Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Story of a Life

Today, surrounded by family and friends, I was honored to pay tribute to my Mom, Iris Saunders.
She battled Leukemia bravely over the past 6 months, but this past Tuesday, Jesus called her to lay it down at His feet and He carried her home to a place of no more pain and no more tears.
My solace and my joy is in knowing that we are separated only by a short time. I will see her again and we will spend an eternity worshiping our King together.

In the eulogy I offered today, I was only able to share a brief glimpse into the amazing life of this woman who will be forever in my heart.
I love you Mom.

There is a quote by the author Mitch Alborn that says this: “There’s a story behind everything…..but behind all your stories is always your Mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”

When Mom was diagnosed with Leukemia early this Summer, Mark and I had the task of packing up her home. Placing evidence of Mom and Dad’s lifetime together into boxes, bins and storage containers. In the process we came face to face with the reality that the things we own do not make a life. It’s the story of your days, the narrative of the hours you spend here that compose a symphony that can’t be told in dishes and furniture and clothing.

I wrote about it at the time, trying to sort it all out and the conclusion I came to was this:

“while our lives are rich and full and beautiful, surrounded by the physical evidence of the experience, all we really need are two things. The saving grace and magnificent love of Jesus Christ, and the relationships with each other that we are here to share”

My Mom’s story must be told in the context of these two things because they are who she was.

If you were to ask anyone who knew her well what mattered most in her life, they would without a doubt say it was a combination of her relationship with Jesus; her family and her friends.

Since I wasn’t there to witness her early years, I have to rely on the multitude of stories told time and time again and the photographs that give me a glimpse of the girl and young woman and wife that she was. I’ve always treasured the rich history of Mom’s life here in Manassas. There aren’t many who can say that four generations of women in the same family have spent the entirety of their lives in the same place. But it’s true for us. The threads of her story, our story, make up a tapestry of friendships and family that is unique.

It’s the story of the daughter of a fireman and his wife, woven with the story of the son of a single Mom raising 7 children on her own.
It’s the story of the daughter of a deputy sheriff whose family lived over the jail and the story of the son of an auctioneer.
Those four stories woven together would last a lifetime, told in tales of a high school prom and a track meet that made the boys a wee bit late picking up the girls (and got them in hot water too); tales of card games played way into the night, driving home from a party with a lampshade, yes, a lampshade on someone’s head and being pulled over by the sheriff; dancing to the radio on the side of the road; a trip to England that was I know the highlight of Mom’s life and a crazy middle of the night trip to the beach that still has us kids shaking our heads in disbelief.

A simple ride through the heart of Manassas was always a history lesson with Mom.
The building where I was hired as a police officer was the school where Mom learned her ABC’s and 123’s and where she would go sledding on snowy days. The gourmet food shop in town was once the 5 and dime store where she agonized over what candy to purchase with her pennies and where she would eventually purchase my Halloween costumes each year when I was a small girl. I heard tales of sodas and ice cream shared at Cocke’s Pharmacy, of her one time home on Grant Avenue where an auto glass store now stands, of the bank where she once worked as a teller and of the church where she was on the nursery roll and eventually walked down an aisle to say “I do” to the man of her dreams.

I used to love to hear her talk of the people and places that made up the warm quilt of her life here, because again, her story is my story and is now Emma’s story too.

It’s hard to imagine Mom as a young bride, even harder to imagine that at only 18, the first year of her marriage was spent apart from Dad while he served in the Army in Korea. I remember each year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mom would pull out her beautiful, elegant china dishes for our meal and would share the story of how Dad had purchased it for her during his leave in Japan. She recalled her delight when she opened the shipping boxes to discover his gift of love to her. In 52 years of marriage, Mom never broke a piece of that china, and for the record, neither did her daughter.

She knew better. I loved hearing Mom talk about the home that Dad built for them on Rolling Rd. and seeing photos of myself as a baby within those walls. It was one of several places that I remember as home before settling in the house I grew up in. The stories of those days were told with laughter, tears, sweet memories and some regrets too, but no one’s story is complete without struggle and pain to make it richer, and to teach us important lessons along the way.

As a child, I didn’t know much of the struggles they faced as a couple. I was blessed with parents who loved me – and each other – so what we had, or didn’t have mattered little. I’ve often reflected that I never remember a day of my childhood where my parents didn’t start and end each day with a kiss and an “I love you”. The love I witnessed between them was their greatest gift to me and set the bar high for my vision of what a strong marriage should look like.

We had no grand vacations, or Christmases bought at Macy’s but it’s the simple times we spent together that fills my memory instead. My Mom would spend hours playing cards and games with me. I could always count on her homemade fudge or chocolate chip cookies on a Sunday evening while we watched the Wonderful World of Disney on tv. And Mom would shake her head in wonder at the passion my Dad gave me for Sunday afternoon football, but I know she secretly was glad we shared that precious time together. Emma, you and your Dad have Xbox and Super Heroes, I have my Washington Redskins.

Our family camping trips are one of the best memories I have of time with Mom and Dad. From pup tents to campers with its own toilet (that was a big deal when the bathhouse was across the campground), we traveled from Canada to Florida, from New Orleans to the Great Smoky Mountains to the Crystal Coast of North Carolina and best of all, right here near home at Silver Lake and on Skyline Drive. Many chapters in the book of our life were written around each campfire and picnic lunch. Each pick up softball game and each cast of a fishing reel. Smores and iced tea and bologna sandwiches were our feasts and the friends and family who joined us made our campfire stories complete.

The lessons and values Mom and Dad instilled in me – work hard, be kind, have a generous heart, use your manners and enjoy life with the people who matter – are so much a part of the story they wrote for me that I hear their voices still when I venture off the page.

