A Name and Two Dates

I took a stroll through a graveyard after dark the other night. Ok, after 11 PM, even. AFTER a black cat crossed my path! I stopped and looked down in the light from the street lamp and read the engravings. Most stones had two names: a man and his wife. The dates started as early as 1827, then went later. What got me was this: a name and two dates.

That’s all life ended up being for those under the headstones. A name, and two dates. Turns out in the grand scheme of things, the lives of everyone who has ever lived was represented on a marble slab as a hyphen. It appears that that is what life is on this earth. It appears.

I walked through the outskirts of the graveyard again tonight. This time, I noticed more names. And more dates. I saw a few names with a very small distance between the two dates. One life that could have gone on for a long time showed a distance of only one year between the dates. A smaller headstone, next to a larger dual stone, bore the words “age two weeks.” How uncertain life is. And how short.

It seems that whether the distance between the numbers is one year or eighty, these dead people all had something in common. They had a dash, and an end date. And one day, years from now, there’ll be a headstone with my name on it. 1985, then a dash, and then an end date. I don’t know what the end date will be, but the Psalmist tells me that it was written in God’s book before the first of them ever was.

Strange, isn’t it? A few months ago, I thought that life was altogether too long. Now I see that life’s going to be altogether short. Couple hundred years from now, a few generations into the future, some kid will walk past my headstone and wonder what might have happened in my lifetime. Was I rich, or poor? Was I married? (the presence of a dual headstone will probably tell that story). Who outlived who, and by how long? By twenty years, or by thirty-five, like one headstone I saw? Did his wife live alone, and for how long? Why didn’t she marry again? Did he impact anyone? Is he with Jesus now, or did he not know this King? Was he famous, to anyone? If he was, does it matter anymore? Did he love his wife and kids?  Did they love him? How did his days end; in a lonely nursing home, or surrounded by friends? Was he a preacher? Did he preach until the end of those days, or end up in a hospital somewhere? Alone. Did those last twenty years seem like instants, surrounded by friends… or did they feel like centuries?

Then I wonder about all the lonely people in nursing homes. Do they have family? Are they now the unwanted? I’ve seen them. Their heads tilt sideways. They lay in bed all day and watch television. Here and now I put in my request that I be shot if I attempt my last twenty years in a state like that. There must be hope. There must certainly be hope. Even in nursing homes.

Ah, but I’m young now. I have life before me now. *mischievous grin* I’m still handsome… I’ve got that going for me… *wink* lol… so the question continues to be asked. What is the point of all of this?

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

I get it, Lord. I’m a blip on the story of life as you made it. My life’s short. How can I use this life for your renown? How can I make you known, so that one day, not a single person alive will know my name… but all will know of your legacy from the life you gave me? Can I leave a mark for future generations? Not a proud mark, of saying that I did something, so everyone else should too… but a good mark. One that shows that if you can do something through me, you can use anyone. One that showcases your glory, and not my piety or anything else that I might have done. When they write my biography, Lord, please let no one feel shame that they have not prayed as much as I have; let no one feel conviction that they should have done anything the way I have done it – not because I have not done it well, but because they need to see Your love. Let my story inspire, rather than cause pastors to say, “Oh, I read the biography just last week of David Schell, and I felt convicted that I don’t spend enough time in the word, or in prayer….” GOD NO!

Father, please use my story so that the world may see how much You love. Let the conviction fall on those who see You as a hard master, and who imitate You falsely. Let them see through me a God who loves. Make my life a window. A painting of Your love. Lord… please use the space between the hyphen to illustrate your love… and let them put these words on the stone that marks the place where my mortal flesh decomposes, until it is reborn to life eternal…


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