My mom died a few weeks ago.
Anne Jackson Morledge was 86 years old, without a doubt the most influential person in my life. Humanly speaking, she was my anchor.
She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor resulting from a stage IV glioblastoma cancer. The tumor was surgically removed, but the surgeon carefully warned us that there was a 100% chance of recurrence. In the weeks after the surgery, I devoured Siddartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies in an attempt to understand this dreadful disease of cancer. Living only twenty minutes from the nursing facility where my mom was, I visited her almost every other day. We had many in-depth conversations as she progressively declined. The wonderful gift provided by the surgery is that it gave time for family and friends to come visit my mom and say good-bye. In the end, she died peacefully in her sleep, with the immediate cause being complications due to pneumonia.
A number of family and friends have requested that I send them the text of the remembrance I gave yesterday at her memorial service. My remarks were framed within the Episcopal Rite II liturgy for the burial of the dead, part of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, a powerful testimony to the Christian hope. My Veracity co-blogger, John Paine, convinced me that I should publish it here on the blog, commenting that the tensions I highlighted were refreshingly honest:
In the last few weeks of my mom’s life, she would always claim that I was the only son who came to visit her. Of course, I had to remind her that I was her only son.
On behalf of my dad and extended family, I want to thank everyone for coming today to remember my mother, Anne Jackson Morledge. A special thanks goes to our Scripture readers, long time friends and family members of my mom, Bruton Parish Episcopal Church, and my beautiful and extraordinarily gifted wife who is singing for us today.
Some of you knew my mom as an extended family member, one of your favorite aunts. Some …as a neighbor… some as a friend. I want to tell you about her as my mom. She was the greatest mom in the whole world.
Anne Jackson Morledge was born in southside Richmond, Virginia, at home, on Nov 6, 1928. She had two wonderful parents, whom I knew as Papa Jack and Grannie Pearl. The oldest in her family, she was followed shortly by her brother, “Bubba,” who died about 10 years ago. She also had a baby brother, Walter, who thankfully is with us here today. My mom wrote this about Walter:
“When I saw him for the first time, I was bitterly disappointed (She wanted a sister). But I had not reckoned that he would be the most agreeable, outgoing and lovable member of the family….My duty was made clear the first step he took. He was my charge. From then on, either I followed him or he followed me.”
My mother was very devoted to her family. She loved her “Aunt Mamie,” greatly enjoyed her visits to family in Midlothian, Virginia growing up, and as I was growing up she would take me with her to Richmond to see folks like Mildred and cousin Lucy, to see cousin Virginia, and cousin Gene and Ernie Ross. Later on, my mother took an interest in genealogy, putting together a family history.
Anne Jackson spent her teenage years in the Highland Park area of Richmond, attending John Marshall high school, where she greatly enjoyed writing for the school newspaper, and then graduating in 1946. She worked for a brief time at her father’s insurance office before attending Westhampton College, then the woman’s campus for what we now know as the University of Richmond. She dropped out as a sophomore after suffering from Bell’s Palsy for a few months, and then studied at the Pan American Business School, before working in sales promotion at the Hotel Jefferson in Richmond, and for a few years working for an ad agency, Cabell Eanes (now the Martin Agency). In 1960, after she had a great fling with some girl friends on the SS United States crossing the Atlantic to tour Europe, she moved to Williamsburg to work at the Williamsburg Lodge as a convention sales manager.
It was over the following year that she was living in a Colonial Williamsburg kitchen, the John Crump kitchen, where one George Alan Morledge was a new neighbor, a dazzling young architect from San Francisco, coming to work on the then “new” Williamsburg Lodge conference center (which has since been torn down and rebuilt). She first laid eyes on Alan one morning, when of all things, she was taking out the trash. One day, Anne Jackson had a broken venetian blind. Her new neighbor came over with his handy Swiss army knife and promptly fixed it. My mom thought to herself, “Now this is a man worth cultivating.”
Cultivate she did, but in a somewhat mischievous way. You see, my mom really did not know how to cook very well, and as she put it, Alan Morledge always seemed to be hungry. So whenever she invited the architect over to dinner, she would call up the chef at the Lodge kitchen, who prepared for her these elaborate meals should could take home and serve. It was not until after they were married, less than four months later, before my dad realized that her cooking skills were all a ruse.
Well, I have to say that my mom still made the best spaghetti on the planet.
In many ways my mom was a bundle of contradictions, or just perhaps internal tensions… just like probably all of us are.
Anne Jackson Morledge was a die-hard Southerner. She loved her Virginia heritage. There is an old joke about Virginians: how many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change the bulb, and the other nine to reminisce on how good the old one was. That pretty much describes my mom. She was a true Southerner.
However, at the same time, my mom abhorred the institution of slavery, Jim Crow society and the racism that was a major part of that same southern heritage, as she grew up in the former capital of the Confederacy.
Probably the most endearing characteristic of my mother to so many people was her gift of Southern hospitality. She was a true Southern lady. She made everyone feel absolutely welcome whenever they visited. If you were with her, she made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. Didn’t she? It did not matter if it was the house in Queens Lake or seeing her friends at the Williamsburg Landing. My mother was a great listener and encourager. I would say that I first got my perspective of what God’s love looks like simply by watching how my mother treated people around her.
