“Keep Loving Jesus”–Celebrating My Mother’s Life

IMG_4322I spoke at my mother’s funeral on June 4. A cousin, who was not able to be with us, requested I send her a copy of my message. I decided to do so by posting the message below. Reading it is not the same as hearing it. You will not hear the inflections of my voice. Those times I had to pause, wipe my eyes, gather my emotion, cannot be recreated here. The extra thoughts which came to my mind and were shared, I do not remember as I write this one week later. The light moments I interjected to help me continue have left my mind. So with all of that, I begin with a description of the celebration of Mom’s life. Then comes my message remembering, honoring, and celebrating my dear mother. I have also included my words at the graveside. If I have not lost you with this introduction please continue reading. In doing so I pray in a small way you are touched by my mother’s faith and life. In doing so you help me to once again honor my mother.

Leslie, a dear friend of Mom’s and Dad’s, played hymn selections on the organ. She concluded with two hymns requested by Mom, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Trust and Obey.” Twelve year old Beth and her father Dan, both of whom dearly love Mom, played a medley of hymns as a violin duet—“Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” “In the Sweet By and By,” and “In The Garden.” Hannah and Jessie, two young ladies who were special to Mom, played a piano duet of a beautiful rendition of “Jesus Loves Me.” Tim Gibson, pastor of Ebenezer Bible Fellowship Church, read the obituary and made sweet and moving comments about Mom. After his prayer it was my turn to remember and honor IMG_4184Mom. The pulpit is the old pulpit from the original Ebenezer church building on Main Street in Bethlehem. Dad refinished it. I made my way to the pulpit. Placed my Bible and notes on it. Gathering together my emotion, I looked at the surface of the pulpit where Dad’s hands skillfully and lovingly sanded and refinished the wood. I felt that wood with my hands, as if touching Dad’s hands. I took a deep breath. I began.

If there is a funeral where people gather without cause for grief for the loved one now gone home it is certainly Mom’s funeral, the funeral of Gigi, of Grandmother, of Dora Grace. Mom often said concerning her death, “Do not be sad. Be thankful.” Yes, thankful, thankful for the long life, the 101 years with which Mom was blessed by God. Thankful she is now with her Lord. Thankful she is reunited with her Honey. Thankful for the life she lived with such love for Dad, for her family, and for everyone she knew. Thankful for the life she lived with such love for and faith in her Lord Jesus Christ. We grieve our loss of her physical presence. We experience the pain of a new beginning, of life without Mom, life without Gigi, life without Dora. We do not grieve for Mom. We rejoice in her life. We rejoice in her hope in Jesus Christ. We celebrate her life.

One hundred and one years of life, so many stories, so many memories. Married 68 years to her sweetheart Karl.

SCAN0056_4In 1943, I do not know the day or month, Mom had to leave her husband behind at Ft. Bragg, NC. This was before interstate highways. Mom drove straight through to Thurmont, MD, with 4 year old Garland, 5 month old Kristie, and a puppy less than eight weeks old, named Bragg. When Mom stopped to feed Kristie, she also fed Bragg with an eyedropper. That night, arriving at the home of her parents, she stopped the car. She was exhausted. She sat in the car and cried. A war time wife and mother deserving honor for her service at home.

Mom’s obituary mentions her working as a switchboard operator, like Sarah in Mayberry. Also mentioned is the job she enjoyed the most, working at Muhlenberg Hospital. Between these, like so many mothers when I was a boy, Mom worked in sewing factories. First at Laros bookbinding in back of our house at Ninth and Linden Streets. Then at Laros on Broad Street in Bethlehem, and at the factory located at Fifth and Walnut in Miller Heights. I remember sitting at her feet in the latter two factories at least twice. Once at Laros when I had been sick and not quite ready to return to school. Once at Fifth and Walnut on a day I detoured from walking to school. Mom allowed me to stay with her.

Memories! Memories of her crumb pies at reunion time; nut roll at Christmas; Saturday morning perms in the kitchen; hanging out clothes, even in foot deep snow; picnics in our yard.

