Every time I walk the two blocks to my “office” coffee shop, I pass the funeral home that handled my mom’s death (what an inadequate word, “handled”). I walk by the window of the room of the public viewing, the coffin placed next to the far wall so people could come but not necessarily stand in front of her, looking so different from the woman I knew.
This week, as I walked by, her face, frozen in death, with its exquisite-even-in-death cheekbones fluttered like a flag in my mind as my feet navigated crunchy brown grass and pavement made uneven by winter’s relentless swing of zero and sixty-degree weeks. Why that image? I only saw it twice. That was not the mother I remembered. Even at the end of cancer’s ravages, she was pretty.
With each step, the air around me became more surreal. Who was she? Did she really exist? Did I ever know her? I could make a list for you, of questions I never asked, things I learned, and facets of my life I never shared with her, mostly out of fear that she’d disapprove. What a weak word, “disapprove.” How weak I must have been, to let it defeat me.
The night before last, fighting a cold, I went to bed at nine and woke at 10:30 in the midst of talking to my mom. It was a dream, of course. In it, I was both inside my body and watching, movie-like. Her hospital bed was tucked into the near right side of the frame. I lay on her left side, snuggling next to her like naptime as a child. We watched people in our lives walk in and out of the room, back and forth in the hall, past the doorway. And we spoke only loud enough for each other, told stories, made observations, laughed, giggled, evn. There was music…just remembered that….
I wish you could have known her.
I wish I could have known her better.
To both of those ends, the eulogy I wrote for her funeral follows. So many of you have told me I’m brave to write The Oat Project. But it is nothing as compared to the effort this took. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I didn’t know where to start, so I went with chronological, over an 8-hour night, two hours of sleep, a restless day, intense family feedback after the public viewing, then 9 hours more of writing from 11 p.m. that night to 11 a.m. the day of the funeral. It was my gift to her, to our family, to her friends, to our community. I suck at so much, but this, this writing and speaking thing, I can do.
I read it at her funeral, 1 p.m. December 7th, at First Presbyterian Church, with about 50 of mom’s fellow choir members in the choir loft behind me, almost 200 people in the pews. At that moment, it felt as though it was the only thing I had to give. I couldn’t give her any more of myself, couldn’t tell her any more stories, couldn’t share any more epiphanies, couldn’t laugh any more with her. This story of her life is so very incomplete. And I know that I’m sharing it with you for both of us, for you, for me. I want you to know just a little of her life. More stories will come, in particular, from me, of our last conversations. But this is a good beginning, perhaps.
“Hi everybody. Thank you so much for coming to honor our mother’s life with us. She was an amazing, gifted, loving woman. You are here because Mom impacted your life in some way, maybe with an encouraging word, a lively conversation about Jesus’ return someday, or one particular scripture she knew would help. We would like to tell you a little more about her life and faith.
She was born the youngest child, to parents who loved her. Her mother died tragically when she was only three months old. Mom’s was not an easy childhood, her strength of character clear early as she shopped, cleaned, and cooked by the time she was nine. Though she had good reasons to be bitter about her childhood, she wasn’t. She told of how well her brother and sister cared for her, how much her father loved her, and how the woods and nature were her sanctuary, how she first met God there. In Him, and His son, Jesus, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, she found a way around the bitterness…the way of love through forgiveness.
As a child, she was shy but spirited and mischievous. One day when she was four or five, she climbed a tree much taller than her house and sat near the top, listening to the wind, looking down at the world far below. It got to be late, and her brother and sister called for her. She did not answer. After a while, she started saying, “Yoohoo! Yoooohoooo!” Because she was up so high, they couldn’t tell where the sound came from. Eventually, she was discovered and had to come down, but her green eyes sparkled with delight in telling that and stories of her childhood. The Jesus she met in nature came to live in her heart at church when she was sixteen. She often spoke of how the love she found in church, of Jesus and his people, saved her. And that childlike innocence and wonder was a quality that Mom never lost.
In our mom’s Bible, many verses are underlined, often marked with dates and thoughts in the margins, many “Aha!” moments. She adored the Old Testament, its people and prophecy, and took refuge in the psalms. One, on the Lord in nature, reads, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peach, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Isaiah 52:7
Mom’s father died when she was seventeen. She had family and friends who loved and cared for her, but no parents. She entered Bethany Nazarene College, in a suburb of Oklahoma City and graduated with a degree in Business. At college, she met our father, Bob Jackson, who was studying to be a minister. They married after graduation and spent almost three decades in ministry with the Nazarene church, living in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, Oregon, Florida, and Colorado.
Our mom sang, directed choirs and children’s choirs, worked in church offices, led small groups and taught Sunday school classes, hosted missionaries and evangelists, organized potlucks and revivals, negotiated and made peace amongst board members, and was the jack-of-all-trades pastor’s wives have to be, ALL while raising us three children, making pennies stretch, and every new house a home. Her early skills in cooking came in handy: she made a mean pot of pinto beans, perfect cornbread and biscuits, and her pumpkin bread and Thanksgiving stuffing have never been equaled…in our humble opinion.
