How do you get to heaven? That is a question constantly pondered and explored by clerics, apostles, ministers and lay people of faith.
The simple answers are: Lead a good clean life, Believe and Pray. But it takes an special kind of commitment, a process if you will, to be assured that your “home going” will in fact be to that place with God that you envision.
There are people who touch your life with such joy and purity that you think that upon their passing, they would definitely be heaven bound. You can see up front, their ostensible qualifications to be elevated to an exalted place when they pass over. But it is not very often you see the process that gives them their heavenly glow.
Fannie Mae McClendon was a “praying woman!” Her favorite slogan was, “TYJ!~Thank you Jesus!” She was as open, warm and friendly as any human could be. Her humility made her highly endeared to those who knew her. And to those who loved her, she was known as “Mother McClendon.” She would always contact you on your birthday, anniversary or threshold moment in your life. Sometimes she would remember instances and dates better that me, and other family members decades her junior. I often wondered, “How was she able to do that?”
But in contrast to her open warmth and welcoming smile, she was a deeply private person who believed that conveying her own suffering was an impediment to the happiness of people around her. She never complained about her life, her financial situation or her health. When asked she would volunteer that she had a pervasive cough or a cold, but nothing deeper than that. Being 80, and not ever being hospitalized the 35 years I had known her, Mother McClendon made all of us around her believe that she was going to out live them.
But sometime on January 2, 2016, Fannie Mae McClendon passed peacefully in her sleep. It was as though she wanted everyone to get through the holidays so they would not go through the season without her. Yes, she had that kind of consideration for everyone’s happiness.
Fannie Mae was my Mother-In-Law. Upon news of her death, my wife Patricia and I flew from our home on Long Island to Atlanta to help get her affairs in order. As Fannie Mae’s eldest daughter, Pat was designated by Fannie to lead the family in grief.
As we arrived at her home, we realized that this would be the first time to really see how Fannie Mae lived. As mentioned earlier, she was extremely private. You could visit her, but you were pretty much restricted to the kitchen, living room and bathroom. But in visiting these areas, if you were non-judgmental, you would pick up on clues of how Fannie Mae was going to get to heaven.
As you passed the kitchen and moved through the hallway to the three bedrooms in the back, you would notice an increase in hand written scriptures posted on the walls. The deeper you would go into Fannie Mae’s private environment, the more you saw writings from the new and old testaments scrolled on neatly cut strips of paper. It was almost as if Fannie Mae was creating a truly blessed holy place with handwritten scriptures being the iconography of holiness.
It is important to note that Fannie Mae was not a zealot. She was never a bible-beating postulate who would bombard you with her views of how you were a sinner destined for the flames of hell because of the way you lived. Her methodology of showing her faith was more empathic. She would listen, warmly smile and say, “I will pray for you, and it will help.” And you believed her!
This is how the power of her prayers were manifested…
When Fannie Mae would tell you she would pray for you, she would actually pray for you, write a scripture that personifies the condition of your soul in her mind, and file that away in a box, in an envelope or if it was deeply heartfelt, on the wall. When we gathered into her home after her death to prepare it to receive guests, we saw slips of paper with scriptures everywhere. Much of these writings were neatly boxed and stored. She had file cabinets of just about every card she received with a blessing to the sender. You would think that you were entering a room, but in reality, you would have entered a prayer vault, a blessings vault!
When one ventures into the world outside their home, they go into a wide-open space that is out of their control. But when you walk into Fannie Mae’s house, you walk into an environment transformed into a prayer garden maintained in the most minimalist fashion.
Her financial footprint was within the means of her meager retirement earnings because her prayers were answered and she wanted for nothing. She would write scriptures on her bills as well as the envelope carrying those bills as if to bless the messenger and all those in the chain that brought that envelope to her mailbox.
Fannie Mae was grateful for every experience in her life, and preserved memories in the most extraordinary way. For instance, she took a trip to New York to visit my wife, daughter and me in the early ‘90’s. We took her to a taping of the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. She saved the ticket, the envelope the ticket came in, the toll receipt to cross the George Washington Bridge and took pictures of the audience. Those items were found carefully pressed into a picture album sheet with individual scriptures written on each item, scriptures that entered her mind while we traveled together. This is how she blessed the show, the people in that audiences, and even Sally Jesse Raphael. After each scripture was the phrase, “TYJ,” for thank you Jesus!
As we carry on in this life, trying to make sense of the loss of our mother, I am so grateful that my mind was open to accept the suggestion that the scriptures written all around Fannie Mae’s home was her way of communicating with God. It was a powerful connection that made her home a nexus of blessings. She elevated her thoughts of God and what it meant to be holy to a level few of us will ever experience or understand. But the effects of those prayers and laser-focused thoughts for our wellbeing are manifested in the happiness exuding from her presence.
She loved her church, The Move Of God Church in Atlanta, and had pictures of the founding pastors Reverends Edward and Frances Harris in every room.
The scriptures posed on her walls and written on her letters, cards and bills were flowers in her scripture garden where she communicated with her Lord and Savior. She planted and sowed pious thoughts to flourish and grow the way a gardener would plant seeds.
Fannie’s path on her road to heaven brings to mind a song written by C. Austin Miles in 1912, The Garden.
In the first verse, Austin Miles writes,
I come to the garden alone, While the dew is still on the roses, And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, The Son of God discloses. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.
Fannie Mae’s home was a scripture garden. Bible verses were her flowers. Where we would see lavenders she would see Leviticus. Where we would see Jasmine, she would see Jeremiah or James. Where we would see gardenias, she would see Genesis.
The privacy in which she conducted her process to heaven was absolute and personal. She knew how to communicate her hopes, fears, needs, desires and blessings in a one-to-one dialogue with God that resonated in the way she lived her life:
He speaks, and the sound of His voice, Is so sweet the birds hush their singing, And the melody that He gave to me, Within my heart is ringing. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.
As we gathered in Fannie Mae’s house, trying to make sense of why she left us so suddenly, without warning, I came to grips with what made this woman holy. I admired the peace and serenity in which she left this world. She was called home to plant seeds of blessings throughout the universe…
I’d stay in the garden with Him, Tho’ the night around me be falling, But He bids me go, thro’ the voice of woe, His voice to me is calling. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.
January 10, 2016