Mildred McAdams -- Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Friend -- Daughter of The King
Mildred Jane Byrd Stephens McAdams
Our mother was born in Dawson County, Georgia, on February 12, 1927 to Charlie Byrd and Daisy Bruce Byrd. She joined two older brothers, George and Henry Willis. Two younger brothers would come along later, Robert Edward and Marvin Howard Byrd. Grandma Byrd was a homemaker, and Grandpa Byrd had different jobs. He was a photographer and a door-to-door salesman (his sample case of flavorings, vanilla, lemon, etc., was a wonder to his grandchildren). They also had an income by selling timber off their land surrounding the homeplace. The Great Depression was very difficult on the family. They were poor during Mom’s childhood.
Because of their poverty, and because Mom’s father had a problem with alcohol, Mom had many responsibilities at home. She learned at a young age how to cook, sew, grow vegetables, tend to chickens, keep the wood stove going, and watch after her younger brothers. She did all this and still studied hard, staying at the top of her class all through school. In times when Grandpa’s despair and drinking made him want to strike out, she would stand between him and her Mom, or her younger brothers. All the brothers left home as soon as they could – joining various branches of the military, at young (and sometimes younger than legal) ages.
Mom became the oldest in the home at an early age. Their poverty caused them to be objects of ridicule among other children, and Mom’s protectiveness of her family’s honor, and especially her younger brothers, birthed her great dignity, loyalty, and resourcefulness in adversity. In those days, flour and chickenfeed came in sacks made of fabric which could be used for sewing dresses and shirts. Mom became a very good seamstress and was glad for an opportunity to have a new dress, either for herself or her Mom. At some point, she made a profession of faith in Jesus and was baptized, through a camp meeting experience. She and members of her family attended a Methodist church in the Lumpkin/Dawson County area of Dawsonville, Georgia.
There were very few stories of happy times with Grandpa. He drank heavily and spent much time alone, walking in the woods around their homeplace. Grandma had entered into marriage and child-rearing unprepared for the hardship of it. She depended on her daughter, and Mom came through for her. There is one happy story. To preface it, you have to know that our Dad (George McAdams) is the best checker player I’d ever known. Growing up, we’d never beat him or seen anyone else beat him. Once on a visit to our house in Tennessee, we were all playing checkers, and Dad had won game after game. Mom, then, jumped in on the play (first time in my memory, seeing her play checkers). She was a very even match for Dad, even beating him at least once. When we asked her how she learned to play, she told us, “Dad (Grandpa Byrd) played with me when I was home sick with an infected leg.” [As child, Mom had taken a bad spill once, and broken her lower leg. Infection set in, and she was home from school for months, while it was being treated. During that time, her father had helped her while away the time by playing checkers with her.] This was the one happy story about Grandpa Byrd, among the sad ones.
Sometime in Mom’s high school years, due to a re-districting situation, she changed schools. Because of this, although she still had the highest grades in her class, she wasn’t given the Valedictorian award when she graduated. [It had to do with some rule that she had to have attended that high school for 3 years to be considered.] Scholarship money that went with this award was lost to her, so her dream of going to nursing school was put aside. She got a job at Lockheed Aircraft Co. after graduating and worked as a “Rosie the Riveter”. She also married Guy Stephens, a neighbor boy somewhat older than her, whose family was in a much better way financially.
She never said much about why they married. It wasn’t the story you would hope for your parents. She was fond of him and pleased by his attention. Their marriage would allow her to have what she hoped would be a better life than the one she had as a child. This was not to be entirely so. Her husband, and our biological father, had been accustomed to a privileged life, and the responsibilities of a family would become a burden for him. Mom and he had four children together – Robert, and then (5 years later), Debbie, Dwane, & Wade (all two years apart). In their 10-11 years of marriage, Mom would work fulltime. When Robert was little, they lived in College Park (south Atlanta), and Mom worked as a seamstress at Arrow Shirt Company. Although Guy was under-employed or unemployed during much of that time, caring for small children wasn’t a responsibility he wanted. Mom hired babysitters who cared for us while she worked. Mom seemed always working, either outside the home, or catching up on work in the home.
