Excerpt from funeral message, part 1)
You can tell a lot about people by the books they own, and even more by the books they read.
Most of my mom’s books are about the animals, birds, fish and other creatures in which she found such joy. When she came to our house ten weeks ago, she brought a book about gopher turtles and a book about sea birds. Did you know that gophers have dexterity? There are right handed ones and left handed ones. It’s one of the many things I learned from mom in the last two months. She would want you to know that.
Mom loved animals because she could pour her immense emotional energy into them, and they didn’t expect or need much in return. A dog will never betray you or belittle you. (Cats I’m not so sure about.)
But our lives with her were lives shared with her pets, and we will never forget laToy, the blind, incontinent, snoutless poodle she loved so much. My sister Toy and I often joked that our kids should be so lucky.
Mom’s pets have included dogs and cats, of course, but also lizards, ducks, donkeys, ferets, and snakes, almost all with unique names. When we lived on the mountain in Tennessee, she had a donkey named Deacon and goat with the inexplicably ordinary name of “Nanny,” which was given access to the house as well as the hood of dad’s car. Dad was a man who loved his wife without conditions.
Mom’s library also includes over a dozen books by an author named Phillip Keller, an agronomist turned nature photographer turned preacher who wrote frequently about his love of nature and his fascination with animals. One of these books, easily her favorite, is a book called A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm.
I had been wondering about her love for this particular book, and was in fact thinking about it as I was beginning to think about the sermon I would be preaching at her funeral, sitting by her bed the morning when she took her last labored breath and slipped into the arms of Jesus.
So I took the 23rd Psalm as the text for that message, not because it is familiar but because it is simple, a comfort to saints through all the ages.
Mom said Goodness and Mercy were two sheep dogs that followed David, and in fact she named two of our dogs after them. Her love for this ancient pastoral poem, and Keller’s meditations on it, had something to do with her love for animals.
But even in an age of self-will and self-indulgence, this most common and most loved Psalm is about something deeper, about the fact that we need to be led and there is contentment in following.
“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”
There is great comfort in being cared for by him, and even greater comfort in being led by him.
This leading suggests a journey, beside still waters, through dark valleys, to a table of abundance and grace. Mom always loved the journey more than the destination, although today she is pretty happy with where the journey ended. But in this life she loved to be going somewhere, and the hardest part of her last days was being in one place.
Driving down from Michigan last weekend for the funeral, I got off the Interstate south of Macon and drove down US 41, recalling the road trips of my childhood when we drove from Florida to Ohio to see my great-Aunt Rose, long before the Interstate was completed.
Mom’s favorite road trip was to Key West, as I’ve recounted elsewhere, and the weekend before she died she begged us to take her there just one more time. Going to Key West represented a mixture of the exotic and familiar experiences of her childhood.
But this restlessness she always felt says something about her journey, and mine as well as yours, and it is this restlessness that David, the Shepherd King, addresses with such intimacy in the Psalm 23. So much can be said, and has been said, about this journey and about the Shepherd who leads us through it.
In mom’s funeral message I addressed three points, which I will post here over the next week. I’ve tried to keep each section self contained, but the main reason for breaking it up is to keep the size manageable. If you would like a text file of the whole thing for some reason let me know and I will email it to you.