"You must promise me one thing", I said. "Use some of that insurance money to buy a nice stone."
My wife looked at her ring finger, smiled, and said, "Oh, I will. I will.”
I meant a tombstone, of course--but she was thinking about a diamond.
It's a little riff we regularly run through.
My high school girlfriend's father, J.C., was a man of various eccentricities, but I liked him and I think he liked me, too. I was often at their house and he would say, in my hearing: "When I die, just put on my tombstone, 'He Tried.’”
Lately, I have started saying the same thing whenever Audrey and I have this conversation. And I think I really mean it.
I have tried to be a good and honest man, true to the way I was raised and taught in the ways of Jesus. Fighting various temptations that war against the soul and maintaining Christian morality in the face of constantly changing standards.
I have tried to be compassionate toward others, to share when I could with those in need. To love my neighbor as I have loved myself.
To have been a good and loving husband and father.
I have tried to be visionary, while at the same time conservative enough to hold meaningful traditions to pass on to future generations.
To be a tender pastor for my people, if not the fiery prophet some may have wanted.
I have tried to stay knowledgeable about the world and culture around me, and to be informed by disparate voices and points of view. To maintain a wide variety of friendships so that I don't live in an "echo chamber" that only reinforces my prejudices. To be able to see things through the eyes of those who have a different perspective and present their view as fairly as I argue for my own.
I have tried to stay "Woke" in the matter of racial injustice, while confessing that it is much easier for me to drift off and back to sleep in my privilege.
I have tried, through good music, poetry and the arts, to stay balanced and positive in my outlook. Optimistic about the future. Long walks on the beach have that effect, too-- the pounding of the waves on the shore as a metronome for my soul.
To be grateful for everything that has been given to me, the unique opportunities that have fallen into my lap across the years--and when all is said and done to have made the most of them.
Of course, in all these ways I have surely failed along the way. Putting "He Tried" on my tombstone would not imply that I hoped to win favor with God and thus earn my way into heaven by my conduct here on earth. No--that was settled at the cross of Christ, and is His gift of grace to me and to all who believe. My prayer, rather, is that I will have honored the LORD and demonstrated my gratitude to Him for such a marvelous, undeserved favor.
When J.C. died, several years after his daughter and I broke up and I was married to Audrey, the family asked me to speak at his funeral. That is always a privilege, if you ever get the chance. I cannot remember now if that two-word epitaph was chiseled on his tombstone--but it was certainly spoken in my eulogy for him. I made sure of that.
I hope that someone will be able to one day say the same for me.
From those of us observing you, you succeeded.
We are forever grateful that you are our "tender Pastor". We have our "fiery prophets".
You and Audrey are an inspiration to us all.
I had a high school sweetheart. Her name was Tina. I absolutely adored her. She literally "broke my heart ". Then I got over the Hong Kong flu,went to Italy, worshipped with Pope Paul, came home, and on the first day back, was given a gift from God, married her two years later, had four children, seventeen grandchildren, and now I'm on the couch, babysitting our three rescued doggies while my gift from God is babysitting in Fredericksburg. Pastor Don, you ARE going to get my "story ", one way or the other. I love you both and may God Almighty always richly bless you and your family!