I was honored to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of my grandmother, Ruth Strickland, this weekend. I have had the supreme honor of delivering the eulogy for three of my grandparents, all in the past six years. She met Jesus on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, when she was ninety-one years old.
This eulogy was different, though. I was only one of fifty-nine grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. Fifty-nine. My experience with her was but one among fifty-eight other experiences.
Yet God wrote powerful words through the tips of my fingers. I hope that by sharing them here, you can get a glimpse of a very special lady who had such a profound influence on the lives of so very many.
And may you be inspired to life a life as inspiring as hers.
She had stories. They seemed to reinvigorate us. They seemed to let us walk back in time, and to hold, once again, the dreams of our childhood. Those times go by so, so quickly. But being with her took us back to those times, to those stories, and we felt, once again, that we could dream a little bit, and laugh a little bit.
We were all just kids under her feet, at one time or another, in one decade or another. We all spent hot days running through Jacksonport. And though we all hold to our own unique time with her, it’s only fitting to see her as a diamond. It did not matter which side of her you saw, she always sparkled.
And now that we are older, with responsibilities and families and years, each moment we spent with her reminded us of times when life was simpler, when life was the horizon waiting to be explored.
Now, we are exploring that horizon. Yet when we were with her, she always reminded us that we were as young as we believed we were.
Even in her later years, she crawled and sat on the floor, just like a kid.
She smiled. And she laughed with a slight giggle after almost every sentence.
She forged that identity as a mother of seven children, raising them with little money, and, probably, little patience. The test of motherhood under those circumstances prepared her to welcome grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and even great-great grandchildren into the world. Those years forged in her an endurance that only mothers can really learn. They prepared her for joy, for disappointment, for anger, for love, and that endurance reminds us all, now, that life is not bound in the years of our circumstance, but in the circumstances of our years. Life is real. Raw, even. But always survivable.
We took our first daughter, Isabella, to Newport, soon after she was born. I, as a father, was very nervous, and realized, like most young fathers, that no one was capable of caring for a child as well as her parents.
Yet she came to see us, and her newest grand-baby, and demanded — demanded — to hold her. At that moment, I was afraid of handing my small infant to a woman I felt was too old to handle such a rebellious six-week old. Yet she held her, and I stood close, waiting for Isabella to fall from her hands.
And then, to my horror, she turned over this tiny six-week old in her hands, to kiss the back of her neck.
I almost fainted.
When I rescued Isabella from her arms, and walked to the other side of the room, I heard her say as I walked away, “Why, he’s acting like I’ve never had any kids! Doesn’t he know I had seven?”
Raising seven children, I’m sure, would teach you quite a bit. More than anything, it would undoubtedly teach you how to deal with rowdy boys. She learned it well.
I remember a story she told of Boyd, her first son, when he was a little thing running through the house, and through the streets, notorious for causing trouble. She finally caught up to him, while he ran through the house, and she said, “Boyd, you’re gonna need to change your underwear!”
On his way out of the door, he said, “But Momma, nobody can see them!”
That was when she smartly said, “They may not be able to see them, but they sure can smell them!”
She told a story once of Phillip, her third son, after he returned from the war in Vietnam. She told me that he grew his hair long, obviously a clear rebellion from the crew cuts he got in the Army.
She laughed when she told me his hair grew so long, that his brothers and sisters quit calling him Phillip, and started calling him “Phyllis.” And then she giggled.
And every time she told me of when my dad, Stanley, her second son and my father, swallowed gasoline, and she had no quick way to the doctor, she just laughed. Every time.
Those three sons, Stanley, Boyd, and Phillip, passed from this life at varying points in the past twenty-five years. She endured the heartache of watching three sons die before her.
Yet, she built a house set for endurance.
Just last year, when she was at the home of her daughter, Retha, my family had the opportunity to visit her. She told us of how her family members would come to her with needs of money — even when they knew she had very little … and even when she knew that any amount she gave would seriously limit how she would pay her own bills.
In spite of all of those reasons, though, she gave them money – gave you money – because, as she told Eran, a mother can’t turn down the needs of others, even when she doubts those very needs.
There is no adequate way to deliver a eulogy that completely expresses the sentiments of a family so large. But there is a way to discover, again, the legacy of a single woman who raised good children in the face of an extremely difficult marriage with very little money. And though she watched how life took its toll on all seven of you, she also saw seven hearts that, deep down, would always come back to their momma.
There is a prophet, in the Old Testament of the bible, who spoke with the authority of God. He wrote that people should carefully consider their ways.
That is such a profound statement.
This prophet continued to write about God’s people of favor experiencing such difficult situations – the loss of children, the loss of income, the loss of family, the loss of peace. And despite their own ways to reconcile those losses, this old prophet warned them that, in spite of their lives and their attempts at success, they were neglecting what was most important – they had forgotten to honor God.
Specifically, they had neglected to build the temple, the very house of God.
I must ask us all, in the midst of our grief, to carefully consider our ways. The deep longing and sadness in our hearts can only be absolved by the peace of God.
No anger, no addiction, and no determined attitude can ever rid us of such a cutting loss.
We must also carefully consider our ways. We must also build a house of endurance – a house that first honors God.
A decision of that magnitude may lead us to make drastic changes. It may lead us down uncomfortable paths.
But if we want to be a person that laughs with every problem, that draws our own children and our family back to our hearts, that blesses and gives in spite of our own hurts, then we must first build a house that honors God before all things.
There is a peace, a mystery, of walking with God. It can’t be explained. It can’t be placed in a eulogy. It can’t be found in our successes. It can’t be found in our failures. But it can be explained like this:
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12)
God is a consuming fire.
He is the only energy that can fill our emptiness.
He is the joy in the journey.
He is the laughter in life.
He is the warm fire we run to in the aftermath of our failures.
He is the only home for our broken hearts.
He is the image that created our imaginations.
He is the peace in midst our pressures.
He is the stability in our sadness.
He breathed the stars.
He formed our hearts.
His majesty is full of mercy.
He is the One, and He is the Only.
And he gave us a universe that cannot be measured, and he cared enough for us to fill our lives with this sweet, sweet lady, who could only speak with laughter.