We gather this morning to seek the Lord in time of loss. We gather to comfort each other as we mourn the death of Judy Melvin Dowell. However, we also gather to celebrate and give thanks for the life that Judy lived and to stir up our sure hope of life beyond the grave through Jesus Christ.
The Bible offers us comfort at this time. In the book of Ecclesiastes we read these words,
For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.[NLT]
We often don’t understand God’s timing but we cling to and trust the fact that God knows what He is doing.
In Psalm 121 we read these words of comfort,
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
The apostle Paul points us reminds us that death is not the end of the story for those who put their trust in Christ.
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.
6 So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing. 8 Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. 10 For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. [NLT]
This is our hope as we mourn today. Please pray with me.
Gracious Father, your ways are not our ways. We would have liked to have Judy live for a few more decades, but you had other plans. We bow before you today and humbly submit to your wisdom and your grace. We ask you to help us this morning. Help us as we grieve. Help us to cherish and celebrate the blessing Judy was in our lives. Help us also to see beyond the hurt of separation to the life that is to come. Draw us together in your presence for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen
Judy Ann Melvin-Dowell, was born July 2, 1940 in Burlington, Iowa, the daughter of Milton and Helen Bowen Stevenson. On December 13, 1958, she married Roger Melvin in Stronghurst. After they were married they lived in Dubuque for a while. At that time Judy worked for Brown Publishing. Roger and Judy moved back to Blandinsville so Roger could open “Melvins D & I Store” with his dad. Judy did the bookkeeping for the business. During this time Judy also served as the Resource Room Aid at the school (where she worked for 25 years). This was while she was also raising two children and cooking big meals every night. Judy was a woman filled with energy.
Roger died on January 24, 1994. It was a devastating blow to Judy but as she always did, Judy moved on. She poured herself into loving her kids and grandkids. She even moved to Arkansas for a short while.
Judy had known Syd Dowell all her life. They re-connected and developed a strong friendship. On June 27, 2002 they were married in Crapo Park overlooking the Mississippi River. They enjoyed six years together.
Judy was a member of the Gaudy Gals Red Hat Ladies Club, the Sunshine Circle of the Stronghurst United Methodist Church, the Birthday Club, and the Union Church of LaHarpe. She loved her family and enjoyed reading, cooking, jigsaw puzzles, and gardening.
She died of cancer, at her home, surrounded by her family, on October 30th. She was 68 years old.
Judy is survived by her husband, Syd,
- one daughter – Kathy (and Robert) Wrenn of Richmond, Virginia,
- one son – Richard (and Diana) Melvin of Little Rock, Arkansas,
- two step daughters – Erin Noble of Stronghurst and Robin Druffel of St. Louis, Missouri,
- five grandchildren- Emily, Amber and Brock Melvin, Tucker and Jordan Wrenn,
- four step grandchildren- Devin Stivers, Courtney Noble, and Matt and Ryan Druffel
- three sisters – Joyce (and Robert) Louden of Stronghurst, Joan (and Joe) Rusk of Leesburg, Florida, Sharon (and Robert) Farnon of Port St. Lucie, Florida
- one uncle- Bill Stevenson of Gladstone, Illinois,
- two aunts- Rayne Johnson of Burlington, Iowa, Phyllis Saben of Biggsville, Illinois,
- and many nieces and nephews.
- She was preceded in death by her first husband, parents, step mother – Mildred Stevenson, one sister – Jane Kern, three brothers – Jack, James, and Joseph Stevenson, and one step brother – T.L. Henderson.
If you knew Judy Melvin Dowell, you liked her. Judy had a warm heart, a humble spirit, and was one of those people who made you feel like you mattered. She possessed a wonderful sense of humor and had no trouble laughing at herself when she would make up words or use them inappropriately. (These came to be affectionately known as “meme-isms”).
When Judy was still a baby her mother died. Her dad was left with a houseful of kids. Since Judy was the youngest her siblings took it upon themselves to care for her. Judy remembers many times when dad would take her with him as he did chores. She was naturally very close to her father.
Because of the family situation Judy grew up thinking her name was: “Jack, Jean, Jim, Jane, Joyce, Joan, Judy.” It was only later she figured out that dad simply had trouble keeping all the kid’s name straight. When dad re-married Judy gained another sister in Sharon.
Judy is remembered by her school friends as the girl who was given $20.00 every Saturday. She would load up her friends in her Dad’s Oldsmobile and she and they would all head to Burlington to have a good time. She kept in contact with her classmates and always looked forward to their reunions.
Because Judy was younger than her siblings, she was often called upon (or volunteered) to help with her nieces and nephews. Word has it that those Kern boys gave her quite a run for her money!
