Five Words, in honor of Judy Cornwell

(Presented at my sister’s Homegoing Celebration, March 28, 2016, by her request). 

My sweet sister, Judy, heard me present this message several years ago and requested that I share it with you today. It’s my privilege and blessing to do so.

I have a habit that some of my friends find somewhat curious.

I like to spend time in cemeteries. I like to walk in old cemeteries. And I like to make important decisions in cemeteries. And here’s why:  

Death gives perspective to life.

When I’m walking in a cemetery it is easy for me to imagine that one day someone—maybe you—will be walking in the Palestine Cemetery and they’ll look over and see a gravestone with my name on it: Kim Jackson. Born May 2, 1957 -- died…well that date is to be determined. We all know that the most important part of that is not the date of my birth, which I know, or the date of my death, which I don’t know, but the dash in between which symbolizes all the days of my life that God has planned for me.

I was walking in an old cemetery in Manassas, Virginia, years ago when I came upon an gravestone of a woman who didn’t have many years in her dash, but from what I could tell by the words written on her stone, there was a lot of life in her few years. There were five simple words written on her gravestone that I believe succinctly and powerfully sum up a life well lived: She went about doing good. 

At that moment I began wondering, could I sum up my life in five words? Could you?

To think about it more deeply I did a mental exercise, and I’m going to ask you to join me in doing it today. Let’s pretend that we all just died. And in a couple of days the engraver who is working on our gravestone calls the people closest to us: our family, friends, coworkers. And the conversation goes something like this:

“I’ve got your loved one’s name, date of birth and date of death on the gravestone, but I’ve got enough room left over for say, oh, five words. Could you give me five words that best describe your loved one, words that sum up the passion and purpose of their life?"

What would those five words be? 

I began thinking of some of my acquaintances—not my closest friends—but people that I know and have observed how they spend the majority of their time, energy and resources, and their frequent topics of conversation.  Here are a few words that come to mind when I consider what seems to be the focus of their lives:

His yard always looked great
She retired early and traveled
He had a successful job
She kept an immaculate house
And in honor of Final Four Weekend: (He or She) was a sports fanatic.

Ludicrous, you say? Well I have another odd habit that may prove otherwise. I collect obituaries. Some of my favorites are from when I lived in Orlando. Every so often in the midst of several newspaper pages full of obituaries, one would be highlighted with a large headline. For example:

Paula K. Stephens loved her collection of dolls
Leroy Lewis mastered pipe organ
Mayme Ballenger loved her bonsai trees
Lyda Hadley co-founded nudist resort

I rest my case.

Sociologist Tony Campolo once interviewed 50 people aged 95 years or older and asked them if they could change something about how they had lived their lives, what would it be? There were a variety of answers, but they fell in to three broad categories.

The first response was that they would risk more. They would do more things that took them out of their comfort zone. The wise person has said “You can’t steal second base with your foot firmly planted on first base.”

Secondly, they said they would reflect more. They would slow down and ponder the important matters of life.

And lastly, they said they would do more things that last after they’re dead. They would do more things of an eternal nature. Wise words coming from people who have lived over nine decades.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, I don’t spend all my days pondering death, but there is another place that always makes me consider eternity: when I’m flying. I’m on airplanes quite a bit, and each time I fly back to North Carolina I’ll hear the flight attendant’s voice on the intercom just as we’re landing: “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Charlotte, North Carolina. If you have a connecting flight here we’d like to wish you a pleasant journey to your final destination.” 

Final destination. We all have one. And while we can’t choose how we die or when, we can choose how we live, and we can be confident of where we will spend eternity.

I don’t know if Judy chose her five words after she heard me present this message. But looking at her life, I chose five words for her: Judy lived a faithful life. She was faithful to her husband, faithful to her family, to her church, to her friends, and most importantly to her God. And not only was she faithful, she was full of faith. 

The Bible says that it is impossible to please God without faith, so conversely we know that faith pleases God. Oh, how delighted God must be with Judy! Not only did she live a life of faith, she died
boldly speaking of her faith. From her hospital bed, with family all around her, she declared, “I’ve always believed and never wavered. To be absent from the body is to be alive in Christ.” And then she looked around the room and said, “And I pray that you all know that, too.”

Judy has finished her race. We are still running ours. Judy’s faith has become sight, but we are still walking by faith. Judy has fulfilled her God-given purposes, but our hearts are still beating.

