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Keziah: A Little Piece of God’s Heart by Lizzie Grayson is the impetus for this blog. I read the book flying home last week from Cyprus, and I haven’t been able to get the subject out of my mind.

Keziah is a profoundly moving book about coming to terms with the experience of a stillborn child. It’s a book about a child “lost” and also ultimately about the sovereignty of God, faith, and praise amidst pain.

The author Lizzie Grayson shares she and her husband Mark’s experience with multiple pregnancies, two that ended with the births of their living and healthy children Joshua and Iona, and three that ended with a blighted ovum, a baby that died in the womb, and a stillborn child, Keziah.

Lizzie Grayson candidly relates her emotional highs and lows, her worries, fears, and weariness, and her questioning God’s design and intentions. She also catalogs in clearly stated spiritual terms what she learns about the Lord, herself, the Christian faith, the incredible support of faithful family and friends, and life itself. Their story is at times a tearful one, but it’s also one that, eventually, in the grace of God is a triumphant one.

No one knows why God takes a child home stillborn and Grayson doesn’t try to offer special wisdom much less clichés. What Grayson and her husband offer is their tale of woe, comfort, and joy as they walk with the Lord, not always understanding but trusting. In the end, they conclude from experience that “God is good,” not simply because he in time blessed them with a living and healthy baby girl, Iona, but because he blessed them with a child in heaven, Keziah.

I know personally Keziah’s grandfather and grandmother, people of profound spiritual commitment and gracious spirits. So somehow I’m not surprised to learn their daughter and son-in-law are people of similar strong Christian faith.

This story brought back memories. When my wife and I were in our early twenties we “walked through the valley” with a couple whose beautiful daughter was stillborn. They had two sons who looked like their blonde father. Then they had this little girl whose jet-black hair and features copied her mother.

The wisest thing the preacher did, I thought, was recommend our friends allow a complete funeral process. My wife assisted Mother in preparing. I drove Dad a few miles along the interstate and will never forget his quiet but deeply felt grief during that drive. We attended the wake with them, viewed the little girl with them, heard the pastor speak briefly but meaningfully to them, went to the cemetery with them, and stayed with them for a time thereafter. I claim no special part for us, but I will always be glad we were able to be there with our friends through this time.

The process of “Good-bye, for now” that the funeral day allowed may not have brought immediate “closure”—who can feel “closed” when they’ve lost a daughter? But the process made a profound statement that this deceased little girl was not a “thing,” not an “it,” not a trauma to get past, but a human being living forever in heaven. Like Keziah’s parents, to this day our friends celebrate, more than thirty years later, the existence of their daughter and their trust in God’s perfect will.

I recommend Keziah. It’s a personal, practical, and powerful book.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Eleanor Roosevelt has been called the most influential American woman of the Twentieth Century. This isn’t her actual gravestone epitaph, but it’s how she’s remembered, so we might call it her practical epitaph. Will Rogers’s memorial epitaph reads, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” It’s one of Will’s famous lines, which captures his spirit for those of us who never knew him.

Reclusive but influential poet Emily Dickinson’s epitaph in Amherst, Massachusetts reads simply, “Called Back.” The Temperance Movement reformer, Carrie Amelia Nation, who used a hatchet to attack saloons and wrote her name “Carry A Nation” for the publicity value, was laid to rest with this eloquent epitaph in Belton, Missouri: “She hath done what she could.”

Old cemetery epitaphs are often thought provoking and entertaining reading. A gravestone in Thurmont, Maryland says: "Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go." Or how about this one in Round Rock, Texas? “I told you I was sick.”

One gravestone in New Mexico says, "Here lies the body of John Yeast. Pardon me for not rising." An epitaph in Winterborn Steepleton Cemetery, Dorsetshire, England reads, "Here lies the body of Margaret Bent. She kicked up her heels and away she went."

And then there's this one from Florida: "I promise never to marry again, Jack." Now was Jack trying to say his marriage had been so bad he didn't want to experience it again, or so good he pledged his troth to his wife forever? Or was he saying he'd been married several times and finally had had enough?

One of the most complimentary epitaphs you’re ever likely to read is written upon the West Point gravestone of Lt. Col. Herbert Bainbridge Hayden. It reads: "In appreciation of a loyal friend, a square man, an efficient officer, in every way a thoroughbred."

We’re also creating legacies with our families and our associates. Every day, we're influencing someone in a spiritually productive or unproductive way. Everyday our actions become reputations become legacies become epitaphs, the summary of our life and how we will be remembered.

What will your epitaph be? What will your associates write? What will God write?

Epitaphs don’t just happen to us. They are crafted by our choices day by day, so in a very real sense, we can write our own epitaph. Perhaps the greatest epitaph a person could hope to have is simply this: "Here lies the body of a godly man/woman who loved God and loved others."

