We gather this morning to say good-bye to a friend, Cindy Grate. We are here to mourn her loss and also to celebrate her great life.
I remind you of God’s promise today:
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
The apostle Paul wrote,
“35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:35-39 New Living Translation]
It is the power of God’s love that we rely on today. We don’t understand why things have happened as they have over this last week but we are called to trust Him especially in those times that we do not understand.
Will you pray with me?
Gracious Father, we can’t believe we are here today. We were just starting to understand that Cindy was sick, and she is already taken from us. We are totally unprepared to let her go. We ask you to help us today. Help us to face the reality of loss. Help us to find the strength that you alone can give us. And help us to reflect on Cindy’s life in a way that reminds us of how blessed we have been to have her.
Cynthia Jean Grate was born on September 24, 1943 in Fort Madison, Iowa to Willis and Mabel Billman Hohl. I have a feeling she was probably a challenge to raise.
She met Roger Grate while they were classmates at Gem City College. They dated and then Roger went off to serve his country. Cindy waited and worried while he was gone. Roger returned from service in November of 1965. They were married on August 14, 1966.
Roger and Cindy lived in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa for around 6 years before moving to Blandinsville in 1970. They moved into their present home on Thanksgiving 1973. They were blessed with two daughters. Cindy worked many years for the Keithley Insurance Agency in Blandinsville and then for 17 years for the Jones Insurance Agency in Blandinsville and then LaHarpe.
She is survived by her husband,
Two daughters; Gina (Reggie) DeSpain of Blandinsville and Nicole (David) Hurt of Basco,
two grandchildren; Addison DeSpain and Nolan Hurt
two brothers; Ronald (Janet) Hohl of Donnellson, Iowa and Phil Hohl of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Just eleven days ago I visited with Cindy as she was coming into the hospital at the end of her first round of treatments. She told me the Doctor was very positive about her treatments and she was determined to beat the cancer. We all knew it was going to be a difficult road, but we also believed that with Cindy’s determination and attitude she would beat the cancer. The shock of what happened makes us all stagger. We just weren’t prepared at all.
Cindy Grate was a unique, fun, and energetic person. She was the kind of person who was so energetic that you could get tired just being around her. She was always working on something. As I’ve reflected on her life I want to give you some general observations about Cindy.
Cindy had the eye of an artistic. She was a terrific gardener. She could grow vegetables and flowers. She was known for her landscaping ability. She made her yard into a showplace . . . not because she wanted to necessarily show it to anyone, but because she enjoyed it.
Cindy was always changing things in her yard. It was like she needed to create. She was constantly coming up with a new idea. So she would dig up plants, carry rocks and create something new. An interesting sidelight . . . in all the gardening she did, she couldn’t stand worms, snakes or snapping Turtles (who came up out of the reservoir). To show how focused she was: on Thursday afternoons she generally went to the Chiropractor, and then spent the rest of the afternoon moving rocks and doing other kinds of physical labor.
Even in the office she took care of the plants. Every Wednesday she polished all the leaves (whether they needed it or not). She definitely had a green thumb.
She was also gifted in the area of interior design. She knew how colors went together and she could see design ideas in her head. She refinished antiques and seemed to always be painting something. She was an excellent cook and made most everything from scratch. She had good taste in clothes and always made sure the girls . . . and Roger had nice clothes to wear.
Cindy also was a gifted painter. She painted a number of saw blades for decoration and drew various other pictures. She could draw what she saw in her head.
Cindy had a playful spirit. For years the family had a car in the Blandinsville Picnic Parade. Each year Cindy would come up with some different idea. She had a hillbilly car, a bat mobile, a Christmas car, a football and several others. She had lots of creative ideas and had loads of fun implementing them. Often the family would “take the show on the road”. They brought their cars to several parades in the area. It was a fun family time just doing something silly.
Cindy was a private person, but she was also outgoing. She enjoyed visiting with just about anyone. When you talked to her on the phone you always felt she had more to say because you’d say “Good-bye” and she would say, “Ummm” and you would think that she had something else to say. Usually she didn’t, she just was hesitant to hang up.
Cindy liked people and liked to be involved in things. She went golfing with Gina on Ladies Night at the golf course for a couple of year (mostly because Addison was there). She ran in various shorter foot races just because she wanted to participate. Mind you, she never trained for these races . . . just put her shoes on and came out and ran!
When Cindy was younger she even did a little drag racing! She loved her cars. She had a Blue Triumph Convertible that she really enjoyed. A year or so ago she bought her first brand new car, a Toyota Avalon. The next year she traded it so she could get the Avalon with the dual exhaust!