Everyone felt special around Anne Morledge.
My mom had a few other contradictions or tensions about her: Her family has been thoroughly Republican in their politics (for the most part), but my mom was an outspoken Democrat. Adlai Stevenson was her political hero. In fact she was a Yellow Dog Democrat. So, what’s a Yellow Dog Democrat? The story goes is that if the Democratic party ever had a hard time fielding a candidate for an office, they would put a Yellow Dog on the ticket if they could find one, and my mom was so loyal to the party she would vote for that Yellow Dog.
She loved gardening. She was always excited about her involvement in the Williamsburg Garden Club. She loved to get down in the dirt with her flowers and azaleas. She had a green thumb that I do not inherit. But on the other hand, she was a very neat and organized person, with very high standards for order.
One of her biggest causes that she championed was the empowerment of women. Before she became too ill to seriously read, she had been working through several biographies of famous women, such as Richard Cote’s Life of Dolley Madison and Patricia Brady’s Martha Washington, An American Life. In fact, my mom was like a cheerleader to most of the women that she knew. …., and yet for most of her married life, she was predominantly a traditional stay at home mom, which was a extraordinary, self-sacrificial gift of time, character formation, and affection for which I as her son am forever grateful.
Perhaps my mother’s biggest struggle in internal tension was spiritual. She grew up in a southern Baptist home, but as a teenager she joined her brother Bubba to visit an Episcopal church. Some years later, my mom and dad raised me here at Bruton Parish Church. Through my mom’s urging, I was a member of the boys choir and an acolyte. I would march in carrying the cross and stop in front of the altar many Sundays.
Just behind the altar stands the Ten Commandments. I would march up with cross in hand, and read where it says “Thou shall not kill.”
I always thought, “Well, I am pretty good with that. I have never killed anybody… even though I almost burned the house down because of a popcorn fire on the stove.” My mom reminded me of that a few weeks ago.
But then I had read Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount that if you call a man a “fool” then such slander is a type of murder. So the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was not as good as I would like think I was.
I needed help.
I needed a Savior.
Then I would look to the right side of the altar and read the Apostles Creed, one of the earliest summaries of Christian faith believed by the church. The creed says, among other things, that Jesus Christ came to suffer and die and then was raised from the dead on the third day. It also talks about the forgiveness of sins. Reading that Creed made me realize that Jesus Christ is indeed the Savior I needed. He is the one who can help me, when I can not help myself. It was largely through my mom and dad taking me to church Sunday after Sunday that I eventually came to the knowledge of this truth.
Evangelical blogger Derek Rishmawy observes that there are certain types of people who go to church who can “at best recite the creeds with their fingers crossed.” This in many ways describes the inner conflict my mom experienced. In the weeks before her death, I would ask her about that great statement from the Book of Job, that we heard earlier in the service liturgy, “I know that my redeemer lives.”
“Mom, do you know that your redeemer lives?”
My mom would typically respond that she really hoped that this was true. “I really hope so,” she would say. “I really hope so.”
“Mom,… it is great that you ‘hope’ so, but do you ‘know’ so? Are you sure?”
In our many discussions, I would say that there is a difference between wishfully hoping something to be true, versus knowing something with the sense of measured confidence in faith that something is indeed true, because of the character of that which or in whom we have our faith. For example, I can “hope” that this speaking platform will hold me up. But I can only truly “know” that the platform will support my weight, if I actually stand up on it and put my trust in it. If this platform was made of paper, I would have a good reason to question it, but if it is made of solid wood, what then is my question?
My mom’s response was: “Clarke, you have a good point there.”
Now, my mother used to call me her computer “guru,” and though as a software engineer where my colleagues have only certified me to use a Phillips head screwdriver, the verse I would like to meditate on is that verse from the Old Testament reading today, Job 19:25.
The NET translation of the Bible puts the verse this way:
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Observe several things here: First, Job knew his Redeemer, or as some would say, his Vindicator. He knew that there was a debt that he could not pay. But he knew the One who could completely pay that debt. He knew that he had a need for a Savior and that the God of Israel was indeed that Savior, who would vindicate him in the end.
Secondly, He knew that this Redeemer “lives.” Since the 1970’s, sociologists have noticed that there has been a remarkable shift in how Americans use language to describe “death.” We like to talk about someone’s “passing” now instead. For example, I can say that my mom “passed” on several weeks ago…. Now some would say that from the Bible’s perspective that this is OK. For the believer in God, death does not have the final word. We simply “pass” from one form of life to eternal life for those who trust in God. I have no difficulty with that. But I wonder if our deeply ingrained cultural aversion to using the word “death” is because we simply do not like dealing with it. Like the stage IV glioblastoma cancer that my mother had, “death” is not something we can control, so we resist even speaking about it. We want to control it. We think we should be entitled to control it. Nevertheless, we can not. In an era when supposedly nothing is taboo, strangely, talk of death remains the most dreaded taboo, something we shove with great determination under the rug.
