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Last Thursday, Kelsey Zwick boarded a flight from Orlando to Philadelphia with Lucy, one of her eleven-month-old twin daughters. Lucy suffers from severe chronic lung disease and still needs oxygen at night and when flying.
Carrying Lucy’s oxygen machine, the two were settled into their seat when a flight attendant told them a passenger in first class wanted to switch places. Kelsey later expressed her gratitude to “the man in 2D” in a Facebook post that quickly went viral:
“Thank you. Not just for the seat itself but for noticing. For seeing us and realizing that maybe things are not always easy. For deciding you wanted to show a random act of kindness to US. It reminded me how much good there is in this world. I can’t wait to tell Lucy someday.”
We change the world one person at a time.
“That’s a lot about me, Jon.”
At the state funeral for President George H. W. Bush, biographer Jon Meacham read one of the most meaningful eulogies I have ever heard. I wished that the president could have heard his moving words of tribute.
It turns out, he did.
Meacham wrote a bestselling biography of the forty-first president titled Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. Through the project, he and the Bush family developed a close and personal relationship.
He was asked to deliver the eulogy at President Bush’s state funeral. Not long before the president died, Meacham read to him the words he planned to share at his service. With his characteristic humor, Bush replied, “That’s a lot about me, Jon.”
While Meacham and others who delivered tributes to the president have been applauded for their eloquence, the truth is that George H. W. Bush wrote his own eulogy with his life. He authored no formal autobiography (All the Best, a book of his letters, diary entries, and memos, comes the closest), but he lived with such courage, patriotism, and integrity that his life became his legacy.
Charles Spurgeon advised us: “Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”
“You will become a mere social wastrel”
I am reading Andrew Roberts’s magisterial biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny. I am familiar with Winston Churchill’s story, having visited his place of birth at Blenheim Palace, his war rooms in London, and the House of Commons where he began his political career. His life and leadership have fascinated me for many years.
However, I did not realize the degree to which Churchill’s father did not believe in him. At one point, the young Churchill wrote to him for encouragement. His father responded by expressing his fear that “you will become a mere social wastrel” and that “you will degenerate into a shabby, unhappy and futile existence.”
Roberts notes that “his son was able to quote from that letter from memory thirty-seven years later, showing how much its message of distrust and contempt seared him.”
This was an early example of the setbacks Churchill would face. He suffered from depression, numerous physical ailments, and widespread opposition from his many political enemies. But he went on to lead Great Britain to victory in World War II, publish more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined, and become the only British Prime Minister to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
It’s hard to think of a biblical figure whose eulogy would not include challenges and heartbreak. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery; Moses was a murderer and fugitive from the law; David’s sin with Bathsheba is one of the first things we remember about him. Daniel was exiled; Peter failed his Lord; John was imprisoned and left to die.
But the world’s opinion of us is seldom God’s.
A decree that changed history
Octavian, the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, was granted the honorific “Augustus” by the Roman Senate in 27 BC to recognize his status as emperor. He is known for creating an empire that would last for fifteen centuries. (The month of August is named for him.)
Few who knew him would have believed that his eulogy today would center on a single verse of Scripture: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).
The emperor could not know that his edict issued for taxation purposes would force a Galilean carpenter and his pregnant wife to hike more than ninety miles south to his ancestral home in Bethlehem. Or that their obedience would fulfill a prophecy made seven centuries earlier that the Messiah would be born there (Micah 5:2). Or that Bethlehem’s proximity to Egypt would make it easier for the Holy Family to escape when King Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus.
God is working whether we know it or not. He is using us whether we wish to be used or not. But our lives achieve their greatest fulfillment and joy when we trust and obey him today.
We write our eulogies one day at a time.
How to change the world
And we seldom know at the time how our obedience will change the world.
The sailors aboard the USS Finback did not know when they pulled a twenty-year-old Navy pilot out of the Pacific Ocean that they were saving a future president of the United States. That’s because the future is not visible to the present.
If you want to change the world, write your name on someone’s heart today.