Some time before I was born, they changed houses to Brookhaven (north Atlanta). My first memory was having a huge bundle gently placed in my lap, semi-held by me & by that adult (never knew for sure if this memory was that of a 2y/o holding newborn Dwane, or a nearly 4y/o holding newborn Wade). There are other fuzzy memories of a birthday, playing with Robert & neighborhood friends, visiting our grandparents, and playing with cousins. For the most part however, there are no memories during that period, of my biological father.
Then one day, Mom, with her oldest child, Robert’s help, gathered the 3 younger of us, and we moved into a little yellow house in Duluth, Georgia. Mom shared very few details from those early years, but she carried a lot of guilt that she was unable to make a better home for us, whatever that meant to her. When she left Dad, it had gotten to the place where, for her, at that time, it was just one less mouth to feed. Our time, in that little yellow house, was mostly happy. Our biological father visited a couple of times, and one time took his to the Fair. It was a happy memory. Other memories of that father, during that time, were so happy. When Mom divorced him, she did not ask for financial support, and he did not offer it. We did not know, as children, that times were difficult. Maybe Robert did, being older.
At some point (the next year maybe), we changed houses and lived in Doraville for awhile. That’s where we made friends with Dot Pruitt and Gladys Chandler and their families. [Mrs. Pruitt would become a dear friend to Mom for the rest of their lives; she died of cancer not too much before Mom did.] These families invited us to church, and for the first time, our family began attending church (Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, Duluth, Georgia). It was also during this time that Mom met George McAdams, who would soon become her husband and our Dad.
Mom was still working at Arrow Shirt Company on the southside of Atlanta, and we younger ones continued to have babysitters every day (although Robert was going to school). She somehow (either by borrowing or saving a little money) was able to get a little house built on Berkeley Lake Rd., in Duluth, Georgia. In those days, houses didn’t cost anything like they do now. We moved in, and Mom continued a long commute to work on the other side of Atlanta. I began to school at Duluth Elementary School. Our house was also very near to the church we’d begun attending which deepened our bond to that community. [This house has had 2-3 additions, and continues to be the home where Dad lives, and still has the feel of Mom about it. It is our homeplace.]
Dad, like Mom, had also been previously married, and his five children lived with their Mom [that situation is not for this story; although our stories connect here]. During our time living in Doraville, Dad and Mom fell in love, and with very little money between them (having support of her, her four, and him, his five), they married on May 31, 1958. They spent one night away from us, and pooled their money that evening, to have a bacon & egg supper. In those years, growing up on Berkeley Lake, three of Dad’s children stayed with us at various times – Carolyn, Shirley, & Jimmy. We have good memories of those times.
Times were better after Mom and Dad married. There were still stressful times, of course, and adjustments that needed to be made, but it was definitely a different season for our family. The challenge of a blended family was there, long before this sort of thing became a common topic of magazines and conversation. Mom continued to carry much responsibility for us, because she felt it was hers to carry, especially given that Dad had children of his own as well. She continued to work fulltime all her life, until she retired at 65. Two very big changes had happened in our lives. We had a Dad who loved Mom and us, and who was a very hard worker. We also had a church community where we were loved and where we all found a place to give back as well. Mom found a place of belonging, a place of acceptance, where she began to find healing, and where the comfort with which God had comforted her, she could then comfort others.
Mom and Dad became members of the church, and each of us children, one by one, came to know God and gave our lives to Him. Robert and I were baptized, together, in fact, in a pool of water at a sawmill near the church. He was 14 and I was 9y/o. Dwane and Wade, in their season, also committed their lives to Christ. Being involved in the life of that church community became very important to our family. Mom poured herself into serving. Even with working and the long commute, she seemed energized by singing in the choir, teaching the Word, and being involved in missions programming and community service.
