Thank you Max and Debbie, Ross, Damon and Carolina, Kim and Chris, Jeff and Michelle, Drake, Ross, Callan and Quade, for the privilege of speaking today in honor of your Mom, Mother-in-Law and Grandma. And to the brothers and sister of Gladys—my own Grandpa, Harold, Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary—I am appreciative of the opportunity to celebrate with you this morning, a life well lived.
Death is the great enemy and it is understandable that we all experience a sense of loss with the passing of someone we love so much. Mourning is appropriate, but when a follower of Jesus passes, our grief is tempered by our greater hope and assurance of eternity and a place of celebration. So in the midst of our sorrow, we nonetheless remember today a woman whose life is worthy of celebrating. As much as anyone, Gladys would want us to dry it up, enjoy each other’s company, share some fun memories, and hopefully eat some candy in her honor.
As I was reminiscing with family about Gladys and remembering how fun it was to be around her and Uncle George, and as I considered the legacy of her life, I naturally thought about her sense of adventure, her sense of humor and her love of family. All of these are marvelous but the real legacy she leaves to and through her children and grandchildren is her sincere faith in Jesus.
Sincere faith. In many ways she and your family remind me of two women, a mother and a grandmother, that the apostle Paul wrote about in a letter. These women were the mother and grandmother of the young minister Timothy. Their names were Lois and Eunice, and are mentioned by Paul in 2 Timothy 1:3-12:
I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience as my ancestors did, when I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day. Remembering your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy, clearly recalling your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois, then in your mother Eunice, and that I am convinced is in you also. Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me His prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald, apostle, and teacher, and that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know the One I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.
Paul recalled the sincere faith of Louis and Eunice. He reminded Timothy to keep ablaze a spirit of fearlessness, to embrace and believe the gospel of Jesus and therefore be certain that Christ will indeed be with you always even unto the day we are united with Him and our loved ones face to face in glory.
If I could characterize Aunt Gladys, your mom and grandma, I would indeed choose words like sincere faith, a fearless spirit, and a woman not ashamed of the gospel. Ask Max or her grandkids or any one of us who loved her.
She was gentle, sweet, and fun loving, with a strong adventurous spirit that showed through her blue eyes. That she was a woman of great character and strength is evident in how she handled joys, hardships and health issues she and George faced. Like Paul, Gladys was not unaccustomed to suffering.
George’s stroke and the loss of Mary Belle were her greatest challenges. As Max has said, “She took care of dad when she really should have been taking care of herself.” Max described his mom during this period with the words, “She was amazing.”
In fact, even as a child she suffered. When she was a little girl, she had rheumatism and had to be pulled around by in a wagon by Harold and her siblings as she was too weak and sick to walk. At the time one of the greatest fears were “mad dogs,” as there was not yet a cure known for rabies. During one outing as they pulled her in the wagon, someone yelled, “Mad dog!” My grandpa said that Gladys beat them all to the house!
In asking Max to share some of the family’s favorite memories of Gladys, it’s not surprising that holidays were recalled. Celebrating most holidays at Mary Belle’s and Ross’s, she relished spending time with the whole crew of kids and grandkids and eventually great grandkids running. She so loved her grandkids Jeff, Kim and Damon and her four great grandsons.
Gladys adored her children, Mary Belle and Max, her son-in-law Ross and her daughter-in-law Debbie. She knew that Debbie was the best thing that happened to Max. She treasured her friendship with Debbie’s mother, Paris, and her caregivers, Teresa, Gwytha, and Shelly. She especially cherished her grandchildren. They were one of her greatest pleasures right up to her last days. She genuinely loved Christmas when they all wore matching PJs.
Why not? It probably reminded her of being one of the eleven Whitlock kids of the local preacher. For her family was friends and fun. In fact, the more you hear about the original eleven kids, the more you understand how much they loved to play games, play jokes on each other, and just have fun with each other.
Whether it was camping, the famous tacky parties that all those Whitlocks dressed up for, or their famous game of blind man’s bluff they played with each other even after they were all grandparents themselves, you get the picture of Gladys and her siblings and their love for fun and family.
I’ve heard stories of Great Grandaddy and Great Grandma telling the eleven as they grew up that they better behave or some old mean witchy woman who lived over on the next hill would come and get them. One time the younger crew was acting up and Great Grandaddy snuck around and took a dress off the clothes line, put it over his clothes, grabbed an axe and came around the corner as that crazy old woman come to get them. I guess that Gladys and the rest of the eleven all came by it honestly. Must be genetic.
There was the time when before church services Gladys and some of the others decided to hound Harold who they thought had gone in the outhouse before the church service started. They began throwing rocks at the outhouse and yelling various things for a while then hid out to watch Harold come out. Only to their great embarrassment, instead of Harold it was the guest preacher who was visiting their church that day who emerged.
