An Average Life Well Lived

mom and marilyn

It must have been Christmas 1984 when this photo was taken. A memory from long ago. Feel free to laugh and mock the clothing, but especially the couch! Holy Cow! What were we thinking?

The lady in the middle is my Aunt Marilyn. Well, she is not my aunt by marriage or blood. She was a good friend of the family. My mother and Marilyn graduated together and she just became a part of our life. She was there in my earliest of memories.

This week I discovered that my aunt passed away of a heart attack. Aunt Marilyn had moved to Arizona many years ago, but we still kept in touch. We exchanged Christmas cards and I talked to her on the phone maybe once a year. But her passing brought up so many old memories.

My sister and I would visit her apartment with my mom. Aunt Marilyn had a multitude of music boxes. I don’t know how many she actually had but as a child, it seemed like hundreds. She had music boxes that had moving parts, some that would spin, and some that stood still. She had one music box that played the song, “Singing in the Rain” or maybe it was “New York, New York”. My sister and I would take them off the bookshelves and wind them all up at the same time. I look back and think how maddening that must have been to listen to all those boxes playing different songs at the same time. But then she would have us dust her bookshelves. Hmm, it must have been her method to our madness.

Aunt Marilyn had a lot of music boxes. And she had the biggest cats I have ever seen! Her cat, Max, must have been 20 lbs. Not kidding! I’m sure I have a photo somewhere. And she sold Avon on the side. Avon was the first “side hustle” gig for women. Make-up, perfume, costume jewelry, etc. We loved when she would bring the new catalogs around. My sister and I would mark up the book circling all the lip balm and kids’ stuff.

After Aunt Marilyn moved to Arizona, she found God in a deeper way. She was involved in her church. She attended Bible study and she was faithful to participate in Angel Tree every year. Since Aunt Marilyn didn’t have any children, she “adopted” many kids at Christmas. All of her nieces and nephews, my children, and several underprivileged children received gifts each year. Once her nieces, nephews, and my children were grown she stopped buying gifts for them. And she increased her giving to the less fortunate.

Now that I am looking back on my childhood, I realize that Aunt Marilyn wasn’t the “cool” aunt. She wasn’t the “un-cool” aunt. She was there in our lives living it with us and making generic memories. But they were good memories. And her passing leaves a hole.

Sometimes I think I’m a little like Aunt Marilyn. I’m not the cool aunt. Hopefully not the un-cool aunt either. But I’m there…making memories. Aunt Marilyn reminds me that even the average person who lives the average life matters. And we don’t have to be amazing to matter either. She mattered to the time and season she was here on the earth. She mattered to the people in her life. She mattered enough for Jesus to sacrifice His life for her. And she mattered enough for God to draw her unto Him.

Here’s to my aunt. An average person who lived an average life, but still left an imprint on the world for all eternity. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May His face shine upon you and grant you peace.

See you on the other side of glory, Aunt Marilyn.

[Recommended Reading]

A Life Well Lived – Swindoll 

Dear Person Who Thinks All I do is Read the Bible and Drink Coffee…


For ten years I photographed weddings. Then I became a minister. These two vocations make my working years look like book ends with me standing at both the front and the rear of the chapel.

When people hear that I have been a wedding photographer and a minister they summarize my work experience as “one who is able to take pictures, read the Bible, and drink coffee”.


They might as well tell me that I know nothing about life or people or real work.

As a wedding photographer, I dealt with a myriad of personalities each Friday and Saturday. Many times I had never met the bridal couple or attendants until I walked through the door.

I would arrive at the bride’s home and, within five minutes, I would have memorized 15-20 people’s names. I then needed to juggle the demands and personalities of those 15-20 people over the next 8-10 hours while still doing my “job”. In addition, most of them had started drinking by 9 A.M.


Over the years, I had many experiences of juggling those personalities alongside my photographer duties. As a photographer, I was also the wedding coordinator, problem solver, anxiety calmer, and only rational thinking person there. I pinned boutonnieres, straighten ties, and fluffed dresses while simultaneously looking for the best lighting in the room.

I had groomsmen moon me, bridesmaids pass out in the bathroom before the bridal dance, and cakes collapse. I photographed Christian weddings, Jewish weddings, atheist weddings and Gothic weddings. I also photographed two arranged marriages and a mail order bride wedding (not kidding)!

