Monday, August 20, 2007

A Mothers Day Message for a Funeral

I have been rather busy over the last few weeks spending time with this family. I had the honor of doing the funeral for Judi this last weekend. I did something a little different than normal in that I wrote out the funeral service. I did this because it was such an emotional funeral for me that I knew that if I didn’t do this I wouldn’t be able to get through the funeral. I decided to share this today with my readers as a reminder of the importance of family, and the importance of Godly and caring mothers.

Judi Harrington
The Profile of a Godly Mother

Skip, Margaret, Eddie, Cindy, Jeff and family, thank you for giving me the honor of sharing in this all important event. I want you to know I am grateful and will forever be so. Judi was more than an acquaintance to my family; she was a part of my family, just as she was a part of the wrestling family a part of the family involving the Derby Schools and community. I want you to know I am certain Judi left an impact that will be remembered.

I was blessed to get to spend time with Judi over the years and in the last weeks of her life. I was blessed to speak to her about life and death, and more importantly her relationship with God, and her desires regarding the message she wanted me to share with her family, and those who knew her.

With certainty, the message she wanted me to express today, is one I know the family values as I have seen them live, breathe and be everything their wife, and mother wanted. Judi wanted to leave a message not just for them though; she wanted to leave it for her grandchildren, extended family, and those who knew her. It is in hearing her message, and living it that Judi and her spirit will be remembered for many years to come.

As you can likely tell, I am not originally from Kansas. While I lived here for a little over 7 years in the late 1970’s and mid 1980’s my family returned to take a ministry position in 2002. It was shortly after my return to Kansas that I came to know the Harrington’s. It was while looking for a wresting team to become involved with that I first came to know Skip and Judi. We had tried several teams and were impressed with 2 things about the Derby Club. First was the fact they had a hard work ethic and didn’t treat my son any differently than the other kids. They made him work in practice just as hard as anyone. He was sweating and exhausted after that first practice. The kicker though, the one I will forever be grateful for was Skip Harrington was also in the room.

As Randy Hinderliter from the USAWKS Wrestling boards stated in a post on those message boards, “Skip is a living legend in Kansas Wrestling.” I noticed and observed that Skip was what one might call an old school wrestler and coach.

It wasn’t long after being involved with the Derby Wrestling club that I come to know Judi. I’ll never forget her willingness to introduce herself, telling me that she was Jeff’s and Cindy’s mother, and Skip’s Wife. We had a good laugh about her and Skip but it was obvious from the out set, she loved her family and would often also speak of her other daughter Margaret and son Eddie. She would share about her grandchildren and was obviously pleased with the way each of them had matured and become parents in their own right.

I was blessed that Judi and Skip adopted my family into theirs. She knew we didn’t have family that lived close. Her willingness to love us makes this particular funeral difficult. I can honestly say, I believe my son has lost what is more like a grandmother to him than anyone he has ever known. I can also say my wife and I will miss sitting with Judi at wrestling tournaments and other events as we spent a lot of time with her.

I was blessed that while a pastor of a little inner city church in Wichita Skip and Judi would on occasion visit. Skip offering to work at the church on the basement, and Judi offering to help out in other ways if we needed it. They seemed to like our little, multi racial, inner city church. From sitting and eating at a pot luck at church, to their ability to fit in someplace a little different, Skip and Judi, were willing to share in their life. In many ways, some never realize how they showed their love in subtle ways, ways we can look back on and know that in fact, they loved us.

There are two important moments I had with Judi in the last weeks. On one occasion I specifically asked her about her relationship with God and if she was ready to meet him. We had a good discussion and I am confident that today, Judi is with God. She was certain of her relationship with Christ, even though she was also certain that she hadn’t always lived the way she should. It was that need for a better relationship with God that she wanted me to share. While I understand what she meant, I have to say, that in a world where people wear their religion on their sleeve, it was wonderful to see Judi living it out in action, especially in regards to the love of her family. We also spoke about what she wanted me to speak on at her funeral.

In her last days and weeks, Judi quickly digressed in health, but at the point we discussed this, she was doing quite well, laughing, kidding and talking to everyone who came into the room. I was glad I got to speak to Judi about these things while she was in this condition. I knew she was okay when she kidded me and my son about the need for a haircut. It was also obvious that Judi was Judi when she would desire for someone to just hold her hand, or get a kiss from her husband. We sat one day and held hands for such a long time, I knew she didn’t want to let go. I think that was how she was with many in the family, and friends. She cherished every last moment she had.

When I asked her what she wanted me to share about today, she was quick, to the point, and direct. “Family and the importance of the love of family.” It was the only time I saw her overcome with emotion. It was clear this was important to this dear lady. I will share now the message I believe Judi wanted me to share.

