Michael J. Mealey

We gather this afternoon filled with sadness. We mourn the death of Mike Mealey. Today we long for comfort in the time of sorrow. However, we also gather to remember and celebrate the life of one who touched our lives.  Today we remember and grieve.

We look to God for help today. We need His comfort in our time of loss and we look to Him for answers. We can’t help but ask: Is this really all there is?

The Bible affirms that this life is not all there is. The Bible tells us,

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Cor 5:1-4)

The Psalmist spoke words that bring comfort to our heart,

      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. [Psalm 23]

With these things in mind let’s turn to God in prayer,

Our Gracious Father, we ache today. We have watched Mike waste away before our very eyes. His death has shaken our world. We don’t think of people his age dying.

Father, help us. Help us as we grieve but also help us as we look for answers. Help us to remember and to give thanks for Mike’s life even as we seek direction for our own lives.  Amen

Michael J. Mealey was born on September 20, 1954 in Red Oak, Iowa, the son of I.N. and Joan Kimler Mealey. Mike was not supposed to be born in Red Oak, Iowa. Joan was away visiting when she went into labor. Mike was born a couple of months premature. That’s not a real big deal today but it was a very big deal in the 1950’s. Mike was one of the very first people to use the brand new huge breathing machine that was designed to help people like him. Mike had asthma for a good portion of his life. In fact, he probably would have played baseball in high school as a left-handed pitcher but his asthma kept him from doing so.

Mike grew up on the farm. He enjoyed life with his sisters. As siblings will do, Mary tormented Mike, and Mike and Mary tormented Leigh Ann. There were egg fights in the chicken house, getting stuck in the mud, cheating at Hide and Seek, and much more. The closeness these siblings shared was something very special.  As they got older they became closer. They shared many things together. They could be honest with each other in a way they could not be with others. When Leigh Ann was diagnosed with cancer, Mike called her every single day to encourage her and listen to her. When Mike got cancer his sisters stood by his side continuously.

Mike was a 1973 graduate of LaHarpe High School. He attended Spoon River College in Canton, Illinois for 2 years and graduated from Western Illinois University in Macomb in 1977 with a degree in Ag. Mike loved the farm.  He enjoyed helping others but would have loved to have had his own farm. He never had the opportunity. He would talk excitedly about being up all night pulling calves. As Ted Anderson said, “It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy working on the railroad, and with all the friends he made through his job, he just had dirt in his veins, and wanted to be able to farm all the time.”

Mike’s family always gave him a hard time because Mike always greeted them with “Howdy!” Scott and Todd made it a point to always answer “Howdy” back. His nephews used to always talk about how all the old people drove Buicks. One year for Christmas Mike presented a Buick Visor (from the John Deere Classic) to the boys as a Christmas gift! Mike did have an ornery side to him. He would often say to his sisters, “Get me a cup of coffee woman!” (And they did). (There was a story behind that exchange that no one remembers).

Mike was one of those guys who would wave at everyone as he drove (by wave I mean he would lift his index finger). If you asked him “who was that?” he would say, “I don’t know.” If you pressed it and said, “So why did you wave?” Mike’s answer would be “just being friendly” and laugh.

He enjoyed sports. He was a really good left-handed golfer. Mike loved golfing with anyone who would go with him. He and Ted played golf all over. Ted said they had many people with whom they enjoyed playing golf. They really enjoyed playing with Dick and Bill Rasmussen because “you never knew what to expect with those two.” They even had a shot that was named after Dick.

Kevin Beals said Mike would always beat him at golf and knew just how to tease you when you hit a bad shot or missed a simple putt. Kevin said “Even when he was having the worst round of golf Mike would have them both laughing and having a good time regardless.”

Mike was a Chicago White Sox fan and always enjoyed going to Leatherneck games with Blake.  Mike loved to fish. He fished with his mom as a kid and kept on fishing with Blake. He and Blake went to some Cardinal games with Steve and Alex Rodeffer. He enjoyed sports.

Mike worked at the Iowa Army Ammunitions plant and worked many years for the railroad. He started out working for the Keokuk Junction railroad. Over the years he was a conductor, a switchman, and an Engineer. Mike moved from Keokuk to the Burlington plant. The last several years he traveled as a locomotive mechanic.

The best story from those years happened in 1993 the year of the big flood. The water was coming up fast in the workshop and the guys were trying to rescue as much stuff as they could from the rapidly rising waters. The water had risen enough so it filled the pits where they worked on the engines and covered the tracks. Tom Link had just warned Mike to be careful of the pit and Mike assured him that he knew where the pit was. Next thing there was a splash and all that was visible was Mike’s hat! It was apparent he did NOT know where the pit was. He did not (and still has not) lived that one down!

Mike was a very handy guy. He could do almost anything and what he didn’t know how to do he was willing to learn. He did the remodeling in his home. He put a new roof on the house, new windows, new siding and redid just about every room from floor to ceiling with light fixtures, plumbing fixtures and more. He was proud of his work. He got the whole house done except one room.

Mike was the kind of guy who would get up at any hour of the day or night to help a friend or neighbor. If you asked him if you could borrow a tool he was more than likely to come over and help you solve the problem doing the work himself. He had the ability to look at a problem and then find a solution to the problem. Mike would always drop whatever he was doing to help someone else.

Mike really didn’t like to drive. He had escaped serious injury in both and auto and motorcycle accidents and a result he was happy to let others drive. He was however a nervous passenger. You would see him holding on to the door and braking with his foot when he would see a car getting ready to pull into the road.

