My family and I are all so incredibly wow’ed and humbled by so many who have loved us well over the past several weeks as we’ve said goodbye to my Mom. We had a memorial today at her home church in Fayetteville, Georgia, and it was beyond all I hoped it’d be.
Surrounded by people who love us and who loved her, telling stories, and worshipping together with her in mind.
What a day. What a woman.
My brother sang beautifully, and led us in worship; my sister spoke wonderful words in memoriam; my stepdad shared memories of the woman he loved; and Mom’s pastors each got up to say a few words that all served to affirm and confirm what we all already knew: My mother was a good, good woman.
I also got to speak at the service, and wanted to put this here for anyone who might want to read. Thanks, again, for letting us share her with you.
“Anybody anywhere who knows anything at all about public speaking will tell you, almost right off the bat, that the best way to lose an audience is to read to them. If you want to engage and inspire and invite folks into a relationship with your words, you simply need to speak from the heart and the rest will take care of itself. Well, I’m about to read to y’all. Hopefully you’ll get over it.
Anyway, here goes:
How do you even begin to honor a woman like Melnee Ivey Mitchell — Mom, Mama, Mimi, sister, daughter, aunt, beloved wife and treasured friend? I’m not even qualified, and I was her favorite!
At least that what she told me. And you know what? I believed her. My entire life, I believed that I was Mom’s favorite.
I found out something very interesting, though, during the last week of her life. I learned that my mom — this wonderful, beautiful, incredibly sweet, and godly woman — was, in fact, a liar.
During that last week when she was still able to engage with us, I was holding her hand and whispering to her — telling her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her; how thankful I was for all she’d done for me and taught me and given me and the people I love throughout our lives.
A tear formed in the corner of her eye and she looked at me, unable to speak, but she definitely heard me. So, I just rubbed her head and whispered:
“It’s OK, Mama. It’s Ok. And I love you. Now… squeeze my hand if I’m your favorite.” And she did! There was a definite squeeze and even a slight grin that formed on her lips.
So, that was proof, right? I was, indeed, her favorite.
But then about 10 hours later, Debbie showed up and started talking to Mom. She actually announced her arrival with “Hey, Mom! It’s me! Your favorite…” and Mom perked up a little! Her eyes opened a little wider, and she grinned that same, devious grin she’d given me.
She and Debbie embraced and I stood just there, like, “Really…?”
And then a day or two later, Scotty was talking to her as I watched — unbeknownst to either one of them — and sure enough, Mom’s “favorite” held her feeble hand — consoling her, and being consoled.
So, yeah. Mom was a liar. First and foremost.
But when I thought about it later, and as I think about it even today, I realize how beautiful that was. And I realize how perfectly that describes who my Mom was.
In fact, I would venture to wage a bet that there’s not a person in this sanctuary right now who doesn’t believe that YOU were Mom’s favorite something. In fact, raise your hand if my Mom — at least at some point in your relationship — made you feel like you were her favorite friend.
What about her siblings? Who was her favorite?
Nieces and nephews? Go ahead. Keep ’em up.
What about grandkids, step kids, son-in-laws, or daughter-in-laws… Sunday school members, pastors, doctors, nurses, or random people she just passed in the hall one time…
Everybody in here should be raising their hand right now, because it was true about you. It really, really was.
You were a favorite.
See, she had an immeasurable love for people. All people. And she loved regardless of size, shape, color, worth, abilities, or belief — she simply loved.
And she loved big.
That’s where this Love Like Mimi challenge — or reminder — has come from. I can’t imagine a better legacy for her than for you — her favorites — to love people well.
That’s what she wanted for all of us. To love and to be loved.
But as I’ve thought about that phrase over the past two weeks: “Love Like Mimi,” it struck me as to how embarrassed and maybe even frustrated Mom would have been with it. She would, no doubt, be humbled and honored, but she would also be the very first person to correct all of us.
She would direct us somewhere else — to someONE else. Because her goal in life was to love like Jesus. And she would be the very first person to point out her own flaws and shortcomings and all of the things she’d done wrong in her life, or didn’t get right while she was here. She’d be the first to point us directly to Him, and to His good and perfect love.
She tried to do that every day and in every way — certainly as long as I knew her — and I got a broader picture of it over the past two or three weeks.
Like most if not all of you, I always knew Mom was a faithful woman — filled with love and with a love beyond reproach, but I don’t think I knew HOWfaithful until those last couple of weeks at her bedside when we started finding and reading her prayer journals.
