(an open letter to some dear friends about their mother, and one of my dearest friends, Anna Ayres, who died on July 3, 2013 at the age of 96 1/2)
Dear Carol, Marilyn, Tim, and all your families,
Getting the word last night after landing in Indianapolis that your mom was celebrating Independence Day a little early, was both a dreaded and a precious announcement. With her decline in health and mental acuity, I couldn’t wish to keep her from the joy of being with Jesus, but it still stirs a lot of memories and emotion of her impact on my life.
I’m sure it was difficult to see her decline in recent years, and deal with her mental confusion, which I know can sometimes be awkward. I pay tribute to all of you for honoring her in the way you cared for her; and I celebrate with you that she is now with her Savior and Lord; and all the other saints who preceded her, not the least her husband, and your father, Allan; and among their many friends, my parents, Alton and Ruth.
This may seem strange to you, but while the memories of growing up as next farm neighbors and the further connection with our families’ both active in the life of Central Baptist Church, that is not what stands out the most for me. To be sure, those two contexts contain wonderful memories – Alton and Allan lingering over conversation in the farm yard or after church, as the pickup would idle, be shut off, started as if to leave, then shut off again, two great friends; the delightful sounds of the Johnny Poppers joining our less interesting Farmall motors during silo filling season; But more than the jumping John Deere tractors was the education of seeing how work can be shared, done together for the benefit of all; those same men as deacons, sharing the joy and bearing the burden as overseers of the church; reaching out together to troubled younger men to call them to repentance and grace.
It was hard to tell when my dad was just stuck in his traditional ways or being ornery (probably a little of each), but he insisted on calling your mom, Mrs. Ayres, for which she always rebuked him, “call me, Anna,” and they would both laugh – but she was a little irritated by his stubbornness. I think he did lighten up and call her Anna, except when he wanted to get her riled up, then it was Mrs. Ayres again.
The memories go on and on and are precious. When my mom died 29 years ago in 1984, Dad wanted Anna to sing at her funeral. If my memory serves me well, she declined because it would be too hard, which I took, not as disappointment but as an indication of the depth of love between our families.
But the heart of what I want to say about Anna is how she impacted my life post 1984. I was 33 when mom died, totally unprepared for it, living in denial about her imminent death. That seemed to be a watershed for me in taking more seriously the value of relationships, the recognition of how other people shaped my life.
On Mother’s Day in 1990, as the final point of my sermon, I referenced 1 Timothy 5:1, 2 – Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
How could any other woman ever be as my mother? It seemed impossible. But then I began to reflect on a list of women who had in different ways, mothered me. These 23 year old sermon notes still resonate with me, even more now than in 1990. As a child, there was Ernestine Hammond, Pauline Corbin, and Nora Harper. As a college student, there was Josie Porter. In seminary days, Eleanor Havens was there to help us Kansans adjust to the culture shock of Chicago. In Nebraska, God gave us Marjorie Pierce, Minnie Wolf, Juanita Eberle, Ellen Karlberg and Mary Lee Neu. We moved and Sue McCubbin, Maxine Bystrom, Ruth Meier and Shirley Davy were there to mother us. When my mother died, it was Vivian Simms, Harriet Corbin, and Anna Ayres who were mothers to me in my grief.
Every time I read this list, I think of others I should have included from the past. And the list continues with women from Wichita and Indianapolis, though at my age, older women are now more sisters than mothers.
But in my deepest grief, the women who mothered me were these two moms of childhood friends, Harriet and Anna, two older women who I wanted to visit every time I could even living hundreds of miles away. I could always count on words of affirmation and love and an encouraging hug, women from my childhood roots who were a powerful influence.
Most of the women listed above are in heaven now, preceding Anna. A few, the younger ones, still labor on earth. But from my Kansas roots, Anna was the last of a generation of those great mentoring saints. Thank you, Anna! I love you, Anna! I’ll see you again before too long!
So, Carol, Marilyn and Tim, my prayer is that God will provide mothers for you in the church, not who will replace Anna, but who will convey God’s grace to you the way she did to me.
I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend her funeral. My heart is with you. Thanks for sharing her with me!