Tuesday, August 29, 2017

This is My Story: A Eulogy for my Mother

Reba loved a good story. She loved to read them. She loved to hear them. And she loved to tell them, but she didn’t always get the details just right.

My mother’s life was a classic story with some themes that we love. Certain themes speak to our souls.  And my mother’s story includes several of the themes we truly enjoy hearing.

These themes include:
Rags to Riches
A Hero on a White Horse
The Story of an Everyday Heroine
A Story of a Great Adventure
A Story of Revenge
A Most Epic Story of Eternal Love
The first theme is a rags to riches story of a little girl who grew up with no shoes on her feet, who became a woman who had enough to help others who needed help.

She was born in Murphy, NC and moved to Granny Lee Swamp in Englewood, TN. Picture the house on Dolly Parton story from the television special last year. She shared the house with 10 siblings. Her mother was an amazing woman who loved her children well and her father was an alcoholic who was unable to escape his demons. Young Reba and several of her siblings were determined to rise above the poverty and shame. The house had no running water and in the winter they would gather around a small stove to stay warm sleeping close.  She used to walk to school with no shoes. The teacher would sit her next to the wood stove and rub her feet until they were warm again.  It is a wonder she didn’t have frostbite. Apparently, at some point she had gotten so sick with an untreated throat infection that she no longer had tonsils. A doctor asked her as an adult when she had her tonsils removed and she said “never.” He said “well, they are gone”.
Her father would promise his kids if they would work in the fields he would take the money from the crops and buy her shoes.  They would anticipate new shoes, but he would come home drunk instead with no shoes.  He never made it past the liquor store to go to the shoe store. How my mother turned out to be so trusting after being lied to time after time by her own father is a testimony to God’s grace. All of her siblings are wonderful loving people, you can ask any of my cousins. There were many other stories of the humiliation she suffered as a child, but we won’t get into them.  
Reba was determined to escape the poverty that seemed to define her. She went to Chattanooga to work for an uncle, she went to live with her sister Irene in Knoxville and went to school for a year at Bearden High School... remember that. She eventually graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in education and became a school teacher. This young lady had not only escaped the poverty, but was determined to help others get an education to change their situations too.

This is where the story changes a bit, and we see a hero ride into her life on a white horse, make that a 1950 pale blue chevy truck. Young Carroll McGinnis noticed a new girl at Bearden High School in Knoxville. She only attended her Junior year, but that was enough for this young man to have his sight set on this beautiful young woman named Reba.  The next school year Reba went back to Englewood to go to High School. My dad showed up one day at her house in Granny Lee Swamps unannounced. When he pulled up she was just coming from the swamp where they got their water from the springs.  She was in overalls and no shoes carrying two five gallon buckets of water. One in each hand.  He was in love. He chased her for a while and she finally said "yes."

Once she complained to her mother that Carroll hunted too much, but her mother said, “Reba, as long as he is only hunting 4 legged animals, then let him.” So she did. He hunted and hunted. And she would make delicious meals from the harvest.

These two have done life together and in love. She has loved him well for 59 years last Saturday and He has never been anything but madly in love with her since he first laid eyes on her. He has been faithful to his vows for 6 decades to love her “in sickness and in health” and “til death do us part.”  These last 2 decades he has loved her so well through Alzheimer’s and I know that if the tables were turned, she would have done the same for him.

Some say that we lost mom a while back when she could no longer converse or recognize us, but for my dad she has been right here with him until her last breath on Thursday. They have a love that will last throughout eternity.

(see related post from several years ago: https://williampmcg.blogspot.com/2010/02/true-love-endures.html )

So we have had rags to riches, we have had the hero in the Chevy Truck

But we also have her story as a heroine. Reba was determined not to let her humble beginnings define her. She would use her God given gifts to help other people and her community. She volunteered for the Helen Ross McNabb Mental Health Center, She was president of the Knoxville Medical Auxiliary and started the Garcia Tennis Tournament Benefit, she worked with the Friends of the Knox County Library, she was the chairperson for the Knoxville Dogwood Arts Festival and worked with the Lakemoore Hills Garden Club. She volunteered for mission trips. She volunteered at church. She volunteered to teach kids to read.   There were a whole bunch of other volunteer positions over the years and in 1989, she became the Beta Sigma Phi First Lady of Knoxville, recognizing her volunteer investments.