I dealt with angry, drunk people. Happy drunk people. And a few sober ones. I had wedding parties that hugged everyone including me. And I had in-laws that wouldn’t be in the same room which, of course, made those group photos loads of fun!

wedding window

Then, one day, I was standing at the front of the chapel officiating the wedding instead of photographing it. Pastors do more than officiating weddings though. But some people seem to believe we do little more than preach sermons, teach bible study, and drink coffee.

Although I confess, I do drink a lot of coffee!

coffee 3

As a pastor, I do preach and teach the Bible which means I also need to read it. However, there’s also the people element involved that your average Joe never considers about your job.

I have had church members yell at me over light fixtures, coffee pots, and toilet paper. I have counseled people about marriage, divorce, and children. And I have cleaned toilets, shoveled walkways, and replaced smoke detector batteries.

coffee calm

I have sat with people as they have walked through some of their best days and some of their worst days. I’ve been with them after they were told about cancer, learned their loved one was dead or were served divorce papers.

I’ve counseled people on the verge of divorce, people grieving their infertility, and people wrestling with how to tell their family they were gay. I’ve helped people file for food stamps, give their child up for adoption, and turn themselves over to the police.

I have visited jails and prisons. I have fed the homeless in Brightmoore and Cass Corridor. And I’ve kissed newborn babies.


Someone asked me recently how a friend would describe me and what I do. I told them my friends would say I was deliberative and idealistic. The person thought I was overthinking it.

But now that I have had time to think about it…

My friend would say that, despite all the ugliness I have seen in this world, I’m still an idealist who believes people matter to God. And I drink a lot of coffee!


When They’re Saving Your Life


A few years ago, my friend was in a serious automobile accident. EMS arrived on the scene and they had to call for the Jaws of Life to cut her out of the car. My friend’s wounds were relatively minor in comparison to the wreckage. The seatbelt had cut into her skin, though, and there was blood everywhere. Since EMS couldn’t tell where the blood was coming from, they put a neck brace on her, strapped her to a backboard, and whisked her away in an ambulance.

Once they were at the hospital, the medical staff cut her pants off to find the blood. My friend then said to me, “Jo, there is no dignity when they’re trying to save your life”.

On Good Friday, we are reminded that there is no dignity when Jesus is saving our lives. Darkness covers the land and Jesus cries out in a loud voice. He has been beaten, stripped, and mocked for all to see.


And when Jesus cried out again on the cross, He gave up His spirit.

We can think of it as Jesus sending His spirit out or casting it out from Him. Often, the Church uses this passage to imply that Jesus was separated from the rest of the Godhead. I confess I have even taught this perspective. However, Jesus was not separated from the rest of the Godhead. It’s not theologically or ontologically possible. He is one eternal, indivisible God. He cannot abandon Himself.

The same is true for us. God cannot and will not abandon us. It’s not in His nature. His nature is to love and love means He is sticking it out with us to the end.


It might help us, in our humanness, if we think of Jesus stretching forth His spirit. A few weeks ago, we talked about the parting of the Red Sea. There, Moses records how the sea was rent or torn open. It was divided. It was divided and they passed through the waters.

The gospel writer wants us to make the connection between the parting of the Red Sea and the parting of the Temple curtain. Moses stretched out his hand [staff] and the sea was divided. We identified Moses’ staff as symbolic of the Spirit’s power. In other words, Moses stretched for the Spirit and the sea separated. Likewise, Jesus casts out His spirit as if stretching forth a proverbial hand. And the Temple curtain is separated; torn in two from top to bottom.


At that moment, when Jesus stretches out his proverbial hand, three things happened. First, the curtain was torn. It was torn in two so we could pass through. We can pass through and enter the holy of holies. We can be in the presence of God. The curtain was not torn to allow God into our presence. It was torn to allow us into His presence.

At that moment, when Jesus stretched out His spirit, the earth shook and the rocks split. First, it was Jesus who was crying out. Now, Creation was crying out in response to her Creator. She was singing His praise. Just as Jesus predicted in Luke 19:40

If they keep quiet, then the rocks will cry out!


At that moment, when Jesus stretched out His spirit, a third thing happened. The tombs broke open. They broke open in preparation for what was coming; the resurrection. It’s worded strangely here. But it appears that after Jesus was resurrected, these saints were also resurrected. It was a resurrection, though. It is different from what we see when Lazarus is raised from the dead. Lazarus will die again. But these saints experience the same resurrection as Jesus.

At that moment, Jesus stretched out his hand. And, at this moment, Jesus continues to stretch forth His hand through the power of the Holy Spirit. The tombs are broken open and we live as people who are resurrected (with God’s power).

And we help usher in the Kingdom of God as we wait for the final resurrection of the dead.


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