Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Remembering Mom

Today is the one-year anniversary of Mom's death and I think I am finally able to share with you the eulogy her minister prepared for her memorial service, which was truly beautiful and uplifting.

Mom's high school yearbook photo; personal

Beloved we have come together to remember and celebrate the life of Dorothy Lange Jennings who was born on June 20, 1930 and who died this past Tuesday, September 9, 2014. We have come to remember a very, very dear friend, mother, sister, and wife. To the family we express on behalf of this church and community our deepest sympathy and love. You have truly lost a most beloved and remarkable person in your lives. It is our prayer that you will be comforted and blessed today in this memorial service and especially by the grace and love of God. May the very precious memories that now gather around you of your mother, wife and sister fill you with gratitude and joy.
I believe it was in the early 80s that Ted and Dot moved to Pamlico County and built a beautiful home on Dawson Creek. Previously they have been living in the Washington, DC area and on a trip back north they passed through New Bern and crossed the Neuse River Bridge. They were thinking at the time of a place to retire and Ted, who has always loved the water, boats, and race cars, thought that this might just be the ideal place. They began to look around and found waterfront property on Dawson Creek and there they built their new home. When I met Ted and Dot in 1985 they had already become members of Bethany Christian Church and were faithful participants in all the activities of the church. The graciousness of their hospitality and love made visiting with them one of my favorite things to do. Though they were relative new residents in the community when I first met them they soon found their way into all our hearts. I know of no couple who is more dearly loved by the members of this congregation and community than Ted and Dot.

Dad and Mom about the time they moved to North
Carolina, c. 1978; personal collection

Dorothy came from an amazing family. Her family is amazing not because they are renown in the world but beause theirs is a family shaped by the love of their parents. They infused all their children with a great sense of dignity, of what is right and wrong, of hard work and a desire to be the best they could be at whatever they did. Schalene on her blog included a piece written by Dot about her parents. Her parents were immigrants from Europe who first settled in Canada. They eventually made their way to Brandywine, Maryland. They came there in 1919 and bought a 196-acre farm. It was there that Dorothy was born. All the children in the family, and there were nine of them, worked hard to help put food on the table and to pay for the farm. Their father started a poultry business. He sold eggs in Washington, delivering some even to Senators in the Senate Office Building. On a tree on the family farm their son Arthur carved these words as a tribute to their parents: "1919 came here. Sold pulpwood, eggs to pay for 196 acres. Thanks to Mom & Dad. We all had a good life. In God we trust."

Uncle Arthur's tree carving; personal collection

Dorothy has often spoken to me about her family roots and it is clear that her upbringing contributed greatly to the wonderful person she became. Her mother was an excellent seamstress and Dorothy inherited those same skills. She made all of Schalene's clothes when she was a child and she sewed for other people as well. She had an old Singer sewing machine which she used then, and even in Croatan Village where she and Ted lived, she still used that same machine. Dorothy was also an artist. She painted some amazing pictures. I think she did take some lessons at Pamlico Community College, but the talent she had was a natural inborn talent. But most of all she was a devoted and amzing mother to her children. Schalene wrote of her mother: "She guarded her children as fiercely as a momma bear but never once blamed the teachers as many parents do today when their children get in trouble. We were punished if we misbehaved in school. The teacher was always right."
Dorothy was also determined that her children would succeed at whatever they did or at least never give up on things they set out to do. Again Schalene has written of her mom: "Mom was sure I must have musical talent. Her father played a brass instrument in a marching band and the violin. I should have piano lessons. We bought a used piano and I began taking lessons with the wife of our church's musical director. I had wonderful form, but absolutely no talent. I played the piece as well the first time as the fiftieth. But Mom wouldn't let me quit. Until one day, when I came home from school, she told a story on herself. She was in the kitchen getting ready to clean up after breakfast and she heard someone playing the piano. Since the only person in the house that played was me, she was sure I was late for school. She came in the room to tell me to stop practicing and get to school and discovered our Beagle walking up and down the keyboard, shredding a tissue. Quitting my lessons was only one of the very few battles I won. My argument was simple. If she couldn't tell the difference between my playing and the dog's, I had no talent."
Also, this one last word in tribute to her mother: "She is stronger than anyone I know, but let Dad take care of her for 55 years of their 57-year marriage. Now during the last two years she has become the caregiver." And an excellent caregiver she was. She oversaw the selling of their beautiful house in Quail Woods so they could be together in Croatan Village. They needed to be together and not separated -- for his sake and for hers. Dot and Ted have had a wonderful marriage and life together. Their love for each other has always been evident. Their love produced a family that loves each other dearly. Even in these last several weeks when her condition became truly debilitating Dot's greatest concern was about what was going to happen to Ted and I did my best to assure her that everything would be OK. Her children would be there for her and for Ted as they both have been there for them.

Mom and Dad in April 2014 on our last vacation together;
personal collection

Beloved, when life has been lived to its fullest, there is absolutely nothing more important than the relationships we share with each other and also with God. You can have your wealth and your fame and all that goes with it, but give me family and let me live in loving relationships within the family and also with God. It is not simply that this is what will be important when we breathe our last breath. It is what is important now as we live. It is what sustains us and makes us who we are. Just think what a better world it would be if there were more moms and wives like Dot Jennings and more parents like the parents she had. When you live in gratitude for the relationships of love and caring that you have had, life is just better. I believe you are formed into a more complete and whole person. And I know you are living in a manner that is in harmony with the will of God for you and for the world.
One of the beautiful and compelling metaphors used in the Gospel of John for heaven is that of a house. In John Jesus says to us: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you." A house is a place where family members dwell. To say there are many rooms in God's house is to say there is a room for everyone. The vision we have here of our dwelling with God in the life to come is a vision of family dwelling together in a single house -- God's house.
If your experience in family has been a good and blessed one -- and I admit that is not the case for everyone -- but if it was, the image of house and home conjures up feelings and thoughts that are filled with gratitude and joy. Your house may not have been a mansion, and it may be that in the house of your upbringing there are now some empty rooms. They are empty because loved ones have departed from this life. But still I dare say that when you think about that house you think about the joy of times when family was together, when love and caring were evident, when laughter filled the rooms, and when the family was whole and complete.

Dad after Mom's memorial service; about a month later he was diagnosed
with a tumor of the brain lining; personal collection

In this world we live a fragmented life. Breaks in relationships happen. Unwanted separations from one another come and are unavoidable. It is the nature of life in this broken and dying world. But the image Jesus gives us of our dwelling with God is that of a house where we are together again and where there are no more separations. This is a comforting and reassuring image of life to come. Even if your famiy life in this world was not so good, the promise is when you trust in Jesus you can be sure that life in the family of God is now and will be forever a blessed life.
It is into the fuller expression of that life that our beloved Dorothy Jennings has now entered. This is the promise that Jesus made to her and to us. In the book of Revalation it is described in this way: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."


A special thanks to the Women's group of Bethany Christian Church in Arapahoe, North Carolina, who saw to the refreshments and decorating of the fellowship hall after Mom's service. And to all the attendees of Mom's service, who stood up and shared such wonderful memories of Mom.

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