I Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers (and Sisters), we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.
It is my privilege and honor to stand before you today and represent our family as we pay tribute and offer encouraging memories of our beloved mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, Dot Almon. I am her grandson, Jay Mathews, and unfortunately I do not have the time or words to adequately reflect her life and love as the matriarch of our family.
“Nanny” was stubborn. Now wait a minute- how can you stand up there and say something like that. Well, it is true. My earliest memory of her powerful persistence was at Morrison’s cafeteria after a church service. As I went through the line she would always say “Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach” and “You better get something green- not just starches”- but I had to get those giant french fries! So I got them and we sat down only to find the French fries were cold. Though I pleaded with her not to make a big deal about it- she demanded and received hot and fresh french fries for her grandson.
Nowadays we tend to look at that type of stubbornness as a flaw. But I am here to say that this ‘powerful persistence’ is a virtue. You see, her perseverance was never selfish- in fact, quite often, it involved sacrifice for the benefit of someone else. In the old days, this attribute was listed as a virtue called fortitude- we call it guts. And believe me, our Granny had guts!
How can you explain a woman who at the age of 91 worked the checkout line at Publix and had customers choose her line over others because she knew them, loved them and served them with a special personal warmth?
How many 91 year olds lived home alone and drive? In fact, her daughters will tell you that this was her secret to longevity. This beautiful woman could never sit still alone at home- she was always out and about. She visited and traveled and clipped articles and called people and drove- and we all hoped she wouldn’t do it at the same time.
A few years ago, I was coaching a high school football team in Nashville and my wife answered the phone on a Friday. It was Nanny on the phone, “I’m here” she said. “Where is here?” asked my wife and the answer was clear- she hopped in the car and drove herself to Nashville to see that football game.
My grandmother saw a lot of football both live and on TV. I have seen her with so many winter clothes on that she looked homeless- but she wasn’t going to miss that football game.
When I was a little boy, she took me to the Alabama/Auburn football game. We left early with Alabama leading 16-3 in the 4th quarter. We got on the bus with a lot of sad Auburn fans only to watch the bus crowd grow chaotic as Auburn blocked two punts and win 17-16. I was praying that no one would rub it in my face because they would have incurred the wrath of my granny. She was a loving person- as sweet as you can imagine- but she defended her family.
I hope you don’t mind one more football story. Coach Bear Bryant was going to introduce an evangelist at Ruhama Baptist church in East Lake in the early 70’s. I think I must have been around 10 years old at the time. It was the largest crowd that the church had in a long time.
Nanny pushed us through the crowd and we stood face to face with the Bear. She looked at Coach Bryant and said, "My grandson wants to play for you one day, Bear." He smiled and said "Smart boy". The funniest part of that story is that she had a game program that belonged to my uncle Jerry. He had sent it with her to get an autograph. Later that afternoon, she gave the program to Uncle Jerry who was thrilled until he read Coach Bryant's signature: "To Jay, See you at Bama, Paul Bear Bryant".
It was this deep core drive to get things done that was the hallmark of her life. For 91 years my grandmother represented selfless and tireless service. She came out of retirement and earned her real estate license. Her formula was brilliant- she would sell a house and go on a trip. She went with a group called the Friendship force and she saw the world.
Her energy was legendary. She and I rode with my roommate to Orlando when I was a sophomore at Alabama. Think about this, my college roommate and I rode to Orlando, FL in a Ford pick-up truck with Granny in the middle. We spent 2 days in Disney World and rode a greyhound bus home. I was beat, dead tired, because Granny wore me out!
Where does that come from? I think all of us who have rubbed shoulders with the children of the depression know the answer. There was something forged in the fires of those lean times that produced faith, thriftiness, and an understanding of what is truly important.
We would laugh about what the depression instilled- Nanny saved butter bowls- she recycled water bottles-and she stock-piled sweet and low packets from restaurants. But we must equally admire what it did in terms of building her toughness and her appreciation of life.
Now it is very important to me that I stress here that our Nanny did not just survive life- she thrived in life. To some people, time is the dreaded stalker- to Dot Almon, time was a companion. My lasting memory of her will be with that smile, saying “Hey”, and clearing her throat and shouting again “Hey, you know what…” and putting her hand on a loved one and saying positive words of life and joy.
The question is- how can someone do that? Our grandmother experienced heartbreak and hard news in those 91 years- she never did escape the pain of losing her oldest daughter, my mom, to cancer- but no setback ever robbed her of life- why?
The simple answer is this: our grandmother knew God. She had a real relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. She had a firm grasp on the good news of the gospel. She knew that just as all of the good things I am sharing about her today did not earn her place in heaven, she also knew that none of her sins could keep her out because she had a Savior to lean on. She sang, thousands of times and listened to thousands of sermons and held onto the grand story that there is no other name in heaven or earth by which man can be saved- Jesus Saves! She loved her long time Baptist preachers who told that old story with power and warmth!
This good news is found in Ephesians 2:8-10 “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Her faith is Christ was no ritual- it was not a checklist faith- it was fleshed out every day as she read the Scriptures and as she delivered meals on wheels. It was also seen in real sacrifice. She gave everything she had to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Every family member here can testify to a time that she gave it all for you- she gave it all for me. Sometimes we would scold her for doing too much- but that beautiful stubbornness never kept her from doing what she thought was right and it never prevented her from speaking what was true.
So I am asking you to look around- 91 years of fruitful and faithful service. She was a shining light to the goodness of God. Her unflinching leadership held us all together and she worked hard that not even one lost little sheep would go astray.
Just a few days ago- death finally knocked her down. I Corinthinans 15 became more than words- they were her reality. And though she was laid low in defeat- she immediately was raised in victory according to the great promises of Christ.
She was embraced by Jesus and she was immediately led to her daughter, my mom- they are both healthy now- radiant in beauty- and full of the resurrection power. And I don’t think it would shock any of us here right now to imagine her, not even thinking about us- she is too busy swaying to the music of Lawrence Welk.
Nothing would honor her more than for all of us- today- to commit with that same stubbornness to Christ and live our lives more fully for him. Let’s love harder and forgive more easily and let us never stop appreciating all the good things we have in life until He comes or we go to Him.