Judy’s siblings used Christmas as a time to take care of their little sister. One Christmas when Judy was asked what she wanted for Christmas she humbly said, “All I want is a handkerchief”. The siblings decided they would call her bluff. As she opened each present to find yet another handkerchief her face became longer and longer. Finally, they brought out the real presents and Judy was all smiles again. Judy always felt she was fortunate to be the spoiled child in the family.
Judy and her sisters were not only siblings, they were best friends. They loved doing things together and whenever and wherever they were together, there was sure to be lots and lots of giggling.
Judy loved being a wife and mother. She treasured her children. Kathy and Rich report that life in their home revolved around meals. At every meal they seemed to be talking about their plans for the next meal. Every evening, as active as she was, the family had a big evening meal together. This family time was very important to Judy.
Judy loved working in her garden, she was diligent about canning, and she worked hard to make home a comfortable place to be. She loved to sing and even sang at several weddings. She even found time to play in a homespun band. Judy just loved life.
As a mother she could listen without being judgmental; she could advise without seeming “parental”, she could love without being smothering. She was not only a mom; she was also the best friend her children had.
In her job at the school Judy also was known for her caring heart and listening ear. Several time Judy heard from former students who told her that she changed their lives because of her attention and concern. As you can imagine, those words meant the world to her.
Judy cared for Roger during his long illness. Because of her experience with Roger, when she found she had cancer she hoped that she would not linger. She didn’t want her family to go through such a horrible time again. She didn’t linger. During the trying times of her life Judy worked hard to keep a positive and faithful attitude. Besides the Bible, one her favorite books was “You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought”. One notable passage says,
Faithing is trusting that everything will work out for the highest good of all concerned. Beyond that, faithing is realizing that everything already is working out for the highest good of all concerned. We may not like it that way, but with faith we realize that our opinion and desire about how we think it should be aren’t necessarily the way it will work out best.
Judy adopted this attitude. She trusted that God had a plan and even though it wasn’t what she preferred, she believed that His plan was best. She never complained. She trusted God’s sovereignty. We call that attitude faith.
Judy believed that she had had the love of her life. She was content to never marry again. Now, there is some mystery over what caused Judy and Syd to get together. They had known each other for many years and both of them had had similar circumstances so several people encouraged them to get re-acquainted. Eventually, Judy called Syd (why not?) and asked him about an investment she had. That phone call led to another and then another. The calls led to visits and the visits led to a deeper relationship and finally marriage.
Syd and Judy enjoyed working on their home. They liked traveling together and always enjoyed having the Grandchildren visit. It is a wonderful testimony when Syd said he and Judy were “content”. They were happy with the life they had. The six years of marriage were peppered with various physical problems, but it was it was a great six years. Judy embraced Syd’s family and he likewise embraced hers. In fact, Judy didn’t think of Syd’s kids as Step-children . . . they were her kids also.
Judy loved being a Grandma. She loved talking to the kids, playing games with the kids, cooking for the kids, and just visiting with them. On Sunday mornings as we met at the door of the church she would often talk about the latest news from her Grandchildren. She was so proud of you! She looked forward to every visit and cherished her Grandchildren as one of her greatest blessings. She never enjoyed herself more than when her Grandchildren would come and stay for awhile.
Judy was filled with energy even until she died. Even when she was not feeling well she felt she had to clean before the cleaning lady arrived and then she cleaned along side of her. When she knew she was dying she took the time to write out instructions. She faced the reality of her situation and said she wanted to be home when she died. God graciously granted that desire. When He took her home we all lost someone special. Judy Melvin Dowell was a genuine and humble person who lived life to the fullest.
It is valuable as we reflect today to recount our stories and celebrate the ways Judy enriched us. At the same time it is important that we lift our eyes, as Judy learned to do, and look beyond this day.
One time Jesus went to the funeral of His dear friend by the name of Lazarus. Lazarus died while Jesus was on the road helping others. When he arrived at Lazarus’ home to “pay his respects” the sister of Lazarus greeted Jesus. From her words it seemed she was frustrated. She said, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus responded to her with these words,
“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
After Jesus said this, He went to the tomb of Lazarus and called him back from the dead. I believe He did this to show us that He was not merely mouthing comforting platitudes. This was not something he said to help us cope with loss. He was telling us the truth. There is life beyond the grave!
That message was given an exclamation point when Jesus himself rose again and appeared to the disciples. If you have never looked at the evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus – you should do so. It will change your view of death – and of life.
Notice two things about what Jesus said. Jesus says this life is conditional. He said, “Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” The condition is that we must believe in Him. True belief is not merely assenting to certain facts. It’s not just believing that Jesus really lived or that He was a good man. It’s even more than believing Jesus is the Savior of the world. True belief means being willing to entrust ourselves to Him. I like to say that true faith means being willing to bet your life on Christ. It means trusting Him for forgiveness, trusting Him to guide us in our daily living, and trusting Him to take us to Heaven when we die.