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

New methods of purportedly preserving life, or resuscitating it after you’re dead, are now being marketed by the immortality movement. Want to sign on?

Cryonics puts your remains in deep freeze, hoping one day technology will catch up with our desire to live forever. Ted Williams is frozen somewhere in Arizona, maybe upside down and apparently sans head, awaiting his return to the ball diamond. In order to create a sense of permanence and political legitimacy, Bolshevik supporters of Vladimir Lenin, who died in 1924, embalmed his body, a la the ancient Egyptians, in the now infamous mausoleum on Moscow’s Red Square.

Techno-utopians, as they’re sometimes called, hunger for a time when humankind can outthink God and remake itself in its own image. Robots, androids, $6 million men, bionic women, the Borg, and the latest promises to upload our minds to computer chips, fantasy culture aspires to prolong life indefinitely. It’s an idea as old as the Garden of Eden, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, and Frankenstein.

But the Bible says, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27, KJV). No one lives forever.

While it is true death originated in the Fall and the Curse, the reality of death is not a uniformly bad thing for the advance of civilization. Yes, we eventually lost Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, but who misses Nero, Ghengis Khan, Adolph Hitler, or Pol Pot? Death sometimes is described in Scripture as the “last enemy,” but at times it’s a blessing from a Sovereign God who limits the extent and impact of evil in the world.

Western culture seems taken by the idea life must be extended at all costs, and we’ve built a health and medical life support system to make it happen. While this may not seem unwise, much of the impetus behind this movement is based upon a faulty worldview that believes life is all there is. Who wouldn’t want to extend life if you genuinely believed there’s no life in the after-life?

Saying this doesn’t mean I support euthanasia. I’m just pointing out that we’re mad for life because we aren’t as connected personally or culturally as we once were to the Giver of Life.

For the record, I believe science will continue to discover ways to preserve body parts and re-use them in other needy bodies. I’m in favor of this as long as the removed body parts are taken from the dead not the yet living. I also believe science will continue to identify or develop ways to fabricate body parts for replacing ones we’ve worn out or injured beyond repair. A lot of people are ambulatory today because doctors have developed knees, hips, and other amazing replacement parts.

On the other hand, I don’t believe science will ever develop a means for postponing death indefinitely. I don’t believe we’ll ever terminate death because death is part of living in a sin-cursed world. It is God’s accountability, the great leveler. And death comes to us all great and small.

For believers, if we know we’re “absent from the body, to be present with the Lord,” (2 Corinthians 5:8. KJV) nanoseconds after death, why worry?

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Seeing a friend in a casket is a sad and sobering experience. Feelings especially true when the friend died suddenly, without warning and yet young. “Viewing” provides “closure,” the experts say, and the practice provides an occasion to express support and sympathy to members of your friend’s family. But it’s not fun, and only in cases when the deceased has left a life of suffering do we consider this time a relief.

People sometimes misinterpret the Christian theology of death. Some of them think Christians are pretty sanguine when it comes to death. Not usually. Christians are as bothered by death as anyone else.

God never told us we had to like death, only that we need not fear it. Death is still a separation, even from a person we know is now with the Lord. Death is still a transition. It’s an absence. It removes from our daily lives people we care about. So we feel the loss and we don’t like it.

Nor do we have to like death. It’s OK to grieve.

But Christians have hope, so we do not and should not grieve as those who have no hope. We know the end of the story and we know the Author of the story. We don’t just believe. We know God is still in charge, is not surprised by death, and is still a God of love. We know Christ has already defeated sin and its result—death—on the cross and in his resurrection. Our hope built upon certainty.

Christians do sometimes deal with death differently, so maybe that’s where the idea came from that we’re not bothered by death. For example, while there’s nothing wrong with wearing black to a funeral it isn’t really a Christian M.O. I know that’s what’s always shown in movies, especially funerals in New York City, but wearing black is more about tradition than Christianity. Christians mourn, but they recognize that it’s one thing to mourn and another thing to be morose. Sometimes Christians want to wear their hope in brightly colored clothing. It’s possible to do so while respecting the deceased. But again, there’s nothing wrong with wearing black either. It’s our knowledge and attitude that count for more.

Christians also sometimes conduct funerals that come off like celebrations. This is especially true when the deceased friend or family member has lived a long, full, and godly life. His or her time has come. He or she is spiritually and emotionally ready to meet the Lord, ready to go, ready to renew bonds with loved ones gone before. Such funerals are promotions. I recently attended a funeral for an 80-something friend that was all of that. Remembering him and his life was “fun,” if you can use that word at a funeral. He would have been much pleased, and we know he’s in heaven.

The most difficult experience is the funeral of a friend who, as far as you know, never placed his or her faith in Christ. How do you remain hopeful in this instance? You literally mourn his or her loss and you pray for, focus on, and invest in the loved ones left behind. Would to God that he awakens them and grants them a peace that passes understanding.

