Comfort, O Comfort my people says your God.
The scriptures express the ever-present and everlasting love and life of God through many metaphors or word pictures. Gardens and flowers are consistently used to explore the life cycle of sowing, birth, growth, reaping, death and life beyond the grave. From the second account of creation in the garden in Eden, to the returning exiles to Jerusalem, to the resurrection of Jesus, God’s promises and ways of life have been associated with the ability of the earth, the dust to bring forth life and the reality of the span of earthbound life culminating in death. Through the hopeful words of the prophet Isaiah we are assured that while we, vulnerable human beings, like the grass may wither and the flower fade, the promise, the good news of God’s undying love and grace remain forever. Though the earth should change, shake and evolve, the desire of the Creator for our worship and our devotion never fails.
In the early weeks of spring, hope is ever abundant as new life sets forth in the beauty of nature. Cycles and seasons grant us clues to the gift of never-ending life, as earthly growth eventually bears the fruits of winter’s deathly grip.
Speaking to his new church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul, or Pastor Paul as I prefer to call him, recalls the plant life cycle to help his young converts understand the life changing nature of the good news of Jesus.
As the perishable seed must transform in the soil, change from possibility to stalk, stem and branch, bearing the flower, delicious fruit, and the shade providing leaves.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.
Pastor Paul says Listen, a great mystery has unfolded in Jesus for the cycle of birth, life, death has been transformed – a New Life has been given by the grace of God alone. The New Life cycle revealed in Christ is complete, birth, life, death, birth into life everlasting. It is this final birth we celebrate as the body of Christ during the season following Easter. We are reminded of the eternal nature of God’s love and grace revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The Corinthians knew the sting of death, they knew the cycles of sowing and reaping, they knew the struggle of loss, when death seems to win.
So, Pastor Paul encourages them to be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Faced with the reality of our humanity, we may wonder if who we are, what we are, how we are makes any difference anyway. We may face moments when we ask, why go on living? What do I have to live for? Do I really matter? Our physical strength may be challenged, our mental resolve weakened, our spiritual passion quenched as we meet the struggles of life. Facing the loss of a dear loved one, may be for us one of those challenging moments.
Paul says be steadfast – stay the course – always excelling in the work of the Lord, for nothing we do in Christ is done in vain.
Put on imperishability, clothe yourself with the hope of New Life, the strength of abundant life, the assurance of eternal life, which is God’s great gift revealed in Jesus. Death need not be feared. Trust in the good news. And, your life will not be dominated by fear. Rather peace will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.
Today, in the face of our loss, we also have the joy of celebrating Janet’s life as well as her victory of eternal life attained. We remember her as sister, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, great-aunt, congregant, neighbor, co-worker and friend.
Ginger Rogers was on the cover of Time Magazine with Janet Evelyn was born, in Gridley, IL on April 15, 1939 to Carl Frederick and LaVera Benedict Pfeffinger. She was the second child joining her older brother Kaywin, with us today and eventually her younger siblings Carol & Dwayne, both of whom preceded her in death and her youngest brother George, also with us today. Mom was my grandparents’ miracle baby weighing just under 3lbs when she was born at home, small enough to fit in one of her daddy’s shoe boxes. In 1939, she grew in her white wicker bassinet without aid of the amazing medical equipment for low birth weight babies we have today. Nearly 60 years later doctors would discover that her heart had a hole between chambers, probably from birth.
Some of Mom’s earliest memories were of spending time with her Grandma Pfeffinger on the farm. Childhood was marked by sorrow for my mother when just as she was beginning to move from childhood to adolescence and womanhood, at 11 years old her father died from complications related to Diabetes. Mom revered her dad and mourned his death her entire life. She was Daddy’s little girl and she wasn’t afraid to tell anyone her status or how hard it is to lose a parent at a young age.
Without the social support systems we often take for granted today, Grandma was faced with raising five children on her own and to provide for her children had to give them to the care of others for some time. Mom and her siblings were split between four different homes in different towns and on Gridley area farms. Being separated from her brothers and sister only enhanced the immense grief she bore for her father.
Eventually her siblings were reunited and they moved to Bradley where her mother tended bar, waitressed and operated Vera’s Rendezvous, while Mom attended Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School on North Street. While in High School, Mom worked for Walley’s Drive In and a Root Beer Stand on Broadway as a Car Hop Roller-skating Waitress.
She was just 16 when a young soldier back from the Korean War began stealing her spoons from the silverware rack at the Car Hop to gain her attention. It was a sly move – you see Mom was more interested in the James Dean kind of guy – fast cars, fast moves on the dance floor – fast. Her attention wasn’t easily gained by a laid back, scrawny, gentleman soldier. So the spoon trick was a good one – Mom was forced to pay attention to the practical, sensitive and annoying older brother of one of her regular dancing partners. You’ve seen this picture – there is no doubt why Robert Bushey was attracted to Janet Pfeffinger. I know I’m my father’s son, lol.
