By Rob Furlong
At the end of the day we are defined by the quality of our relationships.
Over the past month I have been a part of four funerals either as an attender or leading the service and what has impacted me at each one has been the quality and depth of relationship that existed between the one who died, and the friends and relatives that have been left behind. I have listened to testimonies from friends and family who have shared story upon story about the impact left on them by their loved one, and expressions of heart felt love as they try to make sense of their loss.
I have heard stories of love – of a Dad who would respond to his adult daughter's early morning phone call that she had a "coffee emergency" and he would drive across to her home with a thermos and milk in tow to ensure that she could get her day off to a good start.
I have heard stories of loyalty – of a young woman who kept faith with her friends over 30 years and was always ready with a kind word or her loving support when times were tough for them.
I have heard stories of laughter – how a young lady's quirky ways would touch her father's heart or another young woman with a zany sense of humor that drew others in. And of the elderly mother and grandmother whose dry sense of fun always kept her family on their toes!
As I have listened to these stories the thing that has really stood out to me is that all of them were ordinary people. They were not people who had their names in the headlines or who had done anything to make them famous – they were simply everyday people who went about their lives quietly and without fuss but along the way shared their love with those they came into contact with.
And I think what has impacted me the most as I have listened to these stories is that it was the small things that they said or did that have left the most lasting impressions. The father I mentioned earlier, a man I had known for over 20 years, had battled cancer for most of that time, eventually succumbing to the disease. And yet, in all the time I knew him he was always, and I mean always, thinking of others, asking after them and their well- being and ready with a word of encouragement when needed. I would ask him how he was and he would smile at me and say, "I am so happy my friend and I will tell you why..." You don't forget people like that and they leave a mark on you...he has left his mark on me.
So what does this have to do with marriage? A good question! The answer is "everything!" When you build a good marriage with your spouse you are attentive to the little things – like laughter and loyalty and love...much, much love. You take care of the "small" kindnesses like putting the other person ahead of yourself and being more interested in them than you are in yourself. In short, if your husband or wife has a "coffee emergency" then you will fill up the thermos and drive across town for them! (I know it's not always easy to demonstrate this kind of love but that should not mean that we stop aiming for the ideal).
And here is the thing – this kind of love and loyalty rubs off on to others. Your kids and grandchildren "get" it and so will your circle of friends.
People who are generous in their love to each other, their family and their friends leave an indelible mark upon us. They gift us with their laughter, encourage us with their loyalty and envelop us with their love – it is a truly hardened soul that is left untouched by such generosity of spirit.
My journey through life has also taught me that these characteristics often show up most in people of faith. I'm not talking about people who simply believe a certain set of teaching or hold to a particular creed. I'm talking about people who really know God and His love for them. And because they know these things they know how to share them with others.
When we really understand the depth of God's love for us it sets us free to love each other generously. We love our husband or wife better. We love our families better and we love other people better. And we make a lasting impact on people.
At the end of the day we are defined by the quality of our relationships. •