Almost two weeks ago we lost our Mawmaw. Gretchen’s grandmother passed away peacefully at age 88. She was a remarkable woman full of life, full of faith. I had the great privilege of leading her burial and memorial service. Years before Mawmaw had asked me to do the service and I had considered what to say for many years. Here is the manuscript of the sermon I shared. This is my celebration of a wonderful woman.
So much of who we are is defined by those we call family. Our family gives us our genetics, our culture, our heritage, our name, and our identity. We identify certain traits or characteristics that mark being a part of our particular family. When my wife Gretchen and I got married it was the joining together of two families with very common values and beliefs but different cultures. This led to many interesting and humorous exchanges between the McKenzies and the Arthurs. We often came to speak of these differences and we ask ourselves are we going to do this the Arthur way or the McKenzie way. Arthurs are Yankees who speak their minds. McKenzies are wonderful Southerners who smile and politely hold their tongues.
Clyda Vern, who I shall for the rest of this time call Mawmaw the only name I ever called her, and I spoke about some of these traits last week. We spoke about some of the family traits passed down through her into her great grandchildren. My son Logan can be a bit tough minded and stubborn. Mawmaw decided that was because he has some Waddle and Snellgrove in him. She took full responsibility for whatever stubbornness my children have inherited. My daughter Sophie can worry about unnecessary things, well Mawmaw was the queen of worry. I have heard her say numerous times that her beloved grandson Briant David reminded her so much of her first husband David Briant Waddle. She always thought that he had plenty of Waddle in him.
That is just the way that families work. We shape and form each other. Through shared holidays, share faith, tragedies, blessings, and our daily interactions, we created a culture that defines us. It shapes us and forms us regardless of whether we want it to or not. We may rebel against it or try to be something different, but it becomes a part of us and shapes our identity.
As we gather together today to celebrate Mawmaw’s life I can only think about all the way she has shaped our family. Mawmaw was a tough and hardworking woman. Growing up as she did she learned about work and sacrifice early on in her life and those lessons stayed with her throughout her life. She didn’t have much tolerance for laziness, she figured everyone had work to do and it needed to be done. Now of course this offset entirely if you happened to be a grandchild or greatgrandchild of Mawmaw. Even as a grandchild she would tell you when you did something she thought was wrong, she wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion. No matter what you did however you needed to be spoiled and loved upon.
Oh to be Mawmaw’s grandchild! What a glorious thing to be loved by Mawmaw in that way. My wife always talked about how awful it was to visit Mawmaw and have her parents be there too! They got in the way of her time with Mawmaw. If you stayed at Mawmaws and you didn’t want to brush your teeth, well then you didn’t have to. If you wanted to go to the movies, or stay up late eating popcorn, or go shopping, well any of those things were yours to do.
Mawmaw expressed her great love for her family through her actions. She would tell you that she loved you, but it was her actions that always proved it. If Briant was visiting her she got up early to make her biscuits and her gravy just like he liked them. It didn’t matter if he was 10 or if he was 30 and he had to get up at 5 am to go to the airport, those biscuits and gravy would be there. Many of Mawmaw’s actions of love involved her good cooking. She would tell us stories of making David Briant fried chicken for lunch every Sunday with fresh made fudge for desert. That is a lot of work, and a lot of love. No holiday in our family is complete without her cornbread dressing and a chocolate pie for desert. After I entered the family each of our gatherings together would find Mawmaw and I in the kitchen cooking breakfast together for the whole clan. It gave her such joy to love on her family that way.
This extended far beyond her immediate family though. She was an active part of loving people through her hospitality here at the church as well. Who knows how many funeral dinners she helped to prepare or how many meals she made for those in need. Mawmaw knew what it was to grieve and to suffer and she had a big heart for those who found themselves in hard times. She talked with great compassion about people who were out of work, ill, or grieving. She knew she was blessed and loved to share out of those blessing to others.
Mawmaw was also extremely generous. She put her money where her heart was. She supported her church faithfully, helped out those in need, and gave far too generously to her family. Even now at 88 she complained that we didn’t spend enough of her money buying presents for her great grandchildren. She made a very generous donation recently to my fundraising efforts for clean water through World Vision. She was happy to help people she would never meet, it gave her pleasure. Of course she was worried as to whether or not she had donated enough money to support me. She wanted me to know I was loved.
Mawmaw often repeated a phrase that I am sure has roots here in Arkansas. She would say, “Everyone thinks their crow is the blackest.” I must say I hadn’t hear that one before Mawmaw said it. But it is true, and it was so true for Mawmaw, all her crows were the blackest. Starting with her children, she had such pride and joy in all her family. David and Margie and all there success professionally and as parents were topics she loved to discuss. Each of their successes was her own. It is impossible to look at David or Margie and their families and not see Mawmaw’s legacy in them.
In addition to her great hospitality, acts of service, generosity, and joy over her family Mawmaw passed on a legacy of faith. Mawmaw loved Jesus. Her faith was vital to her own identity. She was a member of this church for over 60 years. She loved to serve her church, she had deep and lasting relationships with so many brothers and sisters in Christ over the years, and her faith was active and vital. While uneasy and anxious at times during these last few months even the last two weeks as her body failed her, her faith never waivered and she looked forward with great hope to being made whole in the presence of her savior. When she and I would talk inevitably the conversation would turn to our churches, sermons, the future of the church, the role of pastors and the Bible. Mawmaw had a deep faith that has seen her through to glory.
From 1 John 3
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
That faith is ultimately why the traits that Mawmaw passed on to her family came not just from Snellgroves or Waddles, but from her Heavenly Father. John reminds us that it is the love of God that allows us to be called the Children of God. We have a Heavenly Father that through his great love has lavished on us the privilege of being his children. We, as the children of God, take on the family traits of our Father. John reminds us that the family traits of the family of God are sacrificial love, generosity, compassion, and actions that communicate to the world who we are.
Mawmaw showed the world whose daughter she is. She is the daughter of the one true God. Through her continual actions of sacrificial love for her husbands, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, friends and family, Mawmaw showed the world who she was and who she belonged to. Mawmaw was an example to us all of what it looks like to be a child of God. To be loved by Mawmaw was to be loved by God himself. Her love was complete and unconditional. What greater celebration of a life can there be than to say that Mawmaw showed the world the love of her her Father. She loved as Jesus loves.
So today we gather in our grief and loss to rejoice! Clyda Vern Snellgrove Waddle Steed lived a life that any of us would be blessed to call our own. She gave her self to a life of generous actions rooted in the love of Christ. Thanks be to God! We give God thanks for Mawmaw and how her life filled us all with such blessing and love.