Daily living

Am I a Woman of Influence?

The question was simple, direct and unexpected.

I sat at the dinner table with my sister Deborah and my mother Wanza and described the Mother’s Day sermon delivered the day before by Pastor Richard Hasley.  I explained: The sermon wasn’t really about being a mother; the emphasis was how to be a woman of influence.  Deborah and I chatted back and forth about this concept and the possibilities available to women in this country.

My Mother’s dementia was advanced at this point.  Some days she was lively and engaged in conversation; this was not one of her best days.  She sat there between us—expressionless, hidden away in her own world and seemed oblivious of our presence.  There was a slight pause in our lively discussion when she asked, “Am I a woman of influence?”  Are you kidding me?!

I fought tears and replied, “You have NO idea how much influence you have had on thousands of people through the years!”  She was in her late nineties and my mind raced through the decades searching for a way to assure her she indeed was a woman of influence.  Deborah added stories as well.

Wanza Lucille Burson was born to Edward & Grace Burson in Knox County, Ohio.  She had three older brothers and was celebrated as the first girl in the family.  Two more sisters and a baby brother came later.  Her name was unique and so was she. 

This shy farm girl married farmer Paul Smith and they continued the legacy of the agricultural life of their parents for several years.  God changed their hearts, redirected their purpose and my father began study at Cincinnati Bible Seminary to become a preacher.  This detour became their focus which led them to minister in Ohio and Kentucky; the scope of ministry then extended as missionaries in the Cayman Islands.  In their retirement years they travelled to Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru on short-term mission trips to share the love of Jesus to hundreds more.

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Mom taught Sunday School to many students in churches they served.  The “seeds” she sowed into these lives are still bearing fruit.  She used her pointy finger to emphasize truth for she longed to see them take these eternal matters seriously.  So, what’s a good lesson without some humor?  She was hysterically witty and sometimes busted into her “honking” laugh which kept things lively. 

She loved children and delighted in caring for babies.  She began with her six children and taught dozens of mothers how to nurture their own.  Many children called her “Grandma Wanza” and some of those are now grandparents.  She loved being a homemaker; her expertise was baking.  She taught many women how to make simple meals, bake dinner rolls, breads, doughnuts and pies.  Those pastries remain legendary.

There are dozens of ways she touched people.  She never had a five-year plan for her life or a mission statement.  Instead, she daily chose to engage with another human being—to speak a word of encouragement, to offer hope to the hurting and discouraged, to give some godly advice to parents struggling with prodigal children or just to enjoy a moment of laughter.  Her zest for life was contagious!

In her younger years she went to the grocery store daily just because she wanted interaction with someone.  After my father died, she adjusted and blossomed in many ways.  When she could drive her car, walk someplace or phone a friend—she did it.  She learned basic computer skills and enjoyed communication via emails.

Dementia is an ugly disease.  It robs our loved ones of so much as their world is diminished one little parcel at a time.  But even in her worst years of this disease, she was still funny and maintained a great attitude.  One time she announced: “I miss my memory!”  Sigh…  Her prayers for our family never stopped; she spoke blessings over us always.  She often asked the blessing for our meals.  She loved to sing hymns and quote scripture she had memorized years before.  Sometimes she would spell her responses.  Did I mention she was a fierce Scrabble player?  That c-o-m-p-u-l-s-i-o-n to spell never stopped!

On one visit she asked me, “Now, who are you?”  I answered, “I’m Rachel Ilene.  Who are you?”  Her wit kicked in and with pointy finger raised she said, “I’m Wanza, and I’m almost perfect!” 

A quote from William Barclay sums up her influence: “A saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God.”  Wanza Smith, my precious mother, made it easier for hundreds of souls to believe in God! 

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Member since 08/2009


  • How do I define a stretch mark? It can be any of the following or a combination of events that bring about stretching of resources, energy, spirituality etc. Job loss, death of a loved one, moving, ill health, lost relationships, loss of dreams or trauma and tragedy of any kind may cause emotional stretch marks. It can occur in the positive as well: great expansion of business or ministry; greater demands and joys of parenting and grand-parenting; blossoming friendships and marriages; or dreams suddenly coming to fruition.
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Quotable Quotes

  • Beauty
    Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

Text messages

  • Creator of all the earth
    Have you never heard or understood? Don't you know that the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth? He never grows faint or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up. But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings of eagles. They will run and not grow weary. they will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40: 28-31

Books I've enjoyed

  • Andy Andrews: The Traveler's Gift
  • Andy Andrews: The Noticer
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Gift from the Sea
  • Brennan Manning: The Ragamuffin Gospel
  • Edwin Raphael McManus: The Artisan Soul
  • Hannah Whitall Smith: The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life
  • Jan Meyers: The Allure of Hope
  • Jerry Sittser: A Grace Disguised
  • Laurie Beth Jones: Jesus, Career Counselor
  • Laurie Beth Jones: Jesus, Life Coach