She is quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel after she won that honor saying,
“People have always been more important than things to me. I guess that’s why I don’t have any interesting and unique collections, why our house will never make the pages of “Southern Living” magazine, the reason I am not an expert on any particular subject.

Reba said, “When there was a job going unfilled because no one else wanted to do it, or a job out there I felt I could handle better than most, I simply volunteered.”

Reba’s story was one of great adventure
She has travelled the world. All those places she read about as a child, she went to see. She and her true love have travelled to Alaska... in a truck! And all over the US.  She and dad have been to over 30 foreign mission trips together to places like Africa, Europe, South America, and Mexico. They have wintered at a fishing village in Florida, been to the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and many other exotic places. This girl’s life was a true adventure.  

She always loved her traveling companion and those friends and family she travelled with.

One of her proudest adventures was one we might call a simple pleasure.  My mother never learned to ride a bike as a kid, but she always wanted to. So, at age 40 she bought herself a bike and learned to ride it. Once she checked that adventure off the bucket list she was on to the next adventure.

Mom always wanted to learn a sport. So, she took tennis lessons, got a league together and played until she couldn’t play any more. She loved the competition and the company that she played with.

Mom wanted her kids to write their own story of adventure.

Mom always wanted 3 things for us. Reba wanted us to have a good education, have something to do and she wanted us to know Jesus. She would always make sure school work was done and done correctly. The english teacher never fully let go of that role and often corrected our grammar... mid sentence.

She made sure that Angela was in a piano or dance class of some sort. I’m not sure it helped her rhythm, but she still enjoys teaching her Zoomba class. Sounds like a 1970’s show on PBS doesn’t it? Zooooombah!

Mom was always involved in our school activities. We once had a school play that needed fog on stage; so they needed some dry ice to pour some water over. She volunteered to get the dry ice and promptly went home and called the dry ice company in Knoxville. When they asked her how much she needed. She said,  “oh I don’t know, a green cooler full?”  Well the man thought it was so funny that she had described a cooler rather than telling him a number of pounds, he started telling his co workers and they were all laughing too. The 1970’s fog machine was great and the elementary school play came off without a hitch... if that is possible.

Mom made sure we were active. She got us into swimming, which occupied our summers for several years.

Mom signed me up for football and baseball and church basketball. I know what you are thinking, I must have been a natural. With all this height and athletic ability… Okay not so much. I was always about a foot shorter than all my peers and they outweighed me by 20-30 lbs.  But mom was all about character building.

She once got us a job as tomato pickers on a huge farm. “It will give you character,” she said. “It will be a learning experience,” she said. It was also how we discovered that I was red, green colorblind. They asked who is picking these green tomatoes. Of course, I had no idea that I was colorblind until they traced the buckets back to me, so I was the one who had to grow my character by carrying 5 gallon buckets full of tomatoes from the other itinerant workers to the truck.

Mom always made sure we were in church. She made it clear that her family went to church. And almost everytime the doors were open, we were there. As they say, when we were kids we had a “drug problem”, Mom “drug” us to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night and every revival, every VBS, every teen mission trip… Mom made sure we knew Jesus and went to worship God and learn His Word. One Sunday when I came home from college with a friend, we slept in and didn’t make it to church. She said only one word and I knew I was in trouble. She pointed her finger at me and said “Kid!” and that was all it took.

Mom was always our best cheerleader and biggest fan.  Although, we did drive her crazy sometimes. Her favorite expression was “You two could give an aspirin a headache.” Angela loves to tell the story of the time Mom was disciplining us and said, “I better not hear another peep out of you” and my sister thought she would test Reba and responded with “peep”, she quickly learned that mom was very serious about discipline.

Mom always told us we could do anything and she did everything she could to let us try. She even signed us up for sailing lessons on the Tennessee river.
She loved us well. She always had a warm and welcoming home with good nourishing food... A hot meal every night and breakfast everyday before school. She even fixed my dad a warm lunch every day when he came home from work at noon for food and a short siesta before returning to the office to see several more patients.

