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April 24th, 2010

My Aunt Leny was special.  She never invented anything, never wrote a book, never traveled the world, never ran for office, never chaired a board, and never made a fortune.  But when an almost-85-year-old packs a large funeral home chapel with standing room only for her funeral, you know she was special. 

Aunt Leny took a special interest in every life she touched.  She was genuinely interested in others.  She asked questions.  She remembered details.  She probably knew your name, because she read our church newsletter avidly.

A funeral is hardly a happy time, but Aunt Leny’s death brought good news as well.  Most importantly, it gave occasion to share the good news that in Christ the end of this life is not the end of life.  We will live again and we will meet again.

There was also the good news that a life lived in the background can profoundly affect so many people.  We don’t have to be rich or famous or powerful to make a huge difference.

And then there was the good news of what her passing did for my family, immediate and extended.  Here’s just one vignette.

Most people had left the graveside Friday when some of us continued the conversation about Aunt Leny’s impact.  We recalled how she mothered our family after my brother Doug lost his right eye in a highly-publicized, unprovoked assault on a public street in 1968, weeks after we had come back from missionary service in Pakistan. My brother Jim, who was with Doug when it happened, retold the story of that day for the first time in 40 years.  It’s still very painful for him.

That story led to my sister Elizabeth speaking passionately about her calling to change lives of kids through teaching in the public school.  She’s received numerous accolades and awards. “People ask me why I don’t go into administration.  I can’t change lives in an office.  I can change lives in the classroom.”  And she has changed lives – hundreds of them – telling students they have a choice about what they do with the rest of their lives.

There were many other family stories, bonding moments, and sacred conversations last weekend.  Our family, immediate and extended, has never been closer than we have become since Aunt Leny’s death.  In spite of the void we feel without her, that’s the good news from a funeral.

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