Mom and Dad worked very hard to give us a good life. Although, financially, we might not have had a lot, we never felt deprived. They must have managed their money well and didn’t splurge much. I remember one family vacation only when we spent the night away from home [the vacation would have been a bit longer, except for my fear of heights as a child, which made the trip to the Appalachian Mountains not as enjoyable to the family. Sorry.] Since Mom and Dad worked throughout our childhood, Saturdays were big days. Trips to the grocery store, buying burgers at the first ever McDonald’s, work around the house, and going to drive-in movies. And there was always company – Uncles & Aunts & cousins; visiting our grandparents; and friends from church & sometimes school. Mom was a great cook, and seemed to be able to put a great meal on the table with little effort and less time. “We’ll just open up another can,” she’d say. I would learn as an adult, it was a lot more than that.
Mom loved working in the yard. She loved growing flowers, and loved rocks in the yard. More than once, we’d bring a big rock home from the side of the road, after some outing. Many of her flower beds are edged with rocks, and the ditch in front of the house has a rock retaining wall that Mom and Dad placed. Her irises and tiger lilies still bloom beautifully year after year. She and Dad had a vegetable garden pretty much every year as well. A fresh tomato sandwich was a favorite of hers. She loved vegetables of all kinds. Cornbread and a plate of beans or greens, with a piece of onion, was a completely satisfying meal.
She was also always making things – sewing, crocheting, knitting, decoupage, macramé, flower arrangements. She surrounded us with beautiful things that she found in antique shops or at yard sales. She made Christmas ornaments for our tree and to share with others. She made all my piano recital dresses, some of my prom dresses, and clothes for the little girls in her life (granddaughters & great-granddaughter, in particular).
Another way, she made our home beautiful was through her glass collection. Glass objects made her happy. There was a time that she’d bought a bunch of old bottles, of different shapes, and she filled them with colored water. They sat in the windows of our kitchen/dining room. When the sun came through those windows, it gave such an array of color to the room….just beautiful. I missed those bottles when she changed them out to a different décor. She introduced us to Depression glass, and we would look for pieces at yard sales and antique shops. Then she started, years ago, selling Tiara. It was a home party venture, and the glass resembled Depression glass. When she died, she gave her children all the Tiara glass she had collected…it was a wonderful gift, that we siblings, and our children will enjoy….a constant reminder of Mom’s appreciation of beautiful things…and how she made our lives all the more beautiful.
Mom loved to read. She’d read herself to sleep…it helped her relax. She always had her Bible by her bed, opened a lot of times where she was reading last. [Dad has that habit as well.] Her bookshelves at home are filled with the most interesting books. Devotional books, biographies, history, craft books, gardening books, cookbooks, books on birds, guides to buying antiques, etc. She and some of her friends had done a study on the Lord’s Prayer that apparently the Lord had used in an incredible way. Until she died, she talked about that study, and the impact of God’s teaching in her life, and the deep friendships made deeper during that study.
She also loved to help people. She would take meals to sick friends. She’d visit people in the hospital. She’d send notes to people, or leave little notes where they’d be found when she’d already gone. She’d listen and encourage, phone call after phone call, when friends called needing not to feel alone at the moment. She prayed with them, and for them. She worried too much, staying awake at night, when she should have been sleeping. Worrying was something she’d struggle with most of her life. It was a weakness for her, and she wrestled with that, and got victory in it, toward the end of her life.
She poured her life into her children. For each celebration of our lives, she made the day all the more special. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, and births. It was like these special occasions had never happened before ours….that’s how great she made us feel. She and Dad helped each of us with the down payment for our first houses. They were there, when possible, for the birth of every one of our children. Otherwise, they came as soon after as possible. They stood by us, in the difficult times (divorces, other losses, hardships, & disappointments). Mom accepted us, with all our struggles and all the growing pains….she loved us through them. She would worry, and at times, she’d be afraid for us…but she never quit on any of us…..ever.
