You know that person who will always have a forever footprint on your heart?
I believe everyone has (at least) one special person like this.
For me, that was my Mamaw.
Just the other day, she came upon my mind as I was driving by Converse College (her Alma mater) and I couldn’t stop thinking about her for the rest of the day. She passed away during my junior year of college and I was absolutely heartbroken, but at the same time, full of peace that surpassed all understanding. I remember her funeral being full of so much joy because any and everyone knew that sweet Betty Jo (my Mamaw) was finally at home with her Lord and Savior...the God she loved and served with everything she had, and whom she wanted everyone around her to come to know, too. That’s just the kind of woman she was. A woman fully devoted and fully in love with God. She knew what it meant to love God and love others. And I am forever grateful for this example in my life growing up.
Now living in Spartanburg, it is so crazy to that think that, all those years ago, she attended college as a music major right here at Converse College – literally 5 minutes from our little fixer-upper house. God sure has a funny way of sweetly reminding us of those we love and hold dear to our hearts. And anyone musical here at Converse has probably heard of Betty Jo Carpenter (her maiden name was Betty Jo Putnam), as she was quite a legend there. I remember her constantly receiving awards for her incredible singing and musical abilities, but she would just laugh it off and sing all the more, but always giving the glory to God.
You see, she knew that God had given her a voice to share with the world, and boy, she sure did just that. You couldn’t go 5 minutes without hearing Mamaw humming or singing a tune as she was cooking, cleaning, or walking with us downtown to get ice cream. Now, every day as I drive down East Main Street and pass by the beautiful gates of Converse College, I think of my Mamaw and all of the memories she, too, got to create in this little town.
Pretty crazy to believe that, out of all the cities and towns I could’ve ended up in, God just so happened to have me meet my sweet John Wesley (a Spartanburg area native) and have us settle down (for now) right here in Spartanburg. In a lot of ways, it just brings me closer to Mamaw and reminds me of all of our sweet memories together when we got to visit her up in Rutherfordton, NC (where she and my Papaw resided for the latter end of their lives, after raising kids in Forest City).
Whether it was fixing up a last minute dinner to serve anywhere from 4 to 15 of us, playing in the garden with her grandchildren, taking us on walks down to the church playground, or simply playing cards and sipping sweet tea on the porch...with Mamaw, life was always full of beauty...and joy upon JOY. And no matter what we were doing, Mamaw would always raise her hand just so and say the words “simply marvelllouuuuus” (in her sweet southern accent) and always leave us laughing and rolling on the floor.
You see, Mamaw found the utmost joy in the simplest routines of life and sang with her beautiful voice everywhere she went.
Not to mention, there was no such thing as using stirring spoons while mixing cornbread or cake mix, because as Mamaw would say, “our good old hands make the best spoons of all.” Hence, every meal in her kitchen was touched by her loving hands and truly cooked from the heart. I know that sounds like a trivial thing to mention, but this is something I always remember about Mamaw. It’s funny how the little quirks about those you love always seem to stick with us in our memories the most.
The story of how she and my Papaw met is the cutest of all. Talk about two kids in love... these two had the most beautiful and Christlike marriage and were such an example to all of us. I always prayed to find love and have a marriage like theirs, and Wes sure is a living proof of that prayer answered to the hundredth degree. He is my “Papaw” - the rock to all of my crazy dreaming, and the wind to my sails…truly my better half!
We always say that Mamaw and Papaw were the perfect match because of how they complimented one another so well. Mamaw was the joyful, overflowing-with-love-for-EVERYONE kind of woman, and Papaw was steady and grounded in wisdom. They were truly a match made in heaven. They met in high school when Papaw was the new kid in town and Mamaw invited him on the National Honor Society hayride. The rest was history - and they lived a happy, beautiful life together for the rest of their days
– until Jesus called them home.
Every time I came to visit, Mamaw would always ask me the same question-
“Now, have you met Mister Wonderful yet?” (in her sweet, deep southern accent).