Cindy was legendary for her snacking while she worked. Every morning she had a bag of Doritos and a V-8. Throughout the day she would snack on all kinds of junk food (much to the other Cindy’s chagrin). Her metabolism seemed to run in overdrive.
Cindy had a mother’s heart. Cindy was one of those people lots of people turned to for advice. If she sensed you had a need, she would rally to your side. Everyone says she was an incredible friend. She wasn’t afraid to get involved if that’s what would be needed to help someone.
Cindy loved Roger throughout their 40 plus years of marriage. They were a team. She took care of him and he took care of her.
The family took various camping trips and enjoyed camping at Argyle Park on Labor Day weekends. Anything they could do as a family was a fun time to Cindy.
Cindy felt blessed by her daughters. She enjoyed watching them grow. She cheered for them, she instructed them (in all those areas where she was so competent), she advised them (whether they wanted it or not), and more than anything else, she loved them. She wanted them to be confident, independent and sensitive women. She succeeded. Admittedly, it was hard for her when Nicole and then Gena got married within a few months of each other. To lose both girls at once was hard . . . but she adjusted. She knew that this was the way life was supposed to work. She was always proud of her girls and they remain her enduring legacy.
Cindy relished being a Grandmother. Addison and Nolan were her heart’s delight. They were the greatest motivation for her to fight her cancer. She hated being weak; she felt she had too much to live for. Her greatest sorrow in life would have been that she was not here to help her Grandchildren.
Cindy found it impossible to do any shopping and not buy something for her grandchildren. She loved buying them clothes and always looked forward to doing something with Addison on Wednesday night. When Addison walked into the house and shouted, “Grandma, I’m home!” Cindy’s heart jumped for joy. She was a fun Grandma. She took delight in spoiling the Grandchildren. She believed it was impossible to give too much love to a child.
Cindy lived life to the fullest. Cindy loved people. She was frustrated by them at times. She didn’t understand people who lacked loyalty. She was exasperated by those who had no consideration for the people around them. She was known to walk into a room where there was someone she considered “safe” and she would “vent”. Venting often involved push her hands down, like she was trying to keep the anger from rising, and she would say “Arrgggh!” and then possibly stomp her foot, and then she would walk away . . . leaving the anger behind.
Anytime you walked into the office where she was working, you felt welcomed. Cindy was part of every conversation. She took an interest in your life and was always eager to talk about her kids or grandkids.
Cindy had a faith in God. She wasn’t a regular church-goer but did visit our website frequently where she was able to find sermons on topics she was interested in. She read our weekly newsletter and was up on everything that was going on at the church. I think Faith was private to Cindy. She served God in her own way.
Cindy was a fireball of energy. She kept up an exhausting pace and always needed to be doing something. When you think about her life, you realize that she lived more in her 63 years than many of us would have lived if we put our lives together. She savored beauty and seemed able to find that beauty anywhere. She loved working and seldom took days off. She was always willing to help out. She loved the Lord and tried to show that love in the way that she treated other people. She didn’t take herself too seriously and was always willing to be silly. She cherished her family and gave herself fully to them. She enjoyed her life.
That great philosopher, Erma Bombeck, once wrote,
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, “I used everything you gave me”.
I believe as Cindy stands before the Lord she can say, “I used everything you gave me.” And hopefully the Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I can’t help but think that Cindy is enthralled with the beauty of Heaven and the majesty of the Lord.
When we consider how Cindy lived, perhaps it was fitting that she died the way she did: quickly, and putting up a fight. She would have been miserable as a sick person. She would see all the things that could or should be done and would feel that she was being taunted by them.
Months from now (maybe even years) you as family and friends may very well look back on Cindy’s death and give thanks that she died this way, rather than eroding to become only a shell of her former self. We’re grateful that we will always remember her as someone vibrant and alive rather than as a sick person who was dying slowly.
In our head, we know that these things are true. However, in our heart we find ourselves treading water and fighting against waves of powerful emotion. We aren’t ready to let her go. We weren’t prepared for this to happen. There were things to say, times we wanted to cherish, things we still wanted to learn, support we wanted to give.
Today we find ourselves asking the question: Why? I want to comfort you with the fact that in the Bible, even some of the heros of the faith, asked “Why?”
