Monday, January 4, 2016

You Can’t Take It With You – and That’s Good

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the guy who specified in his will that he be buried in his luxury convertible, with a cigar stuck in his mouth, and a wad of cash in his hand. After the mourners departed, one of the cemetery caretakers responsible for closing the grave looked down and commented, “Man, that’s livin’!”

When we each depart from this life,
we won't be needing a moving van.
Obviously, it’s really not. When we take our final breath, whatever we’ve got, we can’t take it with us. After all, when was the last time you saw a U-Haul truck following a hearse? But that’s not a bad thing. Even the best stuff deteriorates over time, crumbling or breaking or wearing out, and if the next life is all Jesus promised it will be, we won’t be needing any of the temporal world’s material trappings anyway.

Recently I gained a fresh perspective on this. The daughter of our longtime friends passed away, and at her memorial service several people shared warm memories about how special she was. Nancy was a special person in many ways.

She was born with profound birth defects, both physical and mental, keeping her from what we commonly refer to as a “normal” life. Nancy required special shoes, and her learning capacity was limited – but in some ways, it was exceptional. She had a phenomenal memory for certain things, like names and numbers. Once she met you, Nancy never forgot you – and her first impressions were lasting ones. Her candor also was unusual. She’d be quick to tell you what she was thinking, like it or not, but without guile or malice.

Despite her disabilities, Nancy never complained, even when the cancer that claimed her life had confined her to a wheelchair and made an oxygen tank a constant companion. She had one other exceptional quality – a firm, unswerving faith in Jesus Christ. Her cognitive limitations were no hindrance to her believing in the God of eternity, who came in the flesh to offer humankind life everlasting. And the care and compassion of the hospice workers underscored that reality.

But getting back to “you can’t take it with you”: As one of the speakers observed while recounting his memories of Nancy, when she passed away and went to be with her Savior and Lord, she left behind her wheelchair, her oxygen tank – and the special shoes she’d worn for so many years. And as she passed from this life to the next, she left behind a broken body, exchanging it for a new, eternal one without scars, pain, or limits.

Of course she also left behind her loving parents, who held the bittersweet knowledge that their precious daughter was finally experiencing life abundant and unending, just as Jesus promised.

There was one other important thing Nancy left behind – a wonderful legacy in which she had taught the many people who had the privilege of knowing her that a meaningful, joyful life doesn’t consist of outward appearances, but rather of inner beauty that human frailties can’t diminish.

Perhaps that’s one of the things Jesus had in mind when He told His followers, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

When Nancy passed from this life, she didn’t leave a lengthy resume of career accomplishments, a hefty bank account, or a large collection of costly baubles. But she did leave an indelible image of a person who loved God, loved her family and friends, and understood what really mattered in this earthly life.

She practiced what some sage stated long ago: “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” The things that, as Jesus said, aren’t subject to moths and rust, and can’t be stolen. If only we all were as wise as Nancy.

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