Her business sense and education led her to banking, as a teller off and on through the years, then finishing her career in financial services, working for 15 years with the Alliance Development Fund at the Christian and Missionary Alliance here in Colorado Springs. Her clients talked with her for hours, yes, about their accounts, but also about prophecy, Christ’s love, a Bible verse or story to encourage them. Though they were often thousands of miles away and knew her only by voice, she became real friends with many clients. Coworkers—many here today—knew her to be not only good at her job, but were uplifted by her smile and words of faith and encouragement.
In between times in banking, Mom used her flair with color, form, and fabric to work as an interior decorator. She could walk into a room and in 5 minutes show how to make it warm and welcoming, simply by rearranging the furniture and adding her beloved—and prolific—throw pillows.
Our home was filled with her voice as she sang when doing dishes, cleaning the house or working. Music played, too: The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Sandi Patti, Amy Grant…and Abba. We know every single song on their first album. We watched The Sound of Music every time it came on television, singing along. She was in Big Blue, this church’s choir for the last 12 years, her faith in Jesus radiating from her face up here every Sunday, her clear soprano voice so pure in tone. Though after 1999, she was no longer in ministry, the spirit of ministry continued to permeate her life. She made life-long friends in Women of the Bible here at First Prez–Modenia and others–and her performances were always favorites, as, through her already-deep biblical knowledge and fresh research, she became each character she portrayed.
As Pastor John so eloquently told, when Kelly and our mother met, it was heaven-sent. As corny as it may sound, they completed each other in so many ways. It was one of those loves that everyone hopes to find in life. Their shared love of Jesus and his Word and the church was the foundation of their relationship. Kelly has said that in Mom, he found someone who embodied his beliefs. His statement of belief does often seem like a description of our mom in his life, but also him in hers, illuminating their powerfully shared faith: “rich in mercy and kindness” “servants and co-workers in ministry” “sure hope of God’s victory” “created to grow into who we are” “agents of reconciliation.” He gave her a home she loved, safety and security, all amidst a love that made her glow. Kelly proposed to our mother after she was diagnosed with cancer and has been her unfailing strength and support through that journey together.
And Mom adored Kelly, often expressing an almost teenage-like glee. Her affection and giggles and comments on his looks and cute quirks delighted us, and everyone around them. It was so clear how much and how well she loved him. Mom basked in his love and showered Kelly with her love and affection in return. On his last birthday, she told of how she paid special attention when they were out and about to things he said that he liked, throughout the whole year, so she could sneak back and get them for him. She respected his servant’s heart and thirst for knowledge and Christ, his kindness and boyish enthusiasm. He has often said, “She gave me a family I never had.” Kelly has treated us as his own, and Mom’s grandchildren became his grandchildren. Her childlike delight, infinite gentleness, and infectious laugh—Kelly calls it “half laugh, half cackle”—brought joy and fun to every day.
This week, Kelly spoke of Genesis 5, where early generations are listed. Most people focus on the word “death,” used 8 times. But the word “life” shows up 24 times…Life, not death. And pivotal people in each family boost Life through their generation; they stand out, their influence extending far beyond location and long after they are gone. In her family, in her brother, Bud; sister, Patty; me, her daughter; Tom; her son, Jason, and his wife, Lisa; her son, Justin, and his wife, Kristin; her grandchildren, Sophia, Garrett, Levi, Xavier, Justin, and Solomon…Our mom’s legacy will continue through the ages because her love lifted her generation into a higher level.
She revered her siblings, our Uncle Bud and Aunt Patty, and told us story after story of their kindness and care to her over the years. She told us how God worked through her extended family in the South, in mostly Tennessee, to show her what normal life and love looked like, keeping her sane through the difficulties of her childhood. She twinkled and chuckled telling stories of spunky Grannie Annie Itzen watching boxing on the little black and white TV, or of Aunt Jewel’s mutual love for pretty fabric.
In us, her children, the simplest way to describe her is with pure, agape, Christ’s love. She was gentle and kind, and smart, aware of birth order differences and our personalities, always seeking to better understand and know us. She was always our mom, but also our friend, saying uncountable times, “Now, you know, that it doesn’t matter what happens, or what you do, or what trouble you may get into, no matter what, you can always come to me and we’ll figure it out. I will always love you, no matter what.” We learned from her how to find the positive in life. “Fake joy is better than real depression,” she would say. She also taught us to love Jesus, to look for his coming, to trust in his love for us. In recent years and months, as we have grown in adulthood and our faith-journeys all came to look a little different than we or she expected, she spent time with each of us, wanting to know what we thought and felt about Jesus and God and Life, encouraging us with her favorite scriptures—as always—and always trusting in our faith. She often quoted scripture, assuring us that God had a plan for our lives, that we could trust him, never holding back, too, how proud she was of each of us. She was a loving peacemaker, and spent quality time with each of us especially over the last months, leaving us only after being sure that she would see each of us again, in heaven with her someday. She could not have gone if she weren’t certain, she loved us that well.
