Antoinetta (Toni) Schwanke

We gather this morning in our time of sadness to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Toni Schwanke.  As we do so we seek to draw comfort from God.

In the Bible we read,

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13)

We are here today holding on to the truth that the Lord is merciful and gracious. Anyone (no matter what their baggage) who call upon Him will find that He is ready to love and help them.

Jesus said to His disciples,

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

We remember today that this life is not all there is. It is our hope today that Toni has discovered that wonderful love and incredible mercy of God.

One of Toni’s favorite passages of the Bible was Psalm 23,

1     The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2        He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,

3        he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4     Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5     You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6     Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (NIV)

Once again this passage reminds us those who put their trust in Christ will not merely walk INTO the valley of the shadow of death . . . they will walk THROUGH it.

Please pray with me,

Father, we bow before you today as we mourn. We ask you to help us as we mourn Toni’s death. Help us also as we think about “what could have been”. Lord please lead us to You. Help us to find hope . . .the hope that comes from You alone we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen

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Antoinetta Wayland was born on April 1, 1947 in Colchester to her parents. She was blessed with 16 brothers and sisters! I am sure there are many stories of what it was like to grow up together.

Toni was an attractive, smart and driven woman. She had many different degrees.

She could be warm and friendly and (especially if she had been drinking) she could be pretty mean.

I am told that Toni was “stubborn as Hell”. She continued to smoke even after she was diagnosed with COPD and you could’t win an argument with her.

Toni was married several times. I met her when she was married to Dennis A. Schwanke.  She was the Administrator for the LaHarpe Davier Nursing home. She was a good and well-respected Administrator.  My wife worked at the Nursing home and at times I found myself as Toni’s Counselor. At the time, Dennis was sick. Toni was torn because she wanted to be with her husband but she was also needed on the job. Dennis died on May 20th, 2000. It was a devastating loss for Toni. She coped with the loss by drinking and this created many other problems.

To some, Toni’s story is more about “what might have been”. She was a smart woman and talented. Unfortunately, her addiction seemed to control her life in these last years.

Toni was proud of and grateful for her children and she loved her grandchildren. She liked being from a big family. She depended on her family. Because of her disease of alcoholism she didn’t always treat family members well . . . but I know she loved you. She was sick and didn’t seem to be doing much to help herself.

Toni said her favorite piece of religious poetry is the piece titled Footprints. I am sure that Toni resonated with the hope that the Lord would carry her even as she struggled in life.

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”  – by Mary Stevenson

Toni is survived by

  • One son, Jeffrey (Brandi) Schwanke of Coal Valley IL
  • 2 Daughters: Dawn (Troy) Tatro from Monmouth and Cynthia Nelson from Tennessee IL.
  • 7 Grandchildren
  • 6 brothers
  • and 7 sisters

She was preceded in death by 2 Brothers and 1 sister.

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Let’s face it, there is nothing fun about a funeral.  As we gather today our hearts are heavy.  You are never ready to let go of the people you love.  It doesn’t matter how much you expected death or how prepared you thought you were; you are never ready to let go of someone you love. This funeral may be harder than most.

I want to look at a three things today.  First, I want you to know that grief is normal.  It’s ok to cry.  It’s normal to be angry at the circumstances.  It’s appropriate to be numb and even feel nothing.  When you love someone, it hurts to lose that person.  Sometimes it hurts so much that can’t comprehend the loss, so your system shuts down for a while.  The numbness is God’s way of helping us to cope.

In the Bible we read examples of people who grieved. When King David’s infant son was dying, he fasted, prayed, and pleaded with God to save the child’s life.  But the child died.  When his older son died he wept loudly.  Abraham mourned for his wife Sarah.  Jeremiah wept over the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus his friend.  Tears are appropriate.  Author Max Lucado writes,

Tears.

Those tiny drops of humanity. Those round, wet balls of fluid that tumble from our eyes, creep down our cheeks, and splash on the floor of our hearts. They are always present at such times. They should be, that’s their job. They are miniature messengers; on call twenty-four hours a day to substitute for crippled words. They drip, drop, and pour from the corner of our souls, carrying with them the deepest emotions we possess. They tumble down our faces with announcements that range from the most blissful joy to darkest despair.

The principle is simple; when words are most empty, tears are most apt.

A tearstain on a letter says much more than the sum of all its words. A tear falling on a casket says what a spoken farewell never could. What summons a mother’s compassion and concern more quickly than a tear on a child’s cheek? What gives more support than a sympathetic tear on the face of a friend?

That task, my friend, was left for the tears.

(Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior.)

Grief is normal and appropriate.  Toni wouldn’t want you to stand at her grave and weep . . .but tears are fitting. Do not be embarrassed by your grief . . . it testifies to your love.

As you reflect on your loss, please also take time to reflect on the good things you can remember. Sometimes those good times are hard to find. But they are there. So, share your stories. Your story will provoke other memories. Work hard to remember the good things. The bad stuff always seems to root deep into us and it tries erase any good things. Don’t let that happen! Tell your stories about when you were kids. Remember the funny times. Try to enumerate things for which you are thankful

So, grief is normal. Second, may I remind you that there is more to life than what we see.