I’m told that when a person plays big time poker they reach a point in the game when they are “all in”. It means they bet everything on the hand they have. If they do not win, they are done. True faith, if you will, is the willingness to be “all in” with Jesus.
I believe Judy had this kind of faith. Judy was a great woman. She had a wonderful heart. I looked forward to her hugs on Sunday mornings. However, our hope of Judy being in Heaven is not anchored to the fact that she was a great woman. Our hope is anchored to the fact that she trusted a great Savior. She faced death courageously because she had confidence in her Lord. She trusted Him as she faced her disease and as she faced death. I believe she is in Heaven because of who she trusted. I also believe it was because of her faith that she lived the way she did.
The second thing I want you to see is the question that is asked. Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” What an important question this is.
The question is important for your own eternal destiny. Your life beyond the grave will be determined on whether or not you trust this Jesus. If you do, he will grant you eternal life. If you don’t, you will not know that life. It’s the most important question of all. So, today may I ask, “do you believe in the Jesus that Judy trusted?” This is a good time to address that question. If you have never put your trust in Him I encourage you to do so today. If you have been putting off getting serious about a relationship with God, I urge you to recognize that it is a mistake to put it off longer.
But this question, “Do you believe this?” also has a bearing on how we view this day. You answer will determine whether you grieve with hope or without hope. We will all grieve. Loss is hard for the believer and the non-believer. There is nothing wrong with your tears. We will miss Judy. There will be times of deep emptiness no matter how you answer the question. However, whether you see this as a meaningless end to life or whether you view this as a glorious transition to new life depends on how you answer the question..
Those who believe the promise of God view death differently. Max Lucado writes,
Death is God’s way of taking people away from evil. From what kind of evil? An extended disease? An addiction? A dark season of rebellion? We don’t know. But we know that no person lives one day more or less than God intends. “All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old” (Ps. 139:16).
But her days here were so few …
His life was so brief …
To us it seems that way. We speak of a short life, but compared to eternity, who has a long one? A person’s days on earth may appear as a drop in the ocean. Yours and mine may seem like a thimbleful. But compared to the Pacific of eternity, even the years of Methuselah filled no more than a glass. James was not speaking just to the young when he said, “Your life is like a mist. You can see it for a short time, but then it goes away” (James 4:14).
In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely. And though you and I might wish for a longer life, God knows better.
And—this is important—though you and I may wish a longer life for our loved ones, they don’t. Ironically, the first to accept God’s decision of death is the one who dies.
While we are shaking heads in disbelief, they are lifting hands in worship. While we are mourning at a grave, they are marveling at heaven. While we are questioning God, they are praising God. 
As Judy was dying she was encouraged to “Look for the Light and go to the Angel”. Judy was “out of it” because of the morphine. Suddenly she opened her eyes wide (as in wonder). She closed them again and then died. Did she see the open arms of her Savior? Did she see a family member on the welcoming committee? Did she see and Angel? We can’t know for sure. I believe she saw something and what she saw was wonderful. Her family walked her to the door of Heaven and the Lord was there to take her the rest of the way. You may call this wishful thinking. I call it faith.
Someone has said that death is like making a trip (think of a child of divorce going away for the summer). Those they leave on the departure side are sad. They start missing the person before they ever get on the plane. They cry and their heart aches from sadness.
However, on the arrival side things are different. There people may cry also. But at the arrival gate the tears are different; those are tears of joy, anticipation and celebration. It all depends on which gate at which you stand.
Today we stand at the departure gate. We must say good-bye to someone we love. Our heart aches. We wonder how life can go on without her. However, on the arrival side are members of Judy’s family. Perhaps the mother she never got to know will be there waiting. The crowd will be cheering. Some may be applauding. And the hands that clap the loudest with be those of Jesus. Judy will smile that big smile of her that almost makes her eyes disappear.
Someday, if we too put our trust in Christ, we will also make that same journey. We will be saddened to say good-bye to those who are left to wave and weep. However, at the arrival gate we will rejoice at the sight of our Savior and of familiar faces. And on that day, when we see Judy again, it will seem as if we had only been apart a moment, and the sadness will give way to joy.
For now, we must believe. We must put our trust in the One who Himself rose from the dead. We grieve but not without hope.
Let’s pray together,
Father, we ache today. We seek your strength and your comfort. We are so grateful for the impact Judy made on our lives. Help us as we go through the scrapbooks of our mind and try to remember all the special times we shared. We pray that you would welcome her into her eternal home with joy.
We also ask that you help us. Help Syd as he rambles around a house that seems horribly empty. Help Kathy and Rich and their families as they try to pass on the heritage they have received. Our fear, O Lord, is that we will forget. So, help us to remember. Help us to cherish all those special moments.
Most of all, help us to trust in You. Help us to see beyond the grave, if not with our eyes, at least with our heart. Help us to believe your promise that those who live and believe in You, will live, even if we die. We ask these things in the strong and comforting name of Jesus Christ. Amen