An 8 year old friend at our church gave this mug to me last night at Life Group. Isn’t it adorable?
Since then, I keep thinking, “If that’s what it says on my tombstone someday, I’ll have done alright…”
Until recently, I have given no thought whatsoever to what I would want carved in granite over my body’s final resting place. The plan is that I’ll be hanging out in heaven (where the events of the past 7-8 years have secured me an EPIC condo with simultaneous views of the Atlantic, Pacific, and a wide swath of the Mediterranean…) So I haven’t considered how I’ll be remembered here on earth.
Then last week, my friend Sonya, in town from Hawaii to speak at our women’s retreat, invited me up to the North Shore to spend a day writing together. We had solid artistic intentions. But it turns out what we both needed was time to talk. It was as if we each had pieces to a larger puzzle of shared experiences, and this was an opportunity to see how they fit together.
We had a long breakfast overlooking the ocean. Then out of nowhere she asked, “Do you want to see my favorite headstones?”
Of course, my gut reaction was No. I mean, that’s weird, right? We were by the ocean, drinking coffee, with an endless supply of carbohydrates. Why would we move?
But of course I said Yes. I’ve been at this Jesus thing long enough to know that when a respected friend invites you to do something a bit peculiar, the Kingdom of God is often at hand.
So off we went.
A few winding miles from our breakfast table, Sonya introduced me to two of her heroes: Ebenezer and Abigail Cleaveland.
They lived on Boston’s North Shore in the late 1700’s. He was a pastor. She probably was too, although that sort of thing was entirely informal in those days. They lived long lives in a tough climate. What stood out to me most was that they believed in free grace – the idea that we don’t earn God’s love, or Jesus’ salvation, or the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We receive them. We respond to Jesus’ offer of love, forgiveness, freedom and help. And as we respond, we are saved. This was a radical stance in Puritan New England. And yet Ebenezer and Abigail lived long, full, intense lives…and they finished well.
Sonya said something so poignant as she showed me these headstone inscriptions: “We make public statements about who we are and what we stand for every day on social media. But back then, this was your one chance to tell the world what your life was about and what mattered to you.”
I’d never thought of it like that.
She described how, in the aftermath of a difficult season in their lives, she and her husband Jordan found comfort in this couple’s legacy, as well as faith to move forward toward their own. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of betrayal and loss, it helps to have someone to look to who has forged a path through the darkness. You need someone up ahead who is saying with their lives, The Light is real. Keep going. It matters!
And then I got to tell her how she and Jordan have done that for us.
We had a good time, there in the cemetery. As we watched the boats fishing out in the harbor (Ebenezer & Abigail have A VIEW!) it made me wonder in a new way what it means to be from a place. Not in terms of preferred sports teams, or whether or not you own winter clothes, or if your reaction to an approaching stranger is to invite them in for dinner or pretend you don’t see them. But to be the ones who were born into God’s plan for a place. Perhaps those things matter more than we realize. Steve grew up in Cambridge. I’m from Southern Maine. In some way, we’re decedents of Ebenezer and Abigail, charged with living out the message that even in the midst of this harsh, beautiful New England climate, God is near and He has something better for us.
This morning, as I look at this mug from my sweet little friend, it gives me vision for how I want to live these days in this awesome place. I’m usually funny – it’s a genetic thing. Sometimes I’m kind because I try. But happy has been a bit of a stretch goal. Enough so that when it comes, I know for sure that it’s God. Telling stories about how that unfolds is a fun way to spend a life.
I want that to be my legacy – that we helped others make that connection, here in this place that I’m convinced really IS the best place in the world to be. It seems like something worth living…and dying… for.