I have the honor today of delivering my mother’s eulogy, to speak words about her life and help memories of her shine a little bit brighter. This is a daunting task. In thinking over her life, I wondered “how can I condense this woman’s spectacular life into just a few minutes of speech?” There’s no way I can do that justice. It would take me days to recount and talk about all her years. So rather than try to give a blanket summary, I’ve decided to focus on what defined my mom’s life: suffering.
Anyone who knew my mom, even for a few minutes, understood that she suffered in multiple ways for decades. And while many here know some of the sufferings she went through, most have not known all of them, the reason why she suffered, or what was birthed because she suffered. This is what I want to talk about today.
Bambi Linn Ostendorf was born December 19th, 1958 at Charleston General Hospital in West Virginia. She was a funny kid who was always joking around. If you ever wonder where we, her children, got our humor from, now you know. She went through school and soon after graduating high school married a man named Gordon Tucker. They were married a few years before they achieved perfection: me. Just kidding. (Hey, I wrote the eulogy so I thought I’d embellish it a little bit…) Everything was good. They served at their local church, Trinity Assembly of God in Deltona. He was an usher and she was in the choir. Several years later they had Andrew and 20 months after him came Phillip. Three beautiful boys.
The night they came home with Phillip, Gordon looked at Bambi, denied any love for her, and walked out the door, divorcing her. This event changed her. It broke her. Everything she had trusted in, relied in, hoped in, seemed to crumble. The dreams she had of having a nice life, in a house with a good family was slipping from her fingers like how water does when you try to hold it. She didn’t give up. She mustered up strength, went back to college, and worked her hardest to get her life back on track.
That’s when it all started.
August 1991. Almost exactly one year after the divorce. Between school life and work life and home life, she squeeze in her scheduled mammogram and found out…she had breast cancer. God was merciful and gave her grace to overcome all her doubts, depression, questions, bitterness, and the like. She entered into remission and life seemed to be getting better, or at least a little more stable.
It was during this time that God would give her the greatest gift of her life: her husband Richard Manchester. God brought this man into her life, not only to be her husband and helpmate, but to be a father to her boys. In the years that followed, even as I was engaged, she often talked to me about him. She would tell me “Matt, God never told me that Richard would be perfect or that we would have an easy life. But He told that Richard would always love me and never leave me.”
I want to stop for a moment and say something. We are here today to celebrate and remember my mom, Bambi, but we honor her the most by stopping and honoring her husband Richard. Dad, I have watched you over the years take care of mom. The countless days and nights where she couldn’t get out of bed because of pain. You never left. When you promised to be with her “in sickness and in health”, you kept your word. Were you perfect? No. But did you love her and serve her till the end? YES. And I want to say to you as her son, but also now as a husband and father myself: thank you so much for everything you did. You have given me (as well as our church) a shining example of what it looks like for a husband to love and serve his wife. I want to stand today and applaud you for all your sacrifice. And I would ask all here to join me right now in honoring him.
Richard was great. He married Bambi, legally adopted us boys as his own, and then together they had two beautiful miracles: Reagan and Shelby. I say miracles because the doctors told mom that she should abort the twins. The chemo had ruined any chance for the girls to come out healthy and normal. But mom (along with dad) believed God and God was faithful to bring them forth with no issues.
For the next four years, Bambi would work as a home-health nurse. All those years of schooling while dealing with divorce and cancer seemed to be paying off. Times were good. We were having fun as a family. We as kids were constantly finding reasons to have our babysitters call 911. Life was normal again.
When most people are asked what Bambi’s greatest trial and suffering was, they without a second thought say “cancer”. And while cancer certain caused my mom great discomfort and pain, it took a far second place to that fateful morning on August 16, 1996..
Bambi was in Debary working, on her way to the doctors for an appointment before continuing the rest of her home health work, when another car turned in front of her and caused her to collide going over 40 miles per hours. Her dark green Dodge Shadow compacted to half it’s size. By the time Richard got there she was already in the ambulance in excruciating pain. It would be years before the doctors would realize she had muscle fibermilalga. My mom lived in constant pain from that moment to the day she died. The medication she had to take since that day was immense and it was usually just enough to help her get out of bed. Everyday was a waking nightmare of pain.
But as she was laying in the ambulance, waiting to be taken to the hospital, she heard God speak to her one of the clearest phrases she has ever heard from God: “I am going to give you plenty of time to seek Me.” What would you do if you were in intense pain everyday? Bambi could of gave up. She could no longer work. She could barely get out of bed. She had (at the time) no quality of life. She could of dwelt in continual depression and become psychotic. She could of became bitter and offended with people and with God. Rather, and what makes her truly great in my book, is that she took her pain and used it to draw closer to God.