There is the memory of Mom’s concern that Marcia and I were rushing into marriage. On our wedding day Marcia was putting on her dress, upstairs in the minister’s home. The ceremony was to take place in the living room. Mom was helping Marcia, pinning a bow on Marcia’s dress. Mom tried to talk Marcia out of our getting married that day! In a phone conversation with Mom, (12/19/2014), I told her of a wedding I was going to be officiating in an old Southern mansion. She responded, “Your wedding was simple and beautiful. It was just as meaningful as a big wedding.”

The week after Dad’s funeral I took Mom to Boscov’s. She wanted to buy a new recliner. Three things you need to know. First, Mom and Dad were of a generation where the wife simply did whatever the husband wanted. Second, Dad was very frugal with their money. Which benefited them. Third, some years previous they bought two recliners. Dad insisted they buy the cheaper, less comfortable recliners. As Mom looked at the various recliners she found a very comfortable one. This was the recliner she wanted. The cost, however, was more than Dad would want her to spend. Mom stood there, in the store, in front of that comfortable, more expensive recliner. She looked up to heaven. She said, “Sorry dear, but I am buying this chair.”

Garland, Kristie, and I were blessed to grow-up with parents who loved their Lord, who loved each other, and who demonstrated that love before us. All of Mom’s family and friends were blessed by Mom. We were blessed by the love she unselfishly gave us. We were blessed by her faith she so desperately wanted us all to share.

Psalm 91 was Mom’s favorite psalm, expressing Mom’s faith and hope. Nine years ago, at a time we thought Mom was near death, she requested this Psalm be read at her funeral. Psalm 91 is the basis of my remaining thoughts.

Psalm 91:1-2 1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most high will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Mom’s life was rooted in her faith, her trust, in God through Jesus Christ. Whatever our relationship with Mom, we witnessed her faith in Jesus Christ through her love for us and her behavior toward us.

Mom’s faith was heard in her prayers for her family, by name, her children, children-in-law, grandchildren, grandchildren-in-law, greats, great-great; prayers for extended family, and for friends. Central to her prayers, as the prayers she and Dad prayed together, was for each of us to come to faith in God through Jesus Christ. When Marcia and I were with Mom this past October and November, she often stated her fervent desire for all of us to place faith in Jesus Christ, and to so live our lives.

I remember a particular Sunday afternoon, November 1. Cheryl came to visit. She brought her children, Beth and Andrew. At that time Mom was very sick. We thought then that she was nearing the end. Mom was so weak, yet sitting in her chair. Eleven year old Beth was sitting close to Mom, speaking to Mom, to Gigi. For one so young, she was so compassionate and loving with Mom. With a voice so weak, yet so filled with love and faith, Mom, Gigi, said to Beth, “Keep loving Jesus because he loves you so much.”

Her faith was witnessed and experienced in her love for us all, expressed by her accepting and gracious spirit. If Mom ever spoke to me about any of you gathered here, she assured me you are just the sweetest person there is. There is much sweetness in this room this morning. Whatever paths our lives have taken, whether she agreed or not, especially as relates to faith in Christ, Mom’s love, acceptance, and grace, toward us, remained firm.

The faith Mom possessed was expressed in her giving herself in so many unselfish ways to the people of Ebenezer. So many of you experienced the smiles of Mom and Dad, and Dad’s hugs, when you walked through the doors of Ebenezer for the first time. You have told us you became members here because of them. There were visits, pies, cards, and calls. Mom so enjoyed worshiping with her church family. She came until her body was too weak.

Fred Craddock illustrates what it means to give your life to Christ, as Jesus challenges us to daily take up the cross and die to self to follow Him (cited in Leadership [Fall 1984] 47). “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’ But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there…. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time.”

Even as death drew near Mom put out 25 cents here and 50 cents there with words of appreciation and kindness, with questions asking how different ones of you are doing. That is how Mom lived her faith, how she lived her life surrendered to Christ, with little acts of love freely given.