My mom also wanted to be a part of the story for her extended family and friends too. We often had house guests, farm guests, houseboat guests, RV guests.  Basically anywhere Mom was, she was a hostess. This was even true when she was in Williamsburg Alzheimer’s facility. She would help the kitchen staff set the tables and make sure everything was in the right place.   Mom always made sure you had plenty to eat and a comfortable place to sit, sleep or have conversation.

Now my mother could talk.  As a matter of fact she was known as “that little blonde haired Price girl who loved to talk.” As a young girl she would sometimes jump up on a stump and start preaching to anyone who would listen or no one in particular.  She was never at a loss for words. Conversation was important to her because she loved people and wanted to know their story.

I remember going with Mom often to a nursing home to encourage a friend or family.  She helped take care of those who were homebound. She took food to those who needed it.  She always took care of “the least of these.”

She loved her grandkids and was always bragging about them and showing them off. She took in her son-in-law and daughter-in-law as her own. As I prepared this message, I asked the family about the things Reba loved and my Brother-in-law said "she loved me!" That's a lot to love.

She was also a heroine to her church.  We don’t really call people heroines in the church, we call them deacons and Sunday School teachers and servants of all kinds...Those who live out their faith inside and outside the church. It was her love for conversation and her love for reading and learning and her love for Jesus that led her to teach. She taught about every age group at church from children in VBS to teens to adults. She also served on several committees and teams. She was among the first women deacons elected to serve at Central Baptist Church of Bearden and among the first in Knoxville, TN.

Mom’s story is now a classic story of Revenge, but there is a spiritual twist. God said, don’t take your own revenge because He says, “vengeance is mine.”

The first thing I want to say is… Where oh alzheimer’s is your victory? Where oh alzheimer’s is your sting? My mother is free from you and in the arms of her Jesus, who has saved her and rescued her from your grip. She will be in heaven for an eternity. These 17 years you held her and all of us captive on this earth is nothing.  You could not separate her from the great love of Jesus Christ, because it is wide and long and it is high and deep and it overcomes all evil. Reba Price McGinnis has been restored, she has finished the race, she has fought the good fight. She has won the victory in Jesus. She is more than a conqueror in her savior Jesus Christ.

And Finally the most epic story of all! The Story of God’s Amazing Grace.

Revelation 3:20 (NASB)says, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”

What a Savior! Perfect for this woman who loves to host people and open doors for them...  This woman, with the gift of hospitality invited him into her life.  One day at the age of 13 she answered the door.

Look in your memorial bulletin.  In Reba’s own writing you can read, “ I was converted Wednesday, April 30, 1947 at 10:25 a.m. I gave up everything and turned my life over God. Love, Reba." She wrote this in a little signature book that a teacher had given her in school. It is displayed with her pictures in the visitation room here at the funeral home.

That is amazing! How many of us have such a record of the event of our salvation down to the minute.

Today’s story is a celebration because Reba is in heaven with Jesus now. This story is an adventure, it is a victory. It is no tragedy. She invited Jesus to take over her life.

Jesus changed Reba's story from a tragedy to one of victory. Jesus saved her from sin and death and she now has eternal life.

Reba loved her Jesus
From age 13 until she could no longer communicate, my mother loved to be a witness for Jesus. She lived her faith, she taught her faith, and now she is living with the One who is always faithful. He loves people more than things too. Jesus is about relationships... He loves people.

My Mother always urged people on, moved them further, desired for them to grow. She was a disciple and a discipler.

I believe she would be asking all of us today,  “What is your story?”  
She would want to make sure your story includes the most epic story of all time.  

Sing with us now “Blessed Assurance” with the refrain, “This is My Story.”

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. 

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending, bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Super Sudanese Surprise!

Sitting in the largest room in all of Gatlinburg, 45 minutes from my childhood home,  with a group of Senior Adults I had brought from my church to a senior adult convention, I felt convicted that I should take a foreign mission trip.. As a matter of fact,  a well-known author had invited/challenged the whole room to have a foreign mission experience sometime in the next year. I had responded to his invitation personally and looked forward to what spiritual adventure God had in store for me. 

