The following is the manuscript of what I spoke one year ago today at mom’s funeral service at Lake Worth Baptist Church, her home church. The room was full, and many asked to read the words I had spoken. For various reasons, I decided to wait to release the text for a full year. I appreciate all the kind remembrings of myself and my family during this past year, and cherish our place in so many eternal hearts. As John O’Donohue, the late Irish philosopher, once remarked: prayer acknowledges no distance, but it suffuses it.
My soul melts away in tears of sorrow;
raise me up according to your word.
Mom hated sad endings. Before she would watch a movie she always asked whether it had a happy ending. She didn’t want to waste her time on movies with sad endings. At the end, all had to be set right—all wrongs righted, all sadness overcome in happiness and joy.
After years of prodding, we finally got mom to watch Lord of the Rings with us. She didn’t really care for fantasy and science fiction, though God knows we made her watch a lot of it. But a while after watching and thinking about the movie, she said to me that she had once expected the Christian life to be like a Disney movie, but in reality it was Lord of the Rings. By this she meant that life isn’t all rosy, God does not fix all of our problems, and life is much more fleeting than we’d like to imagine. But just as in Lord of the Rings the risks, pains, and travails are so much greater, the battles so much more real, so the joy at the end is so much sweeter and more powerful than any Disney-made happiness. It’s peace and joy you have to fight for.
She had learned from the Bible that for those who abide in the love of Christ, who are kept there by God’s grace alone, all sad endings are not really endings at all—they are the way station, the antechamber, the hallway before the last door. Her movie choices reflected something true about the Christian life: the real endings are full of joy, no matter the setbacks along the way.
And so today, mom would say that no matter how much this feels like an ending, it cannot be. It is just that we who are left are still on our way. This is what hope is: the expectation of joy. That is what she had in Christ, and what we may have as well.
One other thing about mom. She saw the beauty in everything. Most of my and Michelle’s apartment and most of mom’s house is made up of furniture and knick-knacks mom first found at a yard sale and worked her magic on. Lynda and mom went to probably a million yard sales, and that’s the low ball estimate. Connor and I went to many with her when we were young, and even put on a few.
For mom there was nothing too old, too unwanted, too misshapen that it couldn’t become a piece of art with a little skill and a lot of care. She saw the beauty in things and places, and was an expert in bringing out that hidden beauty.
This was her life, a life of beauty that made everything along the way a little more beautiful because of the inner knowledge and hope of God’s love which she harbored. That was her way: to keep focus on the things of God, not abstract ideas, but the realities of truth, love, and beauty which even death cannot ultimately defeat. After the wars of life are over and the rains of grace are come, flowers rise up from even the darkest trenches. And though the flower of her life has faded, the roots underneath have not been dug up. One day, that flower will bloom again more beautiful than ever before.
By the love of Christ mom has planted many a seed of truth, love, and beauty in the hearts of those here today. Today is a battle, and a lot of water will fall. But like mom said, sad endings are not really endings at all. Those seeds, too, will sprout one day. One day, just like the end of the Lord of the Rings, the true king will sit on the throne and all will be lit in the bright rays of beauty, and we will know one another again as if, as one of mom’s favorite CS Lewis sermons says, all the bad times had been a dream and we were just waking up for the first time.
And so we say goodbye. But we do so in hope. We do so in the love of God and one another. And we do so with a commitment to continue the work of bringing beauty into this world in the name of Christ who first loved us. Goodbye for now, mom. I will carry your lessons with me always.