Mom paid attention and found her soul mate whom she married over 59 years ago on September 28, 1955 at the Kankakee County Courthouse because they couldn’t afford a big ole blowout wedding. They corrected that with a renewal of their vows in Central Christian Church on Oak St in Kankakee and a 25th Anniversary Reception and Dance at the American Legion. I believe their marriage license hung in every bedroom they ever shared every year of their marriage.
You don’t find marriages like Mom and Dad’s much anymore – devoted, tried and true through every disaster, challenge, defeat, argument, and sorrow – of which there were many. Still deeply in love through everyone, never more evident than when they were separated by work or illness and eventually by death. Two hearts that beat to a different drum in many ways, but always created a melody for the ages.
Mom was just 17 when she gave Dad his first-born son Laurence Joseph, named for his paternal grandfather and the savior of Israel in Egypt when famine threatened to wipe out God’s people. That’s why you preserve and stock so much food to this day Larry – I’m telling you! Mom had a gift for names, giving and remembering them.
Just after her 20th birthday Mom’s life was rocked with unbearable grief when our brother John Wayne was stillborn in the tiny bungalow on East Broadway. Mom and Dad’s blood-types were incompatible for pregnancy and each one was a risk.
At 22 Mom was expecting her third child and welcomed another baby boy, James Alan named after the Biblical author who said “Faith without works is dead” – and the Postman who was really his father – relax its an old family joke because Jim didn’t have red hair – it’s better than the fence post story – no doubt whose kid he was and is! And, again Mom was spot on with the name – that’s why you’ve always worked so hard, bro.
No other day, besides her father’s death and her wedding anniversary carried more weight in her life than March 31, 1967. The joy filled words “It’s a girl” turned upside down when her long hoped for daughter Susan Marie was born too soon with underdeveloped lungs and could not survive this world. Living just four hours after birth, Mom’s little girl was carried into heaven. Mom’s heart was broken again. Loss piled upon loss – it would be just a year before her own mother joined Susan, John and Carl on heaven’s shore.
But, Mom survived and in 1971 chose another girl’s name as she prepared to welcome her fifth child into the world. Trena LaVera to carry on her mother’s memory. Except, I was born. Her third living son, whom at the advice of her brother George, I was named for my father and the Apostle Paul, missionary, minister and servant of the church. I’m telling you its eerie!
She was so disappointed I was not a girl she told my father I was his to raise. Mom was a serious disciplinarian. My brothers have always said I was lucky. I really think it was because Mom was already in her 30’s when I was born. Just so you know, I was always a Mama’s boy.
Mom became a grandmother just after her 41st birthday and she treasured her new role in the family. She loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and was proud of you. Your grandma, granny and meema loved watching each one of you grow and enjoyed being with you whenever possible. She loved to attend your school and sporting events, was proud of graduations and achievements, encouraged you to work hard at whatever you chose to pursue and gave you advice whether you wanted it or not.
You colored eggs with her, planted flowers with her, made cookies with her, played Flinch and Dominoes with her, went to church with her, took vacations with her, and shared your dreams and fears with her. She loved all of you from the bottom of her heart.
All of us will remember Mom for her delicious cooking – Dad would claim it wasn’t always that way – but no one in our family will ever make the same potato salad as Mom, roll out the most flakey pie crusts, or make the gravy turn out just the way she did. We never went hungry with Mom.
Mom was always talented with four wheels under her – whether under each foot dancing to that Rock’n Roll music of the early 50’s at the Skating Rink of her youth or attached to a 8 cylinder Buick or Chrysler engine. Yes, our mom never said no to a challenge from some sexist co-worker who thought Mom’s petite frame couldn’t begin to out muscle him – Rt 50 was her drag strip of choice.
With two wheels it wasn’t quite the same – we will never forget the day Mom mounted our late Grandpa Bushey’s Mo-Ped in the front yard which she hastily stuffed into the large bushes in front of the house. She wasn’t afraid to get on and try.
Mom enjoyed several hobbies throughout her life. We were kept warm by beautifully crocheted scarves and blankets. She enjoyed Tri-Chem painting and made several holiday decorations with them. She loved doing ceramics and made many gifts and home décor pieces. She loved playing Bingo whether at the American Legion or online. She worked every crossword in every edition of the Daily Journal and wore out several million word dictionaries.
Mom was a Racing Fan from the County Speedway to NASCAR. She was a Jim O’Connor fan locally, she cheered for Buddy Baker until he retired and she became a fan of the Busch Brothers, Kurt first and Kyle more recently. And so, it was fitting that the last race Mom watched, on April 26th, Kurt Busch broke a 130 something race losing streak to win. She was happy as long as Jeff Gordon didn’t win.
She loved music especially Country Music and most especially, Willie Nelson.
