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All Shall Be Well – A Eulogy

A sermon given by the Rev. Canon Frank Logue
at King of Peace Episcopal Church, in Kingsland, Georgia on August 16, 2010

All Shall Be Well—A Eulogy for Jody Clements
II Corinthians 4:16-5:9 and John 14:1-6

Note: As the funeral begins, there is an opportunity for the officiant to greet the congregation and say a few words about the purpose of the gathering. The following is said at that time:

We gather in grief at the death of Jody Clements. As Christians we come as an Easter people to celebrate her life, to give thanks for the gift Jody was to us. And in our humanity, we also gather to weep and to mourn. Even Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, and so we too shed tears of sadness.

As we gather, I want to share Jody’s own words. In the final days of her life, she told me that she knew she was in a win-win situation. “If I win, I go home,” she told me. “And if I lose, I also go home.” Jody did lose her battle with cancer. But she fought the good fight. She finished the race. She has kept the faith. Jody has gone home to be with her loving creator, who gave the life of His son to redeem her. And so we are here upheld by the sure and certain faith that allows us to stand at the grave and proclaim Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

The sermon follows the Gospel reading:

“All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” These are the words of God given to Jody’s beloved Saint Julian of Norwich in a mystical vision as she lay on what she supposed at the time would be her death bed. “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Jesus put it this way in our Gospel reading for this day, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” All shall be well. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Jody has died. How can all be well? How can our hearts not be troubled?

All is well because the God who created Jody, who redeemed Jody and sustained Jody has welcomed her home as a sheep of His own fold, a lamb of His own flock, a sinner of His own redeeming. This is a time to celebrate the excellent work God did in creating Jody. Jody, the bookish, shy child that loved to dance ballet who became the more gregarious nurse, mother, farm wife and counselor.

Her sister, Susie, says the best memories of childhood for both of them are from the cottage their father built along Lake Bellaire in Michigan. There they spent their summers playing in the woods, gathering snakes and amphibians who would become pets for the summer, to be let go before heading home. The cabin was a place of peace, the one place where their mother would really play with them, puzzles and games and they would listen to songs on an old Victrola. There they had to make their own entertainment and they did.

When Jody and Condell were teenagers, you were either a Pat Boone fan or an Elvis Presley fan. Jody was all Pat Boone and Condell was every inch the Elvis Presley type, with a pack of cigarettes rolled in his t-shirt sleeve. As their daughter Sarah puts it, “He was super handsome with a devil-may-care grin, while she was the quintessential good girl.” Jody would look back on that time through the lens of the movie and musical, Grease. She was Olivia Newton John and Condell was John Travolta, all motorcycles and black leather jacket. His interest more to fast cars and fast women, or so Jody would say. For a time, she didn’t simply dislike Con, her disdain went much further than that.

Jody went to Michigan State, where she didn’t so much choose nursing. It chose her as she saw it as the area of the science with the least math. She pictured being a researcher at Bethesda Hospital. But life didn’t stay on that track as she and Con began to date. Their mothers and grandmothers had been childhood friends and the Moms were dead set against Jody and Condell dating and marrying. As they saw it, the match would never work out and the wreckage that would follow could destroy the friendship their mothers enjoyed. At least that was the thinking more than 44 years ago. Today we see things differently. Their oldest daughter, Julie, recalls her Mom’s advice for finding a husband was, “Start with finding someone who worships the ground you walk on. You can work with that.”

Con and Jody balanced jobs and childrearing by having Jody work the 3-11 shift on weekends. Con handled the parenting during those times and it left Jody free to be a full time Mom during the week. But even with a full workload on the weekend, she always made room for church. Raised as a Congregationalist, Jody found her way into The Episcopal Church in high school and joined in college. In college, a church service was the only place she didn’t feel guilty about not studying and so it became a peaceful retreat for her. Once married with children, Con didn’t always go with the family. But Jody prayed for his heart to change, and when it did, she suffered some regret as he began asking her lots of questions about everything.

Jody moved into what her kids called her “Mother Earth Phase.” Julie says, they “ate granola and canned everything that didn’t move.” They kept horses, goats and chickens too on a farm in St. Joseph, Michigan. They drank goats’ milk and made cheese. Jody discovered the kids would eat goat in stroganoff or rabbit in pot pie. As her sister Susie put it, “I don’t know what possessed them to think they could handle a farm as two city kids, but that was a fun time for the family of working together, doing chores.”

Their middle daughter, Laura says, “The thing I remember her for the most is her ability to open her heart and her family and everything unconditionally to others who needed a family.” The Clements took in 13 foster children over the years, usually children awaiting an adoption to go through who would stay for three or four months.

But Jody mothered everyone. She couldn’t not care. If a need came to the door she met it. Laura loves the way her mom was not judgmental. She didn’t let someone’s past get in the way of her meeting a need and giving them what her heart could give them. Laura said, “There was never any question. If someone needed anything, our hearts were open and our doors were open. That was God’s mission for us.”

That was not always easy for the girls as they shared their mother’s love with foster children. It was also difficult when Jody refused to give up on Laura’s ex-husband Rhett and took him into her home and mothered him after the divorce. It was very difficult for all, but Jody was concerned with what was right, not what was easy. Laura says she learned from her Mom that, “People will make the wrong choices, do the wrong things and you keep loving.”