I waited and listened for an opportunity to go to some foreign land to serve people and tell them about the love of Jesus that had changed my life. The days became weeks, and weeks became months and still no word from God. No one I knew mentioned a trip. There were no perfectly timed mission travel brochures to Africa that came across my desk at the church.  So, I wondered if I had somehow missed God’s call. Maybe it was just the full stack of flapjacks from the pancake cabin that had given me a sugar rush or perhaps I had been hypnotised by the taffy pulling machine from the Smoky Mountain Candy Kitchen and I misinterpreted it as a call to a short term mission trip across the pond somewhere. Maybe my Sevier County prediabetic indulgence had affected my ability to clearly hear God’s Great Foreign Commission on my life.

At the time I had four children between the ages of 7 and 11, so obviously my wife was curious about this call to abandon my post as taxi daddy, bicycle fixer, homework helper and home missionary for 10 days to 2 weeks and go somewhere else to minister to someone else’s kids in need. She certainly would have been willing to accept all parental duties for those days, if I could show her any real tangible plans that God had given me about this Jesus journey to the African plain or Amazon Jungle.

So, eventually, I had actually written this calling off as my mistaken interpretation of a call to missions from a funnel cake hangover. That’s when God in His infinite sense of humor, showed me that my foreign mission experience would not involve travel more than a few miles from my home.

My son came home one day in the middle of the school year and said that a new kid had come to his school and the teacher wanted him to help tutor the new student in math and whatever other 6th grade classes they had together. My son also said he had invited him and his family to our church and the new student said he and his family would be there the next Sunday. 

As a pastor, I had heard promises to come to church before, by well-meaning potential guests I had invited to join us for worship on a Sunday morning. So, I was guardedly optimistic about this family coming. But sure enough a family of 7 showed up that next Sunday.  Their sparkling white teeth blasted out beautiful smiles from their dark Sudanese faces and their broken english with thick accents with lots of laughter expressed a joy that was infectious.  They didn’t look like anyone in my largely homogeneous suburban white church. We quickly found classes for 5 kids and two adults. We also learned they had another child on the way.

My son and the oldest boy were soon doing everything together. My son taught him American football. We would take him to practice and make sure he had cleats and equipment for the middle school football experience.  They threw the discus and “put the shot” together on the track team. After ballgames and track meets they inhaled Hardee’s thickburgers and fries and soft drinks together, but his tall thin Sudanese frame never got much thicker.

Since his family only had one car,  we frequently took him to the doctor or came pick him up when no one from his house could make it to the school. He stayed in our home often. He also frequently came to our house to eat our after-church lunch meal, which we called “Stir Fry Sunday”. It was a mix of stir fried rice and whatever leftover meats and vegetables we had chopped up from the last week’s meals with a fried egg and soy sauce added in. Most of it he enjoyed, but when shrimp was in the mix he always opted for something else. He thought is was strange that we would eat such an ugly creature on purpose.

We soon began to hear his family’s story about their escape on foot from Sudan to Egypt to avoid those who wanted to kill them. They had left family and friends in hopes of safety and a new life. We learned about how his younger brother’s twin had died from illness and how they had to watch as their uncle was murdered. They had to learn Arabic in Egypt and then English when they got to the U.S.. But this young man and his family were amazingly positive in spite of the misfortunes they had endured.

He learned how to plant a garden, drive a four wheel drive 1974 Scout, and shoot a rifle while at my dad’s farm a couple of hours away. He and his younger brother played on our church basketball team and they surprised the whole team when they clearly articulated the Gospel of Jesus Christ and encouraged everyone to accept His Salvation.  They went to church camps and mission trips and studied God’s Word in Bible study every week. .

And when this family was moving to Colorado, we offered to host the oldest boy so he could stay with his friends, his church, and complete high school here.  His family said they needed him to help raise the youngest brothers and he knew he needed to go with them, though he wanted to stay.

Needless to say my family’s four year Foreign Missions experience with this young man and his family was far more of an adventure than any 10-14 day mission trip I could have taken somewhere by myself. God called us to a long term friendship with a young man and his family.  He called us to share our food, our transportation, our love, and our Jesus with him and his family. God taught me that when He calls, it doesn’t always look like we think it should.

This young man is now in a Colorado college finishing up his football eligibility and making plans for the rest of his life. The thin young man with the million dollar smile is now a jacked, 6 foot 7 inch, 270 lbs. of muscle and he is in a relationship with a young lady from Colorado.

I encourage you to say, “yes” to God on any mission He invites you to be a part of.  But keep your mind and heart open to the unique ways he may use you and your family in His service.