On September 18, 2007 my mother, Marie Eula Buchanan Lytle was called home to Heaven at the age of 87. We had watched Alzheimer ravage her mind and body for eight years, and it was a sweet release to see her go.
Coming up on another Mother’s Day, this tribute is in memory of her, and in her honor. I owe much of the man I am today to her influence, teaching, and prayers.
I saw her kneel at the altar of the Swannanoa Free Will Baptist Church in the fall of 1961 during a powerful revival meeting that swept our church, where she wept as she repented and rededicated her life to Christ. From that day forward, she was a changed woman. We were in church every time the door was opened, and we were not permitted to miss. She prayed, she talked about the Lord to us kids, she walked with God. I saw her more than once on her knees in her room praying for her family.
I remember in January 1967 when the first Super Bowl was being played. I begged to stay home and watch it that Sunday evening, but she was adamant in her refusal. Never mind that it was the biggest game in history in the mind of a 16 year old boy. We were going to church. You didn’t miss church for anything.
Much of Mother’s life and special influence revolves around music. In my mind I can still see her standing at the kitchen sink and singing. You have to understand this; she was not a good singer. She never sang a special in church; didn’t even sing in the choir. But her music and her heart, above all, touched the heart of God – and it touch me deeply.
The first song I can distinctly remember Mother singing was “You Are My Sunshine,” a very popular tune in the 1950s. The first Christian song I recall was the lovely “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.” I suppose that was around 1956 or 1957.
We read of a place that’s called Heaven
It’s made for the pure and the free
These truths in God’s word we are given
How beautiful Heaven must be.
How beautiful Heaven must be
Sweet home of the happy and free
Fair haven of rest for the weary
How beautiful Heaven must be
Mother loved to sing “Is Not This The Land of Beulah?” Number 27 in the old Baptist Hymnal. She would sing it with strong emotion, especially the second verse. It might have been her testimony:
I can see far down the mountain where I wandered weary years
Often hindered on my journey by the ghosts of doubts and fears
Broken vows and disappointments, thickly sprinkled on my way
But the Spirit led unerring to the land I hold today.
I have to believe that it was, at least in part, her love for that song that birthed the same love in me; it has been a favorite my whole life, nearly 60 years now. In fact, I don’t doubt for a moment that my love for music and song stems from my earliest recollections of how certain songs impacted her. There was a time when I was about 10, and we had just moved to our new home in Swannanoa. I had been saved that summer in Vacation Bible School, and after we moved – probably around October or November, I crossed the little branch by our house, walked out to the woods, and sat down on a fallen tree. I started singing:
He never said I’d have silver or gold
Yet He has promised me riches untold
He never suffered a life without care
Yet He relieves every burden I bear.
Sin stained the cross with the blood of my Lord
Yet He permitted it without a word
Why, tell me why, He redeemed you and me?
Love is why you and I are free.
Life wasn’t easy for Mother. She worked very hard at a local factory. My dad did not follow Christ for many years; for ten years he did not darken the door of a church, and was very bitter and angry. My parents argued frequently and there were attitudes and undercurrents in the home I never understood. Yet for the most part, we had a happy childhood.
Mother didn’t drive, and so for several years until I got my driver’s license, we were dependent on folks in our church for rides to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, revival meetings, and special activities. Several families, including a couple of Mom’s best friends, were so good to come and pick us up, and there were four of us! Through the years, we rarely missed a service. Mother was determined that we be at God’s house, hearing the Word preached and taught, and singing His praises. She loved the old hymns and she loved gospel music, and as a result, so did I.
My dad came to the Lord in 1971, and for the last decade of his life – he died in 1981 – he, too, was faithful to church. By then, I had finished Bible College, gotten married, and began preparing for the mission field. Judy and I, along with baby Michael, said goodby to my parents in Asheville, North Carolina as we boarded a plane to fly to Costa Rica to begin Spanish language school in August 1976. Standing there as the flight was announced, and seeing Mother’s tears flow as she kept hugging Michael, Judy, and me is a powerful memory. Also powerful is the memory of my parents and sister coming to Panama to visit us, and our pride and joy in introducing them to the country that had become our home.
After my dad passed away in 1981, Mother lived for 26 more years. Church attendance, ministry (especially to nursery age kids), and caring for family remained her heartbeat. As her mind began to deteriorate in the late 1990s, followed by full-blown Alzheimer’s in the early 2000s, life changed for her. She always enjoyed music, though, up until the final couple of years. My brother would go see her in the nursing home every day, and took a CD of praise and worship music for her to hear. We gave her a Gaither Homecoming CD.
The final two years of her life, Mother was totally unresponsive. She didn’t know us, she couldn’t speak, and her body was twisted and drawn up as she simply lay there on the nursing home bed. We had prayed many times that the Lord would take her home, yet we didn’t know it was imminent on September 15, 2007, the last time we saw her. I was alone with her, speaking softly, and just watching her, when the idea occurred to me that I would sing to her.
Undoubtedly her favorite song, at least for the last 25 years of her life, was Squire Parson’s classic “Sweet Beulah Land.” Now I’m not a singer at all, and my best singing is done in the shower or in the car with no one else around. But I began to sing:
I’m kind of homesick for a country
To which I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
And time won’t matter any more.
Beulah land, I’m longing for you
And some sweet day on thee I’ll stand
There my home will be eternal
Beulah land, sweet Beulah land
Would you believe it? My mother, totally unresponsive for two years, lying in bed like a vegetable, began to respond to the song! While I couldn’t understand the words she spoke – it was more like mumbling – it was evident it had touched her and that she was trying to sing along. That was a precious moment.
Two days later my brother called to say that she was gone.
Happy Mother’s Day to my precious mother. Thank you for your godly influence.