So, No, I don’t like seeing a friend in a casket.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

This blog may be reproduce in whole or in part but must include a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

President Gerald R. Ford’s funeral took place at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids yesterday afternoon. My wife, Sarah, and I were among about 400 individuals who were privileged to attend the service, one I consider both an historic and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We arrived at a nearby gated and guarded church parking lot about forty-five minutes before the first shuttle bus to Grace Episcopal was schedule at 11:30 am. Eventually we were taken along with other passengers in the first bus to travel to the church, where we walked to a downstairs room used as a staging area for funeral service attendees. With other guests we enjoyed coffee, tea, or water, and assorted cookies in what amounted to a two hour reception before we were directed upstairs to our seats.

Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, former Michigan Governor John Engler and incumbent Governor Jennifer Granholm and their spouses, Michigan Secretary of State Terri Land and her husband, and many other political, civic, and corporate leaders were among the guests awaiting seating. Through the church basement windows we glimpsed military personnel forming an honor guard and a military band.

The staging area proved to be a very well-considered part of the plan, for it allowed people to pass the time in conversation, to sit, stand, or walk about, to access nearby restrooms, or to enjoy refreshments. None of this would have been possible if guests had been seated immediately upon arrival for what turned out to be a long wait and a late service start.

The Grace Episcopal Church auditorium is graced with a pipe organ behind the pulpit area in the front of the church and several beautiful stained glass windows illustrating various Christian symbols and biblical stories. The funeral service was administered by the Rector from St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and School, Palm Desert, California, The Reverend Dr. Robert G. Certain, along with former Grace Episcopal Rector and current Rector, Christ Church, Staten Island, NY, The Reverend Charles H. Howell, Interim Rector at Grace Episcopal, The Reverend Dr. J. Nixon McMillan, and Deacon, Grace Episcopal, The Reverend Katherine Brower.

President Ford’s casket was escorted in and out by a full military honor guard, and the funeral featured a church choir of local voices, singing the prelude, and the United States Army Chorus. Scripture readers included President Ford’s sons, Michael (Psalm 23) and Steven (Romans 8:14-19, 34-35, 37-39) with grandchildren, Sarah Ford Goodfellow, Tyne Vance Berlanga, and Christian Gerald Ford serving as Intercessors.

Proverbs 3:5-6, one of the President’s favorite scripture passages, was printed in the program and was referenced during the service. Hymns included, among others, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “On Eagle’s Wings,” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The congregation was led in a unison reading of The Apostles’ Creed.

Tributes were offered by former Secretary of Defense, The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, former President Jimmy Carter, and former director of the Ford Museum and current director of the Abraham Lincoln Museum, Richard Norton Smith. Dr. Certain offered the Homily. Also in attendance were Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynn, along with Mrs. Rosalyn Carter.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s comments were interesting and pithy, particularly his observation that President Ford “reminded Americans of who they were.” Mr. Smith’s comments were brilliantly conceived and written and very well presented. As a presidential scholar, he put President Ford’s service in historical perspective, saying the president evidenced “an utter lack of pretense” and that he “was better at statesmanship than salesmanship.” He noted the president’s own self-deprecating joke that he was “charismatically challenged” but then observed that “whatever he lacked in charisma he more than made up for in character.”

In my estimation, President Carter’s presentation was the most moving and engaging part of the service. President Carter’s longtime friendship with President Ford worked to make Mr. Carter’s comments personal, emotional, and spiritually informed. President Carter said that he and Mr. Ford had a lot in common: both served in the Navy, both married “good looking, smart, and very independent women,” and both had three sons, “And then God answered our prayers (pause to laughter). He gave us daughters (more laughter).”

President Carter also said that he and President Ford shared a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Twice and slowly for emphasis President Carter said, “We are saved by our faith in God through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He also observed that President Ford was a man devoted to God, family, and country and that President Ford’s faith had sustained him in the White House. President Carter began and ended his comments by repeating “my first words as President of the United States.” Referring to President Ford in the first sentence of his inaugural address, President Carter said, “For myself and our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he did to heal our land.”

The funeral started late and ended late. But no one cared. I think everyone there, from Honorary Pallbearers like Ambassador Peter Secchia, Amway Co-founder Richard DeVos, retail leader Fred Meijer, and golfing great Jack Nicklaus to the last person to leave, all felt privileged to have played some small part in honoring a gentleman politician at his homecoming to Grand Rapids and his homegoing to heaven.

Sarah and I were grateful for the opportunity to attend Mr. Ford’s funeral, and we rejoice in the national media’s focus upon character and principle, for this is not only accurate and fair to the man, Gerald R. Ford, but is a good and appropriate reflection upon Grand Rapids, Michigan. God give us more Jerry Fords.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2007

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.