Yesterday we celebrated the life of my sweet mother-in-love who has endured the cruelty of dementia for years. Confined to bed for the most recent two years and unable to speak, Sarah was precious to and loved by many. For the past three weeks we knew the end was near, and though our family is deeply grieved, we can praise God she is now whole and healed and delighting in His presence.
Together with my brother-in-law and niece, I had the honor of speaking during her service. It is sacred and holy ground to step into that space, and I considered it not only a privilege to pay tribute to her life, but also the opportunity to introduce her to those who didn’t actually know her, who were there to love and support me and my family. Like I did for my father years ago, I’m sharing the words I prepared in her honor below, though I didn’t exactly stay on track this time (smile). Sometimes the Spirit will inspire you in the middle of a thing.
We mourn with hope because we know Hope. Treasured memories offer great comfort, as do all the beautiful cards and messages we’ve received via snail mail, text, and online. I keep going back and re-reading everything.
Death isn’t exactly convenient, and I cannot adequately convey what it meant to me and Tad (and truly, all of our family), to look up with surprise to see face after face of friends we didn’t expect but showed up for us. Rock Hill friends (even those who don’t live there anymore), you stunned us…what a grace to celebrate over 30 years of friendship. From life best friends and college roomies to newer best girls, Jesus-with-skin-on was present. Thank you.
As long-time readers already know, Sarah has inspired my writing through the years. I’m sharing a few of my favorite pieces, and my remarks from the service are right below.
The reason I’m so eager to share a few thoughts of my own is to have the privilege of introducing her to those of you who don’t yet know her, who are here because you’re a special friend of someone in our family. They already know what I’m going to tell you.
- Sarah was a woman of the Word and she loved her God. In fact, her name actually means
“princess” in Hebrew, which makes perfect sense because she’s the spiritual daughter of a King. From all outside appearances, she lived according to scripture. One of the ways she was most like Jesus is she was a selfless servant. She served her husband, she served her family, she served her friends, and she served the body of Christ to the best of her ability and according to their need.
- Sarah was a teacher, not as an academic but as a role model for life.
- For me, she modeled hospitality in a way that demonstrated a genuine love for others rather than drawing attention to herself. If you ever have had the pleasure of being a guest in her home, some how she would have made sure you left feeling better about yourself, than being impressed with her. She taught me how to cook some of my favorite recipes, good ol’ southern cooking that has brought us comfort now.
- One of my favorite things she taught me was not to wait to use my nice things for a special occasion, but to make every occasion special by using my nice things. If it weren’t for her, my fine china and silver might be squirreled away in a box. I would much rather have a plate get broken because it had served someone something yummy than from getting tripped over in the attic.
- Sarah taught me to value tradition in the ways she celebrated them. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter were always special around the farm, but our Valentine Tea was my favorite. It was a true celebration of the women in our family, three generations coming together, just to be together.
- Sarah also taught me how to be a good mother-in-law. She always resisted the temptation to get in our business once Tad and I were married, and she never offered advice unless we first asked for it. Even then, sometimes she was reluctant to share her thoughts. She gave space for me and Tad to grow together, but also always made me feel welcome and like a part of the family. She celebrated every joy with us and mourned our sorrows. And she loved and helped with our children as often as she could. Maybe my only complaint about Sarah, and it’s equally shared for Tommy, is when they returned home after a visit, it took me about three days to UNspoil them, a small price to pay in order for me and Tad to have a little time to ourselves.
- We know in scripture that God is a gift-giver. And like her God, Sarah was an incredible gift giver.
- James 1:17 – Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
- Ephesians 1:3 – Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ.
It wasn’t that she gave the most expensive gifts in the world, but no doubt they came with the most extravagant thought and intention. I don’t think she every gave a gift without first truly considering whether or not the recipient would not just appreciate but want it. At times, I suspect that Sarah gave sacrificially, going without things herself so that others might have more.
Maybe it will sound odd, but I still see how Sarah has given to us throughout the last two years when she’s been confined to her bed, with sweet Tommy as her 24/7 caregiver. Her infirmity has drawn people to their home, and if you’ve ever come in their back door, you know you’re going to be ministered to some how, some way. You will have borne witness to how true love can even transcend the ability to even speak. In these last few weeks, we’ve been thumbing through the pages of one of Sarah’s bibles, and in it, we’ve had a glimpse into her heart as we’ve seen special verses highlighted and read the notes in her pages. Though she hasn’t been able to speak for two years, we’ve had the privilege of hearing her heart.
In Proverbs 31 in her bible, it’s underlined and starred and checked in places, but Sarah also wrote out a prayer: “Father – I pray that one day my children Tad, Craig, Philip, Michael will rise up and call me blessed. Today is that day.
Sarah’s life…and death… have pointed to Jesus. Tommy, the way you have loved and served Sarah throughout her illness, has done nothing but point us to Jesus. As much as you love her…as much as she loves you, if she was given the chance to come back to us today, she wouldn’t. She’s in the presence of God, and because God is love we can take solace in remembering it is people who die not their love.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love.