There are many ways that people measure their lives.
Some people measure their lives by the amount of money that they earned. Some people measure their lives by the number of their possessions, acquisitions, businesses owned, or by their stock portfolio.
Others measure their lives by the square-footage of their house or by the number of their houses. Some measure their lives by the size of the estate they leave behind.
Some measure their lives by the type of car they drive or by the clothes or jewelry they wear. Some measure their lives by how long they were able to enjoy good health, by how little medicine they took, by how few nights they spent in the hospital.
As a single mother of three, and as a selfless, self-giving, hard-working public school teacher, as someone who sacrificed her entire life for others, Lou did not accumulate great wealth and did not leave behind a sizable estate. For many years now, after suffering a debilitating stroke, she had lived in the home of her daughter Bonnie or had stayed for extended periods of time with Meredith and Carol. However, I do not believe the size of her estate or the vitality of her health are the true measures of her life.
Many people measure their lives by the number of birthdays they celebrated. When many of you learned that Lou had passed away Saturday morning, one of the first things some of you asked was how old she was. This is not surprising for this is the standard question we ask when someone dies. For time is the standard way that we measure life. It is what we list in the obituary, on funeral bulletins and on headstones.
Lou had seventy-eight years on this earth. Many would say that is a good, complete life. However, I do not believe that that is the true measure of her life.
Others measure lives by the number of children one has. This is also something that we list in the obituary. Lou had three beautiful daughters: Bonnie, Carol and Meredith; and eight grandchildren: Jamie, Sam, Matthew, Jacob, Ashlyn, Eryn, Grace and Isaiah. However, as wonderful as children and grandchildren are, I do not believe they are the true measure of her life.
I believe the real measure, the real yardstick of life, is the amount of love that we share while we are on this earth. Love is the true measure of a person’s life.
In his Pulitzer-Prize-Winning musical, Rent, author Jonathan Larson wrote the following words:
Five-hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes
Five-hundred, twenty-five thousand moments so dear,
Five-hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes
How do you measure—measure a year?
In daylights—in sunsets
In midnights—in cups of coffee
In inches—in miles
In laughter—in strife.
In five-hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year of life?
How about love? How about love?
How about love? Measure in love.
Seasons of love. Seasons of love.
When it is all said and done, it really doesn’t matter how much money we made, how large our home was, what kind of car we drove, or what kind of jewelry or clothing we wore.
And in the end, none of us can control the quantity of days we will have on this earth. None of us know how many calendars, how many birthdays we will see. And none of us can control how many children or grandchildren we might have. We can, however, control the love that we offer to others. And in the end, others will know what kind of life we lived.
The ancient writer of Ecclesiastes knew something about this. That life is measured, not in years, but in seasons. And one of those seasons is love.
The Apostle Paul said, “Three things will last forever, Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is love.”
The Apostle John said, “Love is of God, for God is love.”
And our Savior Jesus Christ proclaimed, “The two greatest commandments are to love God, and to love one another.”
Lou lived seventy-eight years on this earth. Some would say that is a pretty good, complete life. But the good news is that that is not the measure of her life. The good news is that Lou loved more and deeper than some people who live 88, 98, or even 108 years on this earth.
When I went to see Lou’s family when I received word that she had passed away, her sister Cordelia immediately shared: “Lou emulated everything Jesus taught.”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
She replied with two words: “Unconditional love.”
A great illustration of the depth of her unconditional love is the time she invited her son-in-law Troy, then a recent graduate of West Point, to come and speak to one of her classes. Before he arrived, she had been announcing to the class that her son was going to be a guest speaker. The class loved Mrs. Summerlin, and thus, they were very eager to meet her son. When the day came, in walked Troy: very tall, very handsome, and very dark.
The class questioned her, “This is your son?”
“Yes,” she proudly responded with a smile, “This is my son.”
It would be an understatement to say that Lou loved her daughters, and her daughters’ families, more than she loved her own life. This love propelled her to give all that she had to give and to work until she could work no more. And it was by this love, and the love that she had for her friends and others that she measured her life. She lived a simple life of contentment because of the love she possessed and shared.
Lou also deeply cared for her group of girlfriends that have been best friends since high school. They call themselves the “Cameos”. Every October, she looked forward to meeting somewhere for a long weekend of fellowship and fun. She missed the most recent reunion due to her many health issues, but she was so moved by the outpouring of love she received from her dear Cameo friends in the way of visits and cards.
Lou loved to play the piano and she loved to sing. She sang at many funeral services. But Lou understood the words of the Apostle Paul, that if we play music and sing like angels, but do not have love, we are nothing, a loud gong or clanging cymbals. When Lou played and when Lou sang, it was always with love.
Jesus said, “this is how people will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” No matter what the TV evangelists say, it is not by your wealth or by your health. And it is not even by the number of children or grandchildren you have. They will know that you belong to me by your love.
So today, just a couple of days before Thanksgiving, we thank God for Lou’s life. But we thank God especially for Lou’s love. For love is the true measure of her life.
And one day, may someone say of us, that it is not the amount of money we earned, not the number of days we stayed out of the hospital, not the number of birthdays that we had, and not the number of children or grandchildren that we produced, but the way we loved, and how we loved, that indicated that we had a very full and complete life.
Oh, they may still talk about our age, how long we walked the earth, they may talk about our children and grandchildren, but that will not be as important to God or as remembered by anyone as how much we loved.
I want to close by reading a poem that Lou’s daughter Carol wrote many years ago entitled, “An Angel on Earth.”
Carol describes the poem with the following words:
This poem was written for my beautiful mother. She is the sweetest most caring person in my life. I love her dearly. She is single and has sacrificed so much in her life for her three girls. She is my medicine. Just the sound of her voice comforts me like nothing else in this world can. She is my angel on earth. When I read this poem to her, she acted strange and said it wasn’t her. It almost hurt my feelings! I didn’t think she liked it. But what I realized was that this was what made her so special. She doesn’t even know how special she is. A couple of days later, she asked to have this poem read at her funeral when the time comes. I said, “ok,” but that is a day I hope doesn’t come for a very long time.
Angel on Earth
She holds strength in the palm of her hand.
She is patient and she is kind.
She loves the sound of laughter, the smell of the
and the sparkle in a child’s eye.
She can soothe the soul with the sound of her voice,
ease the pain with the touch of her hand.
Build confidence through words of encouragement
and lift spirits when no other can.
She inspires one to grow, to love and to learn,
always strives to please, not herself, but others.
She is a cherished friend and confidant.
This angel on earth is my mother.
And here, as we mark the end of Lou’s wonderful life, the words of this poem could not be more true. Because, as Cordelia said, Lou was the personification of everything Jesus taught: love, unconditional love.
Thanks be to God.