"Remember the Apples"

May 12, 2019

 

Remember The Apples

 

Romans 5:3-5

3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Proverbs 22:6

6 Teach a child in the way she should go, and when she is old she will not depart from it.

Matthew 6:25-34

Jesus said, 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

 

I want to thank Jimmy and Lori for this opportunity to speak on Mother’s Day and to thank Craig and the choir for the beautiful song of the Lilies and to those who encouraged me to tell this story, and my best friend Roger for his support. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, step mothers, grandmothers, those who have been like a mother to us and to those we honor today and are no longer with us.

 

I have an admission to make, I take after my mother in many ways and in one in particular that is, we both could cry at commercials so I have a photo of her here to cheer me on.

 

My mother, Marjorie Larsen’s story starts out really, like something out of Dickens, I still wonder how many tragedies could happen to one person. I contemplated and prayed about sharing this part of her story and decided I would because if anyone has experienced any of these life events, my hope is this is a story that can inspire. My mother’s story is one of Faith in God, a love of life and hope no matter what the circumstances.

 

My mom in the space of her first 30 years had lost a younger sister to a car accident when she was 8, her mother dying when she was 13, then she was abused and after her older brother and 2 sisters said they could not take her in due to their young families, she was put in a foster home. She met and married my father at 19 while training to be a nurse at Bellevue hospital, following in her mother’s footsteps.  She had Debbie, my older sister, me and my brother, Cliff. One day, Debbie who suffered from epilepsy, snuck into the neighbor’s pool and had a seizure and drowned. My father could not find forgiveness in his heart for Debbie’s death and they divorced when I was 5 and my brother was 3.  She later met and married my step father Alf Larsen and he was the love of her life… he also taught her how to drink and she became a functioning alcoholic. Several studies conclude a propensity for children of abuse to have issues with alcohol or drugs. She bravely fought this demon and experienced long periods of time in sobriety.

 

I could not think of a better verse from the bible that captures what I feel about my mom, as that from Romans:

 

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.

 

With all that happened to her, my mom could have been bitter, angry, and wondering “why me”. But my mom, chose life and to “live” it abundantly.  She taught me not only how to get up from tragedy, but how to thrive and embrace all of life.

 

She wanted to instill the importance of faith for my brother and I, and because she was a divorced Catholic, she took us to Old First Church in Huntington. We were very active in the youth group and our experience planted the seed of a lifelong relationship with our faith. I thank her for planting this seed.

 

The other verse which I chose today about my mom is from Proverbs.

 

Teach a child in the way she should go,
 And when she is old, she will not depart from it.

 

The way a child should go, is not only about our faith foundations but also teaching life skills. It is in those times when you have to make a tough decision and to know exactly where your compass is.

Part of this training came from my mom’s famous sayings; do you have those in your household? Sayings that you become known for, that demonstrate your beliefs.

 

When my brother and I walked out the door she would say “Remember the apples” meaning that the apples don’t fall far from the tree. She made it abundantly clear that we were a reflection of her and to act accordingly.

 

Can we imagine if we heard God’s voice saying to us …” Remember the apples” as we walk out our doors everyday…are we always a good reflection of him?

 

In my teenage years, occasionally when I would come home in tears from something that happened at school she would say “It will add metal to the alloy” and of course she had to explain what alloy meant, I’m crying and you’re talking about alloy…and then I heard the rest. “There are valleys in life, this will make you stronger and you will not only survive but go on. You will be able to know what to do next time you fall down and you will get up faster and more confident because you know you survived this.”  Then she would make me a cup of tea in her Staffordshire china cup, and that was always so special.

 

She also said “No one is going to do a dance for you” ... that might sound harsh to begin with but she further explained that we choose how we live our lives..., that each of us has a specific light and can bring this light to others. She loved the song, ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine’ and she did let it shine.

 

But two sayings were the most used….

It came from one summer day my brother and I were kinda bored and she pulled out of her magic mom closet, I think some blowing bubbles. And she said “Oh we need a little Christmas right this very minute…” My brother and I lit up and were so happy with this unexpected surprise…This statement became such a part of our lives when much tougher things occurred than being bored on a summer day. I once sent flowers to a girlfriend, who was suffering from some illnesses and wrote on the card “Oh we need a little Christmas” …I had told her the story…she told me later, how touched she was and she has done the same thing paying it forward.