This began a season of seeking God that I have rarely seen in anybody else. She devoured everything she could concerning God. I have fond memories of every week or two going to Family Christian Bookstore in Daytona and every time leaving with a $300-400 receipt from books and worship cds. She bought every videotape the Brownsville Revival had to offer at that time. I told dad the other day that if it wasn’t for that season in her life of consuming the Bible and devoting herself to the spiritual disciplines, none of us kids would be where we are, serving the church as we do. And it all stemmed from the car accident.
Though she could no longer work, she started seeking God, asking Him what she could do. She became a youth worker and sunday school teacher. She then started and ran a hospitality ministry for our church. She was known as the “milk cake lady”. It wasn’t just baking for her, it was ministry. She started sewing again. She had learned sewing from her mother, Joann, and even used to make her own clothes. She sowed flags for church worship. (That got her the name of “banner lady”) She sowed handkerchiefs. She sowed bandannas. But her most memorable things she sewed were her quilts. God would give her a picture of a quilt and she would go and make it, often praying over every stitch. Every quilt had its meaning and while mom did occasionally have dreams of starting a business and selling them…she often gave them away for free. Again, it was a ministry for her. She felt called to minister to women who were troubled, abused, forgotten, wayward, or hurt. She would talk to them, invite them over for tea (all the 5000 kinds that she had), share with them her story, pray for them, and often send them away with a present. I can’t count how many times I would hear her say “God woke me up to pray for someone last night and gave me a picture of a quilt for them. I need to go to Joann Fabrics and get the material.” Our $400 bookstore bill became a $400 fabric bill. She loved it. She loved being able to spend hours in prayer, talking to God, making these symbols of love. She would spend years like this. Loving, serving, sewing, baking, praying. That’s who she was. During this time, she had learned to rest in God, to be just a child with her Father.
In August 2006, the family went down to Ft Lauderdale for a mini-vacation. For whatever reason, she decided to go jet-skiing. But as she was riding, she noticed that something was wrong. She went to the hospital and found out that the cancer was back and had eaten and disintegrated her entire right hip. At this point, she had been in remission for almost 15 years. But the cancer came back in force. She would spend the next 8 years fighting it, with rounds and rounds of chemo and other types of treatment. She was close to death many times and the church would pray and God would bring her back from the brink. Finally, the cancer moved into her brain and lungs, which led to her death on December 12th, 2013.
But what was the point of all that suffering? After all, if death was always the destination, why all the pain? Paul, in writing again to the church in Corinth, says in 2nd Corinthians 4:7-18 –
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
(jumping down to verse 16)
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
We humans are fickle creatures. We spend all our lives dressing up, decorating, and improving our “jars of clay.” We make them so ornate on the outside thinking that we are helping show people the beauty of Christ. But all people see is the beauty of us. The only way for people to see the treasure inside the jar is to crack it, to break it. The less attractive and put-together the jar is, the more people see the treasure inside it.
My mom was a very broken jar of clay. The treasure of Christ and the revelation from His Word that dwelt inside of her was great, and the more broken she became, the more we had the privilege of beholding the beauty of Christ in her life. She told Richard one day that if she had the chance to stop the car accident and live pain-free for the rest of her life, she wouldn’t do it…because of how it brought her closer to Jesus. She could of fought the breaking. She could of resisted the suffering. Rather, she embraced it.
Paul, later in the same letter would say:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 ESV)
That’s what my mom did. She boasted in her weakness. She accepted it. Yes, she prayed for healing. She pleaded that the Lord would take all the pain and all the disease away. But she also took heart in James’ words:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)
So while she believed that God could heal her completely, she also knew that He had a plan, a plan for her good, a plan for her completeness. So she embraced her suffering. She boasted of her weakness. In the end, Bambi didn’t die because cancer was strong. Rather, she died because she made herself intentionally weak. She knew the more that death was manifested in her body, the more that life would flow out into others.
I remember the last time she spoke publicly here at a ladies meeting. She had just found out she had brain cancer (which she knew was fatal). She sat right here. With a clouded mind, and stammering lips, she looked at the women who were there, and with shocking authority questioned them “If I can trust God with a tumor in my head that could paralyze me, can’t you trust God for your kids, your life, your marriage, your finances?” She should declare in her rock-solid faith, “In all the cancer and trials…I am only suffering light momentary afflictions. There’s an eternal weight of glory if I wait.” The more her “jar” broke apart, the more real and precious the treasure of Christ inside her became. She had one desire: to see the Lord. Not just to see Him in things (like in nature or in circumstances), but to see Him with her physical eyes, like Moses did. It wasn’t enough for her to come to church and have a nice life with a good family. She wanted God more than anything (though I must admit, a Coke and a good NCIS episode was next on the list). She longed for God and it was all the suffering in her life that cause Bambi to cling to Him.