Yet one day, if the Lord tarries, someone will be walking in a cemetery and they’ll look over and see a gravestone with your name on it.

What will your five words be?

(c) Kim Jackson 1999-2016

5000 Reminders

With barely a month before my trip to Romania, I sat with coffee, Bible, journal and devotional books. And discouragement. 

As an advocate for 160 elderly and frail in Romania, part of my work with Elder Orphan Care is to raise awareness, resources and funds for their care. Donations tend to spike and sink, seemingly dependent on special projects, fundraisers and my speaking schedule. 

Recently I had a few ideas I thought would bring in a slew of donations, but they failed to do so. And although Pastor Viorel, my ministry partner who does the hard work 24/7 in Romania, never asks for money, the needs are hard to miss when I visit.

I had hoped to take a substantial financial gift for Pastor Viorel to assist him in providing shelter, food, and medical help for the precious souls in his care, but it looked as if I’d be going empty handed. Little did I know when I couldn’t shake the discouragement that had crept into my heart, God was smiling. Because He knew what was going to happen next. 

I sighed and picked up a favorite daily devotional. The Corrie Ten Boom quote at the top of the page quickly got my attention: “Do not ask ‘What can I do?’ but ‘What can God not do?’”

The correlating Scripture verse was Jeremiah 32:17. When I looked it up I knew God was speaking directly to me: “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” 

I wrote the quote and Scripture in my journal and read them slowly, again and again. Then I wrote “It really isn’t about me, is it, God? I’ve been striving in my own energy. How about if I get out of the way and let you decide when and how you will provide?” 

That seemed to get a “Good idea!” response in my spirit, so after reading my other devos and praying, I set out on my first appointment of the day. When I pulled in the parking lot I glanced at my phone and noticed an email had come in from my colleague, Andy. The subject line read “Anonymous”. That made me curious, so I took time to read the email. “Kim, There is a saint out there who sent in a cash donation requesting it be used to help the elderly. The note was NOT signed. $5000!” Andy ended his email with “Smiling!” 

That’s one difference between Andy and me. I was SCREAMING, wildly shaking my head and pounding my fist on the steering wheel. What?! What?! I reread the email. Seriously! FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS? 

When I caught my breath I read the email one more time to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. That’s when I remembered the quote and Scripture I had written in my journal mere minutes earlier. Obviously God had perfectly orchestrated my morning devotions as a beautiful and powerful backdrop for this amazing scene to be played out. 

All my striving, all my ideas, my plans! And then God uses a wonderful, generous, anonymous donor to give me 5000 reminders that nothing is too difficult for Him. 

 “Has there not been, sometimes, this temptation to do a great deal for Christ, but not to live a great deal with Christ?” 
-Charles Spurgeon 

 “…we pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something." 
2 Thessalonians 1:11 MSG

Unopened Envelope

The envelope sat in a pile of unopened mail for several days. 

I was busy and assumed from the return address it was the annual plea from a local theme park to bring my youth group there in the summer. It was only January so certainly there was no rush to open it. I had even considered removing that event from our calendar because the tickets were getting so expensive and the kids would also need money for lunch. Maybe we wouldn’t even go this year. So there was no need to open the envelope because I knew what was inside. Why take time to open something when I already knew what it said? 

Or did I? 

I opened the envelope. 

Surprise! "Congratulations, Kim Jackson, for registering your church group for a chance to win a FREE OUTING at Knight’s Action Park…. Your card was selected as the winner… You have won one free church youth group outing for up to 100 youth to include unlimited water attractions and miniature golf, plus lunch. Congratulations!” 

So…uh….it seems I didn't know what the envelope contained after all! 

I’ve kept that letter for 18 years because it reminds me of the Word of God. Yes, the Word of God, the Bible. I remembered the unopened envelope recently when my church began reading two chapters of Luke together each day. I joined in even though I’ve read that Gospel dozens of times. But guess what? As I read, I heard myself saying, “What? Since when has THAT been in the Bible?” 

Hmmm…so I just thought I knew….and made assumptions….but when I opened God’s Word there were wonderful surprises awaiting me. 

Oh God, may this be my constant prayer: "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your Word" (Psalm 119:18 LV).
Each week I write a BOG (Brag On God) post. My prayer is that my words will invite you to brag on God, too. And together we'll make God smile.