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October 18th, 2017

Meditation

It will not surprise anyone who knew her that almost 25 years ago, early in my pastorate, when we gave members an opportunity to write out their desires for their funeral so we could keep them on file, within a short time Shirley had submitted a detailed form for herself, her brother, and her parents.

One of her requests was that in lieu of a eulogy we would just read Scripture and sing hymns.  She listed eleven Scriptures (including several long passages) and about six different pieces of music.  With all that included, she also noted she wanted the service “short”!

She clarified on the form, however: “Whatever is desired by the family and pastors.”  I’m taking a little pastoral license to modify her request.  We sang some of her favorite hymns, and I will read at least a portion of each Scripture she requested, interspersed with a few brief comments.  In each case, I’ll read the Scripture first, because I want you to have a chance to connect it to Shirley’s life in your own mind.

Shirley specifically asked that the Psalms be read in the King James Version.

Psalm 46 (KJV)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.

He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 In addition to requesting this psalm for her service, Shirley asked that Psalm 46:1 be inscribed on her tombstone:  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  There may be other reasons for this choice, including the desire for peace on earth and her love for silence and tranquility.  In 2004 she wrote me, “Mother and I truly believe the whole world needs our prayers for peace.”

Mostly Psalm 46 expresses Shirley’s intimacy with the Lord and trust in him. Her cousin Johnny, whom she mentioned many times in conversation and correspondence, and who arranged all of her affairs at the end of her life, shared with me Shirley’s well-worn copy of her favorite devotional, Streams in the Desert. The title itself reflects Psalm 46:3, “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God.”   It’s from that devotional I copied notes from her own handwriting and little pieces of paper to give you some of her favorite quotes on the back of the bulletin.  (These quotes are also included at the end of this service.)

 Psalm 8:3-9 (KJV)

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field;

The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

 Two parts of Psalm 8 seem to me especially to connect to Shirley.  One of them is the psalmist’s question, “When I consider the heavens, what is man that thou art mindful of him?”  To be human is to ask such questions, because we are made in God’s image to think, to feel, to love.  Shirley was a person of deep thinking, deep feeling, and deep love.  One small indication was her sense of humor.  We only laugh because we are made in God’s image.

Humor punctuated the many notes she wrote me through the years.  When her mother battled cancer in 1999 and 2000 and the doctor said she couldn’t take any more exposure to germs, Shirley avoided contact for herself and her family with anyone and everyone.  She wrote to me, “I’ve probably put on quite a show in the grocery stores during the flu season.  Automobile drivers sometimes change lanes too wildly, but I make ‘U turns’ with my grocery cart and change aisles at the sound of a cough or sneeze.  I hope I don’t get a ticket!”

In another note, she said, “I’m grateful that God has enabled me so far to handle the cooking, nursing, shopping, appointments, etc.  (Note that I didn’t mention cleaning the house.  I like to fall asleep before I get to that!)

When she sent in a check for the offering in 2001, she apologized for being late and added, “In fact, I confess that I was late twice in paying some estimated tax in 2000.  I hope my next communication won’t be from prison.”

The second aspect of Psalm 8 that connects to Shirley is the mention of many kinds of animals.  Shirley loved animals all her life.  She wrote a Christmas card to the church staff in the mid-2000s.  She talked about helping residents at Kingston get to and from the services, and added, “I guess I was just a ‘born caretaker.’  When Dad discovered I was taking care of 26 stray cats (counting the kittens) under our garage, he tried to explain that I was too young to operate such a large ‘Hefner Hospital.’”

 Isaiah 40:31 (GNT)

But those who trust in the Lord for help
will find their strength renewed.
They will rise on wings like eagles;
they will run and not get weary;
they will walk and not grow weak.

Shirley wanted the King James for the Psalms, but the Good News Bible (now called the Good News Translation) for other Scriptures, including several favorite verses from Isaiah.

Isaiah 40:31 is a verse she depended on in her role as a caretaker all of her life.  Most of you know she and her brother D.W. lived with their parents all their lives.  For some of the time, I’m sure the caring responsibility went both ways, but for most of the time I knew her, she was caring for them.  She needed her strength renewed regularly.

But she also found time to invest in others, and in the early years taught Sunday School for grades 2, 4, 6, and 8 at times.  I kept notes on pastoral care visits during my early years, and my first visit to the Hefner home was April 14, 1993, just six weeks after I began my ministry at Corinth.  Judy Allran had suggested I prioritize a visit to the Hefners.  Among other things, Shirley wanted to tell me stories about Austin Allran, at that time a North Carolina senator.