Mom enjoyed watching the Chicago Cubs on WGN, she was a devoted fan of daytime Soap Operas, Days of Our Lives and Another World. She watched Let’s Make a Deal, the Price is Right, Jeopardy & Wheel of Fortune nearly everyday, especially later in life.
She always claimed Dad hogged the remote control, but we all knew it didn’t matter whose hand the remote was in, Mom was in control – most of the time.
One of Mom’s favorite characters in print and on TV was Laura Ingalls Wilder. The author whose autobiographical stories were made into the Little House on the Prairie series about the frontier life of her family, may have reminded Mom a little of herself. Famously known as Half-pint, Laura was filled with the same spit-fire, spunkiness, stubbornness and strength Mom mustered to make it through each day. You may recall that Laura was never afraid to express herself when she felt wronged or that someone she loved was wronged – that was Mom. Laura didn’t always see eye to eye with her own mother, but loved her dearly – that was Mom. Laura didn’t always play well with others like stuffed ole Nellie – that was Mom. Laura was committed to her sister Mary through her challenges with blindness – that was Mom, when her sister fought Cancer before she joined our family eternal 23yrs ago. Laura loved her Manly, Almonzo with a devoted dedication – that was Mom. While no one ever wanted to be an enemy of Laura Ingalls Wilder – she always sought to reconcile with her adversaries – that was Mom, most of the time.
Like Laura, Mom was never afraid of hard work either. Whether she was ironing laundry for others, cleaning at Armour Pharmaceutical Company, maintaining the smorgasbord line at the Redwood Inn or care taking for this church – Mom put her all into her employment. But nothing compared to her care for her home.
“Home is the nicest word there is.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mom was a homemaker to the extreme. Trying to imitate her mother it was nothing to find Mom on her hands and knees scrubbing the floors, hanging laundry to dry after hauling it to the basement to was and back out, with a perfectly fine dryer right next to the washer, cooking a balanced meal nearly every night for 5:30 sharp, moving around furniture serval times a year, maintaining flowerbeds with precision and skill, she just never stopped moving. Her home was her pride and joy, her therapy to cope with every disappointment and sorrow she had experienced.
Like the energizer bunny, Mom’s energy seemed endless, even when that hole in her heart was finally discovered in 1998 and she endured open heart surgery and an oblation procedure to fix it. While Mom was in the hospital in Joliet, her aunt Dottie Benedict was too. Dottie died and so did Mom. She told the story many times of walking up to the realm of heaven where she encountered her sister and her mother who told her to go back, her work was not done. And it wasn’t.
For the next 20 years, Mom and Dad took turns battling illnesses and aging. Ever faithful to one another they switched hats and nursed each other back to health. They enjoyed good days, weeks months and even a few sunset years together. Mom suffered through a bout of the Shingles virus on her face while on an Anniversary trip to Branson, developed adult onset diabetes and eventually osteoporosis, further heart problems, renal failure and finally cirrhosis of the liver. All of this in the petite low birth weight miracle child of Carl & LaVera.
She planned her funeral 20years and one month ago, knowing full well that the journey ahead would be full of health challenges for both she and Dad. When Dad’s body finally wore out just eight weeks ago, Mom’s health was already severely challenged, and most of all her heart was broken beyond repair.
Our parents taught us that when you commit to someone or something you make good on that commitment. A lesson we put back into play as we did our best to give them the dignity and love they deserved as they walked through these last several years and into the valley of the shadow of death. Some have told me we have a beautiful family and they are correct – for beauty beholds imperfection and celebrates it without constraint. We are beautiful!
And, on the same day of the week at the same hour as Dad, after 76 years of life, Mom died unto the grace and abundant love of God who raised Jesus from the dead to life everlasting. A precious gift to us, she has been transformed by God’s undying love and has been given a life in the spirit beyond our imagining.
For Mom, life has come full circle, her body tired from several years of health challenges is at rest. None of her struggles remain; she has found peace in the arms of God.
The foundation of our hope knows that today and tomorrow belongs to God. Whatever present sorrows and struggles we bear, God’s victory over death revealed to us in Jesus’ resurrection empowers us to live with strength and hope into the future.
And, when we live in hope, our present sorrows are transformed into joy as we no longer fear death, we no longer struggle with disbelief or confusion. For God has made it clear, that death no longer has power over our tomorrows. Jesus said,
I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Mom loved and was loved by her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. She was an active member and Diaconate Emeritus of this congregation where she served in many capacities. She placed her faith in the unfailing promises of God and joined Central over 50 years ago. Mom was and is a child of God, forgiven, loved and free.
She believed in the Good news: that God incarnate in Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and in so doing granted through God’s grace and love the victory of eternal life in the spirit to each and to all.
This is our hope as we live on after this day and as we too realize that we will not walk on this old earth forever ourselves.
May it be that as we continue on with our lives, that our faith is strengthened and our hope increased as we remember God’s promise to each one of us. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. Amen.