(Eulogy given Dec. 22, 2010, by granddaughter Beth [Renshaw] Groh for Vonda Marie [Ackerman] Renshaw [1913-2010] at First United Methodist Church in Carmi, IL, in the sanctuary where she was married and worshipped for nearly 50 years. Vonda was called “Mom” by her granddaughters and many others in the family.)
Oh, how Mom hated to be the center of attention at Christmas… but, unfortunately, she had a knack for it.
We all kind of held our breath around Christmas in the last few years… because she almost always managed a trip to the hospital. While healthy most of the other 360 or so days of the year, the week of Christmas was dicey. She was in a health crisis a year ago… ending up with an unexpected family reunion at her hospital bedside. A few years before that she took a fall on Christmas Eve while stirring a pot on the stove, once again spending Christmas in a hospital bed.
And here we are now, gathering at Christmas. Mom would have felt so bad.
But Pap-Paw? Well, he got his early Christmas present by having his beloved bride come home to Jesus with him. For those of us who remember how he couldn’t keep a Christmas secret—and was the worst offender when it came to shaking presents or sneaking peaks under loose tape—well, we can’t help but laugh at the thought of him begging Jesus: “Come on, PLEASE… let her come here this year to celebrate Christmas with me!”
So here we are… left a few days before Christmas to condense the memories and legacy of a long, full life in the span of an hour or so. A few words can’t possibly fill the bill.
Many of us here come together with our own memories of Vonda … or Mom, as we called her, in various ages and stages in her life ….
- A sister-in-law, Aunt Millie, is her oldest relative here today … and has memories of Vonda as a young bride married to a strapping young man named Elvis Renshaw. Rumor has it that Vonda’s parents weren’t too keen on that match at first… but Pap-Paw, as we called him, had a way of charming anyone.
- Her cherished only son, Earl, can remember her as the young mother who tended to bruised knees and feelings as he grew from a toddler to a young man …and, who later married what Mom considered to be “Her Daughter”, Sandra, in 1958.
- My mom and dad can remember her as the doting young grandmother of two girls … who would sew what she called “play dresses” nearly every week for her little granddaughters—and then save the outgrown dresses to later use as scraps for her hand-sewn quilts.
- My sister Lisa and I will always remember coming to Pap-Paw and Mom’s house greeted with hugs and snickerdoodles, stored in a green contact-paper-covered coffee can.
- Her niece and nephews can remember how she adored her growing extended family … always planning well in advance what to prepare for the reunions and gatherings.
- Her oldest great-grandchildren—Nathan and Kalyn—are blessed with the longest memories and perhaps can still conjure up an image of her in the white house on State Street… while all 13 great-grandchildren can remember her smile and lap… that, as she used to say, was always big enough to rock a baby to sleep. (And any of us who were mothers of the babies she rocked, we all know that—whether it was a planned nap or not—she could put even the most fussy baby to sleep in a matter of minutes.)
- Now her two great-great grandchildren… and great nieces and nephews… will all be dependent upon us to share Mom’s memory.
We can show pictures … we can share stories … we can even show a treasure trove of her hand-stitched quilts that she lavished on her family over the years.
But sadly… memories fade … stories get confused and forgotten … even well-preserved cotton quilts fray and tatter with age.
And if that was Mom’s legacy on this life, well then how depressing indeed … each life being just a generation or two away from becoming the faded image in a picture that needs a name label and date to be preserved as part of the family heritage.
But that’s not the end of Mom’s legacy. It’s not the end of the life story of anyone who has been blessed with the gift of eternal life through our Savior.
Mom’s journey on this earth had a purpose… and one with eternal consequences … that will far outlive the memories, the pictures, the trinkets or the quilts.
She passed a baton to the next generations… in my case, a pie server that I brought along here in my Bible.
It was the gift of faith—in more ways the one.
This small pie server sits on our kitchen countertop everyday as a reminder. A reminder that Mom had faith in what she couldn’t see.
She gave me this when I was probably 9 or 10 years old… and, true confession, it really wasn’t my favorite gift that year! What was I supposed to do with it? I didn’t cook. I suppose I probably looked a little puzzled and disappointed when I opened it on that Christmas Day.
She said it was for my Hope Chest… whatever that was. Someday, she said, I would realize that it was just the perfect size and be something I could use. Now, I have to agree that it is… and even my kids might, too…especially Christina…who’s known to use it to dig around on brownies to cut the edges to eat!
Mom had vision to see that a simple pie server had a place in my life … a vision to see and trust in what was not seen with human eyes at the time.
She had a similar gift of faith in her Lord … believing and serving what was not seen… because she knew her service had a purpose.