In 1928 a man named W. L. Caldwell wrote an article that said in part:

… may we pause to pay honor to her who after Jesus Christ is God’s best gift to men, mother….. In her arms was the garner of our food and the soft couch for our repose. There we nestled in the hour of pain; there was the playground of our infant glee.
Those same arms later became our refuge and stronghold. It was she who taught our baby feet to go and lifted us up over the rough places. Her blessed hands plied the needle by day and by night to make our clothes. She put the book under our arm and started us off for school.

Caldwell went on to say, “The pride of America is its mothers.”

Judi knew what it meant to be a mother. She was a mother to Margaret, Eddie, Cindy, and Jeff, but she was also a grandmother to all of her grandchildren, and an adoptive mother to the many wrestlers she come to know over the years. I believe that when it comes to Kansas wrestling, Judi was in fact the mother or grandmother for all Kansas Wrestlers who had the honor of knowing her. They know of her devotion to them, and her willingness to share in their lives.
While mothers are looked on in such a favorable light, one has to ask if the concepts expressed by W.L. Caldwell are true today, the concept that mothers are among the most loving of all of God’s creation?

For many who are older, they will tell you that the concept of loving and caring for children is a concept that seems to be lost. We can look at the news and see a mother beating her child in the Wal-Mart, or a mother who will let her child go hungry. I can say these are concepts that were totally foreign to Judi. Judi was in fact, a reminder of what being a mother is all about, she was a reminder of a tradition that we should all remember. A tradition that goes through 47 years of marriage, even when there is difficulty, a marriage that supports a child when a parent realizes that child is not perfect. In fact, Judi exemplified for many what being a mother is all about.

I appreciate the following quote from John Macarthur which I think exemplifies Judi; “For better or worse, mothers are the makers of men; they are the architects of the next generation. That’s why the goal of becoming a godly mother is the highest and most noble pursuit of womanhood. God has specially equipped women for that very purpose, and in Christ, women can experience profound satisfaction in that divinely ordained pursuit. They can be who God created them to be.”

There are a great many in today’s world that are trying to find happiness and satisfaction through their careers. While that is admirable, Judi understood that her first priority was to her husband, and to her children. She understood that there is no greater gift than the gift of being a loving wife, and a loving mother. For the women here today, the love Judi had for others, including her family, was important because she understood this concept. Her gift as a mother wasn’t to receive what her children or husband had to offer, her gift of a mother was to give unconditionally to those she loved.

In the Bible there is a wonderful example of a wonderful mother. We read about this Hannah in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel. There are many attributes of motherhood that I believe fits not only Hannah in the Bible story, but for those who knew her, they also fit Judi.

Hannah and Judi Were Devoted to Their Husband

I know some will take issue with this, I am not trying to create discourse, but as I have stated to the family. Judi’s relationship with Skip is in some ways of the most value. She dedicated her life to him some 47 years ago. For 47 years of marriage, and beyond, they dedicated themselves to each other. While I am certain there was conflict, their love was greater than any conflict. Judi honored her husband and it was obvious Skip loved her.

The most touching thing I have seen over the last weeks is the undying, unconditional love these two had for each other. I would have never imagined Skip in this light, but I saw him kiss his wife so many times in the last week, that most of us as men should be ashamed for not showing our wife that we love them. I found myself asking, numerous times, “Is Skip always this loving towards Judi?” Every time the answer from children and grandchildren was, “yes.” Judi never turned away that love, never denied it, in fact, it was obvious she cherished it. There is no greater love than the love between a husband and wife, and these two were in love so much.

As a reminder of that love that these two had to each other, turn to someone next to you now, simply tell them, “I love you.”

This act was not unusual in the life of Skip and Judi. I was so blessed to observe it and it is something I will learn from.

One of the fun things over the weeks was hearing about some of the times between these two lovers. There is one in particular story that sticks out.

Apparently Skip and Judi loved to dance. In fact, it is my understanding that they used to attend dance competitions and often times win those competitions. I don’t recall if it was at a wedding or where, but Judi loved dancing so much that she wouldn’t let anything distract her from having a good time when dancing with Skip. One such story had her literally dancing out of her skirt, ……, and bloomers….. at the dismay of Skip. While Skipper was in shock at the sight of her slip and underwear on the floor, Judi just keep dancing away. Apparently the look on Skips face is the type of thing legends are made of.

There are many lessons we can all learn from Judi and Skip’s undying love and devotion to each other. We can learn self-sacrifice, love, integrity, virtue, sympathy, compassion, understanding, forgiveness and much more.

In the Bible we see this type of love was evident between Elkanah and Hannah. They were dedicated to God (1st Samuel 1:3), and they were dedicated to loving one another (1st Samuel 1:4-8). While they had difficulties, they used those difficulties to grow more in love with each other.

