Monday, May 20, 2013

A Beautiful Life

"Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, 
than that a man should rejoice in his own works; 
for that is his portion:
for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?"
Ecclesiastes 3:22

Someone else is outside mowing our neighbor's lawn.
Someone other than our neighbor.
It makes me sad to think of it.

Mr. James loved his lawn.
All 12 acres of it.
He took great pride in keeping it mowed and neatly manicured.
He was meticulous.

Last summer, he bought himself a new mower...
one of those really nice zero-turn ones....
and we often saw him out there riding away...
with his mask on for protection from the dust.

While ago, I heard his mower going,
and for a moment, I felt the old comforting feeling I always felt...
knowing he was out there.
I don't know why that comforted me so much...but it did.

I guess it was because hearing that sound was something familiar.
Something known.
Something dependable..consistent....the same.
Kind of like I always feel when I glance over at his house
when Kevin is working overnight.
Just knowing he was there...made me feel a bit more at ease.

I felt comforted when I heard the mower today...but only for a moment.
Because soon I remembered that it is not Mr. James out there,
and it will never be again.

"Mama, someone is on Mr. James' mower mowing his grass,"
Zachary called from where he was peeking out the open living room window.

It is someone isn't Mr. James.

Earlier today, I looked up from where I was watering plants to see
a strange car in his driveway across the street.
Knowing it must be one of his children or other relatives,
I decided to walk over and share my condolences with them...
and tell them what a nice man...and neighbor he was.

It turned out to be his son.
He looks so much like his Dad.
We talked and exchanged phone numbers.
He lives out of state and wants to keep in touch.
It's funny...I hadn't seen him over there before...
in all of the eight years since Mr. James had the house built.

He rarely had company.
He was as nice as he could be...
friendly when we saw each other...
but very private and reclusive.

We respected each others' privacy.
He was the best possible type of neighbor....
there when we needed him different times,
but quiet and non-intrusive at all other times.

We tried to show him the same courtesy.

We will miss him very much.
I especially miss just knowing he is there.

Mr. James was found dead in his beautiful brick home...
all alone.

No one knows for sure how long he had been there.
No ones knows whether or not he suffered.
His body was too decayed to find out a whole lot of information.
The condition in which they found what used to be Mr. James was beyond horrible.
It will take a long time and much work to eliminate the aftermath.
Judging by the conditions, one person estimated that he had been deceased
for at least three weeks.
I find that hard to believe....
it seems I just saw him out on his mower...
or getting his mail....
or throwing his hand up in a friendly wave.
Other neighbors agree...that we saw him just the other day.

I think the thing that hit me the hardest was knowing we were right here...
across the street....
more than willing to do anything we could do for him or any other neighbor...
but we didn't even know he was in trouble.

I feel really bad about that.

Another thing that really bothers me is that his children didn't 
keep in better touch with him.

His son told me today that he rarely spoke with his Dad.
And that his brother had tried to call him in early April, 
but had gotten no answer.
Being so close to both of my parents, 
I guess I have a hard time imagining that.

Mom and I talked so often...several times a day, sometimes.

They will have a memorial service for Mr. James on Sunday.
His life is over.
His race is run.
May he rest in peace.

I told his son I would be praying for him,
gave him a quick hug,
then turned to walk back home.

Undoubtedly, after the time and effort needed to make the house livable,
someone else will move in.
It still looks brand-new...from the outside.
He took great care of it.
Then we will have new neighbors.

It made me think of today's verse.
Words from King Solomon, the second-wisest man who ever lived and breathed.
"Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, 
than that a man should rejoice in his own works; 
for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?"

Mr. James retired from the postal service a few years ago
and moved here to relax and enjoy the remainder of his years.
It was his dream...fulfilled...and lived.
Now this life is over...for him.

He loved that lawn.
He loved to work on it.
But, who will bring him to see what shall be after him?
Everything he owned and worked so hard to keep 
will now be handed over into the hands of someone else.

Will they care for it as he did?
Will they be the good neighbor he was?