As I end, I recently found a letter that mom wrote many years ago. I found it in one of her many journals and notepads. I don’t know when it was written or who it was written for or even why it was written. It was probably written 10-15 years ago, but the words ring true, and I think it would be just like Bambi to give us another small piece of treasure today.
Why? Why me? Have you ever asked those questions of God? Have you ever gotten an answer? If you are like me, you’ve not gotten one when you’ve asked possibly because we weren’t ready to accept the answer.
For me, one time sticks out more than the most. It was the fall of 1991. I was a 32-year-old single mother of three young boys attending Daytona Beach Community College working toward obtaining my nursing degree. I had seen my marriage come to an abrupt and painful end the year before and was trying to put the pieces of my life back together again. As if that wasn’t enough to cope with, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer approximately three months earlier. I had a lumpectomy between semesters and then started chemo and radiation treatments along with a new seventeen credit-hour semester. I had always prided myself with being strong and being able to withstand things that would break others, but the successive blows were starting to wear me down. This morning in particular was difficult. I was sick from chemo, tired from radiation, and stressed from school. As I was combing my hair, large amounts were coming out. That seemed to be the last straw. In tears, I looked upwards and said in a very frustrated and angry tone: “Haven’t I been through enough? What more do you want?” I received no answer, audible or otherwise, just the same quiet comfort that I sensed during the long nights over the past one and a half years.
Approximately two and a half years later I was working as a home health nurse specializing in peds and oncology. I had completed school, was in remission, had remarried, and was now the mother of three boys and twin girls. Life was stressful but without painful crises. One of my patients was a 21-year-old IV drug abuser dying of AIDS. She was angry, non-compliant, and unrealistic as to her prognosis. My job was to provide medical care and to instruct on ways to prolong her life through compliance. She was proving to be a very difficult patient.
On this particular morning I came to her home with the intention of administering the meds that were ordered and go on with what was to be a very busy day. She didn’t answer the door as usual but it was unlocked. I came in to find her sitting on the couch practically hysterical. Her long brown hair was tangled in a brush and clumps of hair were in her hands. Immediately all my frustrations with her disappeared. It wasn’t so long that I had forgotten the trauma of loosing my hair. For the next two hours I sat and held her and soothed her as I would have one of my own children. I eventually got around to the medical care that I was there to give, but not until her hair was combed, we had talked about wigs, and she was able to smile and laugh.
As I closed the door behind me that morning I clearly heard the voice of the Lord answer the question that I had angrily asked Him years earlier. He said it was because of her. Because Jesus desired to love her where she was and in the way she needed to be loved. Without having experienced that pain myself, I would have never been able to show the compassion that Jesus wanted to show her. She didn’t need a tract, she didn’t need a message, she needed Jesus with skin on.
Ten years later I’m finding myself asking some of the same questions. However this time I’m not priding myself on how strong I am but learning to love the weakness that God’s dealings can bring in one’s life. 2 Corinthians 12:9 speaks of a weakness (a frailty, a feebleness) that makes room for divine power, a miracle itself. I find it to be a great mystery why the Creator of the universe would not only love me enough to give His only Son for my eternal life, but that this same sovereign God would desire to use me as an instrument of His love to a hurting world.
Jeremiah 23:11 says that He knows the plans He has for you. They are plans for good, not bad. They are plans to give you a hope and a future. God proved His love for us forever as His Son willingly gave His life for us at Calvary 2000 years ago. Today, He offers us abundant life and the opportunity to be His hands extended. It’s not an easy call.
“It’s not an easy call.” Looking at my mom’s life, that is the understatement of the year. But look around today, look at what is just a portion of the people God used Bambi to touch with love and life. If she was here, she would look every one of you right in the eye and lovingly ask you, “Will you let God do what it takes to draw you close to Him? Will you let Him make you His hands extended?”
My mom did. She said yes to that call. And now, she is receiving her crown and Jesus is telling her “well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.”
My mom had two final requests for when she passed. First she asked that Renee Modica would not try to resurrect her, and the second is that we would worship God passionately. So as the worship team is coming up, my sister Shelby will come and give us a call to worship. Thank you.
You can watch the memorial service here.