Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ode to my mother

Loretta Young Stafford funeral service
3.17.12 – St. Patrick’s Day
First Southern Baptist Church, Buckeye

[Esther 4:9-17 Mordecai said to Esther, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” And Esther replied, “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”]

In my parent’s home, my mom had a room where she would sew, read, write, and ponder life. My dad said, if you didn’t know my mom you could just sit in her room and look around, you would get to know her quickly.

The closets are stuffed with sewing, craft and crochet materials. My mom could make beautiful clothes, gorgeous table coverings, and stunning shawls.

The walls in her room are covered with pictures. There are pictures of her revered grandfather, her beloved parents, her cherished aunt Grace, her loving sisters, her brother who made her laugh when he sang “Nature Boy,” pictures of nieces and nephews, pictures of her adored grandchildren, their families and of course the great grandson. And yes pictures of her children, a lot of pictures of my sister Dinah, I might add. And of course, wonderful pictures of her soul mate, my dad. They were married 63 years.

Sitting in her room, I was reminded of her many stories. There were lots of stories about her mother, Allie Pauline, the tiny woman with shocking red hair. Pauline left this world at the age of thirty-five. My mother and her family had to work hard to survive in Western Oklahoma. Mom loved working side-by-side her mother, whether is was picking cotton or cooking. While they were at home one evening, my grandmother thought some crows, sitting on a nearby power line were mocking her with their incessant cawing. So Pauline got out the double barrel shotgun, marched towards the crows and simultaneously unloaded both barrels, knocking her to the ground. The crows were undisturbed, and continued their taunting. So my grandmother took to tossing rocks at them, with a little more success.

Mom had that same fire and determination. Mom had watched more baseball, basketball, football, and volleyball games than the most ardent of fans. She watched her father play, her brother play, her sisters play, her husband play, her son play, her grandson play, her granddaughter play, and countless nieces and nephews play ball. Add on that the games I coached and the games she saw of the Diamondbacks and the Suns, whew. I tried to make a rough guess of how many games she personally watched and I finally gave up. Trust me, it was a lot of games. And my mom could really cheer. I mean cheer at the top of her lungs.

I think the only time my mother was ever really mad at me was when I wasn’t giving her grandson enough playing time at Grand Canyon.

Family legend has it, when I was nine, playing little league, there was a women sitting in front of my mom. This woman was telling her friend how obnoxious that one kid was behaving. Of course, that was me. Eventually, my mom had had enough, so she dumped her large soda on the head of that women, never apologizing.

For my mom, you could cheer for your team, but not against her team, and especially not against anyone in her family.

The shelves in mom’s room are also packed with books, her favorite novels, memoirs, craft books, cookbooks, and books about faith. But, her favorite book is the one she wrote, Dinah’s Story. Mom’s book about Dinah and my parent’s self-sacrificing life, gives testimony and witness to her strength, which comes from God, and who never abandoned her.

In the final words of mom’s book she wrote, “Our journey with Dinah has been long and difficult, but it has brought our family to a good place – a place of contentment and fulfillment…My goals have been reached. Out of difficulty, confusion, and heartache comes peace, acceptance and love. Dinah is our Dinah, and God shines out of those blue eyes.”

Mom was the consummate teacher. She spent twenty-nine years teaching second graders how to read and write. She said she could eye-ball the kids when they walked into the room the very first day of school. What she was she could tell by just looking at the children whether they could read or not.

Many of us remember the Challenger Shuttle tragic accident, carrying teacher Christa McAuliffe. The night of that tragedy, one of mom’s former second grade students gave her a call. At the time, he was in his final year of med-school. On the night, when the first woman schoolteacher who was going to explore space lost her life – he wanted to call the teacher who most influenced his life.

I asked mom if she remembered doing anything special for that young man. She said she remembered him quite well, and he was a good boy, he read really well. But, she didn’t remember doing anything extraordinary. Then after a bit, she said. Well, that year his parents were going through a rough divorce. So maybe she did give him a bit of extra love and attention.

