There are many ways that we measure our lives.
Most of us measure our lives by the number of birthdays we’ve celebrated. This weekend, when we learned that Judy had passed away, one of the first things that many of us asked was: “How old was she?” 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.
Judy had seventy-two years on this earth. Many would say that is a full, complete life, three-score and twelve. However, I do not believe that that is the true measure of her life.
Others measure lives by the number of children one has, and by the contributions of those children. This is also something that we sometimes list in the obituary. Judy had two beautiful children who both work tirelessly to make this world a more just and opportunistic place. Jane, who lives in Washington DC, has selflessly devoted her life to justice in the workplace. And Frank or “Skip,” who lives in Fort Worth Texas has sacrificed much to teach math to Middle School students.
However, as proud as Judy was of her two children and their many contributions, I do not believe they are the true measure of her life.
Some measure their lives by the number of grandchildren they have. It would be fair to say that Judy, who has suffered with many health issues since Roland, the love of her life passed away, would probably not have lived as long as she did if it were not for the gift of her precious twins Luke and Reese.
However, although she figuratively and literally lived for those babies, I do not believe they were 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, 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 control how many children, grandchildren we might have or what their contributions to society may or may not be. However, the one thing that we can all control is the love that we offer to others. And in the end, this is how 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 and “this is how people will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”
Judy lived seventy-two years on this earth. Some would say that is a full, complete life. But the good news is that this is not the measure of her life. The good news is that Judy loved more and deeper than some people who live 82, 92, or even 102 years on this earth.
I shared with our congregation a couple of weeks ago that one of my favorite camp songs from my youth is entitled: The Main Thing Is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.
One of the things that I love about the Disciples of Christ is they way we remind ourselves of that main thing every Sunday morning. For each week, we come together around a table and practice the hospitality of Christ by welcoming all people to join us. And when we say “all,” “all” means all. I sometimes say, “We exclude only those whom Jesus excluded, and that is no one. We are reminded that we are to welcome and to love others as our Lord welcomes and love us, unconditionally, unreservedly.
This is exactly how Judy lived her life. She practiced a notorious, gracious, vivacious and unconditional hospitality by generously welcoming all people into her home and heart. And all means all. She loved with a love that was without judgment, without restrictions.
And she did not welcome and love others by merely opening her door and being polite. But like our Lord who turned 180 gallons of water into the best tasting wine people had ever tasted and fed thousands with a few loaves and fish, she welcomed people extravagantly. Sometimes she welcomed people with what I have been told was the “best darn chicken-fried steak around.”
It should be noted that the word “darn” is not the actual word I was told to describe this chicken-fried steak. But because I have only been a pastor here for a month, although it is not the most descriptive or the most accurate adjective for her wonderful cooking, this is simply the best I can do from the pulpit at this time!
Jane said that her mother could somehow make a simple “Diet Coke” taste better. It was no doubt to anyone who knew her that her secret recipe in everything that she did was the unconditional love that she had for others.
Thus, Skip and Jane, Cara, Luke and Reese, and all of Judy’s friends, I believe every February for the rest of your lives, before the celebration of patron saint of love, Valentine, you will undoubtedly thank God for the unconditional love of Judith Dell Carter.
Skip and Jane, you are able to thank God not only for the way that she selflessly supported and encouraged you by traveling all over the country to watch you twirl, debate, or play basketball, but for the way that she lovingly supported you through your own illnesses and other difficult times, including the loss of your father.
And Skip and Jane, you will always be able to thank God for the special way that your mother helped you to be the people you are today. For there is no doubt that her extravagant love for others, her selfless work as an elementary school teacher and her work with the PEO has influenced your lives. You make the saying true that the apple truly does not fall far from the tree. And she was so proud of that!
So today, just a few days before Valentine’s Day, we thank God for Judy’s life. But we thank God especially for the love that she shared with this world. For love is the true measure of her life.
And one day, may someone say of us that it is not the number of birthdays that we had, nor 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. People will still ask how old we were. And they may talk about our children and our grandchildren, but that will not be as important to God, or as remembered by anyone, as how much we loved.
And here is the good news. Because we believe that Judy emulated the love of God, our God loves each of us with this same extravagant, tenacious love. A love that is without judgment. A love that is without restrictions. A love that is unconditional. A love that is eternal.
May this wonderful hope, this divine, holy love, give us the strength and the courage, the peace and the comfort, that we need to continue our lives, measure the rest of our lives, living as Judy lived, by loving one another graciously, extravagantly, and unconditionally.