Mom changed jobs sometime in her 40’s or 50’s from Arrow Shirt Company to work in Doraville at Foote & Davies Printing Company. She worked nights and her job was that of a feeder on a printing press. Other times, she’d have to pull rejects (magazine sections that hadn’t been properly put together) or pack finished magazines in bundles. It was hard work, and she would come home sometimes with hands covered with paper cuts. Mom’s hands became rough from the work. Those hands were always a picture of love to us. She also learned sign language during her time at that job, because she became friends with Mary, who was deaf. Their friendship lasted throughout Mom’s life. She retired at 65y/o from that job, and felt great accomplishment, keeping a pace of work that was hard to match by others much younger than her. Her supervisors and co-workers threw her a great retirement party. We were all invited and felt extremely proud of her.
Mom had a gift of taking care of people. She and Dad were a good team in that. When Grandpa Byrd died, Grandma Byrd came to live with us. She was with us 4-5 years, until her sudden death with a stroke when Mom was around 40y/o. That was a painful loss for Mom. When Mom was in her 50’s, our Uncle George (Mom’s oldest brother) began to have failing health, and his wife Florence developed Alzheimer’s. She and Dad took them in to care for them, until Uncle George’s death, and until Aunt Florence needed more care than they could provide. She died in a nursing home not long after that. Mom had always had a deep compassion for older people and those in a difficult place. It was something God gave her from an early age, and she served others out of that compassion. In Mom’s 60’s, Robert, Stephanie, & Chad all lived with Mom and Dad awhile. Robert had experienced a series of catastrophic events (including a divorce and heart attack). For Stephanie & Chad, and for Robert as well, coming home to Mom & Dad (Grandma & Papa) was an opportunity to heal in a very safe place. Sometime in her 60’s as well, Mom took in a long-time friend, Lillian Ray, who was a widow with no children, whose health was beginning to fail. Mrs. Ray would also finally need more care than Mom and Dad could give (after Mom herself developed cancer), and she was placed in a personal care home, dying just a month before Mom died.
The hardest loss Mom experienced was the sudden death of her grandson & Robert’s son, Chad, on March 16, 1994, at the age of 23. She and Chad were very close. He had lived with them for several years at the time of his death. The last words he’d said were, “Pray for me, Grandma.” He was on his way to take an exam, and died instantly in a car accident at an intersection, very close to the house. Chad’s death had a great sobering effect on our family. Mom had bouts with depression throughout her life – a sort of spiritual warfare – when she’d be so hard on herself, and grieve over the daughter or wife or mother that she had wanted to be, but felt she wasn’t. It was heart-breaking to sit with her, when she wept over regrets or the losses she or those she loved had experienced. Those earlier depressions were nothing like what she went through when Chad died. Although God’s grace was so evident in getting us all through the news of his death, the funeral, and the days after…..it was the long aftermath that took its toll on Mom, as she missed Chad so much. She also grieved for Robert & Stephanie, Chad’s Dad & sister, in their grief. It was a dark time. Her doctor wanted her to start on antidepressants. I asked her to trust God to get her through it. [I can tell you that that was advice, in hindsight, I should not have given. It was not my place. How thankful I am that God DID get her through that time, and that she survived it. It is to His glory that she hung in there, and it’s to her credit, that she pushed through the pain, and waited on God to bring light back into her life, which He did.]
During her adult life with children, Mom was closely attached to three churches. We were members for many years at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church. During the time that David Pickard was pastor there, there was a fork in the road in terms of direction of ministry. David would leave Mt. Tabor to start a new work. Mom was so torn. She loved her pastor and loved her church. She would end up making the hard decision of leaving to help with a new church start, but she and her friends at Mt. Tabor stayed close through the years. So, in a way, they allowed her to stay….although she believed in her heart that God had called her to go with the work Pastor Pickard was beginning at that time. Victory in Jesus Baptist Church was the new work, and Mom was very influential from the beginning – serving in Bible teaching, tithing and missions giving, prayer support, and visitation. She and Dad planted their lives there for years. The church later came under the leadership of Pastor Ty Blackburn whom Mom loved and with whom she served. She had a great women’s Sunday School class – friends who would become sisters to her. Sometimes she taught the class, and sometimes she learned at the teaching of another. They all learned and served together. The church’s name changed to Providence Church, but much stayed the same -- for sure what Mom did – in encouraging, and praying, and serving in whatever way she could. During this same time, a young man who’d been a member of that church, Steve Pritchett, answered a call to preach. With God’s help, he started a church in Norcross. Temple Baptist Church was its name. Mom was never a member, but she attended services often, during times Providence wasn’t meeting. She loved the preaching and music at both churches. She felt especially privileged to have seen both the young pastors grow up into their calling. Mom was like one of their spiritual mothers, taking very seriously her role in praying for them and encouraging them. All three of these pastors – David, Ty, & Steve would speak at her funeral, which is how it should be. They were her pastors.
