We buried Mom on Friday at the Myrtle Cemetery just outside of Shinglehouse, PA. She had always wanted to be buried in a place where there would be shade… and she is literally under the boughs of the only tree. Josh is standing in about the spot where she ended up being buried. Many of my father’s family (on my Grandma Mix’s side) are buried throughout the cemetery, including my little brother who died at birth back in 1968.
Mom’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Norman Cox, of the Rixford Evangelical Church in Rixford, PA officiated for most of the service and I preached the eulogy (or message or sermon or naming or witness or whatever you want to call it!) Here are my notes…
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Memorial Service for Virginia Milne
August 8, 2008 11:00 a.m.
Howard’s Funeral Home
The Rev. Dr. Norman Cox
The Rev. Dayton D. Mix
When a loved one dies, we expect there to be hurt, and loss, and deep pain. But as Christians, we do more than just grieve and bury our departed loved ones. We don’t just gather to “pay our respects.”
Sure, that‟s a PART of what we do, but as Christians, we deliberately gather together to do more than that, don’t we?
As Christians, we come together to praise God for His promise of new life from death and for His promise of comfort and hope even when we walk through the darkest valleys of life, even the ones that are filled with shadows of death itself. And we celebrate the good life of the one who has departed from us.
This day, in this place, we are gathered because of our mom, our wife, our grandma, our great-grandma, our sister, our aunt, our neighbor, our friend: Virginia Pauline Peterson Milne.
We gather together because of her death, but not really. Because it wasn’t in death that we loved this woman, was it?
The reason each of us is here today, for this time, is a reflection of her LIFE, not her death.
In her life, she touched us. In her life, she loved us, she cared for us, she prayed for us, and she gave to us.
These are issues of life, not death. These are the reasons we are here…
Because of her life.
SO I propose we acknowledge that she is gone from us, that she has “died” as they call it, but then let’s move on to the reasons we are here. Because Virginia Milne’s living out of her life affected us.
With that in mind, the Scripture text I share today is a little different than you might have heard at a funeral before… And yet, as I prayed about how Mom fit into the grand scheme of the Biblical story through the ages that continues right up to now, THIS is the passage that I believe God Himself shared with me about this remarkable lady we are here to celebrate.
READ: Hebrews 11:1-2 (NCV)
“Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even when we do not see it. Faith is the reason we remember great people who lived in the past.”
Did you catch that?
Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even when we do not see it.
Mom had a HOPE stone… a token that reminded her that even in the midst of the lousiest circumstances, God never leaves us alone and He offers us HOPE… no matter what.
Even when things got bad towards the end, Mom never lost her hope… She constantly was heard saying, ?It’s gonna get better… one way or another… It’s gonna get better!?
She was SURE that there was HOPE with God… and she knew that healing and hope were real… even though she couldn’t see it right then.
Sort of like being stuck in the cold drizzling rain at noon… You may not be able to see the sun… but the very fact that you can see the rain means that the sun IS out there somewhere on the other side of those clouds.
Well, Hebrews 11 goes on and talks about all of these heroes of faith throughout the Bible… Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses… and more.
So how does this relate to Mom?
Just this, every single one of these people listed in the great Hall Of Fame of Biblical Faith… was messed up…
Look at the people that God called great heroes of faith… Noah (who was a drunk), Abraham (who was a liar), Sarah (who laughed when she heard God‘s crazy plans), Isaac (who picked favorites between his sons), Jacob (who was a manipulative schemer), Moses (who was a runaway murderer who repeatedly let his anger get the best of him), Rahab (who was a prostitute), Gideon (who was a scaredy-cat), Barak (who hesitated when God said to do something), Samson (who was distracted by his temptations), Jephthah (who came from a ‗ad‘ family), David (who had an affair with another man‘s wife and then had him killed), and Samuel (who was great in the church, but didn‘t do very well in raising his kids).
GOD ALMIGHTY lists these same people who messed-up, as being the men and women of faith that we are supposed to look up to, and remember, and follow their example of faith.
If THEY are in that list, then today, as we remember Mom, who would NOT have claimed that she was the most religious person in the world and didn’t always make perfect choices, DEFINITELY fits there too!
Because Mom was a REAL person wasn’t she?
She was quick to share her real feelings… with pretty much ANYone… She could get angry in a moment‟ notice. She could come up with some pretty down-to-earth commentary on the world around her… whether it be a comment about doing what you sat down to do or get off the pot OR whether it be an exasperated exclamation, something like: WELL, DANG!‟
And if she was particularly animated, she would start pointing a finger at you… with that one sort-of-off-center pointer finger…
John Paul and Laura love telling the story of a time when they had argued or disagreed or something, and Mom kept getting more and more frustrated… and, somehow, as she got madder… they got her laughing… which made her madder still…
Mom was a woman in touch with her feelings. She wasn’t perfect… but she was real.
And while we could probably all look back and tell each other some way that she wasn’t what we expected or how she somehow disappointed us, we choose to offer our forgiveness for her failings… because she was simply human… just like ALL of us are.
She wasn’t perfect.
But like those people in the Bible who were full of problems and mess-ups, and yet turned in faith to God and would later be called a hero of faith… So I believe Mom was as well. We can look to the Bible and read about all those people’s real, everyday lives and the way they messed-up and yet still turned to God. Mom may not have been perfect, but there is much that we can learn from her as well.
