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Life and Death and Stories Worth Living

I don’t understand stories – why some end and others seem to go on forever. In a way, it seems cruel. I know that it’s not. But it sure feels that way sometimes.

This feels like a season of death, but maybe it’s just a transition between stories.

In the late spring, we buried Lois, the matriarch of our church. She was a sassy but sweet woman who lived a life that was nothing short of inspiring. Her laugh was infectious and her smile cathartic. She had an edge to her that made her both fun and unpredictable. You never knew what kind of response you might provoke in her. It wasn’t uncommon for her to razz you, even from the comfort of her electric wheelchair with a tank of oxygen wheeling behind her. That image, in and of itself, was part of her charm and humor.

Lois was always full of life, spry and jovial even as the cancer weakened her body.

She left us gently and gracefully, but not without the flair that was uniquely hers. My friend Vince eulogized her by telling stories of his mother-in-law’s jokes and pranks and how he eventually learned to dish it back out to her. Laughing through our tears, we each recalled our own stories of this woman’s wit and cleverness.

When we buried her that beautiful spring day off of Highway 100, my pastor told us that while death is a part of life, it is still the last enemy to be defeated. In a way, he was saying that this was all right — the pain, the tears, the remorse. It was okay to grieve. It was okay to hurt. It wasn't supposed to be like this. We weren't supposed to experience such profound loss. And one day, we won't have to.

That thought comforted me several months ago as it did yesterday, when I attended another church member's funeral. This time, it was Al — an "elder in every sense of the word" as one person remembered him. He was 90 years old and one of the foundations of our small fellowship. He built our church sign, tiled the bathroom, and schooled most people in knowledge of the Scriptures.

He was an engineer, an inventor, a soldier, a father, a designer, an evangelist, a friend.

As Al's friends and family gathered, the stories started to come — one after the other of hilarious and beautiful moments starring this tender-hearted, unforgettable man of God. None of them seemed disingenuous. I didn't discount one incredible story. I knew they were all true. Because I knew the man behind them.

I only knew Al (like I knew Lois) for the last four years. I didn't know him like many of the others did. And yet, I loved him in my own way. There were little things that made him extraordinary. Like the way his hair was always neatly combed and his shirt perfectly tucked into his ironed slacks, held up by suspenders. Or the way he would smile at you from across the room. He would beam with a light like that of another world, and it was wonderfully contagious.

People tell me, “I wish you could have known them before…” I don’t. The Al and Lois I knew were remarkable. They may not have been their former selves, but they were outstanding souls, nonetheless, sucking the marrow out of the remaining moments of life. I'm better for knowing them — for having the honor to intersect with the final chapters of their stories. I'm inspired. To make my time on this planet count. To not take the little things for granted. To live a story that comes even close to the richness of these outstanding lives.

I had better get started.