Ashes and Life

After Jim died, his widow, Teresa, had to leave the house on our street where they had lived for decades. My son Kip made this oil painting of the house for her.

This summer a neighbor of mine died. I had gotten to know Jim and his wife, Teresa, during the last ten years I’ve lived on their street. I had the privilege of offering a tribute at his memorial service. The service was unlike any I’d ever been part of because instead of burying his body, we scattered his ashes in the ocean. This was made possible through The Angel’s Ashes, a ministry for the families of military veterans and homeless people. Knowing that we would be scattering ashes made me reflect on what it means that we are made from the dust of the earth. My reflections on the account of man’s creation in Genesis 2 gave me the theme for Jim’s memorial tribute:

We are here to bring Jim ______’s body to its resting place. We’ve come to the ocean with his ashes. As we say, “Dust to dust and ashes to ashes.” We are reminded that, although God is an eternal spirit, man is made of dust. God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life. It seems that when God made Jim he didn’t use a lot of dust, but he breathed in a lot of life. I know that from knowing how lively Jim was even in his nineties, how often he’d walk the dog down the street to the post office box, and especially how sharp his mind was. The rest of you know that because you’ve been part of his life for years. We all remember his mischievous grin and his sparkling blue eyes.

Before God made man, he made a beautiful world for him to live in, and we see that beautiful world around us on a beautiful day off the coast of southern California. Jim saw a lot of God’s beautiful world in his life. He grew up in the beautiful green hills of Yorkshire, and he loved to recall his bike rides—once even down to the North Sea. He lived on three continents (in England, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the US).

God didn’t put man just anywhere in the beautiful world but in a garden where he would work as a gardener. Anyone who’s been to Jim and Teresa’s house knows that they are gardeners. You can see the care they’ve taken to make their plot of earth beautiful. They decorated their house inside and out, and especially at Halloween, Christmas, and Easter they put up a lot of extra decorations to make the neighborhood a nicer place to live.

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