One of the stories happened at church when Austin was two years old.  He told her he would carry her pocketbook if she would carry him.  She agreed, and learned later that Austin just had a thing for women’s pocketbooks and had only asked her to pick him up as an excuse to carry her pocketbook.

When Austin was in second grade, she was his Sunday School teacher.  The kids called her “Shullee.”  As a sixth grade teacher in public school, she wrote something on the chalkboard in cursive writing.  Austin spoke out:  “Shullee, we don’t read writin’.  We just read printin’.”

Isaiah 41:10 (GNT)

Do not be afraid—I am with you!
I am your God—let nothing terrify you!
I will make you strong and help you;
I will protect you and save you
.

 Shirley held on to this verse, I’m sure, because even though in many ways she was strong, she also battled some fears.  I mentioned germs – not just when her mother was sick, but other times as well.

Shirley was a bit afraid of me when I came to Corinth.  Not physically, of course, but she was concerned I was too conservative, and that the church would pull away from the UCC.  At one time she even wrote to me and said she would change churches if she could, but her health and that of her parents didn’t allow her to look around for another church.  Another reason she feared my coming is because she said she always loved little churches, and she was concerned Corinth was growing too large.

I only have notes like that from my first year or two, however.  Pastors can generally win people over by just loving them, and I really think Shirley had come to love my predecessors because they cared for her.  Anyway, by the time her parents became ill and then passed, and she received care from me, and later from John Bigelow, Betty McGee, Bill Howell, and most recently Lori Blocker, she came to appreciate and love her church family.  A note in 2008 said, “Pastor Bob, I truly appreciate your visit and prayer at the hospital before my surgery.  I’ll always be especially grateful for your visits to our home – and, of course, for your singing “How Great Thou Art” at Mother’s bedside and at her grave.

When you attach yourself to the Lord for your strength, people can come in and out of your life, but he’s the one who carries you on eagles’ wings.

Isaiah 52:7 (GNT)

How wonderful it is to see
a messenger coming across the mountains,
bringing good news, the news of peace!
He announces victory and says to Zion,
“Your God is king!”

 In trying to get a little into Shirley’s mind with this text, I’m wondering if she loved it because of a messenger announcing news.  Shirley loved words.  Inside a card she sent to Linda and me for our wedding anniversary, she added several paragraphs in her own handwriting, and this parenthesis:  “Don’t even try to decipher all of this.  If I get started (writing or talking), I can’t seem to stop!”

In another, longer, letter, she inserted this paragraph:  “Now, if you made it this far, aren’t you glad that I don’t write often?”

Matthew 7:24-27 (GNT)

“So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock.

“But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!”

 Shirley invested her life in the distinction between wisdom and foolishness.  Like the rest of us, she was not perfect in her discernment, but she loved learning and teaching.

As for learning, as Johnny and Doris said, Shirley was always chosen for the highest honor – Junior Marshall, Valedictorian, whatever the “competition.”  Johnny said on report card day, Uncle Daldee would say to him, “Shirley got all A’s. How’d you do?”  He would answer, “I had a good time.”

Shirley taught sixth grade for 28 years, and would often note in conversation or writing that she had retired early at half the pension, in order to take care of her parents.  I think she wanted us all to know that she didn’t quit.  Teaching was her passion, and she did it well.

John 14, Selected Verses (GNT)

“Do not be worried and upset,” Jesus told them. “Believe in God and believe also in me.  There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so.  And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am. You know the way that leads to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; so how can we know the way to get there?”

Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me. Now that you have known me,” he said to them, “you will know my Father also, and from now on you do know him and you have seen him.”

“I have told you this while I am still with you. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you.

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am leaving, but I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father; for he is greater than I.  I have told you this now before it all happens, so that when it does happen, you will believe. I cannot talk with you much longer, because the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father; that is why I do everything as he commands me.

 I’ve mentioned that Shirley was a “born caretaker,” and I think that’s a wonderful connection to this passage from Jesus the night before he died.  Even though he would take on the sins of the world and suffer for us, Jesus was concerned about the physical and emotional state of his disciples.  He loved them to the end, as John says.

