Tribute to a Mother
My dear mother, Johanna Beeke, aged 92, passed on into the presence of her Saviour at 3:45 a.m. on July 23, 2012. Though words seem hollow right now, I have tried to write a little of the tremendous legacy she left us five children and our spouses. Some of this material I used for leading her funeral on July 28, which is why parts of it are addressed to my brothers and sisters, and extended family. Afterwards, I preached on John 14:1-3, the text that the Lord used to grant her some spiritual liberty in the early years of her conversion. The following day, July 29, I preached a follow-up sermon to the flock I serve in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Psalm 17:15, which is available on sermonaudio.com.
Dear brothers and sisters, the bittersweet time we have long anticipated has come: God has taken our dear, precious mother home. He has confirmed his own Word in Hosea 13:14, ‘O death, I will be thy plagues.’ And in 1 Corinthians 15:55a: ‘O death, where is thy sting?’
Death has lingered long for our dear mother, but now her soul is in the land where death is no more. Every time a believer faces terminal illness and death with faith and confidence in Christ, death is plagued, unstung, and defeated. That is now true for mother. Her soul is eternally delivered, and soon her body – so frail for so long – will be strong and forever reunited with her soul, so that with her whole being she will praise God forever.
Mother died by faith, with dignity, in Christ. We have lost a praying mother, but we have not lost her prayers. Matthew Henry said of parents that they could far better leave behind for their children a treasury of prayers than a treasury of gold and silver. We have been blessed in this way as children more than almost anyone else we know on this earth. What a treasury is laid up in store for us of the prayers of our dear mother and father! And what responsibility is now ours!
Dear family, we will all miss our mother and grandmother terribly. We’ll miss her sweet smile, her kindness, her godliness. We’ll miss caring for her. Dad used to often say to us, ‘You will never be able to repay all that your mother has done for you.’ By God’s grace, we count it an honour as a family that we could repay a little of that debt. But now, how shall we begrudge her a place at Dad’s side singing praise to the Triune God without any infirmity? Mother is now in the church triumphant – and no longer in the background!
Here on earth, our dear parents loved the church as the local manifestation of the body of Christ. They gave their life for it – Dad openly as elder for forty years; Mother, always in the background with her prayers and tears and care, supporting Dad. Nothing was too much for them to give to the local church body of the Kalamazoo, Michigan Netherlands Reformed Congregation. By their talk and their walk they taught us to love the church as well.
But now their giving to the militant church is done. And they serve the triumphant church forever – that church that knows no man-made walls, no denominations, no separations, no infirmities – that church where everyone loves each other perfectly in Christ Jesus! Truly, we cannot wish them back. As Robert Hawker said, ‘When our loved ones die, they change their place, but not their company.’
Nineteen years ago, when Dad was taken to glory so suddenly by a massive heart attack while in the pulpit serving this church, Mother was the last one to see me before I entered the Kalamazoo NRC pulpit to lead his funeral from the very spot where he died. At that point, I was overwhelmed, not knowing whether I could hold up. She laid her hand on my arm, and said, ‘Remember, dear, we cannot wish him back.’ I cannot tell you the strength that simple comment gave me at that moment. Dear brothers and sisters, and dear family, what a legacy has been left to us! I would like to describe that legacy through our dear Mother’s life in five words, each of which bear the stamp of God’s grace.
1. Prayerful – that would have to be the first descriptive word. In terms of consistently coming to the throne of grace, pleading for God’s mercy, Mother was the best prayer warrior I have ever known. You remember, dear brothers and sisters, when our parents had their 50th anniversary, and we all decided to thank each of them for one thing without telling each other what we would say, that we all thanked Mother for praying for us. We all could feel as we grew up that she was praying earnestly for each of us. When we would get up in the morning, do you remember how as you would walk by the living room on the way to the kitchen to get breakfast, you would furtively glance into the living room, there to see through the shadows Mother on her knees? You felt that that prayer place was a sacred place of communion with God, where Mother did business with heaven on our behalf.
We probably all have stories like this, but once, as a young teenager, I recall vividly a certain occasion in which I was about to watch something with a friend that was not edifying. Just before I indulged in desensitizing my conscience, however, it was as if I saw Mother on her knees before me. The power of that image in my mind was such that, even though I was not saved, I told my friend I couldn’t watch what he wanted to watch.
