On September 4, 2016, Mrs. Betty Riordan, one of the most influential people in my life, entered into the everlasting presence of her Savior.
Mrs. Betty Riordan, whom I simply called Mama, faithfully served God and changed the world around her. I could go on for days listing the things she accomplished during her lifetime, but I want to take a few minutes and share who she was to me and why that made all the difference in the world.
Mrs. Betty Riordan wasn’t my mother, but she was definitely my Mama. Aside from my mom, Mrs. Riordan resides on a tiny list of women who I can say made me the woman I am today.
My family moved to Griffin when I was in kindergarten. Shortly after moving, we joined Second Baptist Church of Griffin, Georgia. From that moment on, I don’t recall a day without Mama Riordan in my life.
Mrs. Riordan taught Children’s Church every Sunday morning for as long as I can remember. She told me more Bible stories using flannel graph than you can imagine. Almost every childhood church song I know came from the hours I spent learning about Jesus under her direction.
I assure you, my three children and many of the Awana students I went on to teach in Indiana know every one of them– including all the hand motions!
Girls In Action
Mrs. Riordan also led the Girls in Action program at our church. Every Wednesday evening from first grade through sixth grade, Mrs. Riordan shared her heart’s greatest passion to a fun group of girls and her dedicated co-leaders.
That passion? Missions.
I learned about pioneer women missionaries like Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon. I learned to pray for missionaries like Clifford Bruffey. I participated in fundraising efforts. I practiced serving others locally. I learned about the world without the aid of the internet, social media, or cable news. As I look back, I realize this was an amazing gift.
Not only did Mrs. Riordan and GA’s shape my heart for missions, they prepared me long before it was easily accessible to understand our global society, to recognize God’s love for it, and His work in it.
Flint River Baptist Association Camp
Betty Riordan’s missional influence didn’t stop on Wednesday nights. She also led the summer GA camps I attended at the Flint River Association Camp Grounds. Eventually, she became the director for the entire camp ground ministries.
Every summer I spent a week with Mama Riordan at camp.
During those life changing weeks Mrs. Riordan told me missionary stories with flip books; helped me complete mission activities in my GA book; taught me how to worship and pray; and invited me to enjoy God’s creation through nature and campfires.
As a bonus, she invited me to come to the campground on off weeks to swim in the camp pool!
While I can recall memories from every year I attended camp, the summer between sixth and seventh grade is the one that stands out the most. God was at work in a special way in my life. He spoke clearly through the stories, worship, testimonies, and nature. He invited me to follow Him in a very specific way that summer. He invited me to serve Him in missions.
The last night of camp, I responded to that call. I am still faithfully pursuing it, and even though I have taken many a detour on the way, that night is just as real and vivid to me as it was nearly thirty-two years ago.
If sharing her love for Jesus and missions wasn’t enough, Mrs. Riordan also taught me to love God’s Word with all of my heart.
She led another wild and wooly band of children and youth every year at our church through the Children’s and Youth Bible Drill program.
I might be more than a little competitive, especially when it comes to achievement. So, Bible Drill was right up my alley. I participated from the earliest age I could until I topped out because of achievement after my first year in Youth Bible Drill.
As a youth, I spent hour upon hour in Mama Riordan’s home with my friends Larry Gilbert and Kelly Freeze. We had the most fun learning memory verses and key passages of Scripture, while racing to find those references in our hard cover blue Bible Drill Bibles.
Mrs. Riordan enticed us to do better with a trip to Six Flags as a reward for our hard work.
Those activities, along with the other spiritual influences I had growing up, gave me a solid foundation and understanding of the scope of God’s Word. I discovered years later that those were the very practices David wrote about in the longest chapter of the Bible, Psalm 119.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.
~ Psalm 119:12-16
As Proverbs teaches, the act of training a child in the ways of the LORD has lasting impact. If you know anything about me, then you know I veered far from the way I was trained. But only for a season.
