Recently I had the opportunity to speak at my mom’s memorial service. I always knew she was a special lady, but as I continue to reflect on her life (well lived), I feel like I learn more about my mom and who she was and how amazing she was. Here are the words I wrote for the service if you are interested.
My mom…how do I sum up all that my mom was in such a short moment with you today? In sitting down to write this, I realized that my mom’s life didn’t just begin when she became my mom. There was so much more to her than even I ever knew. She was somebody’s best friend, someone’s daughter, someone’s companion, someone’s wife, someone’s inspiration. She was someone that came from a background that most people would use as an excuse to become bitter and shake their fists toward God.
From her first moments in this world, she was a part of a crazy life. Her birth mother didn’t even remember her birth and her father abandoned them. At just a few days old, she ended up in her maternal grandmother’s care and never saw her birth parents again. Mom was shuffled around several times in her young life and at not quite 2 years old she found herself in the home of a young couple that wasn’t able to have children. Her preschool years were happy, but as she got older she became more aware of her foster parents’ marriage troubles because of her alcoholic father.
One day she was invited by a couple across the street to start attending Sunday School. She loved going there because that is where she learned about Jesus. In her own words from her book she said, “I had found yet another home. This one filled with Christian love. It was a place where I felt special, spent many stress-free hours and learned by example what Christian families were all about. Regardless of what I faced back home, I knew when I ever had a family of my own someday, it would be one that Jesus was the center of.”
Wow, my mom was one of those special people. She was dealt so many hardships in her life, yet she chose a different path than many to overcome it. She chose Jesus and to live her life as close as she could to His teachings and how He would want her to live and serve others.
While I can’t speak to her life growing up and her young adult years, I do know what I saw and learned from my mom while I was growing up. Like most children, I used to get frustrated at my mom when she would discipline and fuss at me and my sisters. Afterall we were just trying to have fun, right? She always seemed to know when we were up to no good. And if she was fussing at one of us girls, the other two knew we better make sure we had our ducks in a row, our rooms cleaned, and stay out of sight. If not, we would hear something like, “And you…why is your room a mess? Didn’t I tell you to clean that up? You better shape it up.” Over the years we each mastered our own way of staying under the radar. As my sisters and I reminisced, we remembered some key quotes we would hear often:
“Don’t make me get the wooden spoon” (although we were terrified of this spoon, she never did more with it than slap the palm of her hand).
“Those church ladies should see you three now. Boy would they be surprised to see how you are acting.”
She was always busy: cleaning, cooking, and doing chores, yet she always knew where we were and what we were doing. She was pretty incredible. Now that I’m raising my own daughter, I’m realizing how hard that can be some days to juggle. I remember one day in junior high when I just wanted to stay after school and play the clarinet with one of my friends outside the school. I must have told my mom some kind of story about what I was doing but, seeing as the school was literally across the street from my house, my mom figured it out. To this day, I don’t know how she knew exactly but the next thing I knew, Dad was pulling up next to me with a look. He told me to get in the car and that mom was not happy.
There are so many memories I could share, and most are happy and hilarious. I share these though because, in my adult years, I realized my mom was exactly who she needed to be for me and my sisters to grow up to be the adults we are today. She knew that discipline was a key part to parenting and that, being just our friend instead of a parent growing up would not have served us well later in life. Don’t get me wrong, she was still our friend, but what she did by doing the hard work and instilling in us good manners and respect, did so much more for us. It’s actually because of this that all three of us daughters became such great friends with mom in our adult years.
One of the biggest things my mom did for me personally was tell me about Jesus. She was the director of the children’s program at our church growing up and she always had a little message before the kids would scatter to their Sunday School rooms. One day, she had a big picture of Jesus standing outside of a door. The door didn’t have a doorknob on it, and she explained that the door was like our hearts. That Jesus wanted to come into our hearts but that He could only come in if we chose to let Him in, from the inside. That message hit me differently than all the messages before, and I believe it was because of all the messages she had given before. That day I asked Jesus to come into my heart. That day my mom saved my life. Not only by her teachings, but also her example. I will forever be grateful for the neighbor that brought her to Sunday School all those years ago.