There has always been a special place in mom’s heart for those who teach, especially women, and especially the women of this family. She was the first woman in her family to get a college education, a master’s degree, and to be an educator. At least six women in our family followed in Loretta’s footsteps. One became a superintendent, Cathy, my wife, of whom mom was most extremely proud.

I spent a lot of time this week looking at the shelves in mom’s room. At the top of one of the shelves I found a copy of Dr. Zhivago, one of mom’s favorite books. “Somewhere My Love, Lara’s Theme,” according to my dad, was her favorite tune. When I was fourteen, our family was on the way home from a family summer vacation in Oklahoma. We stopped in Albuquerque for the evening. We went swimming, had dinner and then we went to see the movie Dr. Zhivago. Imagine being a fourteen-year-old boy watching this powerfully romantic story, including a few hot love scenes, with your parents.

I think my mom loved Dr. Zhivago so much because it was a story of the powerful strength and indomitable endurance of the love a women can give to a man in the face of struggle, suffering, and hardship. Mom poured out all her love into my dad. And my dad has given all of his love to my mother. Their love for each other has been honest, transparent, and visible. The divorce rate of parents of special needs children has been quoted as high as 85-90 percent. What has made their relationship so enduring? I am tempted to sum it up in a nice neat package and offer a simply answer. But, that would trivialize my parent’s unique love for one another. What I have witnessed is this – they listened to each other, they forgive each other, they loved each other with their entire souls, they relied upon God, and they shared their love openly with others. Try that formula and maybe your last will last 63 years and beyond.

Those who knew my mom would describe her as strong, brave, courageous, independent and if necessary, defiant. Many folks equate these words with mom’s life long health battles. She was born with one kidney and one ovary. She lost one child in miscarriage. She nearly died giving birth to her son. Dinah was born breach, without C-section. She suffered seven abdominal surgeries. She faced death at least twice as a result of these surgeries. During one of the several blood transfusions she needed, she contracted hepatitis C. At forty-one she defied death by enduring an aorta by-pass. She was a breast cancer survivor. She had knee replacement surgery. And finally, in the end, she braved the most aggressive form of leukemia. She faced these challenges because they were thrust upon her. And she faced them bravely, without complaint.

But more powerful than the will to live, my mom had the inherent will to fight for those who suffered injustice. When it came time to stand up for the weak, she took a strong stand against those injustices done to the marginalized, including children and adults with special needs, the poor, and the gay community. And when it came time to defend women and stand strong for women’s rights, well, then it would be best if you just got out of her way. She believed woman should receive equal pay for equal work - maybe even better pay than men. She insisted that women had equal opportunity in every situation, including women being pastors in churches. These were issues she chose to face, head on, accepting the risks and costs of servanthood. For my mother modeled her life after God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The last conversation I had with mom was a theological one – we discussed the power of the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives, transforming us to become the agents of God in the world.

Loretta Young Stafford lived her life with a strength, which embodies the life of Esther, an agent of God in the world. Esther was born a poor girl, who grew to be a brave woman. She stood her ground for her family and her people in the face of death. She took the risks and achieved her goal.

Loretta was born a financially poor girl, with a family of rich love, who grew to be a brave woman sharing her love with her family, the children she taught, and those in need of someone to be their defender. She stood her ground for her family. And in the face of death, she was willing to take bold risks – and in her own words, she achieved her goals.

No better thing can be said about us at the end of our life on this earth as we walk across the thin space into God’s world of the communion of saints. Loretta, you were a saint in this world, and you are now a saint in God’s world of the unseen. I will miss seeing you with my eyes, but I still see you with my soul. Amen.


Chad said...

A beautiful ode. She lives in your words. Thank you for sharing your experience of the saint that is your mom.

Blair said...

Beautiful. Thank you.