[My mom was a remarkable woman. The Lord took her home this past Easter Sunday evening. The following is the text of the message I delivered at my mom’s funeral Thursday evening. My wife Debbie read the Scriptures and shared some stories and a letter Mom wrote. I post this in her honor and in her memory.]
There is a statement in Proverbs 3:35 that sums up what I want to say today and what I’d like each of you to remember about my mom: “The wise shall inherit glory.” How do you describe a life so well lived, so honoring to God, as that lived by Mom? That’s what I asked myself as I thought of doing what I am doing today.
When I think of my mom, I think of Proverbs 3. As you’ve heard tonight, Mom loved the Scriptures and she did all she could to instill that same love in her children. I remember, as an elementary-age child, riding to school with Mom and Dad on the Capital Beltway that encircles Washington, D.C. Dad was the principal of the Christian school I attended, and Mom was a teacher. Mom had a small pocket version of the book of Proverbs which she would pull out and have one of the children read during our twenty-minute drive. Proverbs 3 was one of the passages we read regularly and over time I memorized most of it. This was Mom’s way of making the most of our time and helping us hide God’s Word in our hearts.
To me, Proverbs 3 states well Mom’s philosophy of life. Its words are what Mom taught and what she lived out as a pastor’s wife, mother, and teacher. To young moms I would say this: these days, everyone has something to say about how you ought to parent your children. If you take Proverbs 3 to heart and actually put it into practice, my mom would say, “You’ll do just fine.” I’m not saying it guarantees perfect kids. I can vouch for that because I know myself and my siblings well. I am saying, if you follow the wisdom of God’s Word in the grace of God’s enabling power, then you, as a mom, will have done all that God expects of you.
The phrase, “My son,” is repeated numerous times in Proverbs 3. This evening since you’ve all come to celebrate Mom on this occasion, let’s hear “My son,” as speaking to us all, and let’s learn some valuable life lessons from her.
“My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: for length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: so shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:1-6)
Keep a wise mind.
Mom was the one who remembered everyone’s birthday. She would also tell us, on any given day, which one of her ancestors had been born on that particular day. Mom remembered special events in people’s lives. She knew Bible verses, hymns, poems and more, all by heart. Her mind was sharp until just very recently. Occasionally, in recent years as she struggled with pain, Deb would try to sneak a Tylenol into her pills for that day. But she knew exactly how many pills she was supposed to have and what color they were supposed to be, and she would ask what that “other thing” was, and that particular pill had to be removed. Mom always had words of wisdom to share with those around her – whether an aide at Elmcroft, one of her grandchildren, or even a stranger. I remember her telling me how she had witnessed to the attendant in the back of the ambulance on her ride home from a hospital stay. Mom was a wonderful example of the importance of keeping a wise mind.
Proverbs speaks of the importance of cultivating a wise mind. Faithful living requires truthful thinking, and my mom understood that. Wisdom thinks and it thinks well because it thinks according to truth. Foolishness is just the opposite, and since the Scriptures say that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child,” my mom knew she had her work cut out for her with her children. Mom taught us that wise living requires truthful thinking; and, therefore, we must keep and treasure a wise mind.
Wisdom, understanding, knowledge – these were really important to Mom, not in the sense of being the smartest person around with the highest IQ, though Mom was intelligent. The keeping of these words, is pretty much why she despised television. This is also why she wanted to have, what she called, “intelligent conversations” around our table. For Mom, books were superior to TV hands down with no room for debate. Reciting poetry, a line from a classic book or a Shakespearean play, remembering God’s Word – all of these were important to her because they helped to cultivate the mind. And to Mom, once the TV went on, intelligent conversation shut down.
In a culture so confused and shallow in its thinking, where people are so easily satisfied with fleeting stuff, in a culture that is so “unthinking,” Mom teaches us to keep a wise mind.
“My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.” (Prov. 3:11-18)
Keep a soft heart.
Many things about growing old and weak were hard for Mom. Sometimes the pain took a toll on her and the frustration would be evident in her voice and demeanor. Yet so often she would say, just a little bit later, that she shouldn’t have spoken in a certain tone, or shouldn’t have said what she did to that person, because they might not know Jesus and she wanted to be a testimony. It would have been easy for Mom to become a bitter woman as her health declined and the pain increased, which robbed her of many things she once enjoyed. Yet there were always clear glimpses of her soft heart for Jesus and her desire to please Him
Mom was a tender, gracious woman. Sometimes tenderness and graciousness are not equated with strength, but Mom was a tender, gracious woman of conviction and strength. She was not domineering, but a steady, faithful companion to my dad; a helper suitable for him. When I say she had a soft heart, I mean she was not a hardened person, and life afforded Mom many opportunities to become hardened had she chosen to take that course. But she did not.