My Mom had her own set of rules that are written in my margins: be a lady; let the man in your life be the gentleman he needs to be; be modest, dress well, never forget your purse and always fix your hair and put on lipstick if you’re going out; always be ready for company, keep your kitchen clean and put away your shoes. Sorry Mom, you know I’m a big fail at the last two. Sadly, I can’t edit them out of the story.

Mom also had a lot to say about the way things should be. She believed that your home and your style should never be overdone, uncoordinated or her favorite word, “tacky”. I must confess that when Mark and I went to purchase the flowers for the altar today, I wondered if she would approve. I mentioned to Mark that my greatest fear was that I would be sitting in the pew during the service and hear her voice in my ear saying “those are so tacky, Robin”.

She also believed that a wife should support her husband and invest in his dreams. As my Dad wrote the story of his life through his dreams and ideas, Mom was always there, helping him turn the pages. Her desire for order and organization served him well in the insurance business and her amazing eye for color, design and style were invaluable in their years as Mr. and Mrs. Frame. When Mom said something looked good together, you learned not to question her eye and she relished that. She did love being right.

It was through their time in the picture framing business and their later years at the river and even after that in their home in Fredericksburg, that Mom and Dad added more lifelong friendships to their book and had even more stories to tell. Mom cherished the relationships in her life and she was the kind of woman that if she chose you as a friend, you would always be part of her story. Once she decided that you were ok, then well, you were in the book and that was that. Mom never did anything half way and life was always pretty black and white to her.
No room for gray areas – that was a waste of time.

In looking back over life with Mom, I know that two of the stories she loved to tell the most were of my marriage to Mark and the birth of Emma. It took me a little longer than she would have liked to get around to writing those chapters, but that is where our stories differed greatly. I had to remind her many times that sometimes the princess has to kiss a few frogs to find her prince, we weren’t all as lucky as she was to have the prince find her. Mom loved to tell the story of my wedding day and the moment when my Dad gave me away. He turned to Mark, shook his hand and said “Good luck”.

When Emma came along 6 years later, Mom fell in love with our sweet girl and the tales she told of Emma left no doubt that there was none like her, and none would ever be. As much as I love my precious daughter, I think my Mom loved her just a wee bit more. She would have given her the moon had it been in her power and she would defend her in any circumstance. Emma has inherited the creative streak of the women in our family and oftentimes the canvas she chooses to tell her stories isn’t her best option. I remember when we had moved into our new home, Mom was watching Emma while I was at work. My phone rang and when I picked up I heard this: “It’s not my fault and don’t you dare get mad at Emma! You left that black marker out where she could get it and I can’t help what she did to your new furniture.” We still have a pillow from that couch to remind us there is a Picasso inside of our child and you know, it’s not my Mom’s fault.

In telling Mom’s story here, I think of the things she loved best, her home, her family, her friends. She loved a beautiful sunset and the colors yellow and blue.
She loved a good cup of coffee and vanilla soft serve ice cream.
She loved a ripe tomato sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise and she love fried oysters, flounder and steamed spiced shrimp.
She loved to watch Emma skate and hear me sing and taste Mark’s cooking.
Mom loved many things, things that made her life richer and fuller and more colorful by their existence.
But to truly tell her story, I have to close with what she loved best. Her Savior, Jesus Christ.

And what she would want me to tell you, the family and friends that she loved dearly, is that her greatest desire was for you to love Jesus too.

Mom was never shy about sharing the name of Jesus. Her love for Him was woven into the fabric of her life; a fine red thread that defined who she was and whom she belonged to. The worn, tear stained pages of her Bible are testament to the hours she spent in prayer for so many of you.
She wept for you, her heart broke for the trials and pain in your lives.
And she prayed for you. Mom shed tears of joy and delighted when she witnessed answered prayer and lives blessed by her Jesus.

Mom prayed me back to Jesus after I’d wandered so very far away from Him and she prayed daily for my life to bear witness to the world of how His grace can change so completely.

She longed for her home in Heaven, especially after Dad went home over two years ago, but one of the things that kept her here a while longer was her uncertainty of your future and the fear that she would never see some of you again.

For all her complexity, Mom was at heart, a simple woman.
What Jesus offers is a simple grace.
A concept so plain that it takes a childlike faith to comprehend it.
Mom understood that faith in Jesus and His saving grace is harder to accept when you have a lifetime of regrets and mistakes and excuses to wade through to find the child inside again.
The child who is able to set aside this cynical world of doubt and disbelief and simply trust that Jesus is who He says He is, and He loves you more than anyone ever could, and He died to win your heart.

There will be no final chapter in my Mom’s story.
Because she chose Jesus, chose to believe in His power to save, she has earned her home in Heaven and an eternity with Him. Not by working for it, but by simply choosing to believe.

My story will continue to weave itself with hers, as will my family’s story and many of my loved ones. It is a legacy of faith and grace and love and forgiveness that she chose to embrace and it’s how she would want you to remember her best.

With a Courageous Heart,


  1. Beautiful! I look forward to meeting her in Heaven! Hugs to you, Mark and Emma

  2. Beautiful, just beautiful. HUGS to you and your family.
    Betty Button

  3. Oh, Robin. What a beautiful tribute to your mom. Your daughter will treasure this. You're still in my prayers because although it's beautiful to know your mom is with her Savior, I'm sure you miss her terribly. I'm praying that God will give you comfort in these days when the grief is so fresh. God bless you and your family.

  4. Dear Robin, this is a beautiful and loving tribute to your Mom. Hugs to all.


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