Boy how she would have loved to have met my husband, sweet John Wesley. And with him being in ministry too...she would have just had a hay day! I know that they will get to meet one day in heaven, and I can’t wait to see the smile spread across her face when she says –
“Boy! You sure did find your Mister Wonderful, Em!”
And you know all those verses in the Bible that talk about the joy of the Lord?
Well, Mamaw was a living, breathing example of this.
Whenever you were around Mamaw, you felt just a little closer to God. And I never knew why I would cry so much every time we left Mamaw & Papaw’s house to head back home after visiting, but now I do. I remember crying and crying as we had to say goodbye and drive away from their sweet little house, but not because they were sad tears, but tears of knowing that these two knew something that the rest of us all wanted a little more of. They knew love. They knew the importance of simplicity. They knew true joy. And most importantly, they showed us all more about God – because they lived it out in both their words and actions.
My dad always tells me stories about how Mamaw would always say, “There’s always room for one more,” and would invite any and every one into her home for a warm meal at her table. Oh, if we could all be a little more like Mamaw.
This welcoming and inviting spirit is not something Mamaw had to strive for, but rather, this was just her inherent nature as a child of God and something she did out of the true joy she had in her soul. Not for recognition or praise, but because she knew what truly mattered in life.
Loving God and loving others.
You see, Mamaw knew something that the whole world needs to know. She knew in the very depths of her soul that she was loved deeply by God. And nothing in this world was ever going to take that away from her.
Mamaw always had such a strong faith and made sure to always teach us about God’s word and His ways. But sometimes, when you’re a teenager and a college kid, you just smile and listen - but not really understanding things yet. The older I have gotten, though, the more and more I reflect back on my memories with Mamaw and how blessed we all were to get to learn from her.
Most vividly, the phrase she would always say to me was –
“Remember who you are.”
Whether I was embarking to head back to school, trying out for a new sports team, or heading off on another church mission trip, my Mamaw would always say these words to me. She wanted me to remember that I was, first and foremost, a child of God, and that this is where my true identity and worth comes from. Our accolades and worldly accomplishments are great and all, but they do not define us in our innermost being. Only God can do that. He is the only thing that will never fall short or let us down. Life’s circumstances are constantly changing as we age and enter new seasons of life, but God’s love and unending kindness towards us never fails.
So, rather than seeking things that this world has to offer, I pray that we start to really lean into what Mamaw knew in her heart. The importance, most of all, of knowing our true worth in God alone, and as a result, loving God and loving others. Not because it is “the right thing to do,” but because it is our joy to do so.
After all, isn’t that what Jesus has called us all to do?
Matthew 22:37-39 –
“Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
And just to close this little blog post, I wanted to end with a little excerpt from her obituary that I found online the other day, when I was really missing her and being reminded of her as I was driving by Converse College:
“Betty Jo ALWAYS had time for family and friends. Her six granddaughters recall many special memories with Mamaw: long mystery walks, enjoying high tea, cooking anything and everything, playing in sprinklers on hot summer days, and Mamaw always being available for spontaneous fun and adventures. She would attend their classes for historical singing and loved to help with family history school projects. She had the amazing ability to prepare three home-cooked meals a day for her family and friends all of her life. Her motto for meals was "There is always room for one more!" Betty Jo was always the last to leave church or any event because she loved to see and talk to everyone. She never met a stranger. Betty Jo's constant smile showed her love of life and the Lord, and her eyes sparkled with joy that kept her 'singing all day long.'
Betty Jo's hobbies included gardening, writing, traveling, family genealogy, and historic preservation. She was honored by the Rutherford County Historical Society for her contributions to historical preservation in the county. In recognition of all of her leadership and involvement over the years, Converse College honored Betty Jo with a Career Achievement Award in 1999, and this past spring
named her as one of their Top 125 Alumnae.”
You can go read the rest of her obituary at:
Mamaw, thank you for teaching us how to love God and love others. I know you have been with Jesus for just over 5 years now, but I wanted you to know that there is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss you. I love you and pray that one day, I will be a little bit like you! You are my greatest role model, my example of Christ, and
the most joyful woman this world has ever known!