A Memorial Message for My Step-Mother

Leta Love Gatlin House, who we all knew as “Teed,” or “MeMaw,” or “Mimi.” 1913-2013.

The following is the basic message I spoke at my step-mother’s funeral yesterday.  I truly felt like the message itself was a gift from God, as was my step-mother.

A Memorial Service for Leta House  on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at the Bates Family Funeral Home in DeKalb, Texas:

Scripture Passage: John 2:1-11  The Wedding at Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine.

I. Why This?

This is not a normal funeral passage.
Some of you may be wondering why I chose to read this passage about the Wedding in Cana.  Some of you have wondered about me for years.

Certainly, John 2 is a passage we would more likely expect to hear at a wedding.
Several reasons:
1. I like weddings better than funerals. Both are family gatherings. Both are among the things we are expected to attend. Both have a certain solemnity. Both have flowers.  But of the two, I like weddings better than funerals.

2. When you read through the Gospels about Jesus attending funerals, He always threw the whole event off. When He finds Jairus’s daughter dead, he restores her to life, as He does the son of the widow of Nain. “Young man, I say to you , ARISE.”  He waited several days before going to Lazarus’ grave, and then Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come forth.”
The earthly ministry of Jesus was not good for funeral directors. I wonder if they had a money back guarantee.

3. I do believe there are some good reasons for focusing on this passage about turning water into wine today as we remember the life of Teed House.
Even though we know this is a funeral, a memorial service, and not a wedding.

Let’s consider some things today so that we might find strength and comfort on this occasion.

1. Funerals don’t end family relationships. Teed has not ceased to be a part of our families and our lives. She is still a wife, a mother, a step-mother, an aunt, a MeMaw, a MiMi.
All of the members of our families who have died are still members of our families. Our fathers and mothers are still our fathers and mothers. Husbands and wives are still husbands and wives. Grandparents are still grandparents.
There will never be a time when Teed will not be a part of our families.

And while funerals don’t end family relationships, weddings, our topic today, EXTEND family relationships.
Weddings create, blend, and enlarge families.

All of us here today are here because of a series of weddings. Families who scarcely know one another. Families who may be total strangers are brought together in weddings.
Through the ages, the old story has occurred over and over. A man and a woman are joined in marriage and from there families extend and are connected.

Many year ago, in the very early part of the 20th century, Teed’s parents, Dan and Betty Elkins were married and a family was started. They were farm people in Ward’s Creek.
Walter and Lelo House, my grandparents, perhaps around the same time, were married and were farm people in Avery.  At times, their paths certainly crossed.
And because of those marriages and families, and because of many other marriages and families, we are all here today, many of us connected by ties of blood and many by ties of the marriage covenant.

And in particular, many of us here today are here because of a December wedding back in 1987.

A wedding, like all weddings, that extended and blended and enlarged our families.

2. There is a dark side to all this.
In the wedding at Cana, we are reminded that we are in a world where things don’t go right.

In the commonly noted Murphy’s Law, if anything can go wrong it will.

In the Bible story, the families who were hosting the wedding feast ran out of wine.  We might think that this merely a disaster for some catering company.  It would have been a very embarrassing social disaster for the host families.

We can certainly think of much worse things that could happen at a wedding.
We certainly know of much worse things that happen in every day life.  Worse things happen, even tragic things.

The death of a family member certainly seems worse than running out of wine at a wedding.

As it happens, a guest at the wedding changed everything. He saved the day, so to speak.  Changing everything and saving the day was the life mission of this guest.

As it happens, Jesus did not come into the world to save us from social disasters, to help us through awkward moments, and to rescue us from the many calamities that can and do happen.
Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Jesus was God and the Son of God in the flesh. This is what we celebrate at Christmas.
In the mystery of mysteries, the Son of God not only took on a human body, but He was obscurely standing among the guests at this wedding.
He was on a mission that would take Him to the Cross.
Along the way, He lived as no man ever lived. He taught as no man ever taught. And He revealed His power and glory in small events we know as the miracles.
John 2:11 says, “This beginning of signs Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed on Him.”

This was the first of the miracles as recorded by John as Jesus moved along that road to the Cross.
It is a beautiful story and fitting, because Jesus’ coming was all weddings and not funerals.
He even skipped His own funeral.

Back to Cana:  Something went wrong at this wedding.
That is a reminder that something is wrong in this world.
It is not just that bad things happen. It is not just that this is not a perfect world.
Rather, it is all because this is a world suffering under the effects of the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, and this is a world filled with pains and miseries due to sin.  Sin in the world leads to death.  This is a world where even the best of marriages end in funerals.

There is something wrong in this world.
In the late 1980s, there was something wrong in the lives of Joe House, my dad,  and Teed.

The Bible says of Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone.” The same could have been said for Eve.

Both my dad and Teed had lost their spouses. Both were alone.
They met and soon afterwards had a December wedding.
December wedding because they were both older people.

