I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that my mother had more than a few strong opinions. You name the topic; she would tell you what she thought about it.
One thing she was emphatic about, in fact, she even threatened Jay and Devyn that she would come back and haunt them—and not in a good way—was if they allowed a mic to be passed around and let folks “blubber on and on about her at her funeral”—her words.
The second item she felt strongly about is that there would be NO video picture collage with background music.
Well, as of November 4, 2021, I am no longer afraid of my mother, and I will do what I want to do at her memorial service. If she comes back to haunt Jay and Devyn, I just don’t care that much.
I am going to show a slide show right now. It is a slide show of all the pictures ever taken of her when she smiled for the camera.
(There were no pictures to be found of my mother smiling for the camera)
To my sisters Robbie and Marti, thanks for coming to mom’s home while she was very sick to care for her. You were such a gift to mom in the way you took care of her and selflessly served her. You both helped her and Jay and Debbie in great ways.
And to my brother, Jay, and his wife, Debbie, there are no words to describe the love I have in my heart for you because of the way you cared for our mom over the decades and especially in the last 6 months. The night mom died, all of Jay’s family were in the room. Holding her. Squeezing her hand. Singing every song they knew, as she passed into the next part of her sacred journey to be with Jesus.
Thank you, brother.
I’ve loved Earlene Chambers longer than anyone here today. I am also the child that caused her the most stress in her life. I was the ferial child. My coming into this world overwhelmed her. We were both children when I was born. She was nineteen. Her sleepless nights began because I was born. They continued when I was a teenager as I blew through every curfew she laid down.
One night I was sneaking out for a night of drunken stupidness, and as I slinked past her bedroom, I overheard her praying for me. I turned around and went back to my room and fell asleep.
I hurt her heart again in the middle part of my life due to some very selfish choices.
Even in the end, just a few days ago, she told my brother, “Jay, you and Lynette need to keep an eye on Joe, or he might go off the rails.” I’m not certain what she was referring to, but I haven’t seen a rail in years.
Given that often stressful relationship, I am somewhat surprised I am honored to be invited to write her eulogy. She, in essence, gave me the last word.
Lessons I Learned from My Mother
Lesson Number One: There is no tomorrow, only today.
If you think there is always tomorrow, you are fooling yourself. You can’t guarantee your own next breath, much less anyone else’s. You have today. That is all you have. You have something to say? Say it. You have something to do? Do it. You have someplace to go? Go. You have a song to sing? Sing it. You have a book to write? Write it. You have a nail to hammer? Pound it. Don’t wait.
Lesson Number Two: The person sitting in front of you at any given moment deserves your undivided attention.
It’s about them, not you. I’ve sat with countless people whose frame of reference was all about them. What they were doing. What God was doing through them and what was happening in their world. But when you are with another image-bearer, you are sitting with someone of immense value to the God who created them.
My mother was interested in the person sitting in front of her. What made her death so much of a struggle for her was that every moment was now about her. She didn’t like that. My mother valued what was happening in your life. She learned that from Jesus.
To not be interested in the person sitting in front of you is an afront to the God who impressed them with his image. So, put your damn phone down when you are with people. There is nothing on that phone more important than the image-bearer sitting in front of you.
Lesson Number Three: Leave this world better than you found it.
My mother wanted to live a significant life. She wanted to leave her mark. A mark for good and grace.
She had a fierce sense of justice. It was deep. Something was right or something was wrong. I tried to live in the gray areas when I was a teenager, and I have the scars to prove that was not going to be tolerated by our mother.
She felt that a person who got themselves into trouble needed to do their part to get out of the trouble.
What we all noticed as she grew older, however, was that intense sense of justice was tempered with growing compassion. Compassion none of us experienced when we were kids.
Earlier in her life, if she saw a person asking for a handout at an intersection she might mutter, “With all the signs for “Help Wanted” we see why doesn’t that person just go get a job?”
