These are the thoughts shared at my Grandma's Celebration of Life service, June 25, 2015
I am indeed humbled to be able to say a few words about and in honor of my sweet Grandma Gibson. I confess that I had thoughts prepared, and I did so because my Grandpa asked me to. Though I'm not under any illusion that this will be easy. So I'm counting on you to bear with me and even help me through it.
I thought it would be good to speak as if I'm inviting you into my own grief. In other words, perhaps my approach to grieving, spoken out loud, can help and encourage you, as you remember her with the smile that we all know she wants for us right now.
Two words immediately came to mind as I considered sharing: gratitude and hope.
I am deeply grateful to God for the life of my Grandma, and the time we all had with her.
There are infinite stories and moments that could be shared, and I really can only mention a few. My hope is that they will spur you on to remember many on your own. Don't limit yourself to just a few!
There memories are really characteristics of my Grandma represented by individual moments; characteristics represented by moments. Again, these are only a few.
First, she was others-centered. She considered others more important than herself. I know this was displayed in her selfless care for my Grandpa. For me, I'll never forget as a youngster, at the funeral of her mother - Great-Grandma Ward to us - during the service she turned around in the pew and, perhaps noticing my sad, confused, or scared face, she grabbed my hand with a smile and told me it was going to be ok. I was reminded this week that I was 7 years old at the time. Amazing love and empathy at her own mother's funeral.
Second, Grandma was joyfully content. Just a couple weeks ago, at my parents' house for a great summer day with family and friends, I remember her and Grandpa sitting on the screened-in porch, a little away from the action outside on the deck. but close enough to enjoy the presence of family with the utmost contentment. She displayed this so well because she truly was content and full of joy with life. I don't think I ever shared a meal with her where she wasn't absolutely delighted with the food and company.
Third, she was generous. She and Grandpa faithfully supported a golf marathon fundraising event for a college ministry that I have participated in for several years. I have a sweet memory of an unexpected call from her after the event last year, where she said that she received this nice thank you note from this nice young man, somewhat loosely connected to the same ministry, but somewhere overseas or something, and who obviously wasn't me. She wanted to make sure their gift to me was received. We both got quite a laugh out of the mix-up, and fortunately, I was eventually able to get it straightened out.
Finally, my Grandma was so loving and faithful. I'm sure most of us can remember a "dancing moment" with her and Grandpa, and I certainly remember a very special one at Katie and I's wedding, but more recently, I'll never forget their spontaneous dance at their 65th wedding anniversary party last year, after my dad cued up their wedding song. It was a classic tear-jerker moment.
There are so many more. I encourage you to reflect on them and write them down!
There is a book that has helped me greatly in the past as I have dealt with death and loss. It is called Death by Living, and it is about how our lives are meant to be spent, our lives are what take us to the end, and life is ultimately what causes our death. I wanted to share a few quotes because they remind me so much about my Grandma.
"Live hard, and die grateful."
"May your living be grace to those behind you."
"Drink your wine. Laugh from your gut. Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life. And if time is a river, may you leave a wake."
What a wonderful wake that is left by Ramona Gibson.
But as we remember her with gratitude, it is still hard that she is gone. So where is the hope? Is there hope? Yes. There is...a sure hope. Because this is a celebration of life. It is a celebration not only of past life, but also of future life! I know of only one source for this hope.
I need to hear the words of the Apostle Paul, who says, "For we know that if the tent that is our earthly body is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens... So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."
He continues, "For the love of God controls us, because we have concluded this: that one (that is, Jesus) has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised."
What a sure hope! Died for our sake. Raised for our sake.
Paul also says, "But we do not want you to be uniformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope."
I don't want to be uninformed about my Grandma, or myself eventually. And I don't have to be. So I ask myself out loud so that I can ask you also, Joey, do you grieve with no hope? The answer is no!
Paul continues, "For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep."
Jesus himself says, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though they die, yet shall they live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
So I ask myself out loud, Joey, do you believe this? Yes, I do!
Paul also said that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Joey, do you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead? And the answer is yes, I do!
As I personally grieve during this time, my belief compels me to share. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul says to Timothy, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost."
And then he says, and I say along with him, "But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost of sinners, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life."
There is great hope in the eternal life offered to us! And it is an eternal life into which we will be physically raised and live together in peace and joy forever - where the dwelling place of God is with us, and where he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the former things have passed away. The tears, the crying, the pain, the death - all gone!
So as we reflect on the life of Grandma Ramona Gibson, and her wonderful attributes that are so worthy of imitation, my prayer is that we all may live in such a way that - like her - our life ultimately causes our death, so that then, in Christ - like her - we may come to life again.