Love is patient; love is kind Love does not envy; is not boastful; is not conceited; Does not act improperly; is not selfish; is not provoked; does not keep a record of wrongs; Finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
I’ve thought a lot about my Mom recently. There are qualities in Proverbs 31 that reflect her, it’s the end of that passage where “a woman who fears the Lord will be praised” and “let her works praise her” that really speak to the life of Helen Koonce. In thinking about who she was and the legacy she left behind, I’m drawn to the words above that Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
I see Mom and the life she lived in the four verses of 1 Corinthians 13 that start with Love is. She didn’t have a plaque on the wall with these verses and I never heard her say, “this is who I am, or how I want to be remembered”. Mom just lived her life in a way that helped me see love in action.
Mom was patient; with herself and with others. Sometimes to a fault, she would wait for the answers to come. She was patient with her family as we gave her opportunity to let us know we weren’t living in a way that honored her or God. But rarely did she ever call us out, or make us feel less of a person because we weren’t doing as we should.
She was patient when those around her chose a path she preferred not to travel. When her church turned inward, she continued to look for opportunities to serve those on the outside whose needs were greater than the outward appearance of their social club. She stayed faithful to her church when some members turned against her family. She was patient with those who were hateful for no good reason.
Mom was kind. Caring, tenderhearted, a nice person. She didn’t have harsh words for people. She wished the best for people and from people. A polite smile, a friendly laugh, Mom was approachable and made people feel welcome. Her home was a place of comfort, refuge and belonging for people of all walks of life. Her kindness extended much further than mine ever will. Telemarketers, travelling salespeople, and representatives of any charitable cause were not turned away rudely. In fact, many of them found success due to the kindness of my Mom.
When chastised by her family about this practice, she would often point to the best cleaner she ever bought from that young man selling the non-descript spray door to door. Or how good that insurance policy was that everyone warned her not to buy. She was truly better, and blessed by the kindness she showed to others.
I don’t recall Mom ever expressing envy or coveting the possessions or positions of anyone. It wasn’t that she was ignorant or uncaring, she just never seemed impressed by things others flaunted. Or possibly she didn’t want to do what they had to do to get what they had. I’m not sure why, because we never talked about it. She just lived in a way that helped teach me the joy of contentment.
Mom was not boastful or conceited. This is a place where her words did match the way she lived. While she was very proud of her kids and grandkids, she would never encourage us to toot our own horn. She knew that pride comes before the fall and that the humble are much more endearing than the haughty. The brash and the showy never appealed to Mom as much as those who just let their actions speak for them. Mom was supportive and willing to celebrate your successes, but she didn’t need a hype-man and wasn’t going to be yours.
Mom did not act improperly. Okay, all who knew Helen can think of a time or two where the things she did were not proper. That’s not the meaning here. Mom had a dislike for anything underhanded, deceptive, or intentionally manipulative. That is the improper that she never allowed to be a part of the way she lived. She would rather be taken advantage of with a clear conscience than to have gained any advantage that wasn’t proper.
Mom was not selfish; choosing to give to those in need with the last checks she wrote. She was not selfish with her time or possessions. There were times when I wondered how she lived with the constant flow of people through her home. But she really seemed to thrive upon providing a place for friends, family and occasionally strangers to come for food, conversation, a shower or rest. She gave what she had without asking anything in return.
I can’t say that Mom was not provoked. Mom was the person that set herself up for the jab, the punchline, the butt of the joke. Most of the time she did it with a smile or laugh. Unwittingly, it seemed, she would tee it up so that almost anyone could deliver at her expense. Even though this was constant, she rarely let it get to her. Choosing rather to laugh at herself or let other people’s foolishness just roll off. We all did our best to provoke her, but Mom didn’t let it get her down.
Mom didn’t keep a record of wrongs. Not much of a scorekeeper, Mom chose to enjoy the game rather than stress over tallying results. Yes, there were some things people did to her or her family that she had a hard time forgetting. Some hurts are deep. But I never heard her recount multiple offenses or systemic abuses that needed a day of reckoning.
She found no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoiced in the truth. In fact, Mom found wrongdoers rather distasteful. She didn’t cheer for the bad guy, but would stand for the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, and the victims. I don’t recall Mom ever being deceptive, or untrue. It just wasn’t her.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. I recall the last trip we took together to see her sister in Florida. After handing the gate agent our boarding passes, we walked through the gate to find ourselves on the tarmac, facing the portable staircase leading to the door of our plane. Inside, I was freaking out, but tried to remain calm for Mom. “Are you going to be able to climb those?” I asked. Her reply was a surprisingly confident, “I can make it. I’ll be alright.” I stood behind her as she started her ascent, wondering how I was going to get her up the stairs when they became too much for her. Step after step she went up. A steep, narrow stairway without turns or landings in which to rest. Believing she could, she endured and persevered without stopping or wavering. Hope never fails.
There were so many other times where Mom bore the weight of a situation without complaint. Yes, she was concerned about her children and grandchildren. She had believed and hoped for a safe return every time her husband answered the call as a volunteer firefighter. Years later she still stopped to pray every time the siren rang calling volunteers to respond. Her hope was not in the shifting sands of this world, but in the Lord; her source of strength and hope.
But at no time that I knew did Mom have to bear all things, hope all things and endure all things like she did in her final months. The effects of dementia and cancer increased so rapidly that she quickly became dependent upon others for almost everything. While her body couldn’t take her across the room, her mind took her to places she had never been, to places from her past, to places unfamiliar yet vividly real. Often, she would wake and ask how we got here or when she was going home. Sometimes she would just sigh. But she bore the confusion, tried to make sense of things and inwardly hoped.
1 Corinthians ends with “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Mom’s faith became sight in February. She no longer needs to hope. But the love she showed continues to live on through the lives of those she touched. Happy Mothers’ Day.