Ashes to Ashes, Dust to . . . Hollywood?

     Back when I was green, I mean inexperienced and super na├»ve, I was asked to facilitate a grief support group. Being new to hospice, I thought it was my role to be comforting, reverent and inspirational. One day while enjoying the view from my haughty altitude, I preached to my group, “Grieving is like going through a tunnel. When you’re stuck in the middle, it may seem like a hopeless pit with no escape, but if you just keep going, moving ahead a little each day, soon you will see a light at the end of the tunnel and realize you have made it through the darkness.” I paused to let the wisdom of my poignant illustration sink in.
      Sadly, I was knocked off my pedestal when a widow barked, “What if the light is just an oncoming train and it runs me over!”  The group erupted into laughter.
   While everyone was still dabbing their eyes, Ruth shared about her sister’s “funeral.” Cindy had been an assistant for a well-known movie director/producer in Hollywood. (If I said his name, you would recognize it immediately. I won’t reveal his identity, but think Star Wars.)
    Cindy loved her job and was at the height of her career when she was diagnosed with ALS.  She came back to her hometown of Charlotte where Ruth lovingly cared for her for several years. Cindy expressed her desire to be cremated and that she wanted her ashes scattered at the plantation of the famous producer. The sprawling estate was picturesque with rolling hills and a large lake . . . a perfect resting place.
     After Cindy’s death, Ruth phoned the movie producer’s assistant and shared her wishes. Ruth was surprised to learn that this was not an unusual request. In fact, the producer had recently made the decision that ashes could no longer be spread on the estate. Ruth said she was graciously invited to spend a weekend on the famous plantation. The producer even agreed to a memorial service for Cindy’s coworkers and friends. But ashes could definitely not be spread. Well, Ruth would not be dissuaded. After all, this was her dying sister’s wish and she would make sure it was honored.  
     Ruth shared her reasoning with our group, “I thought it would be too obvious to take a big urn and just dump it. That would be defiant and rude, and I am normally very sweet.” Ruth crossed her legs and smoothed her hair as is trying to convince us of her Southern charm. “You know I didn’t have a choice. I did what I had to do.”
     A dozen quizzical eyes stared at her. Ruth continued as calm as if she was sharing a recipe. “I divided my dear Cindy into eight zip-lock bags. I decided I could take several long walks during the weekend and just sprinkle her as I went. It seemed like such a good plan. 
     “Well, I didn’t consider that my luggage might be examined at the airport. The inspector looked in my suitcase and pulled out the bags. He asked what the contents were. When I answered, ‘my sister’, he shook his head in disgust. He had the drug-sniffing dog brought over. I got really nervous because I knew how much Cindy loved dogs, and I feared that the dog might sense this and sniff her out because of some cosmic connection. I really did not want to go to prison.”
     The group was laughing hysterically as Ruth continued, “Well, the dog apparently did not signal drugs so the inspector pressed further. ‘You must be specific and tell me the contents of the bags’.  I was growing impatient and yelled ‘It’s my dear Cindy!  I wanted her to ride with me on the plane so some of her is in each of my pockets. See!’ I pulled a zip-lock bag out of each of my coat pockets. His jaw fell open. The exchange was getting loud and curious spectators were gathering. I waved the bags in the air, ‘See these are Cindy too!’  To my relief, I gained the attention of a traveling mortician. He approached us and showed his credentials. He examined the bags, even opening one. I sensed the crowd was wondering if he was going to taste and smell the contents. Thankfully, he didn’t. He simply said, ‘This is most definitely cremated remains.’  There were a few gasps. I’m not sure if they were relieved for me or if they were horrified that I was still holding some of Cindy in each hand. Anyway, the mob slowly dispersed and I was finally allowed to board the plane.”  Through tears of laughter Ruth shared that the rest of the weekend went as planned and Cindy’s ashes were now scattered from one end of the famous estate to the other.  
      What did I learn that day?  A dash of laughter is better than a pound of chivalrous platitude.
      In the words of Victor Hugo, the French poet, “Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” 

Love Notes

    When is the last time you received a love note? A little reminder that someone is thinking of you, somebody cares what you’re going through.  A few scribbled words can turn a mundane day into an unforgettably awesome one. It’s even better when it’s divinely penned. Ever gotten a love note from God?
     At first glance, some may seem like coincidences, while others are obvious, as though God is yelling, “I’m here! I love you!” I’ll give you an example. A few years back, I had a hospice ministry, The Agape House.  My hope was that my dad would be my first patient, but about six months before we opened, he died of Alzheimer’s.  His journey to heaven was excruciatingly long and painful, leaving us with broken hearts and unanswered questions.
     On November 8th, the day he would have turned 65, I sat at my desk, looking over the medical records of a lady with Alzheimer’s. I was to admit her to the Agape House that afternoon. As my eyes filled with tears, I thought, I can’t do this. There is no way I can keep it together . . .  not today. A dark, melancholy sadness welled in my throat making it difficult to swallow. Have you ever had that Does God really care? feeling?
      I flipped open my Bible and a church bulletin fell out. Enclosed was a prayer calendar. I loved the idea of knowing that thousands in my church were collectively praying for the same need. Typical needs were “traveling mercies for a mission team.”  I was astounded to discover that November 8th read, “Agape House staff as they minister to the dying.”
     This may not seem significant. But I knew God was sending a gentle reminder that he knew exactly where I was, what I was going through. And not only did He know, He cared. I knew no one in my church knew my dad's birthday, yet God, in his magnificent mercy, orchestrated it so that many were praying for me on this sad day. Out of 365 days that this could have been a prayer request, should I assume that it just randomly fell on my dad’s birthday? The day I was heading for a complete meltdown?    
     How incredible to know that the Creator of the universe still sends reminders, sweet love notes to his children.