Mom felt fortunate that all her children and grandchildren lived near her. Robert’s daughter, Stephanie married and had Stephen and Erica. They visited often, and they were a delight to Mom and Dad, the little ones often staying on weekends. Dwane and Barbara have three children between them – Kelli, Shel, & Jeff. We all have memories we cherish of Kelli and older cousin, Chad. When she was little, she used to pester him a lot, and he loved it. Now, Kelli & Mike also have little Samuel, and Jeff has a little step-daughter, Amanda, with his wife Stephanie. Shel married his Chante after Mom died, so they didn’t have the chance to know each other…yet. Wade has two sons, Jeremy and Jaden. Before Mom died, she got to know Wade’s Amy, but didn’t have the chance to hold baby Jaden, although somehow I believe she knows he’s here. I think we keep praying when we go to Heaven, and her youngest grandson would have that gift from her…at least, that’s my thinking from the Word. All of this big family live nearby Dad still. Children and grandchildren and greatgranchildren. Steph & her husband Chuck, the oldest grandchildren, and Jaden, the youngest…so far.
My life, however, took me a far distance geographically from Mom. Still single, and accepting a teaching job up North, I moved away when Mom was in her mid-50’s. That was hard for her, and for me. She and Dad drove with me to Connecticut on that first move, in January, 1983. She helped me get my apartment together, and when she left, there were touches of her love and creativity all around me. She’d left notes of encouragement tucked all over the apartment, and there were individual servings of favorite Mom foods in the freezer (including her cornmeal dressing….mmmm). When David and I married, Mom helped a lot with the wedding plans in Georgia, and a friend of hers did the reception. She received our three children, Christie, Nathan, and Daniel, joyfully, as she had all her others. She and Dad would travel many times over, in the next 20 years, to visit – in Connecticut, Tennessee, North Carolina, Egypt and Tunisia. [She would not make it to Morocco…but Dad has continued that loving tradition.] It will be one of the losses of my life not to have had the privilege of living near to her…but I’m thankful she was willing to get a passport in her 60’s and learn how to do email…God redeems all our losses. She was blessed by many, many “adopted” children, “sisters”, and other family who came into her life out of the circumstances of our living in other places. They are the great gain that came out of the loss.
Sometime in 1999, during Mom’s routine mammogram, the discovery of a mass or masses turned our family’s world upside-down. The people in our family always died of stroke or heart disease, so we always sort of felt protected from cancer. Mom was diagnosed with cancer. We were in shock. She had always been our rock….our refuge…a very real picture of God’s love & care. Now she was fragile….and it scared all of us. Her diagnosis was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Stage IV). It was supposedly highly responsive to treatment. Mom started on chemotherapy, and would take both chemotherapy and radiation therapy for the next three years…with a few seasons of rest and hope, but most of the time a battle for life. We all prayed for healing, and she honored our prayers by taking hard chemotherapy and enduring painful after-effects. She wanted to live, more, I think for our sakes, than for her own. Her prayer, from the beginning, was that God would be glorified in her life through the cancer. He answered her prayer first…….and, in an ultimate healing in her Homegoing, He answered ours. Not how we wanted it…..but way better for her.
Mom went through most of her cancer without her only daughter at home. This is another loss for me, and for us both. With our work overseas, I couldn’t be home as much as I wanted. She refused us coming home. She said, “If you quit your job and come home, it will be like you’re writing off my life, and all we’ve prayed for.” We didn’t quit…. But, there are no words for how grateful I am for the family and friends who were there for Mom. My heart aches as I write this, thinking of you, and all you did for her. I’ll be grateful to you for all of eternity….and grateful to God for you.
