Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Kiss Goodbye

Val’s Funeral Talk – Saturday, April 19, 2014 – Mt. Pleasant, Utah

Chris asked me to talk today about some of Val’s core beliefs, namely the atonement and the plan of salvation as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She’d been a member of this church since baptism. Val was a valiant woman with a strong testimony of these doctrines. She struggled at times, and had weaknesses, as we all do. But at other times she was a warrior woman, who boldly served and obeyed her Heavenly Father like a Queen Esther, Eve, and Emma all rolled into one.

I met her first when she was 16 and immediately felt like I’d known her forever. The fact is I had…in the life before this one: the pre-existence where we existed in love as one large eternal family, all gathered together in support of our Savior’s plan of salvation, That is evidenced by our presence here today. She and I always felt like we had chosen each other before passing through the veil into mortality.

At first, she was my daughter, borrowed from her own sweet mother, a fact for which I will always be grateful. And then we grew to be close friends…no, more than that: sisters who share in common a Heavenly Father. That is a family relation Val shares with all of us, and will for eternity.

Val was a woman of impressive gifts and talents, and great strengths as evidenced by the beautiful family she was not quite through raising. We each carry memories of the ways she used her talents to benefit our lives. For a moment, let’s do something out of the ordinary. (Val would love that, wouldn’t she?) Close your eyes and picture her in your mind and join me in spending the next sixty seconds remembering specific things she did that made us love her, that made us laugh or cry, that let us know she loves us. Are you ready? Let’s begin…

(let 60 seconds elapse)

Thank you. And please notice now how the spirit in this room has swelled to overwhelming with the Spirit, and with the love she had, and still has, to share with each of us. I hope later we’ll sit together and share the things we’ve just been thinking about. I suspect there will be tears, but I’m hoping there will also be smiles and laughter at her antics. She’d like that.

She was the kind of woman, who while serving with me in a Young Women’s presidency in this very church building, could have the girls in tears at her testimony one minute and the next be teaching them to tie their dresses between their legs and roll down temple hill. I have watched her take surly, arguing teenagers and make them stand nose to nose saying “I love you” until the fight was forgotten and all were giggling friends again. I have seen her share her own triumphs over trials with a sobbing young woman in that healing way she has, and then within the hour make that same girl howl with laughter at the live lizard hanging halfway out of her mouth. Those girls, like the rest of us, loved her as a person, and because of that they loved and followed her example. She was a force for good in mortality and there will be many a person on the other side who will credit her for helping them join her there in her Savior’s presence.

Val worked hard to fulfill her mission as a woman of great faith and compassion, and we have all benefitted thereby. She often did so under great adversity, as many of us do. She received her patriarchal blessing, and her temple endowments, and encouraged her children to follow in her footsteps. She raised her children with a love for the Lord and taught them to follow His teachings. She knew that she had lived a full and beautiful life with all of us in the pre-existence, and that we would all join together here in mortality. She knew we were here to obtain a mortal body, and to be refined and tested. And tested she was. But she was also humble and valiant and patiently endured her struggles. She had no doubt of a life after this one where she would be able to raise her beautiful son, Corey, and spend time with all those she’s loved and lost. Furthermore, she knows she can still have influence on each of us from that place. Watch for those tender mercies, because we will be her mission still.

While still serving together in the Young Women’s program, we heard our Stake Young Women’s president, Lois Lister, share a story that I would like to share with you.

One day there was a young boy walking down the road swinging a cage full of terrified, squawking birds. He nearly bumped in to a man standing on the side of the road, who asked him “Where did you get those birds?” The boy replied proudly, “I’ve been catching them in my bird traps.” The man thought for a moment, and then asked, “What are you going to do with those birds?” “Just play with ‘em” said the boy. “What about when you are finished playing with them? By this time the man was concerned for the birds. “Aw, I think I’ll just feed ‘em to my cat.” Since it was obvious that the birds were in peril, and that the boy had little investment in their survival, the man tried a bargain. “Do you think you might like to sell those birds?” The boy furled his brow in consideration. Finally he tilted his head, squinted one eye and asked, “How much”? The man emptied his pockets of coins and bills. “I’ll give you every penny I have,” said the man. “Deal,” said the boy and took the cash, then handed the birds over to the man. “You just bought yourself some dumb old birds, Mister,” he said as he ran away laughing, thinking he’d pulled one over on the man. When the boy was out of sight, the man opened the bird cage, and gently, one by one, set the birds free, watching them soar until they were out of sight.

That is the blessing of the atonement. We are all tossed to and fro by the adversary, caged by our own fears and weaknesses. He cares not for our pain or our progress. He only toys with us and we mean little to him. We worry about our futures and feel guilty about our pasts so that here, in the present moment we are in bondage all the while yearning to fly free. We need only accept the gift of the atonement, knowing the price for our past mistakes has already been paid by the loving sacrifice of the Savior in Gethsemane and Calvary. Our future is in the hands of a loving Heavenly Father and because of that we, too, are free to fly...to serve…to bless…to obey…to love.

There is a video floating around Facebook called Because of Him. I hope you find it, and watch it, and believe it. While showing photos of great historical events, it says:

It was unthinkable, impossible, unfathomable, unprecedented—
A single act that changed history, possibility, destiny…
He was a carpenter, a teacher, an outcast, a leader,
Yet He did what no carpenter, teacher, outcast or leader had ever done.
Like all who preceded Him, He lived. And He died.
But unlike all who preceded Him, he rose from the dead.
He lived again.
He lives. And because He lives you…and you…and he…and she…and they…and we
Will all live again.
Because of Him, death has no sting, the grave no victory.
We can start again…and again…and again because of Him.
Guilt becomes peace, regret becomes belief, despair becomes hope
Because of Him.
We have second chances, clean slates, new beginnings
Because of Him.
There is no such thing as the end…because of Him.

Val believed in Him. She shared that belief with each of us. She wants us to follow Him…until we can join her in His presence.

I wrote a poem that describes my personal feelings about the loss of Val:

The Kiss

How could I have known
this every-morning kiss goodbye
would be our last...

An ordinary moment
much too soon became our past...

I don’t know what to do...

These unfamiliar duties
so grievous and so new...

Then I feel the whisper
of your spirit brush my brow

An angel kiss that comforts me
for now...

     -

s. westenskow

In the end, it’s not about what we lost when Val passed on to the life after this one. It’s much more about what we gained while she was here and what we will do to keep her legacy alive. Will we grieve? Of course we will. But there will come a point, a defining moment, when our thoughts will turn to her and the sadness will abate. We will giggle a little, and feel a rush of love. We will want to be more like her. We’ll want to know what she knew…what made her so full of life? We’ll ask ourselves in that moment, will we fill someone else’s life with love because she first loved us? Will we follow her example by following the Savior because He first loved us? I think we will. In fact, I think she’ll insist on it.

And we will look forward to being together with her again in the life that follows this one. We’ll tell her everything we’ve done while waiting for this spirit world moment, and I’m sure she’ll fill us in on all her Heavenly shenanigans. Of course she will, and that will be the best part.

I love you Val. Thanks for being right here beside me today.

I say these things In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen