It’s been nearly 10 years since Joyce pulled me aside and said, "Aileen, I want to ask you a question. I want you to do my funeral. Would you be willing to do that?"
I said, "Today?!"
Indeed, Joyce has been planning her funeral for 10 years. That’s because Joyce Lawrimore did not leave any detail to chance. Her directions to me were that at the graveside service, she wanted Amazing Grace played by Randy Shell on trumpet. At her service, she wanted someone to sing Because He Lives. (Joyce said that when she heard that song the first time, she said, “That’s it! That’s exactly how I feel. Because Jesus lives, I can face tomorrow.) Her main concern, though, was for her service to be short. She said, “Don’t make it long! JB hates long funerals.”
This week, when I mentioned that to JB, he said, "I don't care how long it is!" Anyway, since we've been here longer than 20 minutes, we've already broken that directive.
Oh, she also said, “Don’t make it all about me.”
I said, “Okay great, well, I’ll just go download a generic funeral service and let that be it.”
“Aileen! You know what I mean! You can say a little bit about me, but mainly I want you to make it about Jesus.”
And the thing is, we couldn’t talk about my mother-in-law’s life without talking about Jesus.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says this:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.Romans 5:1-5
Joyce definitely had her share of sufferings.
I mean, to start with, she was the only girl in the family. Just a few days ago, she told a story from her childhood about her older brother Ernest. It seems he punched her one time and knocked her out cold. Don’t feel too sorry for her though. When she came to, she just lay there for a minute, and didn’t let anyone know she was okay: she was having too much fun listening to Ernie get fussed out by their parents!
At 10 years old, Joyce asked her parents for either a baby sister or a puppy. What did she get? Roger. That’s suffering folks.
When Joyce was just 29 years old--29 years old!--she began noticing multiple health problems. She stumbled inexplicably and experienced weakness in her arms and legs. She sought help from doctors, but it was decades before she got a final diagnosis of muscular dystrophy. By that time, Joyce and JB had found a rhythm in coping with her muscle disease. Together, they brainstormed how to make tiny improvements around their home so that Joyce could remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. JB built portable steps so Joyce could get in and out of the van; he built outdoor stairs half the height of normal ones so she could walk up and down them without fear of falling; he replaced knobs that were too hard for Joyce to turn with levers she could operate. Gadgets, adjustments, tweaks, and quick fixes: these strategies surely added to the quality of her life; but they undoubtedly added to the length of her life as well.
Joyce also sought answers from professionals outside the medical profession, and on one occasion, she reached out to Academy Award Winner, Sir Lawrence Olivier. Joyce heard on the news that Olivier had the same diagnosis that—at the time—she had. She knew that the actor would have access to the best doctors in the world, so she wrote to him and asked what his doctors were advising. He wrote back and his advice contradicted what her doctors were saying: he said she should exercise. At the time, her doctors were telling her to rest her muscles, save them, as it were. Olivier said that the latest research suggested that exercise might build muscle strength, not decrease it. So, Joyce started exercising. I can’t imagine how many years of independence she bought for herself.
And that’s the thing: her suffering produced endurance.
One way she endured her limitations was by staying on top of the details of life. We were here about a month or more ago after getting back from a cruise to Cuba. Jay showed her pictures from our trip, knowing she had gone with her parents 60+ years ago. When she saw the pictures she said, “JB, go in there and get those pictures from Cuba.” Now an aside, Joyce Lawrimore was the exact opposite of a hoarder. She got rid of stuff before it can collect the first speck of dust. So just imagine our surprise when he came back SECONDS later with an envelope labeled Cuba with pictures from the 1950’s!
I’ve never known anyone more organized in my life!
She also drew strength from God’s creation. She loved animals—a love she passed on to her children and grandchildren. She loved seeing the birds outside the kitchen window and the flowers in the garden. And in her later years, she came to enjoy sitting in the sun. Every afternoon, the front door would be opened and she’d motor up as close as she could get to the storm door and soak up the sun. She passed many an hour sitting in that doorway “getting her vitamin D.”
After Joyce passed away, her across-the-street neighbor stopped in for a visit and shared with us something we’d never known. When Dot planned her garden, she thought about what flowers Joyce would enjoy when she sat there in the doorway. Isn’t that something? Joyce’s love for the sun, for nature, made the whole neighborhood more beautiful.
But possibly the most notable evidence of Joyce’s endurance was her legendary tenacity. Persistence. Okay, stubbornness. Y’all. You have not seen immovable until you’ve tangled with Joyce Lawrimore. I’ve said for years that we have had Joyce as long as we did because she was so stubborn. If Joyce did not want to do something, you can bet she would not, under any circumstances, do that thing.
And one thing Joyce did not want to do is to spend money unnecessarily, particularly when it came to inflated medical costs. One time recently when she was hospitalized, the nurse came in and asked her if she needed something to help her sleep. In her previous hospitalization, her insurance had been charged an exorbitant amount for ibuprofen. You can believe that would NOT happen again. She thanked the nurse but told her that wouldn’t be necessary. When the nurse left she turned to Jay with a sly smile and said in a lowered voice, “That’s because I’ve already taken my own medicine that I brought from home.”