It took me years to recognize it, but Mom knew Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. She had a deep spiritual hunger that only He could satisfy. She knew Him as a friend she could talk to and as someone she could go to for help. So she wasn’t religious… that’s OK, neither were most of the people on that list in the Bible either. They weren’t considered faithful because they had done a bunch of religious things…
They were considered faithful because they knew God personally. That was Mom. She wasn’t perfect, but she knew Him. And because of that, the Bible assures us that she will be with Him forever in Heaven…
And the Bible also says that any of us, who trust in Jesus Christ and allow Him to free us from our past by admitting we‟e messed up and asking God to forgive us, will know Him too!
Mom didn’t have it so easy… she once told me that by the 11th grade, when she finally quit school, she had been in 17 different schools in her academic career. Between children’s homes and foster homes, she had endured the chaos of constant moves and transitions… so she finally just said, enough. Years later, it would bother her so much that she had never graduated that she would go back and get her G.E.D. and celebrate her completion of high school the same day John Paul graduated from Demopolis High School. I can look at my mom and learn a lesson of going back and finishing the things I gave up on.
Mom taught us that family is a relative term. You choose to be family as much as being related to your family. As a foster child, she had learned that being part of a family wasn’t dependent on sharing the same blood in your veins. Her final foster family, the home of Herb & Beulah Fuller, was to be the place that finally felt like home… Grandma Fuller once told me that my Mom had so become a part of their family, that Grandpa Fuller had worked things out to be able to claim her as a part of the family even on the tax forms… but then she decided to get married.
But the Fullers were family now… And Grandpa & Grandma Fuller, along with Uncle Calvin & Aunt Pat & Uncle Roddy & Aunt Wanda, and their families, were some of our closest friends and most faithful visitors. It didn’t negate the relationships with the other relatives we were actually biologically related to… we simply had MORE aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents than most of our friends.
Mom also taught us a lot about believing in someone. I remember the early years after Mom & Dad separated, and then divorced. Not everyone she picked to hang out with had their act together very well. Even when Norm finally came on the scene, he… well… still had some rough edges. But Mom had seen the kind of man he could, and would, become… and she believed in who he was becoming… She saw more… She saw the HOPE… And this woman, after three marriages that hadn’t worked out, showed us what it means to be committed to someone and stay with them “through richer or poorer” and “for better or for worse…”
And Norm in turn, has taught us what it means “to have and to hold…, in sickness or in health…, till death do us part…”
And I can look back on their marriage and pray that my wife and I can be as absolutely consumed with each other and dedicated to each other as these two have been for more than thirty-three years.
Mom has taught us how to face adversity and sickness as well. She was the most positive person I have ever known in the face of cancer. She faced this disease not as a death sentence, but as one more obstacle that just needed to be overcome. And like Job in the Bible, the disease never did overcome her… She was still who she was inside… No disease could change her.
And Mom knew the God of Hope had promised healing… and she hoped, and she prayed, and she trusted, and she believed.
Some might say, but she died! How can you talk about her hope and healing?
Let me use the words of Hebrews 11…
Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live in this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.
–Heb 11:13-16 (MSG)
Her hope wasn’t just in doctors and medicines… Her hope was in the God of healing behind those doctors… And just like there are times that a beginning pianist can really nail a piece of music, there are some musical works that only a skilled and practiced pianist with years of experience can master.
Mom knew that the doctors and medicines we have available are like that beginner musician… pretty good at what they‟e mastered so far… and WAY OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE when it comes to some of the harder and more complicated sicknesses, illnesses, and injuries that the Devil Himself tries to throw at us.
Like those people in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11, Mom knew that ultimately the healing she would have to have would be from God Himself. And there was a possibility that the earthly physicians wouldn’t be able to do everything that she would need in order to be healed.
She knew that she knew that God would heal her… and she hoped it would be here, through earthly doctors… but she was just as certain that even if it wasn’t that way, she would STILL be healed. Her faith never waivered on that point. The Great Physician had promised… and therefore she had something she could HOPE in… Someone she could Hope in!
But one last thought, before we finish… In the Bible, it says that for all those people who had received the promise… but hadn’t seen it completed yet, it also goes on to conclude:
Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours. –Heb 11:39-40 (MSG)
Mom’s promise of hope continues in those of us here today… Hope for our marriages, hope for our families, hope for our healing, hope for our eternity… Let’s take what she learned by trial and error and through struggle and pain and let’s use that which she learned to help us in our lives… because, as Scripture says, we are part of the legacy of her life because we are part of the promise she saw and hoped for.
If we KNOW God like Mom did… if we have admitted that we have had messed up lives and need God to forgive us, then we can know Him! THAT’s what we mean when we talk about having faith… or being saved!
It’s simply knowing Him! That’s faith!
Let’s put her faith together with our faith… her life together with ours… and let’s see the completion of the promise…
For those who know Jesus as Lord & Savior, we WILL see Mom again…for Heaven is offered to all who ask Him for forgiveness and allow Him to be their Lord.
I look forward to that day when I get to see her again…
For this woman WAS, without a doubt, one of the heroes of faith… Her life, and her faith, have been used by God to form me and help me grow up in as a Christian… and make me who I am today…
and I’m going to miss her…
(PHOTO: My wife, Gay, and my Mom, Virginia, at her church’s Mother-Daughter banquet just a couple of months ago. This is about the only picture she ever liked that showed her in her wig)