This past week, my mom went home to be with the Lord. The visitation was Sunday and the funeral was Monday. It was incredible to see the amount of people who came. Family, friends, colleagues, and students, some who had mom or dad as a teacher or coach forty years ago, stood in long lines to pay their respects and support the family. I estimate that well over a thousand people came to the visitation alone. Many others came to the funeral service. It is a great testimony to how someone’s life can be used to touch the lives of many others.
As part of the service, my dad asked me to speak on behalf of the family, which I was honored to do. As my blog entry for today, I thought I would share with you what I shared in the service, as a tribute to my mom and also to remind us all of the love and faithfulness of God. For those who read my previous blog entry, some of the content will sound familiar, as I had begun to put my thoughts together a couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of this event.
As we go through this day and those to come, we will continue, as we have for the past several days, to recall and retell our fond remembrances of Mom. That is how it should be. So, as I speak for the next several minutes, I will recall a few of these memories that I have of her life.
Mom had a long and productive life. It was a life which included times of struggle, especially in her early and later years. The early years were filled with the economic struggles of the depression and post-depression years and being raised in a single parent home. Her later years brought with them many health struggles. But throughout her life, she never seemed to lose her determination. She demonstrated this time after time, regardless of the aspect of life.
Mom had many accomplishments. She touched the lives of numbers of people as an English teacher, school newspaper editor, coach, neighbor, friend, painting instructor, Sunday School teacher, and many more ways we could recall. She also loved her family and she touched each of our lives in different ways. She always took the time to be a part of what we were doing. Even during our high school years, when we were all so busy, she made sure she was at our events, even if it meant driving around the city to four different sporting events on a Saturday. Now, that I think about it, the way Mom use to drive, we were probably putting much of the city at risk on those days. But that is a whole other story.
She always asked about how things were going. Whether it was kids, grandkids, or other family members, she was always willing to take a look at your latest project and ask for updates. Then, maybe she would offer her thoughts or “suggestions” about your work, as only an English teacher can. She definitely had a direct way of saying things, in the true spirit of the Hayhurst women before her. But, you always knew what she was thinking, and you always knew she cared.
She loved literature and reading. Almost every night you could find her in bed, reading a book. I was always amazed at how fast she went through them. She loved to teach writing. Even at home, we were rarely ever able to get a school paper out of the house before Mom had reviewed it and marked it in red pen. This meant, of course, that we had to rewrite it. It was annoying then, but it has produced fruit for years to come as we have taken that input and put it to use in our lives.
Mom loved science fiction and mysteries. In my elementary school years, during the summer, Mom gave me copies of some Tom Swift books to read (because you can’t go the whole summer without reading, of course). I was fascinated with the stories of adventure and space travel. I was hooked. Mom would watch Lost in Space with us. This was followed by Star Trek, Star Wars, and many other sci-fi stories and movies.
Mom was gracious with her home. It seemed every time you would turn around, someone was moving in or staying overnight. Whether it was providing young people in need with a home or their older children moving back in (and bringing their kids with them), there has hardly been a time when someone was not staying with them. Mom and Dad demonstrated a true spirit of generosity. During the years of desegregation in St. Louis, there were frequent times, following sporting events or school activities, that the house was filled with students from the city, so they would not have to take a cab home late at night.
Mom was beloved by many colleagues and students at South County Tech, Lutheran South, Affton, and many other schools around the city. Even though she was not a teacher at Affton, she was known by hundreds as “Momma Hill,” and they would frequently be at our home for various events or just to talk. She shared with students her love for learning, athletics, and dance. She share with them her life and faith.
Mom was a very independent and determined woman. That is why it was difficult to watch her struggle during her final years. Following the first bout of cancer and then the stroke, she was still determined to manage things for herself. But as time went on, and the health issues increased, she began to lose ground. And I think that is where many of us have struggled, as her family and friends, watching her decline and lose the ability to do the things she loved to do.
It can be hard to watch suffering. It raises many questions in our minds. Where is God in all of this? I know some of you have struggled with your faith. Many of us have been angry with God through these time and others. We have asked questions of God and not seemed to get any answers.
But God was with Mom all along. He never turned His back on her. And He has never turned His back on you or me. Yes, there are a lot of bad things that happen in this world, including the suffering we have watched Mom endure. It can cause us to question the goodness of God. And yet, as I stand here today, I am confident that God never turned His back on anyone in their suffering, except once.
When Jesus Christ was crucified, He bore the penalty for the sins of the world. But He not only bore the weight of the sin itself, He bore the burden of everything ever associated with sin. Every disease, illness, cancer, deformity, or disability resulting from our fallen world was borne by Christ. Every evil or treachery ever done was placed on Him. Every struggle, sorrow, or tear ever cried was felt by Him. All sin and suffering was endured by Him (Isaiah 53:3-6). He suffered as no one ever has or ever will.
Even the anticipation of the cross, when Jesus was in the garden, was so great that it was almost enough to kill Jesus (Matthew 26:38). He was grieved to the point of death. He knew what was coming. Jesus would be forsaken on the cross (Matthew 27:46). This is the only time in history when God turned His back on injustice. Jesus was not guilty, but God allowed this injustice to take place so that all evil, sin and injustice could be atoned for. Jesus endured the punishment that was mine and yours. He did it so that the justice of God would be satisfied and so we could find peace, joy, and freedom in Him, even in the midst of our suffering and grieving.
We can be confident that there is a Savior Who knows our weaknesses and struggles (Hebrews 4:15). He knows the depth or our sorrows and fears and grief. So, as we weep and struggle in these days and those to come, we can know that Jesus knows our suffering intimately. He bore it in His own body on the cross. And if God has gone to such lengths to bring us freedom from sin and death, we can truly trust Him. If God has allowed pain and struggle to continue in our lives, we can be confident that His sovereign purpose can and will work all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He has a greater purpose, beyond what we can see at the present time.
We may never understand all of the reasons why God has allowed certain things to happen. We may not understand why Mom had to go through all that she did. But we can be confident that God is faithful and that Mom’s suffering and that our suffering and grieving is near to His heart – today and every day of our lives. And now, her suffering is over, and she has been made new, by the One Who makes all things new. She is at rest in the presence of the Lord. And she now waits, in joy and peace, for all of us who will join her. And if she could speak to us today, Mom would tell us that there is a glorious Treasure to behold and possess, and His name is Jesus. And she would say, with the apostle Paul:
“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Or as the great lion, Aslan, says at the close of the C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And then Lewis adds in closing, “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Thank You, Father, for sharing Mom with us. And thank You for giving us an eternal hope in Jesus Christ our Lord.