God’s Word was hidden deep in my heart. His ways, His principles, His Truth were in me. He never stopped pursuing me. The foundation Mama Riordan helped lay drew me back to God, His ways, and the call He placed on my life.
In fact, when I finally went on my first overseas mission trip, Mrs. Riordan supported me financially. When I came home, John and I visited her so I could share all that God was doing in my life. Mrs. Riordan celebrated with me. She knew I would continue to take trips and to follow God’s leading wherever it took me.
Mrs. Riordan encouraged me to become a collector of stories and mementoes. To bring home something of meaning from each trip. This small lesson, which happened through simple conversation and a walk down memory lane while looking at the mementos she kept on her bookshelves, stuck.
It seems most of what Mrs. Riordan said to me stuck.
Certainly, Betty Riordan was an influential teacher.
She led nearly every church program I participated in as a child and young teenager, but the programs were only a tool. When I look back, I realize it wasn’t on Sunday mornings in Children’s Church, Sunday nights in Bible Drill, Wednesday evenings in GA’s, or even at summer camps that Mrs. Riordan became Mama.
Mrs. Riordan became Mama in her home as she shared her life and family with me and my family. My mom worked closely with Mrs. Riordan. She was a co-leader in GA’s and in Bible Drill. Together, they spent hours planning and preparing to bring their students the best lessons.
Mrs. Riordan’s husband Jerry, the manager of our local Krogers, is a community man. Everyone knows him, and he knows everyone. I saw him in my daily life loving others with bold generosity. He held doors, gave generously, and deeply loved each person who crossed his path.
Mrs. Riordan’s daughter Becky was one of my first piano and voice teachers. I observed as she sat with grace and taught me how to sit, how to hold me fingers just right, how to breathe, and how to compete with excellence in beginner music competitions. I watched as she fell in love and started her own family, emulating many of her mother’s practices.
I watched as Mrs. Riordan supported and encouraged her son Tim as he entered ministry. I listened as she prayed specifically over all of her children, that they would become men and women after God’s own heart.
I didn’t know her son Dan as well, but her son David, wow, did he capture my affection!
Through David, Mrs. Riordan showed me how to encourage your children to begin using and learning their gifts at an early age. She watched and trained David as he led the older Children’s Church Sunday morning program. She encouraged him to become an active participant in what God was doing.
Mama Riordan exemplified vulnerability when it was not in vogue.
Even her family and personal life got messy at times, and yet Mrs. Riordan never abandoned her faith or her family.
She pursued both with diligence and perseverance. She wept openly at her dinner table, prayed on bended knees over personal heartaches for hours while I practiced Bible Drill in her sun room. She stood in a whirlwind and invited others to support and encourage her, showing me the value and need for deep and intimate relationships.
Through her friendships, her marriage, and her mothering, I learned how to do life with others.
Betty Riordan’s Lasting Influence
Betty Riordan’s influence did not stop because of age. She never retired from faith, from service, or from loving others.
Mrs. Riordan, my Mama, loved me beyond measure, and I love her in return. I want to be the kind of woman she was. I want to be that kind of servant. That kind of influence. I want to have as long a list as God provides of spiritual children who will rise up when I enter my Savior’s presence and call me blessed.
Yes, Mrs. Riordan was one of most influential people in my life, but the truly astounding thing is this: I stand among hundreds, if not thousands, who say the same thing. Their personal stories and encounters with Betty Riordan are as unique and personal as mine. Yet, I am confident they felt as I did. Each moment we spent with her, we knew we were loved.
I believe Betty Riordan stands head and shoulders with influencers of the Gospel like Billy Graham and Truett Cathy. I imagine less than ten days into eternity she is still casting crowns of righteousness at her Savior’s feet, and I know He has lifted her up and said Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Mama Riordan, I love you. Although I miss knowing you are here with us, I am blessed to know you stand among the crowd of witnesses in the heavenly realm cheering us on to the finish line.
With all my love and affection to her family and those who, like me, consider her Mama.
Your child in the faith,