Often Mother would pray at great length. Once I called Dad from Grand Rapids and said, ‘Do you mind if I come down to visit this evening, as I don’t have any obligations?’ ‘That would be fine,’ he said. ‘Can I just speak with Mother for a moment?’ I said. ‘Well,’ he hesitated, ‘she’s praying right now.’ ‘Never mind then,’ I said, ‘I will talk with her when I come.’ When I arrived at our parents’ home 50 miles later, only my Dad greeted me. ‘Where’s Mother?’ I asked. ‘She’s still praying,’ he said.
I remember Dad telling me 26 years ago when I was still in New Jersey how Mother had prayed for us far more than we ever knew. Dad told me at that time in a very tender moment that she normally spent two hours on her knees every day. Most of that time was spent no doubt in praying for us as children. When she was in spiritual darkness, she once said to me, ‘Perhaps my soul would be in a better condition if I would have prayed as much for myself as I have prayed for you.’
I also remember overhearing a conversation at a classical church gathering, where an elder approached Dad to ask him, ‘What was the secret of your child-rearing since all of your children have come to know the Lord?’ I will never forget his answer: ‘The grace of God and their mother’s prayers,’ he said.
But you didn’t hear about that from Mother herself. When she turned 85 I asked her, ‘Mother, if you could live your life all over again, what would you do differently?’ ‘Oh dear,’ she said, ‘I would pray more.’ That answer was so convicting – and enlightening. I have long noticed that the more we as believers are graced with God’s particular graces, the more we will feel how little we have of those very graces.
Mother’s prayers encircled you, too, dear grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great grandchild – all 128 of you. She loved you all, and prayed for you all. When she thought about how large our family had become, she was amazed at God’s grace. She would often say near the end when she was very forgetful and would seem surprised on every occasion when we told her how large the family was: ‘Can you beat that? And then to think that I was an only child!’ Oh, how shall we ever realize the magnitude of the covenant mercies of our God that have been bequeathed to us through a praying mother!
Let us thank God that by his grace, he gave us a praying mother.
2. Lover of Scripture. Mother loved to read the Bible. That became all the more apparent in her declining years. Near the end, she would sleep twenty hours a day; her four hours awake were entirely devoted to eating and reading the Bible. What a witness she was to all who took care of her! Once I was thinking, ‘Why does the Lord still keep her alive?” Then, I heard one of the great-grandchildren said, ‘Grandma is such a witness to me. All she does is read her Bible.’
About a month before she passed on to her Saviour and Lord, I said to her, ‘Mother, can you understand what you are reading?’ ‘Oh yes, dear,’ she said, with a knowing smile. ‘Do you still profit from it – does it still help you to read the Bible?’ ‘Oh yes, dear,’ she said with another knowing smile.
That same night, I read Revelation 21:1-9 to her. When I arrived at verse 6,1 said to her, ‘Mother, do you know what Jesus means when he says, “I am Alpha and Omega”?’ As soon as I asked this, I thought, ‘How foolish to ask her a question you know she can’t answer because of her memory loss,’ but she responded immediately, ‘Doesn’t that mean,’ she said, ‘that Jesus is both the first and the last in our lives?’ ‘Yes, Mother; yes, that’s it – that’s everything!’ I said.
Mother could not talk to us as freely as Dad could about the work of the Holy Spirit in her soul. But her love for the Word and her godly walk of life made that unnecessary. We all learned about experiential theology from Dad and about practical theology from Mother. Not until I was in the ministry did I realize what an extraordinary combination this was and what special parents we were blessed with.
Because Mother couldn’t talk as freely with us as Dad could, she would read Bible-based literature – especially Christ-exalting stories – to us, every Sunday afternoon. Sometimes she would break down as she read these wonderful stories about how God exalts his own name in the hearts of sinners. Someone at the visiting hours yesterday told me that his oldest memory of Mother is when his family came from Ontario to stay with our family when he was six years old. ‘All I remember,’ he said, ‘is that she read Christian stories to us so sincerely on Sunday afternoon.’
Mother’s love for the Word was also evident in her conscientious church attendance. We were raised with the understanding that hearing God’s Word in the house of God was life’s top priority. No matter how much home-work we had, we never thought about asking if we could stay home when Rev. W. C. Lamain, pastor of the Grand Rapids NRC, would come to preach for us every Wednesday evening. When God’s Word was being expounded, we were there. Our parents believed that we were not only responsible for what we heard in God’s house, but if we chose to absent ourselves, we were also responsible for what we could have heard but chose not to hear.