Mom loved people. It didn’t matter if she knew them or not. She loved being with them and supporting and encouraging them. I know she was my biggest fan. She prayed for me every day. We talked on the phone every day we didn’t see each other and sometimes both. She never let anything distract her from our conversations. Poor Dad, he always had to wait while mom spent what must have been hours a day talking to one of us girls. She paid attention to our needs and wants and loved to surprise us when she could with a special and thoughtful gift. She was our prayer warrior. If she was invited out with one of us, she made sure she didn’t miss it for the world. She always had a smile on her face.
In her last 6 months I was able to spend more time than usual with mom. When she received the surprising diagnosis of an aggressive lymphoma, we knew there would be many doctor visits and treatments coming our way. It was in this time that I learned so much from Mom. She was going through this incredibly scary cancer fight, yet it seemed everyone she encountered she would encourage, whether it be the person behind the counter, the technician drawing her blood, her nurses, her doctor. She always told them she was thankful for them and that they mattered. I remember during one of her ER visits she was in some pretty intense pain and the nurse walked in to check on her and she grabbed her hand and said “Sweetheart what is your name? I ask because at night when I’m saying my nightly prayers, I always want to give thanks for people by name that have helped me.” Another time, a home health nurse came by. It was the first and only time mom ever met her, but before she left, Mom wrote her a note and told her she was thankful for her and that she mattered. All the nurses in the oncology office knew her name. Mom was always shocked they remembered her, but I wasn’t. She made quite an impression on everyone she met. Even when the time came that her oncologist had to give her the news that she could no longer pursue treatments, she listened and then didn’t miss a beat and encouraged the doctor and thanked her for taking the best care of her that she could. She never complained. She always pushed through and remained positive. See, mom always said that she would hear people blaming God and asking, “Why me?” when things went wrong in life. Instead, she always thought, “Why not me?” And maybe when bad things happened there was a lesson to be learned or an opportunity to witness her faith by how she handled adversity. She wrote notes, sent texts, made phone calls, sent cards. Her mind and heart were always thinking of others.
I know that if you are here or watching right now that none of what I said is a surprise to you. I’m sure you have your own examples of Mom’s love for you.
I would like to take just a minute now to share with you about Mom’s last day with us. Looking back now, I smile because it was as if Jesus was with her and asked her how she would like her last moments to be and then made it so. She had been unconscious for two days. Her breathing was labored, and we knew her time was near. Dad stayed steady by her side. Erin, Kelly, and I were floating around doing all sorts of things around the house. It was in the afternoon a little after 3 p.m. and Kelly noticed my mom’s eyes had opened. Her eyes hadn’t been open in two days. We gathered around her bed and soon Walker and Justin joined us in the room as well. We were all there. We thought her eyes were open involuntarily because she was just staring off. Something told me to play one of Mom’s favorite songs “Forever Reign” on my phone. We all took turns talking to her and telling her we loved her. Then, my dad started to cry and as if in slow motion, my mom slowly moved her eyes toward him and paused for a moment and then she slowly moved her eyes around the room, stopping for a moment on each of us. Then she took her last breath. We cried and we did our best to cheer her on to run into Jesus’ arms. It was such a beautiful moment and Mom was telling us her last goodbye.
During some of her final conscious moments with us, she would catch her breath and ask us, do you know how much Jesus loved you that He suffered more than this on a cross for you? Her mind and heart were set on higher things. On the right things. It is my hope that I will continue where she left off. To always tell people they matter, even if I don’t know them. To always look to Jesus and trust in Him. I hope that you will too.
She was an amazing woman. The best example of showing others God’s love no matter what the circumstance. Well done Mom! Well done.
I want to leave you with one last thing…more of Mom’s own words. “From the beginning of my life the Lord has been watching over me and providing many blessings. I have always been so thankful and so happy that I could be of help to others. There are so many blessings big and small, to give thanks for every day. Just as I found things to praise and thank the Lord for in the midst of my upsetting physical conditions, I pray that more folks can find things to be thankful for instead of complaining. Keeping the faith brings many blessings.”