Shirley cared for children at school and church when she worked, she cared for her parents and brother when they needed her, she cared for her fellow residents and staff at Kingston, and I found in her notes her care for you and me when she wrote out her funeral plans.  The note at the bottom said, “Please make all decisions with the welfare and comfort of the family in mind.”

Shirley also “loved them to the end.”  This passage was also her mother’s favorite.  We’ve adapted several elements of this service from her family members’ services, because she had so much to do with those as well.  Violet was raised a Baptist, and it was her personal faith along with Daldee’s rock solid faith that shaped Shirley’s early life.

 2 Corinthians 4:5-5:1

 For it is not ourselves that we preach; we preach Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. The God who said, “Out of darkness the light shall shine!” is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts, to bring us the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ.

Yet we who have this spiritual treasure are like common clay pots, in order to show that the supreme power belongs to God, not to us. We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.  At all times we carry in our mortal bodies the death of Jesus, so that his life also may be seen in our bodies. Throughout our lives we are always in danger of death for Jesus’ sake, in order that his life may be seen in this mortal body of ours. This means that death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

The scripture says, “I spoke because I believed.” In the same spirit of faith we also speak because we believe. We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus to life, will also raise us up with Jesus and take us, together with you, into his presence.  All this is for your sake; and as God’s grace reaches more and more people, they will offer to the glory of God more prayers of thanksgiving.

For this reason we never become discouraged. Even though our physical being is gradually decaying, yet our spiritual being is renewed day after day. And this small and temporary trouble we suffer will bring us a tremendous and eternal glory, much greater than the trouble. For we fix our attention, not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever.

For we know that when this tent we live in—our body here on earth—is torn down, God will have a house in heaven for us to live in, a home he himself has made, which will last forever.

I wanted to close with this text, because I truly believe Shirley had every confidence of being in the Lord’s presence when her “body here on earth” took its last breath.  She loved the Lord, she trusted Christ.

To the very end of her life, she also cared for others.  Johnny and Doris also wanted me to specifically note that she was on the receiving end of very fine care at Kingston.

Shirley had her struggles, as we all do.  But reading through my notes and her letters, along with her memorial requests and her devotional book, have given me a deep appreciation for how she found her joy and peace through Jesus Christ.  In addition to many other notes, she marked the pages where her aunt, father, mother, and brother were born and died.

And so it’s appropriate that I turn to September 27 in this devotional book and read to you these words for the day Shirley was ushered into the Lord’s presence –

“The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty.”  (Zeph. 3:17).  This was the text that first flashed the truth of Divine healing into my mind and worn-out body nearly a quarter century ago.  It is still the door, wide open more than ever, through which the living Christ passes moment by moment into my redeemed body, filling, energizing, vitalizing it with the presence and power of His own personality, turning my whole being in a ‘new heaven and new earth.’  ‘The Lord, thy God.’  Thy God.  My God.  Then all that is in God Almighty is mine and in me just as far as I am able and willing to appropriate Him and all that belongs to Him….He is in the midst, at the center of my physical being.  He is in the midst of my brain.  He is in the midst of my nerve centers.

Heaven is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s life in us given through Jesus Christ.  Shirley is now experiencing the fullness of being in him and he in her.  Thanks be to God, Amen.

                                                                                                                                             

Some of Shirley’s Favorite Quotes

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.”  (Victor Hugo)

“Give what you have.  To someone it may be better than you dare to think.”  (Longfellow)

“He who suffers most has most to give.”  (Lilias Trotter)

“Instill in the hearts of all our servicemen and women a desire to live forever in peace and good will towards all.”  (Unknown)

“Let nothing disturb thee; nothing affright thee;

All things are passing; God never changeth.

“Patient endurance attaineth to all things

Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting;

Alone God sufficeth.”  (St. Teresa)

“Do all the good you can; by all means you can; in all the places you can; at all the times you can; to all the people you can; as long as ever you can.”  (John Wesley)

“This my song through endless ages,

Jesus led me all the way.”  (Fanny Crosby)

“A good teacher is like a candle,

it consumes itself to light the way for others.”  (Unknown)

“Recognize the trial as a challenge from God to claim a larger blessing than we have ever had.”  (Mrs. Chas. E. Cowman)

One Response to Shirley Hefner – Learner and Teacher »

  • Reggie Hefner says:

    What a wonderful woman Shirley must have been! I never had the privilege of knowing her, but I would think she would love the way you honored her and granted her wishes till the very end.

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