She spent a life of service in her church … as she volunteered in whatever role was needed, from teaching Sunday School, to serving meals after funerals, to singing in the choir, to helping with the youth or being active in her women’s group. As my dad said this week, anytime the lights were on in the church, either his mom or dad—or, most likely, both—would be there helping in some manner.
And she served her community, as a faithful volunteer in local nursing homes every week for 50-plus years… making trips one or two days a week to offer a smile, a song or a hug to those sometimes forgotten by others.
She served her Lord in other ways, too… by being a powerful, yet quiet, example of some of Scripture’s toughest lessons for us to learn.
She lived a life filled with one of my favorite verses—2nd Thessalonians 5-verse 16: “Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I didn’t always understand that Scripture… in fact, I didn’t even know it since I didn’t spend much time in earlier years reading the Bible… let alone, comprehending the fact that, what may seem to be mere words, are truly powerful messages directly from our Lord in these pages—IF we choose to read, study and believe the Authority of those words.
After all… how could someone “be joyful” when they hear about a death or serious illness? I would be confused when Mom would say things like, “Well, it always could be worse.” Or she might say, “I’m so thankful they’re not suffering.”
Really? Be thankful in all circumstances? Be joyful?
How could she do that, I wondered. Was she just being naïve? Or did she not really see the suffering of others? Be thankful?
Now I see that she was living the example the Apostle Paul taught in that verse… we can CHOOSE, in Christ, to be thankful … because our suffering and pain in this life is temporary. She knew that deep down in her bones… and it freed her from much of the worry, grief and anguish that many of us end up stewing in because we choose not to let go of our emotions.
That outlook on life was her choice… and it was a gift of wisdom that she was given by studying and knowing God’s Word.
Mom set another powerful example in her daily living. She CHOSE contentment.
As the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Phillippians…”for I have LEARNED to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need … and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty of in want.”
Mom could say the same thing: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”
How many times have I heard Mom say things along those lines … whether in person or in her handwritten letters? Being content, in her definition, was not just thinking… “Oh well, this is what I’m stuck with in life, so I might as well make the most of it.” That’s the world’s definition of contentment, usually uttered with some contempt or resentment, or simply as an excuse for not striving for more … or as an excuse for being lazy.
That was not Mom’s definition of contentment. Hers captured the Apostle Paul’s meaning.
Mom’s contentment was her conscious, daily choice to be grateful for what she had. Many, many times I remember her laughing and saying about her life with Pap-Paw… “We didn’t have much, but we were rich because we had a lot of love.”
She chose to be joyful.
She chose to be thankful.
She chose to be content.
And even as she aged and faced tough decisions about her later years, she chose wisely. She often said she wanted to move into something smaller before she was forced to—and she did… first her apartment in Carmi and later the assisted living center in Carbondale. She wanted to make the most of life as it was today … enjoying the times to replay old memories, but not becoming a bitter person trying to live in the past. “Life has seasons,” she would say… “and this is my season now and where I am supposed to be.”
She could accept what life offered today … out of a grateful and thankful heart, yes … but also because she knew that there was far more to life than what she could see on any given day.
She had her eyes on eternity.
I want to leave you today with a glimpse I believe she was given of that eternal life…
She told me the story about the profound loneliness that set in during, what she called, the AFTER days following Pap-Paw’s death … after the calls stopped, after the flowers died, when the reality set in that he truly was not coming home again.
That night she went to bed and said she had “more than a dream”. She had a vision… a vision of a vast, gorgeous field with a sea of people passing by and her standing on the other side of a fence, just watching with amazement.
She recalled seeing people helping each other as they passed by … not fighting or struggling … but gently offering assistance as they swept by. And out of that sea of people she saw one person move out toward the edge near her. It was Pap-Paw. I don’t think she remembered him saying anything, but she knew from his expression that he would be there to help her along, too, when the time came. But for now, her place was back with the family … and she thought he would want her to live to see yet another generation.
When she awoke that morning, she felt a peace like she had never known … and caught his scent on her pillow. She was strengthened to carry on … and she did so for many, many years, until her strong body and mind gave out this past Saturday.
I don’t know if she stepped into the sea of people Saturday night like she saw in that vision 23 years ago. But I do know that, based on God’s Word and His promises, our dear Mom Renshaw stepped into eternal rest on that day.
In her life, she was an example of faithful service … gratitude … and contentment.
In her death, she joins that Great Cloud of Witnesses continuing to testify to all who will listen … about his glorious eternal home that awaits all who trust in Him as Mom Renshaw did in life, and now in death.