Editor’s note: The following column is adapted from a speech presented at Cockrum UMC as a tribute to influential women in celebration of Women’s History Month.
By Cheryl Barham Denley
“She is a woman of strength and dignity and has no fear of old age. ….Charm can be deceptive and beauty doesn’t last, but a woman who fears and reverences God shall be greatly praised.” — Proverbs 31
Have you ever read the delightful children’s book, Are You My Mother? It is a charming tale of a baby bird that opens it eyes for the first time and finds he is alone in the nest. Mother Bird has gone out to find food, so the baby leaves the nest and has many adventures as he asks everyone and everything he meets, “Are you my mother?”
On Feb. 5, my precious grandmother, Mama Gladys, went on to be with our Lord. She went peacefully at the ripe ol’ age of 96½. She was so special to me; she was like a second mother.
We lived next door to her and “Dad” all my life, and I spent much time growing up at “Mama’s” house. I can still see her shaking the pan as she made our usual snack of popcorn, or maybe we would have ice cream with homemade chocolate syrup drizzled on it. Either one would be served with a Coke in a little glass bottle. If I did not particularly care for what my mother was making for supper, I could always run up to Mama’s house and see if her menu was more to my liking.
The week of her death, the hours seemed to go by briskly. Mama had done much to assure we had very few decisions to make, and I often felt like I was in robot mode, going through the motions. I was sad to see her leave this earth, but so thankful to God for the time we had together and her passing without pain and suffering. My emotions were on a roller coaster.
I think her death was harder to take because Mama Gladys’s only child, my mother, had passed away less than two years before. Suddenly, all the influential “mothers” in my life were gone. Grandmother Barham had died when my children were small, so now all my “mamas” were with Jesus.
I felt alone and sad. I felt like asking, “Are you my mother?” just like the little bird in the children’s book. Even when Mama Gladys was in the nursing home — some days she knew me, some days I was my mother and then some days I was just a nice lady from the church — I still had a mama.
God knew I was hurting and he cared. Our sweet Jesus loved his mother and she held a very special place in his heart. As he hung on the cross, one of his concerns was for his mother. John 19 reads, “When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, woman behold your son, then he said to the disciple, behold your mother, and from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
God comforted me with a flood of memories, starting from as far back as I can remember and leading up to the present. He sent into my heart and mind, recollections of things I am so thankful for. He reminded me of going to Women’s Society of Christian Service (now United Methodist Women) with Grandmother Barham and having a reading part on the program. He reminded me of singing hymns into my very first tape recorder with my sweet mother, and he reminded me of the last time Mama Gladys was able to go with me into a church where I was lay speaking and what a special time we had together.
I held on to the fact that night falls, yet day dawns to replace it. I know that grief comes, yet time will ease the pain; I know life ends but death cannot erase it, because in sweet memories love will always remain.
God comforted me with his holy word in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.”
He also humbled my heart by letting me know how much these special ladies meant in my spiritual journey as they showed me the models of Christian women. I am so thankful for their influence, their guidance and their love. My heart aches for those who have not had this type of nurturing in their life.
As I felt sorry for myself and looked around for who could possibly be my “substitute” mother, I realized it was now my turn. It is my turn to influence my younger sister Amanda, my daughter Kris, daughter-in-law Tammie, my granddaughter Shelby and any other young women on their spiritual pilgrimage. This was a frightening reality.
Was I ready to be the “elder” lady and the one they all came to for advice, comfort, direction, guidance and spiritual nurturing? Well I had better be, for the time is now. I praise God for this opportunity and I ask that he go before me and make my paths straight as I face this new chapter in my book of life.
I searched the scriptures to seek God’s direction. I read Proverbs 31 with the characteristics of the “virtuous” wife. I found it interesting that these traits correlated with the traits of Ruth. Both devoted to their family, delighting in their work, diligent in their labor and dedicated to Godly speech. The virtuous woman of Proverbs and Ruth were also dependent on God, they dressed with care, were discreet with men and delivered blessings.
It is now time for me to be Naomi, be a virtuous woman and shine for Jesus in the lives of the younger women around me. I ask you, who is looking to you to be her Grandmother Barham, mother, Mama Gladys, Naomi, virtuous woman? Who is asking, with or without words, “Are you my mother?”
Oh, what a special blessing to be someone special in another’s life, and, oh, what a blessing to know your love for them has helped them on their walk with the Lord. To love another person is to help them love God, but, oh, what an awesome responsibility, one that should be considered prayerfully and scripturally. Martin Luther wrote, “I am to become a Christ to my neighbor and be for him what Christ is for me.”
I want you to close your eyes and see in your mind the face of one influential woman in your life. As you look upon that face, praise God for her. If you are blessed to still have her with you, make a vow to go to her and tell her how she has blessed your life (if you have not already done so).
Now clear your mind and see the face of that younger woman that God is calling you to nurture, love, pray for and offer spiritual guidance. Now, ask God for the strength to carry out this calling. Call on the words of the prophet Isaiah, ”Fear thou not; for I am with Thee; be not dismayed; yea, I will help Thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”
Now open your eyes and thank God that you are a woman of faith, a woman of God and thank him for his son Jesus. Amen.
Denley is part of the Senatobia District program staff and a member of