Journal after journal, book after book, and hundreds and hundreds of pages of her incredible and incredibly specific prayers.
Beautiful, heart-wrenching, soulful, personal, and always hopeful prayers about the people she loved. Over and over and over again — page after page — I was astounded at the depth of her heart and her relationship with her very real God.
Mom was never shy about loving others openly and publicly, but these were her private prayers. And they are as pure as poetry.
Page after page of her prayers were full of asking forgiveness for falling short, not loving enough, not doing enough, not being able to be the perfect servant God requires. And then page after page following up with thankfulness that He still loved her in spite of her shortcomings.
My wife, Bethany, likened Mom to the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Philippians, saying, “I consider even my best efforts garbage… not having a righteousness of my own…”
My best is trash, without the love of God.
Mom believed with all of her heart that even her best was never good enough.
She knew she needed Jesus.
She loved us all with her whole heart, and she offered all of us up to the One, true God who she knew would listen and meet her there in those words.
The God she knew loves us even more than she did.
That seems impossible to believe — even for a believer — but that was the truest desire of her heart; that we would know and believe and trust in the Love of the Father.
So, yeah. “Love Like Mimi.” You will do good to even try.
But do not forget where that love came from. Do not overlook the importance of a life lived in complete devotion to Jesus.
And today, we’re all sad that she is gone. I know I am. I’m going to miss her every day. I think a big reason — outside of the fact that she was our Mom, Mimi, wife, sister, aunt, and friend — is because we think that what she represented to us might also be gone.
Matthew 5:16 is my favorite verse in the Bible, and I’m fairly certain she introduced me to it. It reads, “Let your Light so shine among men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Let your Light so shine among men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven…
Mom was the brightest of lights, wasn’t she? She lived life in such a way that there was no doubt who she was and Whose she was. She. Left. No. Doubt.
So, yes. We’re sad when a light like hers goes away.
But I would submit that because of her light — because of the influence and impact and reflection of the Light she so desperately wanted to emulate — all of our lights can shine a little brighter. Now, it’s our turn.
How can each of us live in such a way that our light so shines among men that they have no choice but to see and get to know Jesus a little better? Love like Mimi. It’s our turn.
To know my mother was to love her, and to be known by her was to be fully loved. She spent her whole life thinking of others and putting their interests before and above her own. There wasn’t a selfish bone in her body, and she spent every day — even up to the very end — thinking about others, and worried about others and hoping and wanting the best for them.
She spent 72 years looking for ways to make our lives better. Gone too soon, for sure. But 72 years is a long time, y’all. And that is a lot of love.
A great many of you might find some comfort in thinking about her up there right now looking down on us and smiling — still watching over us — and that is a comforting thought, I suppose.
But I need to tell you something: That’s not happening.
Of course she still has love. And she carried it with her. And I believe she carried all of our love with her.
But if you think for one second that my Mom is looking down on a bunch of fallen, broken, needy, whimpering, selfish, crying, sniveling, snotty, imperfect people, then maybe you didn’t know her as well as you thought you did.
Listen… We had our chance. She looked after us for 72 years.
But right now — right now — she is staring into the face of Jesus. She’s finally singing, “hallelujah, hallelujah, salvation and glory and power to God…”
She is where she has longed to be. Hers was the funeral she looked forward to most. Every day of her life. She yearned for it with crystal clarity. Not because she wanted to leave us. Not because she didn’t want to be with all of us — on the contrary. The greatest desire of my mom’s heart was to be reunited with all of her favorites at the foot of the throne of God. Together.
Singing and dancing around the kitchen with her grandkids: “I could have danced all night. I could have danced all night…” and laughing hysterically, and running, and playing ping-pong, and jumping on the trampoline, and swimming, and playing hide and seek, and dressing up like cowboys and Indians, and playing card games, and praying, and cheering for Vanderbilt football (and having to pray even more), and eating “the best, juiciest, most delicious apples you’ve ever tasted in your entire life,” and making ridiculous sound effects while telling the same stories over and over and over and over and over and over again, and drinking Diet Coke, and wrapping thousands of stupid, plastic, broken-before-you-can-even-get-them-home Christmas presents, and listening to rock and roll, and hiding Easter eggs, and snuggling on the couch, and taking long walks and pointing out all of the beautiful flowers, and listening to the Robins singing, and eating her weight in banana popsicles…
And resting in the infinite and eternal Love of God. She’s with Jesus, y’all. And we should celebrate that. In fact, let’s celebrate that right now. Let’s give her a big round of applause.
Well, done, Mama. Thank you. We love you so much.”