A $100 Grave

Yesterday, in the chill damp mist of the early afternoon, I met a man I’ve never met before and may never see again. We met down a narrow lane off of a muddy gravel road in nearly the center of rural Iowa-Boone County; to be precise enough. Only two other people on earth knew we were meeting. His vehicle pulled into the empty parking some 15 minutes post my own arrival. My truck was evident, though it’s silver color on the misty overcast day nearly made it unremarkable in presence. As the man exited his SUV, his appearance was as I expected: thin, coat and tie, and appearance disheveled in a small town sort of way. I opened my door and met him in the mist of grayness and simultaneously greeted and shook his hand.

I asked him a question I have never before uttered to another soul and it struck me as a peculiar moment: “How much for a grave?” His answer was as simple as my question and equally peculiar as a course of conversation: “It is a $100 grave.”

So let me review. Yesterday, on a misty afternoon in the center of rural Iowa, I paid a man $100 cash for the location where my grieving friends and family will deposit my body or ashes after the breathe of mortality leaves my body for all time.

I then walked over and stood on the dirt that will be shoveled over a box holding my remains, and I turned 360 degrees so as to take in the panorama of my graveside view.

A couple thoughts seeped into the strangeness of this moment.

First, I couldn’t believe I bought a burial plot for a mere $100. The familiar adage, “you get what you pay for,” seemed oddly mistaken as I looked at the substance, scope, and breadth of my cash purchase. I couldn’t imagine that Forest Lawn looks much different , though perhaps less creeping charley.

Secondly…I reviewed life expectancy statistics, and proceeded to calculate how long it would be before my three kids would bury my remains, chuckling as my son recounts for his sisters the infamous story of my “water slide” adventure. I always enjoy their epic laughter as they imagine that moment of my horror. It is a family favorite.

Finally I reach for some spiritual insights to ponder as I stand upon my $100 grave. Scripture records, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis3:19)

My dust infused into this 6 x 6 plot doesn’t change it much. In actuality, I’m paying $100 for perpetual lawn mowing!!

But then remembered that Joseph of Arithamea (John 19:38-42) also bought a new grave that was only used for three days. Certainly, a grave priced at any amount divided by the number of moments three days accumulates, would be a very expensive grave indeed.

Scripture, in fact, insinuates that my dust will NOT stay in the grave in perpetuity! (1 Corinthians 15:51f) “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed….thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

So why the necessity of a $100 plot of ground?

I turned and saw my parents grave stone and saw the date of my dad’s death.

It is at this place that I review the sacred. I ponder what worship really means to me. I examine my life fails in the light of profound future grace. I release anxieties of temporal life in exchange for eternal promises.

It is at this place I come knees bent in the reality of how brief my time was with someone I really loved. It is at this place I rejoice as I am reminded of how much of him is in me. I can weep here without reservation. I can only sing eternal songs from this place…from my soul.

This $100 grave, in the center of Iowa, is for the living to glimpse the eternal! Priceless!

Saint Iola…set apart!

“I’ve been too busy,” was the reply I offered when asked if I have written anything lately. The answer given, though partially correct, must give ground to the truth of the matter: I have hidden myself from inspiration!

There are many strata of things that inspire. Minor notes of inspiration do not often compel one to such things as writing prose, composing music, or finding cures for common ills. No, rather, they make you pause and smile and perhaps briefly reflect on a similar memory or shared occasion. Major inspirations knock you down, bones to ground, with an overwhelming and inherent necessity to leap buildings in a single bound…for a cause greater than oneself.

Enter stage right: Saint Iola!

Now Saint Iola accidentally popped into my viewfinder suddenly though I was previously aware of her existence. In fact…spoke with her not sixty minutes prior. But this incident of inspiration that would be classified as somewhere between minor and major in its impelling characteristics, became an astounding “in-the-moment” awareness. A flash of clarity that included early life memories…the kind that you know changed who you had become. Chew on that for a minute or two, because if it doesn’t hit you “in-the-moment” then it can be somewhat complex.

And in addition, it seems that inspiration hits me when I visit my mom in the care center in my home town more often than not. Maybe because I have great respect for the generations that have paved my pathways and allowed to acquire gifts that only they could give. Maybe it’s the plight of the suffering of aged ones, who find themselves alone at a time of life they most need someone. Possibly it’s watching care givers who give to those in great need regardless of the glamorous duty they are presented. Truly, all of those realities make me reflect on my blessings and at the same time feel humbled by their evidential status of greatness exceeding my own inadequacies.

It was in this place that I “saw” Saint Iola for the set-apart one that she is.

Iola was my sixth grade Sunday School teacher…for more than a few years for many of us because we loved her so. She didn’t teach so much as she exhibited behavior and compelled us to emulate her example. She led us on a path of self and God discovery and showed us where those paths could merge…indeed with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Now it was several years later that my relationship with Christ was confirmed…but sixth grade was when we understood its veracity and our necessity.

Now many of my Catholic friends are scratching their heads and looking up in the canonical lists of saints the name “Iola.” Probably you will not see it as Iola is still among the living. My Protestant friends may argue as to whether a person should be called a Saint rather than a believer if they are not a messianic Jew. Well I’m not going to parse those particular hairs on either head…as it degrades from the intent of my in-the-moment experience earlier today.

David Foster Estes offers this adequate description of the label ” Saint:”

When God consecrates and claims moral beings for Himself and His service, He demands that they should go on to be fit for and worthy of the relation in which He has placed them, and so we read of certain actions as performed “worthily of the saints” (Romans 16:2) and as such “as becometh saints” (Ephesians 5:3). The thought of the holy character of the “saints,” which is now so common as almost completely to obscure the real thought of the New Testament writers, already lay in their thinking very close to their conception of saintship as consecration by God to be His own.

Iola was gracious, humble, firm, knowing, and loved without reservation the charges that God presented in service to Him! She was one consecrated by God and set apart to service. And she spent her life in the pursuit of God.

It was the clarity of that fact that I saw and was immediately thrust “in-the-moment” where time stood still and I instantly saw her as God intended for me.

Saint Iola…I am humbled and grateful in your presence because you show me Jesus…even today, 48 years later!

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