Psalm 91:3-13 3Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. 5You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. 7A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 8If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge—10then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

In Scripture there is a paradox of faith. The psalmist’s song in Psalm 91 expresses the experience of faith as one of God answering prayers as hoped, protecting the believer from hardships, giving refuge, and rescuing. Psalm 88 expresses an opposite experience of faith. The experience of the psalmist is heard in Psalm 88:3. “For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.” There are times when God does not answer prayers as hoped. Hardships are endured. There is no rescue.

During her life Mom experienced this paradox. How did she respond? When all was well in life, she trusted it was so by the grace of God. When life was dark, and Mom had some dark times. I think of one time in her life in particular when the darkness was so black. Mom trusted God, convinced his love had not forsaken her.

Psalm 91 was Mom’s song when the sun was shining brightly and when the night was the darkest black. For by her faith in God through Jesus Christ she lived with the confidence, comfort, and peace, that no matter what happens now, the hope of resurrection, the hope of eternal life, life as God intended life to be, will be hers in the new heavens and the new earth.

Mom’s relationship with God through Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit is expressed by the words of the psalmist. I read the final verses injecting Mom into the text.

Psalm 91:14-16 14”Because [Gigi] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue [her]; I will protect [her], for [she] acknowledges my name. 15[She] will call upon me, and I will answer [her]; I will be with [her] in trouble, I will deliver [her] and honor [her]. 16With long life will I satisfy [her] and show [her] my salvation.”

God honored and blessed Mom with long life. Most importantly, God blessed her with salvation in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the rock, the firm foundation of her life. No harm befell her faith, her salvation, and her hope in Christ. Her faith, hope, and love in Christ endured, she did not strike her foot against a stone and succumb. The Lord in his faithfulness sustained and protected Mom’s salvation, faith, hope, and love.

Before I close, I want to say something about Mom’s children and children-in-law. Garland and Linda came on Sundays, brought Mom to worship, and most Sundays mowed the grass. I and Marcia, living in Mississippi, could come to visit riding on our white horses, playing the part of the hero. This is what I am doing today. Kristie, she was in the trenches, every day. It is because of her Mom was able to stay in her home until last August. Harvey, he drove Miss Daisy to appointments, did house repairs, and encouraged Kristie.

Faith in God through Christ, a life surrendered to Him, lived for Him, this is the life Mom strove to live. This is her legacy given to us. This is the faith and life she longed for, she longs for, us to have. Mom, we do not grieve for you, rather we give thanks. We rejoice, We celebrate your life, your faith, and your hope in Jesus Christ.

Mom, I did not close this celebration of your life with your words to Beth. I wish I had. So to all who are reading this Mom encourages us all. “Keep loving Jesus because he loves you so much.”

After my words and a prayer, our son Paul led the congregation in singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Trusting in God’s faithfulness Mom lived her life.

Cemetery

We come here in love to lay the Mom’s to rest, next to that of her dear Honey. Here they lie next to each other. In spirit they are even now with Christ, waiting. Waiting for the day of resurrection when Christ comes, the day when all of Creation will rejoice at the redemption of the children of God. That day “when the body that God has waiting in his heavenly storeroom is brought out, already made to measure, and put on over the present [body]—or over the self that will still exist after bodily death” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope [New York: HarperCollins, 2008], 148).

As described in the old hymn by Thomas á Kempis (“Light’s Abode, Celestial Salem”) (as cited in Wright).

“O how glorious and resplendent
Fragile body, shalt thou be,
When endued with so much beauty,
Full of health, and strong, and free!
Full of vigour, full of pleasure,
Thou shall last eternally.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

And so we encourage each other today in this hope that is both Mom’s and Dad’s.

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This entry was posted in Faith, Family, Grace, Grief and Faith, Hope, Psalms, Resurrection, Suffering and Faith and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “Keep Loving Jesus”–Celebrating My Mother’s Life

  1. Helen Wills says:

    Beautiful, David. Thank you for sharing this message. You have captured your mom so well. She was such a loving and caring women. She will be missed. In love I send this to you and the family. Helen

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