Saturday, November 22, 2008

Live Like You're Dyin'

Some time ago, I heard a country song by Tim McGraw. The title was "Live Like You Were Dying". The song talked about how important it is to do the important things in life while one still has the opportunity to do so, because one never knows when life will come to an end. I think that's good advice. Having lost quite a few family members and friends to death during the past couple of decades, I grow more and more aware of such things with each passing day.

One of the most important things to do in order to achieve closure in life is to thank the people who have treated one with kindness and Christian charity along the way. So I've decided to use this blog post for that purpose.

Truthfully, the list of those who have treated me badly in this life is a lot longer than the list of those who have treated me the way they ought to have treated me. I don't want to sound like a whiner, but that's my candid assessment of the situation.

There are also people who, due to their inconsistencies, would rightfully show up on both lists.

In either event, it isn't my job to punish people for the wrong things they've done. I can tell them how I feel about the things they've done, and I can tell them why I believe they should have acted differently; and I see nothing wrong with doing so. But God alone will judge people for their sins in a manner which is beyond contention. I have resolved in my mind that I will therefore leave final judgment up to God.

I don't want to be guilty of focusing solely on the negative aspects of my life, so I want to be sure that I acknowledge the positive things which have occurred in my life. I want to offer recognition to the people responsible for those things, even if they haven't always treated me with as much kindness as I felt I deserved.

For example, both of my parents have grievously hurt me in the past. But my mother and father also did some things right in terms of the way they raised me.

Many of my best moral values came from having spent many hours sitting on the front pew and listening to my father's sermons when he served as a lay minister in the Methodist church. He could have gotten drunk every weekend when I was a young child, choosing to live only for himself, but he did not do so. He did eventually deviate from his righteous lifestyle, which is why he was an alcoholic by the time of his death in 1999, but I am thankful for the early foundation which was provided by the good example which he did provide to me for a limited period of time. Dad could have been far more consistent in terms of the extent to which he demonstrated love and affection for me, but he also could have been far worse than he was in that respect. I'm also thankful for the fact that he was concerned about matters of basic justice, particularly with regard to racial issues. He expressed that concern by serving as a Chairman for the Mayor's Commission on Human Rights in Springfield, MO during the late sixties. I admired him greatly for taking a principled stand against racism. I aspired to be like him in that respect. I still do.

My mother was a very positive influence on my life insofar as issues of personal morality were concerned. Her constant messages in opposition to alcohol and drug abuse might have seemed like indoctrination or brainwashing to some people, but they helped me to resist temptation in spite of the fact that I grew up in the late sixties, when it seemed as if most people in my age group were doing drugs. The role Mother played in providing me with a strong foundation in traditional Christian values should not be underestimated. She also made a strong effort to insure that I grew up in a home where expressions of love were frequent, whether those expressions took the form of delicious cookies and other baked goods, or whether they took the form of hugs before I went to bed at night. And of course, there were plenty of other examples as well, especially during the Christmas season.

It should go without saying that my grandparents also did loving things for me during the time when I was growing up. I am especially grateful to my maternal grandparents for the strong moral foundation they provided to me, and for the fact that they often went out of their way to provide me with fun and memorable experiences when I visited them in their home in St. Louis.

Over the years, I have known a number of other people who have exhibited the love of Christ in practical ways. Some of them will have to go unnamed, because I have forgotten their names. For example, I am grateful to the numerous people who kindly offered rides to me when I hitchhiked from place to place during the seventies and eighties because I lacked adequate money for a reliable car of my own. On several occasions, people I met during those adventures even offered me a comfortable place to rest my head at night so that I would not have to sleep on the side of the road.

I have been helped on a number of occasions by people who have given me substantial monetary gifts when I badly needed such help, or who offered other forms of help which were equally useful. A partial list of those people would have to include the following: Andy Pratt, a Christian musician who helped me with a gift of $500 when I was living in the Boston area; pastor Jordan Greely, who allowed me to freely use the piano at his Jamaica Plain, MA church for practice purposes, when I was desperate for a place to play so that my skills would not deteriorate; Jon and Debby Speckman, who allowed me to live with them several months rent-free during a very stressful time in 1992 when I had nowhere else to go; Joseph Hollingsworth, who has offered me numerous opportunities to earn extra spending money by doing office work for him; Paul and CeCe Ellingsen, who offered me an opportunity to earn extra money by helping them to paint a room in their house last year; Pastor Donald Abrahamson, who helped me with $1,000 from the church's Benevolence Fund (in late 2005) when I was facing possible eviction; Kenny Kissane, a fellow Christian blogger from the East Coast, who sent me $60 back in 2007 when I needed help; Jim and Marg Rehnberg, who offered a substantial monetary gift of $600 to me back in 2007, when I needed that gift in order to avoid eviction (and who also gave me the opportunity to earn additional money by helping Marg to paint her art studio); Chris Shannon, who gave me $800 in early 2008; my mother, who helped me financially last spring with a gift of $1,000, and with another gift of $300; Dywen Lauren, a Christian woman from Perth Australia, who sent me an incredibly generous gift of $2,000 even though she'd never met me face to face. I've tried to be reasonably complete, but there may be people who I've left off of the list, not out of lack of gratitude, but simply because my memory is less than perfect. (And, in one case, because a man who donated $500 to me in 2005 expressed a strong desire for anonymity.)

It's been said that it's more blessed to give than to receive, and I agree that that's the case. I've tried to be generous with my own resources during times in my life when I was presented with needs and when I was able to help. I picked up countless hitchhikers during the seventies and eighties, because I knew what it was like to need a ride, and I wanted to give as good as I got, even though it meant taking some risks. I once invited a guy I'd never met before to sleep overnight in my apartment in West Somerville, MA because he had no other place to sleep. And I have helped needy people with small financial donations on occasions. But I haven't been able to help people as often as I would have preferred, simply because I didn't have the resources with which to do so. That has been a disappointment to me.

I am not a self-centered person, or at least I don't think that I am, but I have had goals as a musician and artist, and those goals have involved the need to acquire expensive equipment which was, for the most part, beyond my reach financially. In some cases, I've experienced extended periods of unemployment (or, in some cases, underemployment), not because I didn't want to work, but because my search for a good job was not successful. That fact has influenced the level of generosity I've been able to exhibit in my own life. I know that God understands that I would have done more to help others if I could have done more. I also know that he understands that one of the reasons I want to prosper more in the future is so that I will need help from other people less frequently (if at all), and so that I can have the resources which I need in order to be as generous to others as I would like to be.

I don't know how much more time I have on this earth. God alone knows the measure of a man's life. But regardless of whether my remaining time here is long or short, I want to make certain that when I face my Maker, I will be able to honestly say that I was appreciative of the good things people did for me, and I want to be able to say that I was grateful for God's provision for my needs on those occasions when he provided for my needs.

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