Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15 – 17)
Time. It’s strange the way we relate to it. Oftentimes we complain that we don’t have enough time. We rush from one task to another trying to get done all the things we think we need to get done, never really present to the moment, always thinking about what we think needs to get done in the future.
But even as we complain about not having enough time, there is also a sense in which we live as though we have all the time in the world—blocking out the fact that our time on earth will, in fact, come to an end. Denying the fact that one day we will die, we fail, as the Apostle Paul says, “to make the most of our time.” We keep putting off addressing what is most important, what really matters in life when all is said and done. We live foolishly, as Paul says, failing to “understand the will of the Lord.”
And “the days are evil,” says Paul, which is to say there are evil powers at work in the world that are actively conspiring to keep us from remembering what truly matters.
But the world doesn’t have to get us down, says Paul. We don’t need to anesthetize ourselves by getting drunk on wine. No, says, Paul, “be filled with the Spirit… singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.” Sometimes the best way to catch hold of what it might mean to make melodies to the Lord in our hearts is to take some time to consider people who seem to be doing exactly that.
Shirley Bachelder is a 94 year old widow who lives in Franklin, Tennessee where she is an active member of the United Methodist Church there. I read about Shirley first in the Huffington Post religion section, and then at the website of the United Methodist Church.
Shirley’s relationship with God has been at the center of her long life. She grew up watching her grandmother ask for God’s guidance, and it became part of her daily practice, too.
One morning a few months back as she was praying, Shirley asked God, “What can I do for you?” God told her just what he wanted. God wanted her to buy five seconds of advertising on primetime television to broadcast one, simple, three word message from God. God was very specific: It was to be in white letters on black background.
Said Shirley, “‘That’s gonna cost a bundle,’ and the Lord came back and said, ‘If you have to mortgage your house I’d like you to do it.’ In other words, it was very important to him.”
When Shirley’s church friends caught wind of her desire to place the ad on TV, they contacted the local NBC affiliate and asked for help. They agreed, but said they would wait for the right time to broadcast the message.
On July 16th, in Chattanooga, not far from where Shirley lives, a deranged young man lost in an extremist Islamic ideology attacked a Naval Reserve Center, killing five soldiers before being killed by police in a gunfight. The next day, the short, simple message Shirley received from God was broadcast by the station free of charge:
“Love one another.”
Shirley helped remind us what really matters in life. It is God’s will that love one another. According to Shirley, “One of the most wonderful things people can do is to love one another and take into consideration that we’re all human, make mistakes and should be forgiven and loved just like God loves us.”
The “Love One Another” message “hit a nerve” and Shirley started receiving notes of support and admiration from around the world. She felt a little guilty about all the attention. In her mind this wasn’t her idea—this was the Lord’s doing, and all gratitude was due God.
This experience with God reminded Shirley of another time in her life many years earlier. She was about to go on a church mission trip to Mexico, when a man gave her a beautiful handmade blanket. He said he felt God leading him to give it to her. He said the blanket had the spirit of God interwoven within its threads. He told Shirley that when the time came, she would know what to do with it.
When Shirley arrived in the town where the mission team would be working, she was told by a young man of a mother with four children who had just had their house burn down. The youngest child, a newborn baby, had died in the fire.
They went to the house where a crowd of people had gathered. The mother was inconsolable. The young man knew the grieving woman, so Shirley handed him the blanket to give to her. When he wrapped the woman in the blanket, she stopped crying. The woman thanked the young man profusely.
Afterwards the young man said he felt a little guilty, just like Shirley had felt, because it wasn’t even his idea. It didn’t matter. They’d both been allowed the opportunity to be messengers of grace. “Be filled with the Spirit, …singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:18b – 20)
Back at her 80th birthday, Shirley had been filled with a profound sense of gratitude for her many blessings. She wanted to find a way to honor God, and the idea came to her to wear a flower “gratitude garland” every day in her hair. “I told God,” said Shirley, that “‘I will celebrate every day with you and thank you each day for everything.’”
Ever since she was nine years old, Shirley has kept a bucket list—a long tally of things to do before she died.
Over the years she has crossed off a great many of her bucket list items. One of the things on her list was to go to college. Shirley hadn’t been able to afford to do so when she was young, so once her three children were grown and on their own at the age of 50 she enrolled in college. It took some time but she received a degree in art when she was 60.
She wanted to get an article published in Reader’s Digest, which she did at the age of 71. I looked it up. It was a lovely little story from about a time many years before when Shirley had persuaded her milkman to forgive the unpaid debt of a woman with six children. The woman and her husband had abruptly moved from their home without paying the bill, which the milkman had allowed to grow over several months to the sum of $76 because the woman had kept promising that she would pay the bill once her husband got the second job he was intending to get. As he told her about the betrayal, the milkman was very angry. The next time she saw him, his anger hadn’t lessened, in fact it was worse. Shirley worried that the incident might sour an otherwise warm person. She thought of what her grandmother used to say: “When someone has taken from you, give it to them, and then you can never be robbed.”
So the next time she saw him, she put the idea in his head—an idea he wasn’t initially receptive to—that he could let go of that bitterness by choosing to think of the $76 worth of milk as a gift he had given the woman’s six children—to focus on their need for that milk to grow up healthy and strong. “You know the Bible says, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in.’ You just took her in with all her children.”
“It wasn’t your $76,” he grumbled, but nonetheless, it seemed, he’d taken the idea in.
It took him a while, but one day shortly before Christmas he came to her one morning with a big smile on his face. “I did it!” he said. “I gave her the milk as a Christmas present. It wasn’t easy, but what did I have to lose? It was gone, wasn’t it?”
Not long after that the woman sought the milkman out in order to begin paying off the debt. “That’s all right,” the milkman replied. “It’s been paid.” “Paid!” she exclaimed. “What do you mean? Who paid it?” “I did.” And they had themselves a happy little cry together.
Though Shirley wears her flower garland of gratitude, her life hasn’t always been what you might call “a bed of roses.” Her beloved husband lived the last years of his life suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, an especially devastating illness. Even in the darkness of the struggle she shared with her husband, Shirley was grateful for the light of God’s grace. One of the things left on her bucket list is to publish a book about the wisdom she gleaned as she cared for her husband.
Another thing that was still on her list was to take a ride in a hot air balloon. Just last year on a cold winter’s day members of her church conspired together to make this possible. “I would have gone up in that balloon even if it was below zero,” she said. “All I needed was a couple pairs of gloves, my Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee and I was ready to go.”
Even up in the hot air balloon Shirley wore her flower garland of gratitude. “God was there,” she said. “I felt so close to him and felt him saying, ‘Well, what do you think Shirley?’”
Shirley’s friends at church continue to help her fulfill her bucket of wishes: She wants to take a trip to Ireland, and she wants to become a contestant on Wheel of Fortune (she was turned down the first time she tried, she wants to try again.) She wants to visit a butterfly house, and to see a bluebird in Tennessee.
“If you have a bucket list, it proves you’re still alive,” Shirley said. “People who have stopped looking forward to creative things have made up their minds to die. We all need some crazy scheme in mind to keep us excited, so we can face life with a lot of fun and love.”