Gladys was one of the daughters of the preacher at First Baptist, Hinton, when she first met George. She had gone to the grocery store invite him to church since he was new in town. I’m not sure whether this is a greater example of her dedication to sharing the gospel or of her fearlessness in approaching the handsome new boy in town, but knowing Gladys it was an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.
She first went out with George after she had gone skating with another George who she classified as “just a friend.” But she said, “George Colclasure could really skate swell,” so they skated together as much as they could and she let him drive her home, “in his nice car.”
And apparently, a nice car was a requisite for Gladys. She never talked about any guy she ever dated without first mentioning that he “drove a nice car.” I’ve been told that this was not only important to her but to Mary, and Mabel as well. In fact Gladys, when remembering Mary going out for hot chocolate with Ted, described the story as Ted taking her out in his “nice car.” Apparently though George and Gladys spent a lot of time driving out on country roads because legend has it that he kept a shovel in his trunk in case they got stuck
Gladys was obviously fearless in her youth as evidenced by boldly going to town to invite the new boy, George Colclasure to church. It’s also evident in the times when she and Harold used to sneak out and walk to a place where they could dance. Now that was fearless for a couple of the Baptist preacher’s kids to do in that day. The problem was their dog would follow them there and Harold would have to throw rocks at his own dog to make him go back home. One time the dog followed them right into the dance and caused them to have to run it out. I guess it may have been easier to identify the preacher’s dog than it was his kids.
Gladys loved adventures and one of the blessings she enjoyed was traveling with her family. The first time she went to Hawaii it was her first airplane ride and as she and the family walked into the incredible lobby of the Hyatt hotel there, she looked around and began to exclaim, “Rich riccch rich, rich rich! Honey we must all be rich rich rich to be staying here!”
When she was in her late 70s and 80s and they would take family trips, they would load up and head out in a large SUV or their motor home. All the kids and grandkids would be exhausted and trying to sleep but Gladys would be wide awake and ask, “Are you kids asleep back there? I hope not because I’m wide awake as a hoot owl. Let’s visit!”
Another time it was so quiet and everyone was dozing off when Gladys suddenly said, “Damon honey, whatever possessed you to make such good grades?” Everyone just broke out laughing. If she was with family she wanted to visit.
My dad told me the story of her pet parakeet Happy. Gladys trained it to recognize its name and when she clapped Happy would fly over to her. One day, Happy was sitting on the shoulder of one her brothers who were visiting and they absentmindedly walked outside with the bird and it flew off. When Gladys realized it she ran out to the yard and began looking up to the sky, clapping furiously and shouting out, “Happy, Happy, Happy!” I just wonder what the neighbors thought.
Her love of fun and family and laughter are all part of her legacy that she leaves her family. But the greatest legacy she leaves is her sincere faith. Her strong faith in God through Jesus should inspire each of us to embrace the abundant life Christ intends for us now and in eternity. She believed in Jesus that He died on the cross for her sins, that He rose from the grave and conquered death, and that He prepared a place for her—a real physical place of eternity and fun and family.
Jesus, explaining His own impending departure and separation from his disciples, told his them in John 14:1-3:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
I urge you to be encouraged because Gladys knew the truth of Christ’s promise in verse 6: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
So to Max and your family and to Mary Belle’s family, to all of the grandkids and great grandkids, to her family and friends, I urge you to embrace life like she did. And most important, embrace the same sincere faith in Jesus that she did. Permit me to paraphrase 2 Timothy 3:1-12 and read it to you, the children, grandchildren, and family of Gladys:
I thank God when I remember you in my prayers. Remembering your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy, clearly recalling your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother and your mother Gladys, and that I am convinced is in you also.
I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. Don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, now made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel we are appointed and that is why we suffer. But I am not ashamed, because I know the One I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.
We are a people not without hope. We have confidence in the future and life beyond death. And for a woman of sincere faith, for a woman who loved fun and family and celebrating, it seems so fitting that she had her Homegoing on her 98th Birthday.
As she celebrated 98 years here, she closed her eyes only to open them a split second later to have the greatest birthday party ever! What a wonderful birthday party it was as Jesus ushered her into heaven where she could SEE and HEAR and Walk again, and maybe even dance. What a birthday party that must have been as she was reunited with George, Mary Belle, and her brothers and sisters and her Mamma and Papa.
Max stated, “We can only imagine how the sight of heaven and the beautiful music of all the angels singing would have looked, sounded and felt to mom as she arrived last Tuesday night on her birthday. Happy Birthday Mom. We were so blessed to have you.”
For just a brief moment I imagined her running around heaven clapping and shouting, “Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy!”
But I really do suspect that as she arrived in glory and beheld the absolute splendor and awe and majesty that surrounded her in the lobby of Heaven, she must have stepped back and said something like, “Rich riccch rich, rich rich. Honey we must all be rich rich rich!”
And indeed she is.