But with cancer raging in her body just a few weeks ago, she asked her granddaughter to take her to the store so she could get the stuff for a “Blessing Bag” so folks from church could hand them out to those in need. She would lean against the cart and point to the items she wanted to put in the blessing bag to hand out to the homeless. She loved serving the world.
I remember her saying one time that if eternal life was one’s personal influence living on through their children, then she would be fine with that—that would be legacy enough. Mom was instrumental in leading five preachers to faith in Jesus: my dad, me, my brother, my sister, and Jay’s daughter, Devyn. And, of course, our youngest sister Marti, a schoolteacher, came to faith in Jesus due to her influence. And probably her grandchildren and countless friends would say that they are a follower of Jesus because of our mother.
There are a lot of people in heaven greeting my mother because she lived her life well and shared the gospel in word and deed.
Lesson Number Four: Gratitude in the face of death is one of the clearest evidences of a maturing relationship with Jesus.
Many who have given up on our faith will point to the problem of pain and suffering in the world. Of man’s inhumanity to man. Of hurricanes and tornados and other natural disasters killing people. How do we account for Christians behaving badly? What about the way the church has harmed humanity? They will ask, “How do we account for the problem of evil and suffering in the world?”
There is the problem of evil. It’s a very real problem. But there is also the problem of good.
What do you do with the feeling in your soul when you stand with your feet in the water at the ocean’s edge? What do you do with the feeling when you stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon? What do you do with the feeling in your soul when you see the towering Redwoods?
What do we do with the feeling we have well up in our hearts when we listen to Aretha Franklin sing Amazing Grace, or stand before a Van Goh, or finish reading a poem by William Stafford?
What do you do with that feeling when you hold in your arms your first or last child or, better yet, your first or last grandchild and feel them grasp your finger with their chubby little dimpled hand and listen to their soft squeals?
If you are struggling with faith, my suggestion is for you to reflect on why you feel gratitude for the transcendent beauty you see in the world.
G.K. Chesterton reminds us, The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.
Growing up, my mom had a question that she always asked us after someone gave us something or did us a favor — “what do you say?” How were we supposed to respond?
What do you say to Aunt Broma Lou for her Velveeta Cheese, Spam, and lima bean casserole?
When Mom asked that, she wasn’t really asking a question. She was telling us to say the appropriate thing. She would have been surprised if we would have said, “Aunt Broma Lou, what in the name of heaven were you thinking? Aunt Broma Lou you should not be allowed to prepare meals, someone should put you away.”
No. That is not the proper response. “Thank You,” is the proper response.
Mom would have also been surprised if we would have said, “Aunt Broma Lou, I have a sense of awe and wonder at what I have just experienced. I’m a child. Without an adult providing for me as you have done, I would die, and yet you have done it freely as an act of love and service for me. Aunt Broma Lou, you are a humanitarian, and in the name of children everywhere, I salute you.”
My mother would have been equally shocked by that response. But parents know that even if a child doesn’t feel gratitude yet, we want them to learn to offer thanks.
Gratitude is really simple. What do you say?
I share this because Jay has told me that the salient truth about my mother’s last days, hours, and minutes was the fact that she said over and over again to everyone who did even the slightest act of service for her was, “Thank You.”
Just before she slipped from this life to the next, she looked at her daughter-in-law, Debbie, my brother, Jay, all her grandchildren in the room that had spent hours singing all of her favorite songs and mouthed to each of them, “I love you.”
You could sum up my mother’s significance with this statement: Love God, Love others, serve the world.
As most of you know, all my siblings got all the artistic talent in our family. They can all sing, play an instrument, paint, and my brother is a published poet. I never had any of those artistic expressions growing up and it cause more than a little family drama on my part. But, my mom always said I had a face for radio; so I became a preacher.
That being said, when I was just coming out of my teenage angst, I had ambitions of becoming a writer. I tried to write some short stories. I even dabbled in a little poetry. My brother is a poet, so it is a little odd that I would even try to write poetry at all. Much less read it for you today.
But at the ripe old age of nineteen, I wrote a poem for my mom. I’ll end with it.
What do you say?
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