The writer of Psalm 42 asks in a prayer, “Why have you forgotten me? (v.9) Job cried out to God in his anguish asking, “Why have you set me as your target? (Job 7:20) in other words, “Why are you doing this to me?” King David asked God, “Why are you so far from helping me (Psalm 22:1) Even Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46)
The question “why?” is not a cry of the faithless, it is an honest expression of confusion. It comes from the desire to understand what we find confusing. Things happen in life, and we don’t know why. God has answers to our questions but sometimes those answers aren’t given to us.
The bible tells us that in the future, our questions will be answered. In 1 Corinthians 13:12 we are told, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know just as I am fully known.”
One day we will have answers. In the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, we are told that there is coming a day when “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes: there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain” (Revelation 21:4) In that day, there will be no more questions, only answers. And I believe when we understand the answers to our questions, we will all say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Until then, we simply have to trust. That was the message to Job. God said simply, “Job, trust me, even though you don’t understand.” Today we must focus on some essential truths:
- God is in Control
- He loves Us
- He never makes a mistake
- This is not the end of the story
Simple truths but they are the truths that will help us get through this difficult time.
Maxwell Cornelius was born and raised in Pennsylvania where he became a brick mason. One day in an accident his leg was broken, and the doctors determined that it would have to be amputated. After the surgery, Cornelius was unable to continue his profession in the construction business, so he enrolled in college and the Lord called him into the ministry. Because of his wife’s failing health, he moved to California where the weather was good for her, and there he built a large Presbyterian Church. But when an economic depression swept through the area, he was left with tremendous financial obligations—not only his own but those of the church as well. No sooner had he emerged from those difficulties, then his wife passed away. He preached the funeral himself, and he ended his remarks with a poem he had written, which later became a hymn, well-known in its day. The words say:
Not now, but in the coming years,
It may be in the better land,
We’ll read the meaning of our tears,
And there, some time, we’ll understand.
Then trust in God through all the days;
Fear not, for He doth hold thy hand;
Though dark thy way, still sing and praise,
Some time, some time we’ll understand.
We’ll catch the broken thread again,
And finish what we here began;
Heav’n will the mysteries explain,
And then, ah then, we’ll understand.
We’ll know why clouds instead of sun
Were over many a cherished plan;
Why song has ceased when scarce begun;
’Tis there, some time, we’ll understand.
God knows the way, He holds the key,
He guides us with unerring hand;
Some time with tearless eyes we’ll see;
Yes, there, up there, we’ll understand.
As you grieve today please remind yourself that this is not the end of the story. Cindy Grate has died, but she is not gone. As we celebrate Easter we are reminded that through Jesus Christ, we can live, even though we die. Because He lives, those who trust Him will live as well.
Today is not the day to turn away from God. Today is the day to seek Him with new intensity. Today is the day to make faith real. The Bible calls us to put our confidence in Jesus. It tells us that if we will turn to Christ, admit our weaknesses, and trust His provision on our behalf, we too will live even though we die. Today is the day to celebrate a life well lived and to begin the process of preparing to be together again.
As we conclude, let me remind you of some of the lessons that Cindy Grate taught us with her life,
- The length of our days is uncertain, we ought not to waste the days we have
- The world is filled with hurting people, what they need most is a friend who will care.
- Life is an adventure, if we are too timid to step out of our comfort zone; we will miss out on much that life has for us.
- Time invested in a friend is an investment that will continue to bear dividends long after we are gone.
- Beauty is all around us, we just need to open our eyes and take it in.
- Junk food is good, no matter what anyone else says.
- You can spend your life disappointed with people, or you can get over it, and love them for who they really are.
- The world is a serious place, the more we can do to “lighten things up, the better”
- The less seriously you take yourself, the more seriously others will take you.
- Time invested in getting to know the Lord, is never time that is wasted.
- Finally, if you love those you cherish, you will be cherished by those you love.
May God help us to learn the lessons well.
Please pray with me,
Father, Cindy Grate was a remarkable woman. She made us smile, she made us laugh, she made us feel significant and loved. Thank you for her life.
Please welcome Cindy into your kingdom by your mercy and grace. Grant her that joy of seeing you face to face.
Father, there is a huge hole left by Cindy’s death. Please grant us your strength and comfort. Help us to trust you even though we don’t know the answer to the questions that begin with, “Why?” Help this family as they deal with such a huge loss. Help them to draw strength from each other, and also from you.
Grant us your peace, your comfort, and your enduring love. We ask these things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Now may the God of peace—
who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great Shepherd of the sheep,
and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—
21 may he equip you with all you need
for doing his will.
May he produce in you,*
through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him.
All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. [Hebrews 13:20-21]