“Precious memories, how they linger, how they ever flood my soul!”
(I delivered this eulogy at my Mother’s funeral. No amount of words could ever adequately express my love for her or my appreciation for the impact she continues to have on my life. But I tried to capture those feelings as best I could that day.)
Precious Memories- What a fitting way to open these services, as we celebrate the life of my mother, Lenora Elizabeth Combs Wells. Over the past few days, we have been reliving such precious memories from our life with her, as we have pored through old photo albums. And the memories those pictures have brought to mind have been so sweet.
Mama was a member of what has become known as “The Greatest Generation” and oh how Mama lived up to that name – The Greatest Generation. Over the past few months, I have been drawn to a number of books about that generation. And I have found myself wanting to know more about Mama’s early years, growing up in the Combs family, she and her sister, Dot, surrounded by all those Combs boys. Surviving the Great Depression and living through World War II while Daddy served in the Army. Unfortunately, I waited too long to ask her about those times, and her memories of those days had long since faded away.
But, oh the precious memories we do have!! How they linger. When I think of Mama as I was growing up, I remember the qualities that are so typical of those from her generation. Prov.31:27 describes her so well- “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” Mama was always up when I got out of bed and a hot breakfast was on the table. During the summers, when we came home from working in the fields, lunch was already prepared. And later, a hot supper was waiting at the end of a long day. She was usually busy with household chores while the rest of us gathered around the TV at the end of the day. I have no memories of her with her feet propped up, taking it easy. I can still see her working side-by-side with Daddy out in the upholstery shop, fussing over a sofa cushion she had sewn that did not quite measure up to Daddy’s standards.
I remember so well the fun times we had with her- the trips to Florida or to the mountains. The Easter egg hunts at Granny and Granddaddy Combs’ home place. The 4th of July picnics at Frank and Bonnell’s cabin. The Christmas reunions at Locust Grove. Family was Mama’s first priority. Last Labor Day, all of us took a trip with her to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and how I treasure the precious memories of those three days! I’ll remember her love for the Atlanta Braves- we watched our last Braves game together the night before she died.
I’ll remember the times, but more than that, I’ll remember the quality of her character. And I want you all to know that the Nora or Mammaw that you knew was the same person we knew as Mama. She was the genuine article. There was not an ounce of pretentiousness in her bones.
When I think of Mama, the quality that most quickly comes to my mind is her quiet strength. Through our most difficult of childhood days, we all looked to Mama as our anchor. I remember the strength, grace, and dignity she exhibited when my father died and her steadfastness in the years that followed without him. I remember the courage with which she faced several operations over the years. Even in her last days, she drew on a strength and a will to live that none of us could imagine she had left in her. I know that this quiet strength we all witnessed was grounded in a deep and abiding trust in God – His provision and His protection.
Mama was not one to pound us over the head with Scripture. Instead, in her quiet and unassuming manner, she modeled Scripture before our very eyes. 1 Thess. 4:11-12 says “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” That’s my mother. I have no memories of her speaking harshly of anyone or judging or gossiping. She had such a sweet nature. She led a quiet life and she minded her own business.
She was esteemed by all of us. Prov. 31: 28 says “Her children arise and call her blessed”. And indeed we all do, but more importantly she was esteemed by God. Isaiah 66:2 says “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” That’s Mama. In all my memories of her, I cannot recall a single moment when I was ever disappointed at anything she said or did.
Today we grieve her passing, and few words I can conjure up can bring any real comfort, but I serve an awesome God, who the Bible describes as “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Cor. 4) and it is only through His Word that we can find comfort in times like these.
For a number of years now, I have kept a picture of Mama in my Bible at Isaiah 26:3. In 1998, my son Bill asked me what my favorite Bible verse was. I told him I had no favorite verse, but God had used many verses at specific times in my life, to help me make certain decisions, to give me courage for certain challenges, or to comfort me in difficulties. And just then, out of nowhere, this verse came to mind – “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee.” It was Isaiah 26:3. (KJV) Prior to then, that verse had no special significance to me, but over the course of the next few weeks, I found myself encountering that verse everywhere I turned. I couldn’t understand why God was suddenly pounding me with it.
Then, one day my brother, Davis, called and informed me that Mama had been hospitalized with a blockage in her intestine and that there was a good chance she might not survive through the night. And immediately God called to my mind those words from Isaiah, and placed in my mind a vision of Mama’s chair at home and the Bible that was always there beside her. And immediately I knew in my heart that Mama would be in perfect peace, whether she lived or died and that I could have perfect peace, no matter the outcome. She was in God’s hands and she was going to be a winner either way.
What an awesome God we serve. He knows our every need even before we do! In recent weeks, He has ministered to me to prepare my heart for these difficult days. He has helped me to see Mama’s death from His perspective through the words of Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” He has comforted me with the words of Isaiah 57:2 “Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” There’s that word again – Peace, perfect peace. As I gazed on her body here at the funeral home yesterday, that’s what first came to my mind – perfect peace. Mama has found rest unlike any rest we can experience in this life.
That song that we heard earlier, “It is Well With My Soul”, has always been one of my favorites. My church choir sang it at worship service just last Sunday. Coincidence? … I don’t think so. The older I get, the more I’m convinced there are very few true coincidences in life. We serve a God who is perfect in His love for us, infinite in His wisdom, and sovereign in His control. There are no coincidences with Him. God used that song as a gentle reminder to me that all is well with Mama’s soul.
Mama’s last year was a difficult one as her health deteriorated so rapidly. But as she drew closer to death in those last weeks, you could almost see her focus change from this life to the next one. I’ll never forget how she laughed as she lay in the hospital bed in Macon just two weeks ago, and waved at loved ones who had passed on before her. Some might say that was just the effect of the drugs that were being administered at the time. But I believe it was the knowledge that she was drawing closer to her heavenly home, and the perfect peace that knowledge gave her. Her heavenly welcoming committee was being assembled.
I’ll always remember the smile on her face when she arrived at the hospice after being transferred from the hospital. (This photo reminds me of her smile that day.) I don’t think she knew where she was, but she knew she was in a better place than the one she just left. I can only imagine the smile that must be on her face now!!!
Over the past two years, my wife and I have become well acquainted with grief. Last year, we lost her mother and brother. And this year, along with the Combs family, we have mourned the loss of Aunt Hazel, Aunt Dot, Aunt Myra, and now Mama. And while we grieve their loss, we grieve with the knowledge that each of them knew Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And therefore, as 1 Thess. 4:12 says, we grieve differently than those who have no hope. Now we grieve, because we’ll miss them for a while. There will be an empty spot at our 4th of July and Christmas reunions. Mothers Days will be tougher. But, if you know the Lord Jesus Christ, as they all did, I have good news…….We will all be together again with the Lord forever. And it will be more fantastic than any family reunion any of us have ever experienced here.
To comfort Mary and Martha over the death of their brother, Lazarus, Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.” (Jn.11:25) Mama still lives– she just doesn’t live here any more. And as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, I find comfort in the promise that one day, I’ll be with her again. And I pray that in the years to come that those of us who loved her will be found worthy of the faith that she had in us and deserving of the love that she showed toward us.
One day, perhaps you and I will look up from our beds as we approach death, and astonish our loved ones when we wave and say, “Hey, Mama or Hey, Mammaw, or Hey, Nora”. And then we too will know that perfect peace that she now enjoys- that peace that only a believer can know- that peace that surpasses all understanding.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the New International Version (NIV)