Saturday night our family returned from attending a funeral in New York State. It was the funeral of our brother-in-law's father, Norm, who was predeceased by his wife eight years ago. While many people wouldn't even know their brother-in-law's parents, Gretchen and I actually stayed with this kindly couple on one of our vacations. We spent many Christmas holidays under the same roof with them as both sides of my sister-in-law's family came together. We've had Norm to our house for Christmas when we chose to host. Our kids have canoed with their cousins on the lake in front of Norm's house.
Funerals have a way of making you think, or at least they should. Matters of life, death, family, and eternity are things we should all think more about. Norm was a man our whole family loved and my wife knew him for half her life up to this point. I gave Gretchen the gift of a portable keyboard when we were dating and Norm made her a nice wooden carrying case for it. Once Gretchen's sister and brother-in-law took her to stay with Norm and his wife, Marge, so my wife could have a respite after a difficult period in our lives.
Norm exhibited the character of Christ as well as anyone I have ever known. He wasn't self-absorbed, bossy, or opinionated, but always showed an interest in the other person. We often hear of those who supposedly never said an unkind word about anyone. Norm is one of the few, if not the only one, I've known of whom this was absolutely true. He had nerves of steel and the perseverance of Job. His 92 years were a life of servanthood in the U.S. Navy, as a rural mail carrier, volunteer firefighter, and church deacon and usher. He was a loving grandfather and assistant Scout Master who lived to see his grandson make Eagle. He saw his granddaughter become a success in college. Her 19th birthday was the night of his visitation at the funeral home.The graveside service included the military honors of the twenty-one-gun salute, the playing of taps, and the presentation of the flag to Norm's son, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel.
The funeral preacher profoundly stated that not only did he know that he needed to be a better man, but that because of Norm's example he knows it is possible. That's one thing I took away from the service. It's the godly people in our lives who show us by their example that we really can be better. Funerals should make us think of how we would want to be remembered, what legacy we are leaving, and whether people are blessed by knowing us.
Reflecting upon my own life, I suppose that if I have any regrets they revolve around the stupidity of my youth. Here are some things I wish I'd done differently:
- I wish I had not carried such a big chip on my shoulder, trying so hard to prove I was an adult that I merely underscored my immaturity.
- I wish I had listened more and spoken less.
- I wish I had not permanently damaged relationships by burning bridges, speaking hateful words, or by letting my angry emotions control me.
- I wish I had not been overly concerned with being a door mat and went more with the flow as opposed to butting heads with other stubborn and strong-willed people.
- Though I know God forgives me, I regret my past moral failings.
It has taken me longer than some to grow up, so my youth has lasted a long time. I've just begun to mellow in recent years. As others have said of their youth, "I wish I knew then what I know now." If we could only have the wisdom in our twenties and thirties that we've hopefully acquired by our late forties.
The challenge now is to have the humility to not be overly critical of the generations coming up behind me. I recall my resentment when older folks came across as "know-it-alls" and "I told-you-so's." This added to the feelings of inferiority I had developed over my childhood and teenage years. I did not launch as well as if I'd grown up in a Christian home, witnessing a permanent marriage, and having a means of support until I could launch. I pretty much had to launch myself while feeling my way through. So maturity has come slowly for me.
The opportunity was given at Norm's funeral for anyone who wished to stand up and share a memory to do so. I took my turn and closed by sharing my observation that maturity is a lifelong process and that when I grow up, I want to be like Norm.