Chapter 6, verse 19 of Ecclesiastes says this,
"..for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?"

Things in this life are so temporary.
So fleeting.
All of the grass will one day wither and no longer need to be cut.
The sun will set on every one of our lives.
How much we have accumulated and stored up while here,
will matter but little then.
And who knows if the person who inherits our treasures
will care for them and cherish them as we have?

Only God can answer that.

We are passing through, then passing on.
Another James, who happened to be Jesus' brother, wrote these words...
"Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. 
For what is your life? 
It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, 
and then vanisheth away."
(James 4:14)

The longest life is brief.
Eternity is forever.

Solomon talked a great deal about the vanity of the things in this life.
He had weighed it all out and decided that most things here are vain.

At the conclusion of the book, in Ecclesiastes 12:13,14,  he said this....
"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God, and keep His commandments:
for this is the whole duty of man.
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing,
whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

At the end of the day,
when life's evening sun has completely set,
this is all that will really matter....
whether or not we have feared God
and whether or not we have kept His commandments.
Because every, single, secret thing we have done in this life....
will be judged....
by the only righteous Judge.
By the only One Who can see deep into the crevices,
nooks and crannies of our hearts.

The good things we do will be judged.
So will the bad.

Every deed....even the secret ones.

That cuts pretty close, doesn't it?

We put so much emphasis on this life.
Looking good.
Being the prettiest.
Staying young.
Keeping up with the Joneses.
Competing for power.
Having the nicest house, sharpest-looking car, highest rung on the ladder,
most well-maintained, beautifully-landscaped yard,
best-educated kids,
most-exercised, fit, lean, fat-free bodies.
Yet, at the end of one's life...we are all on the same level.
Death equalizes us all....
because we all return to dust.

Solomon states it emphatically...and simply.
"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was:
and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
Ecclesiastes 12:7

The body, the part of us that the Apostle Paul referred to us as "the outward man",
decays...and turns back into the very substance of which God made Adam.
Just dust.
We return to the earth....
become unrecognizable, unidentifiable, un-beautiful.
All of our careful efforts of youth-preservation,
and self-improvement will matter not, at that point.
There is no one among us who can prevent that from happening...eventually.
Then, what?

Someone else comes along behind us and picks up our mantle...
our responsibilities...
our earthly possessions....
our yards to mow.

Earthly life goes on....for someone else.
Time didn't stop when Mr. James fell into a heap partially across his bed,
partly on his bedroom floor.

Time only stopped....for him.

The sun still came up the next morning.
Cars still passed his home,
filled with drivers hurrying to work....
mothers rushing to daycare centers....
school buses scurrying by, filled with children on their way to school.

Someone else still mows his lawn.
But, it isn't him.

Thinking about him and how quickly his life was snuffed out....
so unexpectedly....
so untimely....
got me to thinking....
about my own life.
And how easily someone else could wear my shoes...tomorrow.

I hope it isn't that soon.
I pray for a long life.
I hope God grants it.
There is so much I want to do.
My bucket list is simple, really.
My dreams aren't complicated.
My aspirations are basic and non-complex.
I'd love to live to raise our sweet child...
and see what he grows up to be one day.
I'd love to live to homeschool him....
all the way through the last day of 12th grade.
I'd love to grow old with Kevin and breathe every one of my moments by his side...
near his heart....
in his arms....
holding his hand....
experiencing life....and all that comes with it.
I'd love it if my book of devotionals got published....
that is, if there is a shred of encouragement in it for a hopeless, hurting heart.
Otherwise, would it really matter?
If it was published?
If it hit the New York Times' best-seller list?
I'd love to encourage someone...
give someone hope....
renew someone's courage....
inspire someone to be better....
and more like Jesus.
I'd love to be every possible thing I can be....for Him Who died to give me life.

I think the riskiest part of life's dreams are to let them sit on a shelf,
collecting dust,
and never even try.
Because we are only here for a little while.
Remember the poem about the dash.....
the one that will be engraved on our tombstone...
between our date of birth and our date of death?

