The pastor asked if anyone wanted to share something at the funeral, and she stood up, shaky and brave.
“My dad and I have had some tough times ever since I was a teenager,” she said. “The last time we talked we got into an argument, and I hadn’t spoken to him in two years. Suddenly all those hurts don’t mean anything if I could have him back one more time for one more conversation. While he was laying in the hospital in a coma I was able to tell him I was sorry and that I still love him. I don’t know for sure if he even heard me, but maybe it was more for me to be able to hold his hand, kiss his cheek and tell him one more time ‘Daddy I love you.’ In my heart I have truly forgiven my father for all those past hurts and I hope before he passed he was able to forgive me.”
A few sniffles echo in the quiet church sanctuary.
She cleared her throat and pushed on, her voice growing stronger.
“But what I want to say to you is do not wait to fix broken relationships. But I also want to say don’t hold onto your hurts and withhold forgiveness from the ones you love, you may never get the chance to mend it. Leave this funeral today and go make it right as best as you can. You don’t know if you have an hour, or a day, or a week. My time ran out. Yours doesn’t have to. I have the peace that comes from God, that one day I will see my father again in heaven and everything will be understood. Thank you Lord, for loving me and my father in spite of us. Thank you God, for forgiving us even when we couldn’t forgive each other, and thank you Jesus for making a place in Your Father’s house for me and my father.”
My cousin sits back down in her pew.
In the past year, my family has lost six family members. Some deaths were anticipated due to old age and ill health. Other deaths came swiftly and unexpectedly.
And it’s got me wondering what kind of impact will my life — and death — have? What will I leave behind?
Will I leave behind unresolved relationships filled with bitterness and regret at my passing? Or will my family know without a shadow of a doubt my love for them through my words and actions? Will I do all within my power to not let strife destroy my dearest relationships?
Out of all the deaths our family experienced over the past year, two of them involved estranged relationships between a parent and adult child. Parents made choices that hurt their children so deeply that wounds were never healed while both were living. Differences weren’t worked through. Relationships were cut off. Angry words were spoken. Forgiveness was withheld.
I do not want that legacy.
As a parent to three young children, it has been a sharp reminder that eventually all relationships end in death. “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die / And where you invest your love, you invest your life,” sing Mumford and Sons in “Awake My Soul.” I want to invest my love — through words and actions — in my family and make sure they feel valuable and securely loved.
I’m very aware I will not do this perfectly. I will wound and speak angry words. I will not always be patient and kind because my love is not perfect. But I know the One who is perfect and His Holy Spirit resides in me. I’m trusting that as I nurture my relationship with Jesus and keep close to Him, He will guide me in all my other relationships. His love is the only love that never fails. When I fail and wound others, I pray He’ll help me bind those hurts up. To put in action Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Because you’ll never know when time will run out. When the car doesn’t stop at the intersection, or the heart attack hits in the church parking lot.
Because sometimes the only time you have is today.
[This post first appeared over at iBelieve in 2014.]