I suspect that both of them had thought during those lonely years that the good years were over, that the best of life had now passed.
But God who can turn water into wine does wonderful things.
These two people got to know each other, grew to love each other, and then married.

There was a romantic rustic cabin in Arkansas where they spent a lot of time…with me.
It was my house, and my dad was working almost daily on finishing out the cabin that had been framed up.
I helped him some, but I got replaced by another assistant carpenter–Teed.
It was winter and cold and the house had no heat other than a fireplace.
Daddy and Teed would build a fire, work on whatever room was needing finishing, and warm up some soup on a hotplate.
My dad really knows a lot about dating and courtship.

One day, he and Teed got in the truck to leave, but then he stopped and came back over to where I was.
“What would you think if Teed and I got married?”
My dad was asking my permission to get married!

I figured that if I or my sisters said NO, they would elope.
But my sisters and I didn’t want to say NO.
We knew that in a world where things go wrong and had gone wrong, this could be a great blessing for our dad. It was not good for our dad to be alone and Teed was an anwer to our prayers.  She was, so to speak, God’s means of turning water into wine.

We did have some concerns.
We knew it would take a strong-willed woman to be married to this man.
We learned that Teed was just such a strong-willed woman.
Teed grew up in a family of six kids. She grew up in the tough times that many people experienced in the earlier decades of the twentieth century.
Think of how long she lived–100 years and six months.
Born in a time when Woodrow Wilson was President, just a few years after the first Model T’s rolled off the assembly lines, just a couple of years after the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk, before the time of talking movies, and before World Wars I and II.
Born into that world in 1913, she lived up to a time where at age 70, she took her first airplane ride and went to Los Vegas.
She lived up into this modern age.
Long before the there was much talk about women’s rights and equality, Teed was running a business on her own. For some 30 years she ran a store and service station.  During part of that time, she was also a single mom.

She was very quiet. All of us who remember Del, Teed’s sister, remember the great differences in the personalities of the two sisters.
Teed was the quiet one, reserved, but strong.
If I had one fear of her, it was this. I never wanted to ask her opinion about something. I knew she would give an honest answer, not just one that I wanted to hear.
Once we were with Teed and Daddy, and we had brought along some pumpkin pie. I asked, “Would you like some pumpkin pie?”
Teed answered, “We prefer sweet potato.”

In God’s good providence, this strong woman came into the life of my dad.

We also knew that my dad needed someone with energy.

The other night, we were talking about when Teed got her pacemaker.  I have my own ideas about her pacemaker. I think that the doctor didn’t install the pacemaker because of Teed’s heart. I think he saw the man she was married to. You just about have to have a pacemaker to keep up with my daddy.

And Teed did keep up with Daddy.
For years, they went camping and went square dancing. They traveled to the Texas Valley for about a month each winter. They traveled all over the place.
As the years went by, they slowed down, but not a whole lot.
Every family gathering, they were there.
Trips to Texarkana, trips across the country, trips with Betty.
They have had an amazing 25 plus years.

That’s why I like weddings better than funerals.
There were some sad days that left both of them single now what was many years ago.
But it was a good day when these two married.

4. Till death do us part

There is a wedding vow, carried over through the ages. It says, “Till death do us part.”
Even in our sorrow today, we are celebrating the lives of two people who took that vow as a foundation for their marriage.  It wasn’t just words or tradition.  It was a foundation for them.  Remember that both have now experinced the deaths of spouses twice.

I am thankful for the marriage that we are celebrating.
I am thankful for the many ways in which our families have been extended and expanded and blended.
There are grandchildren here and great grandchildren who are thankful to have had a MeMaw or a MiMi.

Thank you, Betty, for sharing your mother with us. For watching over her and my dad.

3. All of this time today brings us to this point:  The Bible is a book about marriages.
The mission of Jesus Christ was to gather His bride, the church.

In that great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” the first verse says, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord” and it goes on to say, “From heaven He came and sought her to be his holy bride, with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.”

The Bible is one long story of a wedding. The plans get thrown off a lot, but the final end of all things is the marriage feast of Jesus Christ and the Church.

This whole world doesn’t end in funerals. Jesus didn’t like funerals.  He likes weddings. The invitations go out to all. And Jesus invites us to not just attend, but to be part of the Bride of Christ.
The Gospel is good news to all people.

A death is much worse than running out of wine at a wedding. But John says that this was the first of the signs that Jesus did that showed His glory.

Jesus went to the cross and died, bearing our sins.  Then He rose from the dead–the greatest of signs.  This Jesus calls us all to Him.



3 thoughts on “A Memorial Message for My Step-Mother

  1. What a remarkable message. For someone a few months from 60, I’ve attended relatively few funerals in my life, and I certainly have never ever heard anything so poignant and sound as that in any of them. That was a blessing to read.

    With my heart condition, I am likely to go about any time. I’m giving Linda strict instructions to have you preach my funeral.

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