Let us thank God that by his grace, he gave us a mother who loved the Word.
3. Kindness. Mother was incredibly kind. ‘The law of kindness’ was in her heart, and therefore on her tongue and in all her facial expressions. When company was present, she would not forget about us. When we had a room full of God’s people in our home, which often happened when I was a boy, and I would catch her eye across the room, she would always smile warmly and kindly.
Perhaps I’m being forgetful, but I do not ever remember Mother criticizing anyone for anything. She said once to me, ‘You can talk about people as much as you want, as long as what you say is good.’ Nor do I ever recall her speaking to me at any point in my life with any frustration, irritation, or anger in her voice. When my wife asked her at her 80th birthday, ‘Mother, do you have any advice to give about how to handle children when you feel frustrated? How did you handle that?’ Mother thought for ten seconds, then smiled sympathetically, and said, ‘I’m afraid, dear, that I just can’t recall ever getting frustrated with them.’ Now that answer, which by the way, really did not help my wife, didn’t mean, I assure you, that we were all such good kids, but because the grace of God sanctified her character, in her tongue was ‘the law of kindness’ (Prov. 31:26). Perhaps that grace also sanctified her memory, so that she knew what to remember and what to forget!
I think Mother thought it was a double sin to criticize a minister because he is a servant of the Most High God. Since our church did not have a minister for several decades, all the preachers that came to bring us God’s Word during most of those years would stay at our home. One of them even brought his dog, which I was by no means happy about, so I let my Mother know how I felt. She promptly rebuked me for criticizing even a minister’s dog!
Mother’s kindness radiated from her in scores of ways. When we were sick, she would often say – and meant it – that she wished she could be sick in our place. When a slice of toast got burnt, she was always the one to eat it. As children, when we left for school, she would wave to us from the front window for as long as she could see us. She always had time for us; she would ask us every day how school went.
Let us thank God that by his grace, he gave us a mother in whose tongue was ‘the law of kindness.’
4. Contentment. When I was about 12 years old, I had a friend who mentioned that he didn’t want to ask his mother for a favour at the moment because she wasn’t in ‘a good mood.’ That comment puzzled me greatly. I honestly didn’t know what the word ‘mood’ meant; I had never seen my mother moody or frustrated. Mother always seemed cheerful and content – in fact, so content that at times it frustrated me. If something bad happened to me, and I would come to her for pity, she would often respond by saying, ‘It could be worse.’ One day this was too much for me: ‘But Mother,’ I said with great irritation, ‘you can say that about everything.’ ‘That’s right,’ she calmly replied, without a hint of irritation, ‘it always could be worse because God never gives us things as bad as we deserve.’ ‘But Mother…’ I protested. Calmly she interrupted me, quoting Paul: ‘I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.’ That text stopped the pity party in a moment.
Mother’s contentment was also evident in her thankfulness. She was one of the most thankful people I have ever known. She would thank you for everything you did for her, even the smallest thing. Thanksgiving filled her heart, and spilled over into her life with ease. She could thank as easily as she could say, ‘I’m sorry’ – even when she had nothing to be sorry about!
Let us thank God that by his grace, he gave us a content mother.
5. Purity – that is, in terms of devoutness and godliness. Mother, by Christ’s grace, developed not only holy habits, but even natural habits that revealed a simple, almost naive, purity. She was disciplined not only in her Bible-reading, but also in her eating habits (to a fault!), disciplined in her daily walks, disciplined in her daily routines of exercise. She was still exercising her arms and legs only a few months before her death. Everything about her life seemed so organized, so simple, so pure, so clean, so sweet, that it seemed like the aroma of Christ exuded from her.
Actually, there may be no better way to describe Mother than to cite the list in Galatians 5:22-23 of the fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control.’ Each of these fruits was abundant in her life.
Let us thank God that by his grace, he gave us a mother whose life displayed the fruit of the Spirit.
The legacy, the heritage, the mantle is now passed on to us. We now become the older generation. Time waits for no one; no mere human being is the master of time. Sooner than we know, someone will be conducting our funerals. May we, by God’s grace, be found worthy of such a legacy, and faithful in receiving such a mantle. Mother left her mark on our lives, all of us, and the best monument we can raise to her memory is to follow her as she followed Christ, and extend her influence to many other lives, and to the generations to come.
Taken with permission from The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, September 2012.
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