Last week my grandmother, Mayme Vest, died from complications resulting from a series of strokes. She had just turned 88 years old and lived a long and full life. You can read her obituary here and here. In many ways, I can trace the roots of my faith—not to mention my love of eating, cooking, writing, and storytelling—to Grandma. I had the privilege of officiating her funeral service on Saturday. Here is what I had to say about this amazing woman.
It’s hard for me to think of this as a sad occasion. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll miss my Grandma, Mayme Ruth Price Vest. I’ll miss her presence and her love. I’ll miss her wisdom. I’ll miss her kindness. I’ll miss her peace. Man, I’ll miss her cooking.
But Grandma knew that death is a natural part of life. She knew that life is a gift, and she enjoyed it as fully as she was able.
Grandma believed, with all that was in her, that death is not the end of life. She believed that God has a place prepared for us. She believed that death brings us home.
Here’s a poem she wrote called “Waiting to Go Home”:
I’ve been sittin’ here a waitin’
For years and years it seems.
I look for Him night and morning,
And even in my dreams.
My eyes have grown much dimmer—
My ears can’t hear the sound;
But I do know He’s a comin’
And I’ll be heaven bound!
My “deeds” are neatly packed away,
In a tiny bag so small.
There are many things I should have done—
Some days I did none at all.
He came and took my loved ones—
I hated to see them go.
He left me here for something more,
For “why”, I don’t really know!
We’ll have a great reunion—
It seems I can hardly wait,
To see the ones who’ve gone before—
They’ll meet me at the gate.
In His own time He’ll come for me,
I wish now, He would hurry!
But, until I hear His call, I’ll wait,
His Spirit says, “Don’t worry!”
“Home” is a word that I always associate with Grandma and Grandpa, their house up on the hill, even this church where I worshiped so many times as a child.
My family moved around a lot while I was growing up, and I’ve now lived in Chicago for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life. Through it all, certain places have been constants for me. Wherever I lived, family in Georgia, Texas, and Arkansas were always there for me to come home to, no place more so than here in Branch. I think this was true for all of us, even those who live nearby. Mayme Vest was always the center of that home, its heart and soul, the foundation from which her family flourished.
In a self-deprecating poem about God’s grace, Grandma wrote these words:
My name’s not written among famous people;
My name’s not known outside our town;
I’m not listed among the world’s great faces,
Who have made history and became renowned.
I suppose those things are true, but the influence Grandma has had on so many people suggests that she reached out into the world far more than she realized. I think of the three generations of Vests who have been shaped by her love and guidance. (In a different way, we’ve also been “shaped” by her gifts in the kitchen.) I think of the countless students she taught through the years. I think of her Sunday School classes and small groups here at the church. I think of all the neighbors that came up the hill to see her and Grandpa for friendly faces and helping hands. I think of the stack of books she wrote—histories of these communities; memoirs of her life and family; collections of poems and newspaper columns; and, of course, the one that started it all: Multiplication Magic. Mayme Vest has made history. Her name is in fact renowned.
There’s a famous passage of scripture in the 31st chapter of the Book of Proverbs. In Hebrew, it speaks of the Eshet Hayil—the Virtuous Woman or Virtuous Wife or Woman of Worth. Throughout the centuries, Jews and Christians have considered this passage a description of the model matriarch. Grandma used this passage to write about her own mother. It’s clear that at her mother’s feet she learned these lessons well.
There’s not really much I can add to this. As I read it, I want you to think of Mayme as you knew her: a wife; a mother; a grandmother; a sister; an aunt; a teacher; a friend; a writer, a poet; a woman of deep and abiding faith.
A competent wife, how does one find her?
Her value is far above pearls.
Her husband entrusts his heart to her,
and with her he will have all he needs.
She brings him good and not trouble
all the days of her life.
She seeks out wool and flax;
she works joyfully with her hands.
She is like a fleet of merchant ships,
bringing food from a distance.
She gets up while it is still night,
providing food for her household,
even some for her female servants.
She surveys a field and acquires it;
from her own resources, she plants a vineyard.
She works energetically;
her arms are powerful.
She realizes that her trading is successful;
she doesn’t put out her lamp at night.
She puts her hands to the spindle;
her palms grasp the whorl.
She reaches out to the needy;
she stretches out her hands to the poor.
She doesn’t fear for her household when it snows,
because they are all dressed in warm clothes.
She makes bedspreads for herself;
fine linen and purple are her clothing.
Her husband is known in the city gates
when he sits with the elders of the land.
She makes garments and sells them;
she supplies sashes to traders.
Strength and honor are her clothing;
she is confident about the future.
Her mouth is full of wisdom;
kindly teaching is on her tongue.
She is vigilant over the activities of her household;
she doesn’t eat the food of laziness.
Her children bless her;
her husband praises her:
”Many women act competently,
but you surpass them all!”
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Let her share in the results of her work;
let her deeds praise her in the city gates.
I’m not going to stand up here and pretend that Grandma and I believed all the same things when it comes to faith. And I don’t think that dishonors her in any way. She was a free-thinking woman who raised two free-thinking boys, who raised a bunch of free-thinking children of their own, who are now raising free-thinking children of their own.
Beyond our differences, the gospel is really pretty simple. The good news that Jesus lived and died for isn’t complicated or controversial.
A long time ago, Jesus was asked: what is the greatest of all commandments? In essence, he was asked: what’s the most important thing? What’s this all about?
And Jesus said: love God with your entire being—with all your heart; with all your mind; with all your strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.
I can’t think of anyone who did these things better than Mayme Vest. The best we can do to remember her, the best we can do to honor who she was, is to do the same.