See her suffering had produced endurance. And endurance created quite a character!
And yes, part of Joyce’s character was thriftiness. Joyce Lawrimore did not waste money for nobody. But Joyce was also generous. Her generosity grew naturally from her faith. A number of years ago, Joyce considered selling her electric organ. Faced with the decision, she did what she always did: she prayed at length about it. God told her it was time to let it go, so she put an ad in the paper. She figured she’d get a nice little bit of pocket change for it. Well she only got one call. It was from a small church. They came to look at it and it was exactly what they wanted. They’d been praying about it and were thrilled to find what they needed within their budget. So what did Joyce do? She just gave it to them. She figured that’s what God meant all along.
Joyce’s character was also marked by humor. Joyce knew how to take a joke and knew how to make one. Like every family, we have inside jokes that are a part of our family soundtrack. One has to do with her selection of her grandparent name. When Jill was expecting Rachel, she and Ted asked Joyce what she wanted the baby to call her. She said, “I want to be called Grandmama. I do NOT want to be called Granny.” Soooo every time Ted Webster entered her house, he greeted her with “How’s it going Granny!”
But she got in her share of jabs too, her last humorous moment came in her last hours on earth. See, Joyce and JB went to USC and Jay and I leaned more towards USC too. But Ted and Jill have always been Clemson fans and Jake has grown up dreaming of going to Clemson which he will be doing this fall. Jake came into the room to see his Grandmama on Thursday evening. When he walked in, we said, “Look here’s your grandson Jake! He’s going to Clemson!” Joyce knew this because a few weeks ago she and I were talking about how excited we were for him. She was so proud of Jake for pursuing his lifelong dream. By the time he came into the room that Thursday night, she’d already become nonverbal and somewhat unresponsive. But when she heard, “He’s going to Clemson!” She crinkled her nose and furrowed her brow, drawing back in mock horror which we’d have believed if it weren’t for the twinkle in her eyes.
Part of Joyce’s character that I found most amazing was her ability to delight in the joys of others. Though she has not taken food by mouth in more than 10 years, she LOVED hearing about other people’s food delicacies. Though she had not been on a trip of much distance in a long time, she loved to hear about the trips others took. It was a beautiful thing.
Indeed, just like Paul promised, because of the peace Joyce had in Jesus, her sufferings produced endurance. Endurance produced character, and character produced hope.
Joyce Lawrimore’s greatest hope was centered in Christ, for sure, but Joyce also found great hope in her family.
Jill and Jay, you were beloved by your mother. She’d be the first to tell you not to get the big head or anything because nobody’s perfect. But she’d also tell you that she could not have loved you more. Ted and I have also been loved like her own children.
Rachel, Trellace, Baker, Jake, Margaret: No grandmother has ever enjoyed her grandchildren more. When Rachel was born, Jill told me that her mother said to her mother-in-law, Rachel’s other grandmother, “You know, other grandmothers talk about how beautiful their grandbabies are; but we know that OUR granddaughter surpasses them all!” And y’all: she wasn’t kidding. She was sharing an absolute truth. She loved your little selves and she’s loved every single stage of your lives, embracing Baker’s wife, Addison, and Rachel’s husband, Carson, as if they were her own as well.
In fact, when I spoke with her last Sunday, she knew she was not long for this world and her number one concern was for you. She could not bear the thought of making you sad.
And that points to the fact that she knew that each of you loved her. She knew that because you showed her by your words, your presence, your gifts, your tender care, and your faithful hugs. Part of her legacy to you is unconditional love that you are already giving back to the world. She believed in you. She cherished you. She delighted in you.
But as much as she loved the 11 of us, her favorite person was her husband, JB. She often said that God did not give me MD, but he gave me JB to take care of me. And what a true example of love you have been. Of course, you really just did what you said you would do, what you know she would have done if the situation had been reversed.
You loved each other: for better or worse, in sickness and in health.
You loved each other in aggravation and delight,
in frustration and in amusement,
and in disagreement and resolution.
Your partnership was a beautiful thing.
Together, you showed your family, your church, and your neighborhood what it meant to be devoted to each other.
Joyce did love her family well. But friends, we all knew, and you did too, that she loved Jesus more. She never doubted her eternal salvation. We know that she was getting really tired of her earthly body. Today she is healthy and whole. She looked forward to running up and down stairs; eating her mama’s chicken and dumplings and fresh strawberries; and drinking thick vanilla milkshakes. She was ready to be free from her earthly struggles, but she didn’t want to leave anyone behind. She said, “I want you to tell everyone that if they haven’t followed Jesu Christ, don’t wait! Heaven’s going to be wonderful and I want you to be there with me!”
See, Joyce’s suffering produced endurance. Endurance produced character and character gave her hope. And hope did not disappoint. Therefore, since Joyce was justified by faith, she had peace with God through Jesus Christ, through whom she obtained access to this grace in which she now stands on her own; and her one true hope was sharing the glory of God through her life and into eternity.
Let us pray.
Friends, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have
no hope. Because as we grieve, we celebrate that Joyce has truly fought life's
final war with pain and is even now enjoying the lights of glory.
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.