 

But my mom’s favorite saying and what became mine was a quote from Mathew: Consider the lilies.

 

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 

 

I think in retrospect she needed to hear that herself while teaching it to my brother and I.

 

Somehow it made me stop and think about all we have, no matter what the circumstances. All she had to say was “Consider the Lilies” and it changed the conversation. Working in Corporate America for over 35 years I have said these verses to myself over and over…I just wished sometimes I had really heard it…why do we worry. Consider the Lilies.

 

When I was 13 and my brother was 11, we made this wonderful banner of Smile, God Loves You. It hung in our kitchen as a reminder for our family, and anyone who came to our home “Don’t worry God loves you”. It was a way that my mom taught: As for me and my household we will serve the Lord.

 

She was an incredible listener…she didn’t tell you what to do, she asked a lot of questions to help you come up with the answer. Oh, she gave germane advice from her experiences but you came to your own conclusion. My mother also had an incredible vocabulary; she loved words so I had to use “Germane,” she would be proud.

 

My mom taught us to be open to all people…which was tested when I told my parents I was dating an African American guy who was also Jewish. You have to remember this is back in the early 70’s. My father had a very hard time with my choice and had quite an argument with my mother. As I listened upstairs…my mother stuck by her words and said this is what we have taught her and we need to support her.  I will never forget that night because it was not just what I wanted to hear but that my mom was true to herself and her words aligned with her actions. She embraced my choice of a man of honor for my wedding, a true friend who happened to be gay.

 

My mother taught me about hard work, dedication and drive, in part, I think it was her lessons that made me successful in my career. 

 

She started by volunteering at RSVP the Retired Seniors Volunteer program where she placed hundreds of volunteers into rewarding experiences. She discovered her love of working with seniors and became a group leader in Huntington. My brother and I hated going to the grocery store because it would take forever as it seemed she knew every senior and would stop and talk and talk and talk…little did I realize then how important that was, how she made people feel good even when not working on the clock.

 

Through her hard work she became the Executive Director of the Senior Citizens Center in Smithtown that she helped develop and opened in 1979.

 

I remember her struggle with her first budget and how that took over our kitchen table for some time and we were told “don’t touch the table”. Later after her 25 years, she reflected how far she had come…and I said to her “Well it added metal to the alloy,” and we both laughed.

 

She wrote 46 successful grants that brought more than $1million dollars (30 years ago 1 million dollars). Her pride and joy was called the Golden Showcase for Elder Craftsman. One grant opened the store in Port Jefferson where seniors could bring their handcrafted items to market, and the 2nd grant was for senior craft lessons. The store was filled with true works of art…It ran for 10 years and involved over 500 seniors. 

 

I cheered at the ceremony recognizing my mom for all her accomplishments by the Suffolk county supervisor, that Jan. 16th, 1995 was officially declared Marjorie Larsen Day.

 

My mom was very humble about it. In her retirement, my Scotch Irish mom being very practical wanted to donate the frames from awards she had received and asked me to help. When I arrived, she was mechanically throwing out the awards. So, I said mom wow, look at all these, this is amazing. She took my hand and just said I didn’t need awards I loved what I did. Finding your passion in life was not only what she advised my brother and me but she was a testament to her own path.

 

In retirement, she was chosen to represent the US on a People to People exchange to China and South Africa. In South Africa the delegation consulted on the integration of “white only” nursing homes. My mother wrote and sent the exit report to then Vice President Gore. She kept up correspondence and sent financial support to a nun from South Africa who was working with AIDS patients, and a woman who worked as Director in a Chinese nursing home. My mom just connected with people in a very meaningful way. She taught me about caring deeply, about recognizing people and their circumstances and, if you can bring a kindness to their day, to do it, to make kindness a priority.

 

So, my mom’s life, like all of our lives have, its ups and downs, but with her strong faith in God she gave me lessons that sustain my life…I am who I am because of her.

 

She taught me about getting up from any of life’s challenges where character produces hope.

 

Teaching me the way to go, not only with her words, but most importantly, with her actions.
 

And reminding me always of God’s amazing love for us, and to let go of my worries by Considering the lilies.

 

And of course, to always remember the apples!

 

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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