elizabeth. And you ask “What Story Are You Writing”.
    I believe that learning, a day at a time, who I am, praying daily for knowledge of God’s will for me and, above all, loving as per 1st Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (13:13 ) and the Prayer of St. Francis are the most important things in life. These overshadow brains and talent in the making of life. As well, for me, alongside St. Francis’ prayer, is a prayer from Thomas Merton.
    “Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. The fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe this – the desire to please you does in fact please you. I hope I have that desire in everything I do. I know if I do this you will never leave me to face my problems alone.”

  4. says

    This is so beautifully written and I hope those that know me well will be able to say with certainty that I loved my God, my family and my friends.
    My prayers go out to your family at this time.
    Thank you for sharing with us.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

  5. says

    Such a beautiful post, Elizabeth! I actually have lately been thinking alot about that myself. I want to be remembered as someone who loved God and my family and always put people above things. I *try* my best to do so, especially now more than any other time as I just had a bit of a scare myself. Your family is in my prayers that He will keep you all close to Him.

  6. says

    Beautiful, Elizabeth! I sang at a funeral today, and the first reading they chose was Proverbs 31. All I could think was that I hope one day when I die, this reading will come to my loved ones’ minds. Praying for the grace to write that story with my life.

  7. Amie says

    My book club just finished “Death By Living” by N.D. Wilson. The theme was exactly what you stated here about writing a story with our lives and leaving a grace filled legacy for those generations coming after. About the influence of those loved ones that came before. Thank you for reminding us to consider what we are writing moment by moment. Praying for your family.

  8. says

    Wow. Beautifully written insights that truly inspire–to keep us focused on what is most important. Thank you. Needed this! My family’s probably gonna get extra doses of love tomorrow (and hopefully beyond) just because of this.

  9. says

    Thank you! I really appreciated this post! I am in the midst of the hectic season of life with young, energetic children and it is so easy to let my time get sucked away on every little detail that really in the long run is not important at all!
    Thanks you so much!
    bless you!
    Susan

  10. Moira says

    I am crying right now. I want a do-over, to go back and to have stayed home with my son instead of going back to work and putting him in child care with a couple I thought were wonderful but who, he has told me in his adult years, were too strict and unkind. He told me just the other day he thinks that had input to his anger issues. God, please forgive me.

  11. Laura says

    Have you heard George Straights song The Breath You Take? if not I think you would like it, As I was reading your post it instantly came to mind.

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