This is at the heart of Jody’s spirituality. Jody loved Saint Julian of Norwich, the 14-15th century English mystic. There is a central image in Julian’s thought that fits well with how Jody lived into her faith. Julian wrote, “In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought ‘What may this be?’ And it was generally answered thus: ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: ‘It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.’”

Jody got this deeply, that all that is may be nothing compared to the vastness of God yet God loves it all. By seeing others as God saw them, Jody could find the lovable in the unlovable, whether that person be a scarred foster child or the ex-son-in-law who had caused her daughter pain.

Rita Bruce, remembers traveling with Jody in Italy and seeing how, “Jody’s spirituality is a 24-hour a day thing. That’s who she is all the time.” There was no Jody at church out of synch with Jody at home. Her daughters remember her with a strong, abiding faith. A quiet spirituality that was lived out in relationships with others. Her sister Susie remembers Jody’s, “capacity to always be there for other people when they needed it, even if they didn’t know they needed it.” Julie put it, “She couldn’t not take care of people.” This was Jody’s way of living into her faith.

Sarah shared that as her Mom was going through chemo, she would hold Sarah’s youngest, Amelia, who liked to sleep a lot at that stage. Jody would hold Amelia in a rocking chair and rock until they would both fall asleep. She says, “Amelia slept better in that rocking chair in her grandmother’s arms than in her crib or anywhere else.”

Jody channeled her mothering into counseling. When the middle and youngest daughters were in high school and junior high, she went back to school to earn a Master’s in Social Work. She did counseling after hours for the Samaritan Center, a non-profit, Christian social service agency. She had found her ministry, and she was really happy helping at the center.

Sarah also remembers her Mom as “super, super intelligent. If you called her, she knew everything. From the most obscure name of a bird that lives in Iceland to anything really, she would know.” Sarah adds, “That’s why you should not play Scrabble with her. She would beat your pants off every time.” This is fitting as the girls all recall that education was so important to their Mom. It was just a given that they would go to college and be able to support ourselves. Though Laura says, “It was less about a degree and more about how important it was to continue to learn.” She taught them, “Have a husband, have a family, but be able to care for yourself.” Her father died when she was 12 and so she didn’t want her daughters to not be able to care for themselves.

The early death of her father left a mark on Jody. Twelve years later, her Mom died at the same age as her Dad. Though they died 12 years apart, each was 55 when they died. An older half sister had significant health issues at 55 as well. This left Jody unconcerned about planning for retirement. Julie says, “She didn’t want to prepare for retirement because it meant setting aside money for her husband and ‘his floozy.’” But they did plan and they did retire and their loving but “bickery” relationship mellowed. Julie says, “I never saw two people love retirement more than my folks.”

Jody loved Saint Marys, with a home on the marsh. She had always loved to be outdoors gardening or sitting in the garden or out along the marsh. She enjoyed the peace and positive feeling of growing things. She found gardening therapeutic. This kept her more grounded. Even keeled. Sarah says, “She was not easily riled up. That was frustrating at some points, because I would call her and want her to get mad with me about something and she would be like, ‘Well, you know…’” And then she would bring a calming influence to whatever was going on.

Of course, I could get Jody riled up right now. All I would have to do it get us all to sing Onward Christian Soldiers. She hated those war-themed hymns. The girls tell me that their Mom would start knockin’ on the casket from the inside if we sang that one.

So let us allow Jody a well-deserved rest from her battles with cancer. For cancer never dimmed Jody’s faith or her absolute trust in God. There is another passage from her favorite saint, which illustrates this. Julian of Norwich wrote,

“If there be anywhere on earth [where] a lover of God is always kept safe from falling, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in the same precious love. Between God and the soul there is no between. He did not say, You will never have a rough passage, you will never be over-strained, you will never feel uncomfortable, but he did say you will never be overcome.”

Between Jody and God, there was no between. Jody did have a rough passage, but she was not overcome. Quite the contrary, she thrived in ways that defy expectation. Jody told me last week, “I have had happen to me what I thought was the worst thing that could ever happen and it has proved to be the greatest blessing of my life.”

This fits perfectly with our Epistle reading from Second Corinthians, which says, “We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Jody embraced the blessing that came through cancer. Even as her outer nature was wasting away, Jody opened herself up to God renewing her day by day. Jody walked by faith and not by sight, trusting in things eternal, like God’s love, rather than something fleeting, like cancer. I saw her reach out in love to others, like Cathy Edwards and Angela Gartner, who were also going through cancer treatment. She would be laid low by the treatments and would be more concerned about how the others were doing and how she could help them feel better.

In closing, I return one final time to Jody’s favorite Christian author. Julian of Norwich wrote that she had a matter that greatly troubled her. Julian was concerned about the fate of those who through no fault of their own had never heard the Gospel. Julian wrote that she never received a direct answer to her questions about them, except to be told that whatever God does is done in Love, and therefore “that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

I look to Jody’s cancer and wish that she had not had to fight so hard and long against the disease. I want answers from God to give you about cancer and why someone so good would suffer so much. In the end, I have no real firm answer other than that given to Julian. Whatever God does is done in Love, and therefore “that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Amen.

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