In some respects, it’s easy to dismiss the whole notion of life beyond the grave as something we need to say in order to get through the hard times.  But I don’t think eternity is an illusion.  The greatest piece of evidence for life beyond the grave is the Resurrection of Jesus. The factual nature of this event is, I believe, overwhelming.  The facts detail the reality of His death. The tomb was empty even though it was put under guard.  People saw Jesus alive for weeks after His death.  Those who saw Him were transformed and emboldened by their encounter.  There has been no fact more examined over the centuries than the Resurrection, and no one can give any evidence that Jesus did not rise from the grave.  All of the evidence points in the other direction.

If Jesus rose from the dead, then there must be life beyond the grave.  If He rose from the grave, then He should be the One we listen to and follow.  If Jesus rose from the dead, then we can have hope even in the midst of our own sadness and grief.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  (John 11)

This is a significant statement. When Jesus said this, He was talking to his dear friends, Mary and Martha at the funeral of their brother, Lazarus.  Notice the promise: “He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  Jesus says there is life beyond the grave.  At another time Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you so that you may be where I am.”

The Bible’s teaching is consistent.  Death is not the end.  There is an existence and life that extends beyond the grave.  It is a life that starts the moment we believe and extend on into eternity.  It is a life that makes this life seem like only a moment. There are two possible destinations: Heaven and Hell. The life called Heaven is described in the Bible as a time and place filled with unimagined joy and the elimination of all that is evil or painful.  We are told “God will wipe away every tear from their eye.”

Notice the condition of the promise, “He who believes in me.”  There are two common views about Heaven.  One view seems to say that everyone who dies goes to Heaven . . . . .except maybe the really really bad people.  The other view says that those people who live good lives go to Heaven.  The Bible says neither is true.

The Bible tells us that none of us have lived a good enough life to earn God’s favor or what we often think of as “heaven”.  Even the best of us sin . . . and with great regularity.  Think about it, even if we only sinned (did what was wrong in God’s eyes either in thought, word, or deed) three times a day (which would be a staggeringly very good day for most of us), that would be 21 times a week . . . almost a thousand times a year!  By the end of our lives we would have committed tens of thousands of sins. Our sin-debt is greater than we could ever hope to pay.

That’s where Jesus comes on the scene. The Bible tells us that Jesus died to pay for the sin we have committed.  The only condition is that we be truly sorry for our wrong-doing and that we put our hope, faith, and confidence in Jesus. The Bible is clear, only those who sincerely and truly trust Jesus Christ will be granted Heaven.  Sincere trust is not a prayer you pray; it is a new orientation to life.  To really “have faith” or “believe” in Jesus means being willing to follow Him and rest in Him.

It doesn’t matter how broken you are; the Lord’s arms are open. His invitation to forgiveness and new life is available to everyone. I lost touch with Toni. I invited her to church but she never came. I told her about our daily radio broadcast but I don’t know if she ever listened to it. I don’t know if Toni ever called out to the Lord for forgiveness and new life. But if she did . . . she received it.

For those who believe (the Christian), death is not the end of the story; it is merely the end of the introduction to the story.  Death is merely a time of transition.  It is the transfer point leading to new life, reunion and celebration.

One more thing, there is an important question that Jesus asked.  Jesus had basically told these two sisters what I have just told you.  Jesus then asked a pointed question:  : “Do you believe this?”  We can speculate all day long about what Toni believed.  The more important question today is: What do you believe?  The answer to this question makes a world of difference in how you face this day.  For those who do not believe, this day is the height of futility (we live, we die, that’s it).  For those who do trust Christ this is a day when we cling to the promise of God and the life that comes alone through Jesus Christ.

Solomon said that it is better to go to a funeral than to a party. That seems like an odd thing to say. However, he went on to explain that at a party everyone has a good time, they drink, they escape from life. It is a way to avoid the real questions of life. A funeral however, doesn’t allow you to do this. A funeral makes us face some basic questions: “What is the purpose of life?” “Is this all there is? Do we really live, die, and that’s it?” “If life is meaningless why try to do anything noble? If there is more to life, how do we find it?” These are important questions to ask.

I encourage you to use this day to address the ultimate questions in your life.  Don’t waste this opportunity! We have been reminded this week that death comes for all. Resolve today that you will not face that day unprepared.  Turn to Christ.  Begin developing a relationship with Him.  If you will do so, you will not only be granted life beyond the grave, you will be surprised to discover a whole new dimension of life on this side of the grave. Hopefully, when we get to the other side we will find that Toni called out to the Lord and is now healed and made whole.

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Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank you for the life of Toni Schwanke.  We entrust her now to You who are filled with mercy and grace.  Welcome her into your presence.

Lord, I pray for this family.   Please provide the strength and comfort they need for this time.  Flood their minds with rich and wonderful memories.  Grant that their good memories would not dim over the passage of time but instead overshadow the painful times.

Help us all, O Lord, to live looking beyond the next moment.  Help us to live with an eternal perspective.  Help us to place our faith in Christ, the One you have provided for our needs.  We ask this is the wonderful name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.