Her love and generosity for her grandchildren had no bounds, and they knew it. She and Kelly spent eons with them, playing, cooking and eating, shopping, watching movies, sharing favorite things and activities and thoughts. She would say, “Oh, you get that from your grandmother, sweetie,” and her encouragement of each of their special qualities made them glow and blossom. The grandchildren have written a few words about her that we would like to share with you.
From Sophia, age 12: Nana couldn’t go five minutes without attempting to teach me something. Whether it was which president came first or how to fix my skirt on certain occasions. Everything reminded her of something she thought I should know. Nana was a teacher in LIFE; she couldn’t help it.
From Garrett, age 12: She was the best grandma ever. I loved how she cooked big lunches and dinners. She enjoyed us dearly. We loved her a lot. She loved having us over.
From Levi, age 10: She loved us all and she enjoyed us all. She made the best stuffing.
From Xavier, age 9: Nana was my favorite relative out of everyone. She helped me through Chicken Pox and serious allergic reactions. My favorite part of Nana is how much she loved her family and even people who were not her family, but she treated them like it.
From Justin, age 8: She loved having us over and she enjoyed us. We enjoyed her. She was nice and loving. She made the world’s best food.
From Solomon, age 6: She was nice and helpful.
Mom’s legacy goes far beyond her family. Most of you here can recall her eyes, smile, and often-irreverent wit. How she managed to pull off impeccable style and still look friendly and cute as a bug. Many of you here have been honored with her graceful advice, never pushed, always grounded in her experience with the Lord and in life. She adopted people and her encouraging friendship was a gift. One of her best friends wrote, “I know what it looks like to walk through difficulties with faith and what it means to have an authentic relationship with God. But most of all, I know what it means to have a true friend.” Mom said, of her, “You would not believe what that girl can do!” She connected with anyone, fit into every situation, never knew a stranger, and was ready to listen and help without judging. Soaked in God’s unconditional love, she lived a boundary-less life. Her smile was some.thing.else. No matter the struggle, in Christ and in the moment, she found a place of joy, for herself and for those she counseled and befriended.
Much of that joy came from Heaven. Heaven was already a part of Mom’s world. Her faith in it brought her meaning and hope. She said, “When you’re going through a rough patch, just imagine a rope, anchored in heaven, tie a knot and hang on to the end until God can draw you up.” That certainty in heaven, with her childlike wonder and rock-solid love of Christ made almost every conversation with her turn to the grace of God and love of Jesus, to hope and faith in what God was doing and could do in life and the future. She saw opportunities, potential, possibilities, and dreams soon to be realized, always glass-half-full. And heaven wasn’t just a concept to her; it was a place, and she often wondered what it would be like, how she might contribute someday, what her mansion would look like. She looked forward to seeing her mom for the first time, to seeing her dad again, to singing and praising God for eternity with heaven’s choirs.
Our mom’s steadfast regard for people, family to adopted family to stranger, sprang from a strong heart. People often talk about death as “giving in.” But since 2008, our mom’s struggle with cancer proved that wrong. For it was her strength and faith that were most evident. Her strength to fight the disease for so long, her strength to carry those who loved her through the difficulty of it, her strength in these last days to bravely face the end, and her faith throughout, in her Savior who carried her, finally, home.
We would like to end as she might, giving you a gift for your heart, as she might have done if she were teaching you in Sunday school, or just talking on a Saturday afternoon. We spoke of this concept several times in the past years…some sermon illustrations do, indeed, stick….
So, hold up your left hand like this. It looks like an “L,” right? So now imagine that there are arrows at the tips, one shooting sideways and the other shooting to the sky. Now imagine that the L is followed by “o” “v” and “e,” spelling “love.” Now fold in your index finger. It’s no longer an “L.” Put that back and fold in your thumb. It’s no longer an “L.” Now put both back. Love is only love when it includes both elements: love of God and love of people. Take away either one, and it is no longer complete.
Our mother was the best example I knew of living in the crux, right there at the meeting place between Love of God and Love of People. She balanced them in grace, beauty, openheartedness, wholeheartedness, and lightheartedness, all grounded in Christ’s love.
Was she flawless? No, of course not…thank goodness.
But was she a saint? Yes.
For if a saint is full of God’s presence, working through a life in a special, rare, and unique way that ripples outward, radiating His love to change lives, soften hearts, and bring healing, then yes, she was a saint.
Thank you so much for sharing with us this day of tribute and celebration of our mother and her life. We deeply appreciate your love and support and thank God for your presence in our mom’s life. If you go to the memorabilia table at the reception, you’ll see a note card with the following verse on it in our mother’s beautiful handwriting. So we conclude with God’s Word, as she would want:
’1 Peter 5: 6, 7, 10, 11: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen!’”