Proverbs 3 teaches us to keep a soft heart, even in discipline. Mom was a disciplinarian, but she knew how to do so as to model the discipline of the Lord – it is firm but it’s tender. Sometimes discipline is associated with harshness or unkindness. That was never the case when it came to Mom and her kids. Proverbs speaks of the necessity of discipline and says you cannot achieve wisdom without it, whether that discipline comes from the Lord or from your mom. To withhold discipline is to deny wisdom. This description of wisdom helps us understand why we should appreciate and welcome discipline – because of what it does in your life. My mom understood that clearly. So she was never an angry disciplinarian, but a wise and tender one.
I remember one time when my brother got in trouble for getting angry and breaking something that belonged to my older sister. The punishment Mom handed down was that he had to memorize Scripture like, “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls” (Prov. 25:28), and also Proverbs 3. Today, some will think, “What? She used Scripture memorization as a form of punishment? That’s no way to generate love for God’s Word, make memorizing it a punishment!” But you see, Mom understood the difference between punishment and discipline. She was not punishing my brother, she was disciplining him. Ask my brother, ask any of us kids today, and you’ll learn that all of us love God’s Word and we do not view memorization as a bad thing, but as a discipline of a healthy spiritual life. Mom knew what she was doing – hide God’s Word in your heart that you might not sin against him.”
Many who come under the hand of discipline chafe at it and resent it. Mom was gentle and tender. Mom always had a soft, tender heart and her life challenges us to keep a soft heart.
“My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: so shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck. Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.” (Prov. 3:21-24)
Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Mom had a focus to her life until that day she passed: Jesus. The writer of this proverb speaks of not letting wisdom and understanding depart from your eyes. The eyes are what let light in so we can see and perceive. Not letting wisdom and understanding depart from our eyes means to see life this way; to look at situations this way; to deal with people this way; to live your life this way. In other words, it means having a right focus in life.
Of course, Wisdom is ultimately Jesus Christ. To keep your eyes on wisdom and understanding is to keep your eyes on Jesus. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) Jesus speaks wisdom; he lived wisdom. He is wisdom. Focus on him. Trust him. Speak of him. Don’t love the world; love Jesus.
Mom never had much by way of this world’s goods. She always had a mindset of simplicity and little worldly belongings because her upbringing had been so characterized by that, and the years of ministry she had Dad had together were never marked by an abundance of worldly goods. Honestly? She really didn’t want it. She never asked for a thing. The beautiful necklace, the string of pearls, the reset diamond ring she had were not because she ever sought those things, but because Dad insisted, wanting to give his “sweetheart” something special. But according to Proverbs 3, Mom had the greatest treasure anyone could ever hope for, a treasure that surpasses any of the world’s wildest dreams of what “treasure” is: she had Jesus Christ.
Proverbs 3 ends with these assurances: God blesses the habitation of the just; He gives grace to the lowly, and “the wise shall inherit glory. This glory is not self- glory, but the glory of Jesus Christ. I can imagine Mom today: she has left this frail, earthly body behind to await resurrection, and she is wrapped in the robes of the glory of Jesus whom she loved and served and praised and spoke of.
Mom has received the next installment of her inheritance of glory. The first installment came the day she trusted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior, and received forgiveness of her sins and the gift of eternal life. I hope you have done the same. The second instalment of her inheritance of glory came this past Resurrection Sunday, when she passed from this earthly life into the presence of Jesus. Where there is fullness of joy. The final installment of this inheritance of glory is still to come when Mom will gather with her loved ones, and with all the saints around the throne of God and worship the Lamb; when all the former things will have passed away and all things will be made new; when we will behold he glory of God and know joy like we have never known it before. Mom taught us to value that coming day, and not get caught up with this passing world. Thank you, Mom. We will keep our eyes on Jesus.
As you have seen at the display in the foyer, Mom was a keeper of memories, of pictures and of treasures. In going through some of Mom’s things, Deb came across letters she and Dad had written to each other during their college years at Bob Jones. Mom wrote this letter to Dad on January 21, 1952, as they began a time of being separated by distance for a while, before getting married that summer. It seems fitting for the occasion today.
Today begins another correspondence cycle for us…and added work for Uncle Sam. To him goes the credit that our letters are delivered to each other as soon as they are. I was just thinking: how could I ever live during this separation were the delivery of mail as irregular as it was a century ago?
Willard, when you leave tomorrow, you can do so with the assurance that I love you with all my heart and that I will always be true to you. Saying good-bye is going to be hard, and I sigh as I think of it now. No more pleasant hours with you, for many long months. But though you will be far away, you will ever be near to me, for distance shall not part us in spirit. I’ll continue to love you more and more, my dear. This parting is just a prelude of a great drama yet to come…the time will be June, the setting will be a church in New York, the characters will be you and I. Thrilling, isn’t it? It’s wonderful to be in love with you!
Another semester’s work is ended, and then I begin my last at BJU. I’ll be much, much happier living with you than in a BJU dorm. Tell your dad to be sure to eat all those grits up before I come to New York because I don’t want to be served any of them.
Goodbye now, honey. Get rested up from your trip by getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and don’t lose too much weight from running all of those errands for me.
Here’s a goodnight kiss for you —
All my love,