“She Refreshed the Saints” – A Tribute to a Great Mother-in-Law
On January 17th, my mother-in-law, Linda Sullivan went to be with the Lord. She was a beloved woman, a dear friend, and someone who shaped my life in the last nine years. I had the privilege of speaking at her funeral on Saturday, January 21st. Here is my tribute:
On January 17th at 8:03 PM central time, Linda Diane Sullivan whispered her last breath on this earth and entered the arms of Jesus. I imagine a triumphant welcome in Heaven, because this was the home going of one of God’s most precious saints, a life marked by unceasing joy and an unusual selflessness.
Linda entered my life nine years ago, when I had the privilege of marrying her beautiful daughter, Angela. Angela is the greatest gift Linda gave me, but it was not the only one. For nine years Linda enriched my life in incalculable ways.
When I think of Linda, the first thought that comes to mind is infectious, contagious, relentless joy. God saw fit to allow Linda to endure some heart-wrenching personal trials, hardships that would cause most ordinary people to grow embittered and give up their faith. But Linda endured the worst of life with a gritty, patient, endurance. In our frequent conversations, I would often ask her, “Mom, how is it that you are still smiling after all you’ve been through?” And Mom would inevitably say, “Only God can get me through, one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time.”
In almost every situation, in almost every scene of her life, you would find Linda smiling. This cannot be said about many people.
This is what Mom taught me. I’ve been a Christian most of my life. And yet Mom showed me, more than anyone I’ve known, what it means to live it out every day, in good times and bad. She showed me a different side of Christianity. One that is real.
Mom and I had similar personalities. Angela often says that she married her mom. We’re both similarly laid back in most things. Mom was someone you could easily talk to, who could enjoy company in any crowd, and who was ready for an encouraging word and a laugh. She could lift any downtrodden spirit.
She reminded me of Philemon, about whom Paul said, “He refreshed the saints.” This could be said about Mom. She refreshed the saints.
We often invited Mom to visit us in Chicago where we presently have tiny living quarters. I have often told people there is only one person in the world who could live with us, in our small environment, for a month at a time. That person is Mom.
When Mom came to live, she had no selfish agenda. Her desire was to serve others, to make their world a little brighter, however she could. Mom was faithful in encouraging people through cards and bookmarks. She was faithful to send cards for birthdays, anniversaries, and any holiday. And she always included a bookmark. I remember when I was going through some difficult personal trials, Mom sent me cards that lifted my spirits.
Linda was also my biggest fan. She treated me as if I was her own son.
Her visits in Chicago were memorable. She loved to tour the city. And Mom had a knack for attracting trouble, travel trouble. From delayed flights to quirky travel issues, Mom always seemed to have issues when coming to visit us. But when she arrived it was always a good time. She would play cards and mash her famous strawberries for shortcake and watch her game shows. I’m pretty sure she was the only person who was mashing strawberries at midnight.
She demanded very little. The only thing we had to make sure we had on hand was a bag of ice, because she went through ice, for her cups of water, faster than our icemaker could produce. I would buy the biggest bag of ice for Mom and put in our freezer. She laughed at that.
Mom was a great laugher. She laughed at my jokes, even if they weren’t funny. She would sing to our kids when they were crying. She would encourage Angela when she was down.
Perhaps my fondest memory of Linda was when our first child, Grace, was born. Mom was notoriously bad with technology, especially with cameras and so her picture-taking ability was about as good as mine, which is to say it wasn’t very good at all. And Mom, bless her heart, snapped graphic pictures of every angle of Angela giving birth, pictures that she would later show all her friends, much to the embarrassment of Angela.
But seriously, the fondest memory was being in that birthing room and looking over at Mom holding our newborn Grace, tears streaming down her face. I’ll never forget that image.
Linda was proud of all of us. She talked endlessly about her kids and loved each of them equally. Mom rarely got angry, but if she did it was because somebody hurt one of her children.
If you know Linda’s story, you know that she endured some really hardships. This is where she lived out her faith most publically. Most people would have chosen bitterness, but Mom always chose to trust the Lord, to face life with joy.
Linda also loved her friends. She had such a wide circle of loyal friends. And all of you know how much of a friend she was to you. She’d be there in a crisis, in a pinch. She’d help in any way she could.
We know Mom is with Jesus now, happy, enjoying eternity in Heaven. We know this because Jesus was the center of Mom’s life. We trust that God is sovereign over all things. We have the hope of the Resurrection and so we don’t sorrow as others who do not know the Lord. I know I will see Mom again. And I know that Mom would want you to experience the same love of Jesus she knew.
But please pray for us during this time on this earth as we will miss her. She will leave a large void in our lives. She won’t be replaced.
It’s rare to find a son-in-law who will sing the praises of his mother-in-law. But all of those common jokes never applied to Linda. She was best mother-in-law a man could want. She graciously allowed me to marry her beautiful daughter. And she enriched my life in countless ways.
I will miss her greatly.