Calvin Stevenson: A Eulogy for Granddaddy

(I wanted to post this, if just to mark the moment if for nothing else.  What follows is a rough manuscript of the Eulogy I had a chance to offer at my Granddad’s funeral this past Wednesday.  It was written to be spoken, and needed some ad libs along the way for support. It was hard to get through it without completely falling apart.  Perhaps someday I’ll edit it for better reading, but here is the current version. Thanks to all of you who have been so kind to my family as we mourn this loss!)

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Calvin Stevenson
January 1, 1924 – December 15, 2014


Although we come to mourn a great loss, we do so with a spirit of celebration, knowing that Calvin Stevenson was a great, great man, and also with the joyful laughter that marks our family. The laughter in our hearts is part of the legacy of the man! He would light up when you were around him, smiling with his whole face, and he always had some little quip.  He would tell you he was hanging in like a rusty nail, or say something like “I used to use head and shoulders, but now I use mop and glow.” He was a man of great hospitality, and who knows how many poor souls came to him for the friendly chit-chat that came for free with your lawnmower tune-up. He was good at fixing mowers, but what he was really great at was making people feel like you were his absolute best pal in the whole world. One of my cousins told me about listening to Granddad carry on with somebody, and it made her feel like it must be somebody special. When they left, she wanted to know who it was, and he said, oh, I don’t really know”. But that was just part of his character…indeed, he never met a stranger indeed, but with his infectious smile and playful spirit, he was always welcoming people in.

There is, of course, one exception to this that I must, in all fairness, mention. There was one shady character who Granddad would not abide, his one great remaining enemy after the fall of the third reich. There was a squirrel in his backyard that was always conniving to steal from the bird feeder, and granddad was always devising new ways to keep it out. From building on little shields, to greasing the pole, and then the power cables, there was often a new chapter in this ongoing chess match, although it seemed like that squirrel was always just one step ahead.

On the other hand, at Christmas is seemed like Granddaddy was always one step ahead of us. It took a while for the family to open presents, going around and around the circle. But if you didn’t keep a close eye on him, grandaddy would slip out his pocket knife and slit the tape on his next package, and probably had the gift out of the box. So many times, our gift-giving was interrupted with laughter as granddad was caught, and one of the kids would be moved next to him to keep a better eye on him, and off we’d go.

These are the sorts of tales that always filled the air around the table on N. Weakley street, and they sealed our family with a spirit of joy and laughter.  He loved to have the family all together.

Continue reading “Calvin Stevenson: A Eulogy for Granddaddy”

Mama Esther

When I was a kid, our extended family always went over to Mama Esther’s house on Christmas Eve. She was my great-grandmother, the matriarch of the Flippo side of my family, which has always been quite definitive for me and how I think about family.  It was a huge crowd, with eight fully formed branches. There’s a big family cookbook that was made sometime in the 90’s, and my copy of it is something like a manual for southern cooking. It’s great food with a lot of soul, but if you only eat food out of it, you’re health insurance rates are going to go up. It’ll probably kill you, but you’ll die happy. It’s old school and kind of awesome, like most of my family is.

In the front of the book, before the recipes, there are pages and pages of family stories. I love reading these, and really can’t help but get a little choked up reading them sometimes. Alternatively, some of them really crack me up, like the story of my uncles burying a mule. (Seriously, I’m going to have to post that one sometime. It needs to be on the internet.)

The parts about Mama Esther are some of the parts that really choke me up sometimes. By the time I knew her, she was the ancient, respected matriarch—I remember her as an almost otherworldly presence, due to be treated with the utmost reverence. I remember that well, the sense of her aura, the respect that she was so freely given by everyone in the family when we were around her. When I read these old stories, all of that makes so much sense. Continue reading “Mama Esther”

Motherhood and Mystery—A Sermon for Mother's Day

This past week has been an unusual one. Preparing for the sermon has not been about deep exegesis, but deep participation.

Kelly, apparently knowing full well that I was unprepared to preach for mother’s day—being a man who understands almost nothing about the subject, graciously offered me the opportunity to deepen my understanding while she went to the beach this week. That’s right—for nearly a week I’ve been flying solo with the girls, which is of course a joke you can understand only if you know both me and the girls in question. Indeed, today’s short sermon is mostly due to the fact that I have to get home and clean up before she gets back later tonight.

Mothers are amazing. It is well and good that today is a day marked off to say thank you to all those mothers out there, the stay at home moms, the working moms, the single moms, the struggling and victorious moms who give so much of themselves to their families, fulfilling the sacrifice of Christ in the most humble and incredible ways. To you all we say, “Thank you. We could not be who we are without your love and sacrifice.”

The Bible has much to say about motherhood. The story of redemption is full of many stories of women, women who took down and raised up kings, who preserved the people of God and who opened the way for exodus, conquest, and redemption. Along the way, many of these stories (though not all!) are stories of women who worked, wept, and waited for children—women who saw their place in the story of God as being related to their calling as mothers. That’s not at all to suggest that this was a single, homogenous sort of work. Indeed, stories such as Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, Bathsheba, Ruth, Jochebed and Zipporah testify to the diversity of paths that may all be called, faithfully, “motherhood”. “Motherhood” mysteriously takes many forms, as each person who finds that role to be part of her story works out what it means in her own context, in the face of her own challenges and amidst her own blessings. We do motherhood a disservice when we try to make it take one form. Indeed, no two moms are any more alike than any two sons or daughters. Mothers, be free, not to become just like the other moms you see, but what has called you to be in the life of your family. Learn from the example and wisdom of other women as well as you can, but do not try to become them. God did not give your children to them, but placed them in your care, entrusted them to you. You honor that trust not by simply imitating others, but by seeking out the gifts and blessings that you can uniquely offer your children. That freedom is not license to be irresponsible (this is just my way!) but is an immense challenge, that by struggling, collecting wisdom, and discerning what is right and faithful you can become exactly the mother God created you to be rather than a copy of someone else. Continue reading “Motherhood and Mystery—A Sermon for Mother's Day”