Celebrating a Joyful Life

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Some of you may know that in the past week, I had the opportunity to share about my mom at her funeral services. She passed away November 8th, and we had two services in Utah and Texas for friends and family over the Thanksgiving holiday break. I posted on instagram pictures and chatter about the thoughts in my head, and I said that I’d share my talk, so I’ve posted it below…sprinkled with some pictures, of course. {Here is my 2nd post about how I found out}

Below, my mom in her younger years:

1RaeleneI was also helping to put together so many details on behalf of my family. As the only girl, and with brothers that all hold full time jobs (I mostly set aside this “job”), it just made sense that I did all of this, and it was actually good for me to have tasks to do, but it was also quite stressful. I worked with a travel agent to arrange all of our flights: from Tennessee, Missouri, Houston, Austin, Salt Lake City, and Ghana.  Organized the funeral program, put together mom’s obituary, gathered photos for a slideshow, and just made lots of detailed plans that come along with the entire process.

For my mom’s obituary, I also took some tidbits from my dad, brothers, and grandparents to write it up for the newspaper. My dad wanted it to include fun details, and I love the personal touch. I was so bogged down with my “funeral to-do list” that my amazing editor friend Liz (in Chicago) stepped in to help me make her obituary easy to read.  Love her for that, and for volunteering her services in any capacity, for which she helped me with a few things.

Mom Obituary

As I gathered pictures, and tried to make a slideshow, I ran out of time, and my friend Amanda offered her husband Lee’s skills, and he ended up assembling the slideshow for me, for which I am truly grateful. We showed it at both services, and I think it was a very nice touch. {It’s 15 minutes long, just FYI}

>>>>>>>>>>>If that video has trouble, CLICK HERE  to view slideshow video <<<<<<<<<<<

Fortunately, the funeral home made the programs, which was SO nice not to have to design something, and I could just email details.  We included that instead of flowers, donations to Ghana Make a Difference is something my mom would love. If you remember, my son did his Eagle Scout project there when we went in July, it is now dear to our hearts, too.

Here is the program for Utah, we just changed it up a little bit for Texas:

design a funeral programInside funeral program outline

I’ve got a lot to share about the actual day of the services, but for now, I’m going to just share what I spoke.

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My mom believed in having Joy in the Journey of Life. She lived full of joy in all she did, and out of the many stories that have come pouring into us, along with condolences, it’s that she exuded that JOY that she spoke so often about, rarely without a smile on her face. My mom was a lover of life, and embraced unique opportunities.  There wasn’t a task she wasn’t willing to conquer. She was the one that operated power tools, fixed toilets, and assembled furniture.

As a Home Economics major, she loved everything creative, and often used her hot glue gun as her preferred method to pull things together.  Whether it was a curtain to the wall, fabric on a sofa, or the braid she glued to my husband’s neck for a Star Wars Halloween costume (look closely at the picture below).

star wars family costume

She used her sewing skills to help the Young Women make their school dance dresses more modest, sewing shrugs to match their dresses, volunteering her professional skills without charge.

As a teenager, my friends all flocked to her, and she loved to enquire about their lives. I’ve heard from many friends in the past few weeks that shared how much she appreciated that she cared about them and what was going on in THEIR lives. She always loved our friends, because she knew how much they meant to us. As a kid still trying to figure everyone out, it took me a while to understand why. It wasn’t until I went to college, and even in my adult years, as I spoke to friends about their moms, that I came to realize how her approach to life was truly a breath of fresh air. She was so laid back and relaxed about things, she didn’t “sweat the small stuff” and let most things just roll off her back. But we always knew how she felt about the gospel. she picked her battles and gave us leeway with the little things, none of us ever felt the need to rebel on what was really important.

In Ghana, the people would call her “Madame JOY” as she often spoke about having joy in the journey. With that joyful perspective, she would weave in tender mercies, which she would point out in a difficult situation.

