Emails from the Great Beyond

Since I haven’t written in a while, here’s a few stories, loosely linked together, contemplating our mortality. Exciting topic, right? Every culture has its own way of honoring those who have passed away but I am reminded of a few verses of scripture from Ecclesiastes talking about the futility of it all.

I covered some of the verses in my small group lesson comparing Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 to the works of the rock band, Coldplay. If you want to discuss that, give me a yell. The other, I’ll cover later in this post.

***

Remembering Loved Ones
I got a church newsletter this past week asking for members to send in photos of loved ones for All Saints Sunday as a way of remembering family and friends who have passed away in the last year. Although it is a Christian holiday, sort of, I’ve never paid much attention to the day or remembrances in general.

I lost an aunt last month and thought this would be a nice way to honor the memory of my dad’s youngest sister who was only six years older than me. She was always one of the kids growing up. She was not an older, authority figure. She was a contemporary, a friend, and always had a smile and a positive word to share.

So, for the first time ever, I am going to participate and honor her for All Saints Day. Remembrances are really for those left behind. We just keep moving. We lost my grandmother, her mother, a couple of years ago and my grandfather, her dad, to suicide in 1974. I like to think they’ve been catching up on some hugs for the last few weeks.

Read Romans 8:18-25 and have hope.

Kinda Creepy
I’m perpetually digging through old boxes and stacks of work from projects from periods of my career. I recently ran across some work I did in my early ad agency days with a friend—a coworker who passed away about 15 years ago. Maybe I should throw them all away but they serve a purpose in times of contemplation. Remember where you have been and be grateful for where you are.

My coworker taught me a few things about life. First, life is short. Second, always learn new things.

He was a cigar chain smoker and, to put it kindly, had anger issues. Scripture tells us anger is a foothold for the devil. It can certainly be poison. He also enjoyed helping people and enjoyed work.

The last time I talked to him, he was very sick with cancer—probably from the smoking. His voice was little more than a whisper. The last time I heard from him was strange.

About a year after he died, I got an email from his business address. Obviously, a spammer had gotten a hold of his credentials and was spamming everyone on his address list to sell some product.

As close as I can remember, the verbiage went something like this: “You’ll never believe what I am doing now. I’ve never been happier.”

Now, there’s an unintentional message from the great beyond. I looked online and couldn’t find much record of my coworker. As scripture tells us, You won’t be remembered and all of your belongings will just go on to someone else.

Grateful for little reminders.

A College Nightmare
Although there is no evidence of it on this blog, I enjoy writing. In college, I was tasked with writing a paper on the graying of society. While most of the class wrote rather clinical essays on growing old, I tapped into my inner Orwell and wrote a paper from the viewpoint of a senior citizen who has been dismissed to a nursing home, struggling to maintain relevance and completely forgotten by loved ones except on holidays. We put people away and then act like we can’t live without them when they are gone.

The professor called on me to read the paper aloud to the entire class. While I enjoy lively conversation and sharing ideas, I hate standing at a podium reading to people. Read it yourself and then let’s talk. The reading didn’t go well but the writing got an “A.”

As a society, Americans dismiss our elderly more than most other cultures. You don’t even have to be old to be dismissed with an “ok, boomer” comment these days. Surely, we can treat people with more respect as a culture. I’m happy to be a member of Generation X, so I can sit back and observe.

Enjoy your time with everyone while you can. We’ll all be forgotten soon enough. Come to think of it, I think the class was titled “Death, Dying, and Bereavement.”

“There is no remembrance of those who came before, and those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow after.”

Ecclesiastes 1:11

I miss my inner Orwell.

Speaking of Forgetting
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up. Specifically, my mom’s parents. They slept is separate rooms—snoring will do that. Outside of my grandfather’s room was a framed, circular photo of his parents. I bet I saw that picture a few thousand times. I don’t know their names.

A few years ago, I bought an Ancestry test and started tracking our family tree. In doing so, I went to our family’s section of the cemetery. It was strange seeing those names and, finally, putting them into a chart to see how they were related to each other.

I remember my dad asking me “who’s that?” It was his great grandfather. It makes me wonder what they were all like as people. Would we have the same sense of humor. Did they like cool food? They were all people who shared a brief part of eternity and now we don’t know them.