We came home, July 2002, for a year. Mom’s cancer was not letting go. She was in a lot of pain from a protracted case of shingles. We took up housing at Southeastern Seminary, where Dave took classes. I flew back and forth to Atlanta, to spend as much time with Mom as I could…..it wasn’t enough. She was amazing…there’s a part of cancer, of suffering, in general, that is very private. Only the person, and God, can enter in. The rest of us stand on the sidelines…watching, and hopefully praying. I learned so much about grace in those few months before she died. She rarely ever complained… Maybe she did with Dad. Their relationship was so close. But she and I talked about other things – about what she hoped would happen before she died, and about the whole journey with God she was experiencing then, and about what concerned her when she’d have to leave Dad, and the rest of us. Her courage was inspiring to me….although not surprising, because I’d seen her brave other times. She was in the work of finishing life…and she would finish well.
There were days we’d sit in the oncologist’s office, and she’d encourage other patients. She’d stand aside for another to go ahead of her, and she’d smile and greet the staff…and I knew how sick she was… People can be nice…for a season…but if it doesn’t come from a changed life, a life like Jesus’, then nice doesn’t last for long, or go very deep. What I saw in Mom was a deep deference for others that didn’t change even as she weakened, and I saw in her a growing trust in God that both thrilled and amused her, in a way. She’d said one time, in talking about our call to the work we’re in, that she wished she could hear from God like that. She had often struggled with doubt and fear related to God – a holdover from a childhood relationship with a distant father. I asked her, on one of those doctor visits, “You hear from God now, don’t you?” All she did was smile.
From a Friday to a Monday, Mom died. We’d been at the hospital on Friday, for Mom to get blood cells and platelets. Between the last chemotherapy she’d taken and the unabating lymphoma, her bone marrow was devastated. She would never be able to build her blood cells up again. By the time we’d gotten back home that day, she couldn’t walk very well. Hospice nurses started coming out that afternoon. Her body was shutting down…but not her spirit. By the next day, she would get to the place she couldn’t walk to the bathroom, even with help on each side. She had visits all through Saturday and Sunday – her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, other family, her dear, dear friends, her pastors, her doctor – one by one, and in small groups – visiting this precious one. Dad would always be there, nearby, holding her hand, or letting one of us have a turn…
One time during the weekend, she looked at me, deep in my eyes, smiled, and said, “I’m O.K.” Her voice has a bemused sound to it – almost surprised – like, “It’s really true. His grace is going to take me all the way Home.” Those two little words she said have stayed with me these years since she went to be with the Lord….I know better, because of Mom, that, because of God, she WAS O.K….and because of Him, we all have the same hope. Our hope is in Him….not in ourselves. Some visits I got to be in on, but others I missed, while working in the kitchen or saying Bye to someone. Friends, saying Goodbye….for now. We cried a lot that weekend. There was even singing – Donny, and Dallas & Jean. There was also laughter…and sweet memories too numerous to include for now. Many of you have them, too.
Mom was alert, engaged in those visits, despite the pain, and still doing her encouraging of all who came to encourage her…until Sunday night. At some point, she closed her eyes…we thought to rest…but it would be to not wake again. She would be in a coma, I guess, until she died Monday evening. She died, with many of us, around her bed, while Pastor Ty read, so guided by the Holy Spirit, from the Word (2 Corinthians 4):
“For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body…….therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Mom’s legacy to us – she believed God; she loved us even when we were unlovely; she never quit on people; she prayed and is still praying; she had faith in God and in what He could do in us, when we let Him; she was honest about her own failings; she fought for what was right; she was gentle and generous; she allowed love to “cover a multitude of sins”; she was very human; she radiated the life of Jesus. She glorified God in thousands of big and small ways, all her life. She’s with the Lord; no doubt about that; and it’s not out of her righteousness, but His. She showed us all what a difference one small, simple life could make….when surrendered to Him. She did what she could…and because she gave her life, daily, to the Lord, ours are the lives that were changed. Thank you, Mama.