What happens during the dash truly matters.
In a big way.
Whether people understand us or whether they don't,
whether they support us or whether they try to tear us down,
we will all one day stand before our Maker and give an account
of what we did with the life and breath He gave us....during the dash.

Life is a gift....from God to us.
It is opened to us daily.
It ever unfolds....
like the petals on the roses in our flower garden.

They open up.
They spread their fragrance.
We enjoy their beauty....
for such a short while.

Then they are gone.

Life passes....
like the trains that roll through our small, country town.
I hear their whistles blow as they approach.
They rush in.
Fly by.

Then rush on.
Soon all that is left is the smoke they leave behind....
hanging like a vapor...
over the long stretch of empty track....
that goes on for as far as my eyes can see.

Just like life.

So, while we are here,
while we live and breathe,
until that final moment when God reclaims the spirit within us,
shouldn't we make the best of it?
Shouldn't we do all we make it count?
Shouldn't the fragrance of our lives be sweet...
and loving...
and kind...
and Christlike?
Like the rose?

Since the spirit part of us is the part that is going to return to God,
isn't that the part that should get the most of our this life?
Since every other part of us will rot and decay and crumble and become unsightly....
six feet under the ground,
and since there is only one part of us that won't disintegrate?
Shouldn't that be the part of our composition that is top priority?
Shouldn't that be where our dreams of perfection and beauty are most passionately-focused?

God gives us breath every moment.
He will one day take it away.
Our spirit will return unto the One Who gave it.
We will breathe the breath of life...for the very last time.
Just like Mr. James.
One day, your place will be left vacant.
So will mine.

I don't know about you, but knowing my spirit is going to return to God one day,
makes me feel a sense of responsibility and accountability for the actions I take in this life.
I want my spirit to return to God in a condition that will not make Him ashamed He ever made me.
I want it to return to Him in the best possible condition, don't you?

Like the freight trains, we are passing through....until we pass on.
Not to another town, but to an eternal home.

May our vapor....the blossom of our life....the time of our dash....
be exactly what our Maker planned...
the moment He placed the gift of spirit within us.
Then we can hand back to Him the gift of a beautiful life, well-lived....

with lingering scents of the sweet Rose of Sharon left behind.


  1. I'm sorry to hear about Mr James.
    Your post about not letting our dreams sit on the shelf has resonated with what I've been thinking about too continuously.
    The dash.. thanks for the reminder about life and accountability to God after life.
    I also strive to make each day worthy for and surrendered to Christ.


    1. Esther, Thank you so much for stopping by and reading what is in my heart! I so appreciated your kind comments and pray God's richest blessings on you and your life. Thank you for your walking with Jesus and letting your light shine. Please stop by again. :~) Love, blessings, and peace to you, Cheryl

  2. Cheryl, this is beautiful. And I'm sorry about the loss of your friend and neighbor.

    I love what you said about the riskiest thing about dreaming is never trying. I think you hit the nail on the head today...yes. Because I think the what if's are worse than failing and needing to find the courage to try again. Thank you for the encouragement today, friend. Blessings! :)

    1. Thank you, Mel! I am so happy you stopped by. The what are so right. They truly are worse than failing then needing to find the courage to try again. How many times have we all had to do that? It seems to get harder to muster the courage to re-start, each time we fail. The Lord knows, and He so faithfully continues to give the grace and strength to keep going. Without Him, where would we be? He is an awesome God! Thanks so much for your encouraging words! Love, Cheryl

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I have let my dream set on the shelf collecting dust for so many years. Just the other day, I picked it up, dusted it off and promised God I would do what He is asking me to do. It's scary, but I know He will be faithful to complete it.

    1. Hi, Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by. I am SO proud of you for picking up your dream, dusting it off, and making a new start and commitment to it. I know it is scary, but you will never walk alone. The One Who started your faith and your dream, will also finish it, praise God! Be encouraged, dear sister, and press on! Love, Cheryl