Eh.

Embracing Purpose
I am blessed to work with some truly amazing people. If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be working in a foreign mission focused ministry, I’d have called you crazy. Yet, here I am. I give thanks a lot that God’s plans are better than mine.

I’ve always known I’d be in a ministry setting but I was always predisposed to handing God his “to do” list and mapping out in my mind how things should be. Spiritual gift tests always told me I needed to work, teach and serve in ministry but it took me a while to get to the point of saying “hineni.”

At work, we take a lot of personality profiles. We should also do a spiritual gifts test. Maybe I will mention that. A year, or so, ago we took an Enneagram profile. It’s an interesting study in human personality from, if done properly, a spiritual perspective.

According to my profile, I am an Enneagram SEVEN with an EIGHT wing. What is that? You can read more about it online at several sites—both secular and spiritual. According to the Enneagram Institute, this is the definition of a seven.

Sevens are extroverted, optimistic, versatile, and spontaneous. Playful, high-spirited, and practical, they can also misapply their many talents, becoming over-extended, scattered, and undisciplined. They constantly seek new and exciting experiences, but can become distracted and exhausted by staying on the go. They typically have problems with impatience and impulsiveness. At their Best: they focus their talents on worthwhile goals, becoming appreciative, joyous, and satisfied.

Enneagram Institute

The description goes on to say I am a “realist” and I avoid pain. Yep! Read on.

But, how did I get there and what does that have to do with this post? As we learned in one of our talks on the subject, your Enneagram helps you discover who you were created to be. So, to answer that question, I need to share a bit about my early life.

I was not supposed to live when I was born. There’s the connection. Doctors gave my parents the news that I might not survive 24 hours. I made it but I have always had a sense of purpose because of it—a feeling that God put me here to do things.

I love doing things!

If you look back at that particular definition of a SEVEN, I love experiencing life. I am optimistic, sometimes painfully so, and I am impatient. In fact, I have almost no patience with negative people and victims (the perpetually offended variety). There’s no time for such things in life. I’m not patient with other drivers being on the road while I am driving or with slow people crab walking in front of me at the grocery store either. Don’t get me started!

A seven can be epicurean—loving a good meal. One of my absolute favorite things is sharing a meal with friends and I am blessed with some special people at work who let me eat with them regularly. I also take pictures of food. I do this a lot, actually.

When I worked in news media, I had several friends and family who thought I was the food writer. Nah! I was just sharing lunch.

A seven can also over-commit. I have done that my whole life. I love doing things and I love helping people—serving others and teaching where I can—but I can be impatient with attention seekers. I’ve worked with a lot of people in my career who did great things but, too often, just happened to have a camera to capture the moment.

I don’t know if it is particularly “sevenish” but I have always had a sense that I have always existed and that I will always exist. Is that just ego? I like to think it isn’t. In a sense, we are all eternal beings trying to figure out what eternity means. It’s not nuts either!

I also find myself watching Near Death Experience videos. I don’t know what to think about them, if we’re being honest, but it is fascinating to me to listen to people tell their stories of redemption and purpose—real or imagined. Oddly, I got into them when one of my dogs died and I grieved over him more than I have any person I have known. I was hoping dogs made it to Heaven with us.

Being a seven has given me a bit of a selective memory. I consider this a positive thing. I tend to only remember the good things about people and I smile seeing how friends have grown in life—even people I grew away from over the years.

The same applies to my childhood which was mostly happy mingled with, at times, mental, physical and spiritual abuse. It’s a harsh word, but applicable. I remember the good and quickly discard the negative when it creeps back into my mind.

In terms of pondering mortality, which was the purpose of this post a couple of thousand words ago, life is pretty short. Being a seven helps me move from good thing to good thing, it helps me seek the good in others, and it helps me embrace two spiritual truths from the teachings of Jesus.

  • Treat others as you’d like to be treated.
  • Regard others as better than yourself.

Life is short. In terms of eternity, we have very little time in our human existence. You only have a brief, nearly invisible, moment to have an impact in someone’s life. Enjoy that moment with them. And, whenever possible, take a picture of your food.

“Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing.”

Ecclesiastes 2:11

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