At a low point in Hannah’s life, she was hungry and depressed; Elkanah comforted her with these words: "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" (1st Samuel 1:8). This may not seem like a tremendous comfort, but her husband was appealing to the love of their marriage. After Elkanah said this to her, Hannah started to eat again, she came out of the depression, and the words had meaning to a wife who understood where love came from.

A Godly mother is dedicated to this kind of marriage; she loves God, loves her husband, and loves her children. Judi exemplified this type of love.

As mentioned earlier, I had good conversations with Judi regarding her relationship with God. There is a great quote by St. Francis of Assisi that states, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.” As I have given it thought over the last weeks, there is no doubt that Judi was a person of faith. A primary difference between her and others though is that she didn’t wear her faith on her sleeve, she wore her faith in her heart. She chose to practice living her beliefs and that was evident in the way she provided for and cared for her family, and others.

One of the most agreed upon concepts about Judi among her children was their observation and complete agreement that Judi was a “care giver.” She cared for and gave to others, without question, and without condition. She recognized the best way she could serve God, was to serve first her husband, and then her children. And man oh man, did she serve her children.

Life wasn’t always easy for Judi but then again, it never is for any of us, but like Hannah in the Bible, Judi wanted to be the best mother and grandmother she could. She seldom complained about her circumstance, she just lived and lived to serve, just like Hannah in 1st Samuel.

We Can Also See That Judi and Hannah Were Devoted to Their Home

Judi loved her children and grandchildren so much. So much that she wanted to be buried with items that belonged to each of them. I think Judi knew this would be as much of a gift to the family as it was something for her. It is another indication of how much she loved her family and wanted them to know that she loved them.

There are other instances of her love for others.

There are the times she would take each of the children to a different practice on the same night, finding ways to go to wrestling practice, volleyball practice, and maybe a baseball practice. Always getting the kids there on time, and picking them up on time.

Judi was there to stand up for the kids. You could likely ask Curt Heinicker about this. There was a time when in a baseball game that Curt beamed Jeff in the head with a baseball when pitching to him. Curt likely recalls Judi being held back as she charged the field to get at the boy who had just hit her son with a baseball. When going to bed tonight he could probably still thank God that this loving mother didn’t get her hands on him.

In the Bible, Hannah was a mother who was also committed to raising and training her children. She had important work to do—nursing, loving cherishing, instructing. Hannah understood how vital those early years are, when 90 percent of personality is formed. Judi also understood this, and was always there to give to her children, grandchildren and others. Many of us got glimpses of this as she was willing to help out in so many ways, whether at a wrestling tournament, sports banquet, or wherever she could give and assist others.

For those who are mothers, think about Hannah, think about Judi. Be devoted to your husband; be devoted to God; and be devoted to your home. That’s your high calling and your greatest joy.
Judi valued family, but she also valued friendship. There are so many here today, that she wanted so much to see before her departure from her body. She was so glad to see Coach Knox visit her. I understand she shed tears of joy when seeing Coach Knox. There were others though, and for each of us, we were the ones that were truly blessed. That says something about friendship.

There is a closing area this morning I also want to comment on. It is an area I think Judi understands today.

The frame that carried Judi, the body, is not really Judi. I know the family realizes this. The spirit and soul that made Judi who she was still lives. She shared with me that she wanted to be reunited with her family in Heaven. She knew Heaven was what awaited her. As we spoke about this, she also understood, as she indicated to me, that she knew the only way to Heaven was through Jesus Christ.

Today would not be complete without sharing this with you. While many do not always show the evidence that they follow Jesus, it is important to understand that Jesus clearly stated, “no one will see the Father in Heaven, or experience Heaven unless they go in through him.” In the book of John is clear; “God loves us all so much that he gave his only son, Jesus, so that whoever believes in him will not die but will live with Christ in Heaven forever. Judi acknowledged to me that this was a decision she had made.

We must realize as we consider the departure or Judi’s Spirit to Heaven, that belief is more than just knowing who Jesus is. It also knows he loved us enough to have died for us, and he wants us to seek forgiveness for the things we have done wrong. We must then allow him to be the leader of our life. The Bible is clear; it is only after doing this that we can experience Heaven. After speaking with Judi, she understood this, she had accepted Christ as a young girl, and while not being religious, she did spend time with God and valued her faith.

Today, if you haven’t done come to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, I would challenge you to do that, either in the privacy of your home, or in prayer before you leave today. If you need advice or direction on how to do this I am open to sharing with you, at any time. When coming to know God, we can be assured, for those that loved Judi, you can see her again, spend an eternity with her without the suffering, difficulty and heartache.

Until then, my challenge is to love each other, value family, and realize that through serving each other, not only do we leave a legacy for the future; we serve God in one of the most rewarding ways we could ever imagine, just like a wife, a mother, a grandmother, sister, family member and friend named Judi.

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