Homily for the family

To My Winter & Wehrman Families:

Date:  February 21, 2011

In Re:  Living in God’s World

 

The loss our family is honoring this week is another victory for Jesus.  As our family members move from this earthly world to the heavenly world, our sadness is not for Howard but for the family.

This family is not just Merle, Lynn, Marla, and Neil; it is the entire family who include themselves in the network of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of the patriarchs and the matriarchs of the Winters and the Wehrmans.

Growing up in a community where neighbors were kin to each other and the land of one ran into the land of the others, we were blessed.  Being raised by Christians who placed God first kept our priorities in order.  Being raised with family, kept us focused on family, the land, our ethics and our responsibilities.

As we graduated from high school, our generation continued education in one manner or another.  We were encouraged, almost expected, to go straight into college and make our own lives.  At times, we reconnected through those years but we all continued on—beyond the family land.

I remember one conversation with Neil over a Christmas break soon before graduating from college.  We talked about how we were raised and how we really were not prepared for the world outside of our home community.  We left the county and met challenges.

The demands of life in a new environment led to difficulties, but the grounding we were given as kids made it possible for us to continue moving forward.  We avoided many of the destructive behaviors to which we witnessed others fall victim—alcohol, drugs, unethical behaviors, and others.

The life and death cycle seems so normal to us.  The funerals came at the expected times with parents going before children.  The customs and the traditions of our families continued to provide the support for each other, even when the family experienced a shift in expectations.

One of the earlier shifts was my mom’s cancer and her death.  During the year and a half battle, all of us tried to figure out why.  We tried to stop the cancer.  We turned to each other for shoulders.

Howard took Mom for a plane ride during that last year.  He took her as well as Jordan, Vada and myself.  The experience was one of those special moments for Mom as well as the rest of us.  Howard took her to look over all the places she had lived, all the places which held special meaning.

While she was soaking in the images, she was also teaching the rest of us.  She had always avoided the plane.  The opportunity for her to fly turned out to be one of her grandest views of our community.

Losing our family leaders risks losing the family stories.  We have a responsibility to continue preserving our history.  Today, as we lose one more, it is the memories that keep Howard alive.

During those months of treatments Mom endured, another memory needs to be shared.  Even though Merle is the primary actor, it reminds me how key the Holy Spirit is in our lives.  Remember, God’s grace is free to each and every one of us.  But, as Christians we are to make disciples of others for the transformation of the world.  How do we do it?  The Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is how we take God’s love and share it with others.

One day, Merle came over to the house.  Mom was fairly far into the cancer battle, but I remember her giving Mom this green Bible:  the Life Application Study Bible.  Mom was so faith-oriented that I thought the gift was a bit of surprise, but Merle and Mom had shared a love for nature.  I did not know about their common bond in faith.

In that Bible, which I have kept, was a letter.  The letter so clearly demonstrates how our family lives with God in their lives.   It also demonstrates how fortunate Howard was to have Merle as his life partner.  The letter is as follows:

 

Beth,

As I was pondering just how I could help you meet the challenge, the “Holy Spirit” said, “Get her a Life Application Bible like your.”  And so I have.

I wouldn’t be able to that to anyone but to you I can.  My witnessing leaves much to be desired.

After Jean Riddle’s father died, all summer the Holy Spirit kept nudging me—“Jean is lonely she needs you and others.”  I was extra busy and I didn’t respond.  That fall she joined The Mormon Church!  Of course I don’t blame myself but I surely wouldn’t feel so sorrowful if I had been a friend when she needed me.  It hurt (and still does) when she left our church—personally to me I mean.

My Old “Living Bible” fell apart and when I went to replace it I just “happened” to find this one.  I truly, truly like it.  It has helped me again and again.

A few years ago I read that if a person would read three chapters each week day and five on Sunday you could read the entire Bible in a year.  It works.  I don’t get my quota read each day sometimes but I eventually get caught up.

At the moment I’m in Psalms—one of my favorite portions—and as i read so many of them and (she added the emphasis) the application portion I think, Beth would like this.  It would be a comfort and an inspiration.

You (again she added the emphasis) are an inspiration to all of us.

Affectionately,

Merle

I pray that you, Merle, are not offended by my sharing this with everybody, but I also want you to know that those words have provided me so much comfort and inspiration over the years.

Each week, as I prepare for Sunday’s service, I read the application notes from the Life Application Study Bible. For years, I read them from that very Bible given to Mom.  The pages were filled with special notes, with the bookmarks noting special pages.

I realize that this essay is long, but there is so much I want to share and can’t except through the written word.  My life has weathered some pretty critical issues, but God is there all the time.  Where I am now, teaching and preaching, is a long, long way from the farm; but there is no distance from my family.

Howard continues to fly; we just cannot be in the plane with him right now.  Mom’s favorite verse, underlined and noted in the Life Application Bible, is Isaiah 40: 31

 

. . . but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

 

This week, we each will cry.  We will feel pain from our loss.  We will remember all the fun times we have had up in the air and down on the ground.

I will remember when Larry was taking his flying lessons and I was standing in front of Karen’s house when the plane’s engine shut down.  I froze as I watched, but Karen said it was just a stall that they were practicing.

Then the summer Gary had a walking cast—wait, he wasn’t suppose to be walking on the cast—and he could not do anything around the farm.  Howard invited him to fly to Mexico (Missouri that is) with him.  I drove him over to the house and watched him take off.

I will remember apples and cheese slices in the kitchen.  I never knew that apples could possibly go with cheese.

I will remember the sumac, the fragrant sumac, at the back door of the house.

And then there was the day that the fire destroyed the chickens.  I will never forget that smell.

Throughout all these memories one thing remains:  Howard and Merle demonstrated God’s love.  And time and time Howard has lifted up “on wings like eagles”.  Can you just imagine the view he has now?

He, Donald, Catherine, our aunts, our uncles, our cousins, our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, even Dad (Harvey) all have known God’s love here on earth.  Dad may still be with us, but the rest have continued life’s cycle in death.

All of us still here on this earth have God’s work to do.  We must listen to the Holy Spirit and act.  We must follow our patriarchs and matriarchs in the way that they raised us.  We are to share God’s love with our families and those beyond.

We know the blessings.  We know death is just part of life.  We may take time to mourn, to cry, and to share the memories; but we also know that we will go on.  We all are in God’s hands and we are so fortunate to be a part of this grand family.

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