Monday, March 14, 2011

Remembering Flora Opheila Carson Smith (Feb 4, 1929~Mar 14, 2009)

As I sat this week watching The Talk, the ladies shared what it was like living with their mothers for short stints as grown women (either in their mother’s home or in their own homes).  Julie Chen's mother lived in her home when Julie’s first child was born.  Julie said she loved it because “I was my mother’s baby.”  Her mother really took care of her as a grown daughter with a new baby. 
When she was most ill, I saw & felt the love in her smile.
Most mothers  never stop being mothers and daughters do not cease to be daughters even into middle age and later.  I have shared things my mother taught me on two other blogs.  So if you have read them you know my mother was unable to walk from the time I was about ten years old.  Yet, from her chair with wheels and then her wheelchair, mommy enjoyed doing the things we normally associate with mothers.  She cooked, cleaned, washed, combed and brushed our hair, hugged us, scolded us, chastised us (she, like most women of her generation, believed in spanking a child’s behind when necessary but never striking a child in the face), “babied” us, fussed over us, etc.
When I suffered from premenstrual syndrome—severe cramps, vomiting, etc.-- and was confined to bed for a day or few hours, mommy would scoot from the kitchen to the bed bringing me hot tea, soup and medicine.  She never let the challenges associated with constricted hamstrings muscles and arthritic joints stop her from taking care of her children (as babies, teens or adults). She babysat for my older sister because she could not afford to pay for a babysitter.  She raised my grandniece Misty from her wheelchair, bathing her in the kitchen sink where she taught the baby to help herself out of the sink by pushing off from her tiny feet.  As someone recently said, no-human-body will ever love me like my mother loved me. I might have felt like an orphan for a while after my mother died, but I know I was loved when she lived.
This unconditional love my mother had for me and all her children did not mean that she didn’t teach us to be independent, responsible adults.  Because she did.  Whenever I felt the need to cry over a problem or predicament and would call my mother, she would firmly let me know that crying was not going to change a thing. “Pray about it,” she would say, "and then get up and do something about it.” Prayer without works was no good. My mother was resourceful.  She believed if we ask, we have a better chance of getting what we need than if we never ask. She exercised humility in this regard. She believed we should act on our faith.  Below I have insert the eulogy I gave at my mother’s funeral, which provides a better picture of how she lived a life of faith.

By Mitzi Jane Smith
March 19, 2009

My mother’s favorite scripture was Psalm 91:1-2: The one who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty; I will say of the Lord; He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 

I want to say a few words about this Scripture, but first a brief prologue on my mother’s life.
            If I could be half the person my mother was, I’d be satisfied.  Someone once said that everyone needs someone to be a witness to their life up close – the way one lives her life from day to day.  We are that witness for my mother.  My mother loved life, had a zeal for life in spite of her many illnesses and challenges.  She loved her children; when she could no longer walk, people advised her that she should put her children in Franklin Village; but she would not – she continued to raise us from her wheelchair.  She was intelligent and industrious – She always began her day very early in the morning to do whatever she had to do; she believed in doing all things well and efficiently for herself and for others; she would say, “if you don’t use your head, you will wear out your feet.”  “If I could walk,” she’d say, “you would not know which corner my dress tail went around last.”   She was compassionate and caring, attempting to love all people equally – black, white, rich, and poor.  She cared for the sick and elderly at St. Luke’s and in her neighborhood, as if they were her own.  My mother brought her grandfather to Columbus to take care of him, along with her three small children in her two bedroom apt., until his death.  My mother adjusted to every new challenge – she would not let her constricted leg muscles or her arthritis render her immobile – for example, she found a way to get a car with hand controls –we celebrated her ingenuity and independence, but we also discovered it was risky business riding in the car with my mother – long after the fact, we could joke about how she couldn’t get her leg off the accelerator quick enough and ran a red light or nudged a ladder on the side of a house – and yes there was a man on the ladder.  Truly God’s shadow covered her and her children. 
My mother was an extremely grateful person.  She would repeatedly tell me the story of how one night God delivered her from death – hot frothy water bubbling up in her lungs, unable to catch her breath, she called out to God and God saved her.  For this she was always grateful even though God had not yet straightened out her crippled legs.  My mother loved to laugh; and laughed as hard as she worked; as she recounted to us stories and jokes, she laughed  until her body shook, turned red in the face, and tears ran down her face.  We laughed hard too even though we found no real humor in the joke; her laughter was contagious as was her love for the Lord.
My mother, I believe, found and learned to dwell or to inhabit that secret place of God.  I have conjured up Psalm 91 when I needed encouragement or strength for the journey; it reminds us of the Lord’s protection and presence in difficult times.  But my mother, allowed the God of this scripture to consume her.  This Psalm is a testimony to her life; the way she lived her life.  My mother lived her life in that secret place – she didn’t dart in and out of that place like a turtle in its shell.  She knew that to live in that secret place is to do more than merely exist there.  To live there is to walk, to talk, to act as if no other place of habitation exists.  Life only makes sense; is bearable when one lives in that secret place.  She made that secret place her home, her city, her country.  To live in that place is to face every disappointment, every obstacle, every challenge, knowing where you live.  I loved the stories our mother told us – sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, but many stories of faith.  My favorites were those that testified to God’s compassionate intervention in her life.  There was a particular occasion when my mother had no money to catch the bus to go to work; but with four small children depending on her, by faith she made her way to the bus stop believing she would make it to work. And she stood at the stop without a dime in her pockets; she stood there at the bus stop expecting God to do something.  And as she stood there the Lord sent a gust of wind and riding in on the wings of the wind was a bus ticket.  The bus came; she got on her. I don’t know how she got back home, but she did.  She who lives in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty – he is my refuge, my fortress, in him do I trust.
            That place where my mother lived and in which God invites us to live is described as a secret place.  An image comes to mind of children playing hide-n-seek.  But when I think of my mother Flora Smith, I think of something not so childlike.  The secret place can be a metaphor for intimacy.   Intimacy is not limited to space or place; it transcends any space and any place.  My mother could live in that space in the wee hours of the morning.  When she could not sleep, she would sit on the side of her bed.  When I asked her what she was doing at those times – her answer, “praying for her children.”
            And in that space, that place she found not just any god; but the Most High.  My mother had an intimate relationship with the Most High.  She knew the Most High in a way that made me envious; envious enough to seek the same kind of intimacy with God.  The ancients believed in the existence of many gods – a creator god, a sea god, a god of war, a god of love, etc.  The Most high is the most powerful god; that god who trumps and prevails over all other gods; competing gods that strive for our loyalties and sacrifices; gods of greed and selfishness; gods of mean spiritedness and grudging holding; my mother turned her back on these gods.  Her Most High God could not be put in her or anybody else’s pocket.  My mother had tried God and found God to be the Most High.  If nothing could move her God, nothing could stop her – not polio, not sleeping sickness, not diabetes, not an empty purse, not a bare refrigerator, and not even a deceitful landlord who took her money and said she hadn’t paid her rent leaving her homeless with two children in her arms and one on her dress tail.  Living in that secret place God cast a long and wide shadow over her life.  That shadow remains in death and in the life to come.  God is truly a refuge, a fortress and a shelter in the time of need.  A rock in a weary land.
The Lord is our light and our salvation
Whom/what shall we fear?
The Lord is the strength of our life
Of who shall be afraid?
We love you Mom
And we’ll see you in the morning – that great getting’ up morning.

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