In 1 Nephi 1:20 in the Book of Mormon it states:

The tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance

She recognized that through living a faithful life of service and loving others, that she would receive those tender mercies, even through trials. Tender mercies are often described as “silver linings” or the light at the end of the tunnel. Often times, it can be challenging to notice those mercies from above, as we are focused on the challenge that comes before. 

In a talk in April 2005…. Elder David E. Bednar, an apostle of the Lord, shared about tender mercies:

The Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ.

I’d like to point out a few tender mercies my mom mentioned to me, as well as a few I’ve noticed in the past few weeks.

My mom has always been a great missionary, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others in the joyful way she lived her life. It had always been a desire for my dad to retire and they serve a mission together, but she was more apprehensive, as it meant parting ways with her biggest treasures, her children and grandchildren.

When my parents were first called to serve a mission, they didn’t know where they would serve for 2 months. For those that don’t know, it is generally an assignment, not a selection of where to go. This allows for a great exercise of faith with a joyful heart proclaiming, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord.” My mom had done all of the research and knew exactly which missions needed new leadership when they were to begin their service in July 2013. She’d excitedly tell us that Hawaii was one mission that was needing a new president, and even something on the East Coast in the US. But she knew in her heart that it would likely be a call to Africa, because my dad had been working in Nigeria for 5 years previously, and that mission was also needing someone to preside at the same time as when they would report.

Nigeria was a challenging place for her to live because she couldn’t be as independent as she was used to being. I like to say that my dad commuted from Nigeria to Houston, with my mom visiting in between. When she was there, while my dad was at work, she would stay in a small apartment, and had to have a driver/bodyguard when she went to the grocery store. She did not like having that shadow follow her around, and I got an email this week of a missionary sharing a story my mom told him:

He quoted her saying, “In Nigeria I had to have body guards with me everywhere I went. I like to shop alone, I don’t want anyone telling me what I should and should not buy. I mean, If I want a pack of Oreos then I’m going to buy a pack of Oreos!” Still makes me laugh thinking of her sneaking Oreos into the cart to avoid criticism from her body guards.

Another missionary shared with me: 

Sister Hill was my Mission Mom. I never met someone who made me feel so important. A month after I arrived on mission I started to struggle with homesickness. I had several thoughts going through my mind wondering why in the world did I decide to serve a mission. To wanting to be sent home. We had a Christmas conference with part of the mission. Sis. Hill shared a message with us about “Finding Joy”. This simple little phrase helped me out dramatically! After returning to my area where I was currently serving my mind set had changed. Every night before I went to bed I would write in my journal looking at every day about a certain experience that brought joy too me. This little saying wasn’t much you would say but to me it changed everything.

My mom felt homesickness for us while she was in Ghana, and I’ve heard many missionaries mention what a comfort it was to them that she admitted to being homesick to them, but that they could all do this “hard thing” together, and find JOY in the service of the Lord. She wasn’t afraid to admit that serving a mission was hard for her, but she did it anyway, because she believed it was a call from the Lord.

Elder Bednar continues in his talk on tender mercies: We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live. When words cannot provide the solace we need or express the joy we feel, when it is simply futile to attempt to explain that which is unexplainable, when logic and reason cannot yield adequate understanding about the injustices and inequities of life, when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

A final tender mercy in my mom’s life, and one that our family holds as a blessing, is that her best friend K.K. was by her side in her final moments of life on this earth.  

mom and KK

{Image taken June 2013}

They’d been friends for 30 years, and by a tender mercy can we believe that K.K. was living in Johannesburg, where my mom flew to from Ghana, to have her procedure. At the hospital, they laughed and reminisced and shared with the doctors stories of years past, and embraced as they wheeled my mom back. She and her husband waited for her in the hospital. When the doctor came out to tell them about her heart failure, they feared the worst, but prayed for God’s will and the strength to accept. When it was confirmed she passed away, they both went back to say goodbye. A few days later, K.K. assisted in preparing her to return to the US for burial. 

What a dear friend, that we are so eternally grateful.

My mom lived a full life.

Full of color.

Full of Life.

Full of Joy.