Such sensitivities were unknown to Job. He knew clearly, and without hesitation that his Redeemer “lives.”
And then, there is this word “know” that Job uses.
Job did not merely “hope” that his redeemer lives. He “knew” that his redeemer lives. Job did not merely wish it to be true. Instead, though he did struggle, he nevertheless put his complete trust in God.
And then finally, there is the last part of the verse: “and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” For Job, what matters to him, was not that “Job himself will, at the last, stand upon the earth.” Oh, no. Oh, no. For Job, what truly matters is that it will be God who will stand at the very end.
Job is a unique character in the Hebrew Bible. He is presented to us as being very much unlike many of the other witnesses to faith: Moses was a murderer, Abraham lied and pimped his wife (not once, but twice), David was an adulterer. And yet, it is through these deeply flawed and faithless human beings through which God’s faithful mercy, grace and steadfast love is on display.
Job, rather, presents himself as utterly righteous, a good, kind, and morally upright human person who comes to His Creator in the face of senseless suffering, losing his property, his children, and his health. And yet the Wheaton College Old Testament scholar John Walton observes that the Book of Job is not really about the problem of why good people suffer at all. The Book of Job never fully resolves that issue. Instead, Job challenges us to ask deeper, more probing questions about ourselves and about God. The book of Job is about the nature of God’s righteousness and our standing before Him. Job is about revealing to us the character of God, His faithfulness, His trustworthiness.
Perhaps you have some of the same internal contradictions or tensions my mother had.. Perhaps you are here today and you simply do not believe. Maybe you are not so sure. Maybe you want to believe in God, but you have some doubts, like my mom did. Are you willing to take the Bible, search it, read it, and study it to find out for sure where you stand before God? Do you think you even need a redeemer, or do you go under the illusion, that hey, everything is just fine, that you have it all under control, when if you are really honest, you can no more control your life than you can control stage IV glioblastoma cancer?
I wish I could stand here and tell you exactly where my mother landed on these questions. Some of you maybe very unhappy in hearing this. It may deeply disturb you. Well, frankly, it should disturb you.
But why? Does our discomfort really tell us anything about Anne Morledge, or God, ….or .. does it tell us something about ourselves? What is it that exactly disturbs us?
There are many today who clamor and say, “I believe. I have faith. I have faith,” and yet it is not clear in whom they have their faith in. As Jesus Himself remarked in Matthew 7: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
So where do we place our faith? And on what basis? In the strength of our own convictions, wishes or desires? Or do we trust in the character of the one who knows us? Do we know this God, or more importantly, does this God know us?
So, my mother had a number of doubts. She wanted to trust, but she found it difficult to trust. She could say the creeds, but she did so with her fingers crossed. Now, I am thankful that she felt free to honestly express her doubts to me. I have tremendous respect for that. Having doubts is not a problem. We all have doubts. The challenge is, where do we go or do whom do we go with our doubts?
Now maybe my mom is like the Apostle Peter, whom when Jesus asked him to come out and walk upon the water one evening on the Sea of Galilee, he took a few steps and then upon seeing the waves and the wind faltered in his faith, only to at last finally cry out, “Lord save me!“… maybe that is my mom…. or maybe she is like the father of the boy with an unclean spirit who calls out to Jesus in Mark 9, “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief.” Perhaps God was able to resolve my mother’s questions and doubts in a way that I simply do not understand. In her own words, I hope so.
I hope so.
So while there is great mystery here, I am nevertheless content with this, since I trust in what the Bible teaches, in Genesis 18:25, that the judge of all of the earth will indeed do that which is right.
In the end, my confidence regarding my mother is not in her confession, or lack thereof. Rather, my confidence is in God and his wonderful grace. A dictionary definition of grace is “unmerited favor”. For what saves us is not our own convictions, wishes, desires, or even our good behavior, it is purely God’s favor towards us. The message of the Gospel is two sided: on the one side, we must understand that we do not come to God on our own terms. No. Rather we must come to God on His terms… But the other side of the message can not be separated. The terms that God has are good. Very good. In fact, His grace and goodness towards us are greater than anything that we can ever think of or even imagine. He is more loving and more compassionate than we can ever grasp with our feeble minds. His longing for us to be right with Him and know Him knows no bounds.
On a day like today where we struggle with the reality of life’s fragility and finitude in this world, that question I discussed with my mother is before us: Do you know that your redeemer lives?
One more thing about Anne Jackson Morledge, that I can say in closing. My mom was more than just a mother. She was a friend. When I was growing up in middle school, I would sometimes be heading out the door to go to school or to choir practice and I would spring this on her, “Hey mom, I have a meeting today and I have to bring some brownies. Do you have any?” My mom finally caught on to my slackness, and she had the most perfect solution. She always kept a pan of brownies hidden under her bed, just in case I asked her for a batch of brownies at the very last minute. She knew me all too well.
I am really thankful that God saw fit to give me a mom like my mother. I really did not deserve her. She taught me so much about life, about myself, and most importantly about God. And she continues to inspire me.
Thank you for being a friend to my mom, a neighbor to my mom, and family member to my mom.
Thank you for allowing me to share her legacy with you today.