Mike Mealey was a quiet guy. Leigh Ann said it well when she said he was the kind of guy who liked to fly “underneath the radar”. He was uncomfortable in the spotlight. He didn’t look for or desire attention or applause. He lived his life simply trying to do what was right. He wanted to be a friend to others and he was very successful in that desire. Let me give you some examples.

When Tom and Teresa Link got married Mike was Tom’s best man. Mike loaned Tom his car. Friends decorated the car and used something which ate away at the paint and ruined the paint job. Tom, of course, was horrified and offered to have the car repainted. Mike wouldn’t hear of it. He drove that car for years with a clearly visible “Just Married” on it.

Just a year ago when the ground was so wet and farmers were having such a hard time getting in their crops. Mike ran into Michael Butler. He knew it was really difficult to find help so he asked, “Hey, could you use some help?” Mike worked his job during the day and helped Michael at night and on the weekends. It was an act of kindness that will never be forgotten.

When Ted and Judi moved to Georgia they would still spend hours talking on the phone (I’m quoting now) “like a couple of old women catching up on all the hometown gossip.”

David Lampe married Mike’s cousin Lana, and said one of the best parts of becoming a part of the family was meeting Mike.  He too reports that they talked often while David was in Arizona. He calls him the “nicest person I’ve ever known.”

Mike had a great sense of humor, a big laugh, and a wonderfully warm heart. In this day when so many people are only concerned about themselves and their needs Mike was a rare individual. He was always concerned about the other person.

  • His listened (and listened carefully) rather than always feeling the need to talk
  • He put the needs of others before his own needs
  • He would start a conversation by asking a question and then would sit back and take it all in.
  • He was always gracious and kind.
  • He was so self-conscious that he would sometimes put so much stress on himself that he would bring on a migraine.
  • Even in these last months when he was so tired and often in pain, he would never let on. He would never dream of asking you to leave. He always wanted to be a gracious host.
  • Sometimes you had the feeling he wouldn’t even tell the Doctors or Nurses the truth about how he was feeling because he didn’t want to bother them.

Mike served his community on the LaHarpe Fire Department and was a LaHarpe Township Trustee. He was a member and past Master of the LaHarpe Masonic Lodge #195. And he was a member of the Twin Oaks Golf and Country Club in Blandinsville, Illinois.

Mike was a great friend but family was most important to Mike. He was very close to his sisters and always looked forward to talking to them and to their visits. And if you knew Mike you knew he adored his son. He didn’t spend near as much time over the years with Blake as he would have liked but he was always at any event Blake was involved in. If there was any possibility Blake would stop by the house he made sure he was going to be home. He loved being able to go to Chicago Blackhawk Hockey games,  Leatherneck games, and Cardinal games with Blake and Steve and Alex Rodeffer. He loved the relaxing times they went fishing and the increasingly competitive rounds of golf.

Mike loved keeping track of what Blake was doing. If there was something about Blake in the newspaper he made sure to point it out to all his friends. He looked forward to phone calls and visits and even did some “cyber-stalking” on Facebook through Leigh Ann’s account! Mike wanted to be part of his son’s life.

Mike made it a point to know who Blake’s friends were. He was very proud of his son. He knew Blake was growing up and making his own friends and carving out his own life. He didn’t resent that fact. He looked forward to seeing that new chapter in Blake’s life. He was grateful for his son. Blake stepped up after his dad got sick and that warmed Mike’s heart more than any medicine could. The one thing that kept Mike motivated during his battle with cancer was the desire to see Blake graduate from college.  He felt he needed to do all he could to make it to that time. He was willing to take any treatment and endure any pain if only to get to that day. Mike didn’t get to that day, but it wasn’t because he didn’t give it everything he had. When Blake would have to leave he would tell his dad when he would see him again and Mike would always say the same thing, “I’ll be here.” I’m pretty sure Mike meant that physically and emotionally.

Mike desperately wanted to be a good dad and like so many other things in his life he was afraid he had fallen short. He didn’t. Mike would tell you that the cancer was a blessing because it brought he and Blake closer together. He wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.

I must say I have never talked to so many people who referred to the same person (Mike) as one of their “best friends”. This love, respect, and affection was never more evident than the benefit that was held in his honor a few months ago. 600 or so people were there to support Mike. Most of them could tell you a story of how Mike had touched their lives.

I know Mike was deeply touched by all the kindness expressed that day. But I suspect Mike was also surprised that so many people came out to support him. He may even have been surprised that so many people even knew him. He was a humble guy. He wasn’t trying to be popular; he just wanted to do the right thing. When he helped others it wasn’t because he sought some king of “credit”; he was just being a neighbor or a friend. Mike Mealey never saw himself as an exceptional man. Yet as you talk to family, friends, co-workers, and community members you will discover that they recognized just how exceptional he was.

Mike died early in the morning on November 18th at the Great River Hospice House. He kept a positive outlook until the very end. For those who were watching, he taught us how to die with dignity and grace. Mike seemed to draw a comfort and strength like that found in the Serenity Prayer. We only know the first few lines but I want to read the entire prayer,

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Mike Mealey is survived by his son, Blake Mealey of LaHarpe, two sisters, Mary J. (Jim) Yonker of Poplar Grove, Illinois and Leigh Ann (Curt) Gregory of Vernon Hills, Illinois, two nephews, Scott (Amy) Finch of Huntley, Illinois and Todd Finch of Lakemoor, Illinois and three great-nieces and nephews. He is welcomed into Heaven by his parents.

[Song – Toby Keith]

Mike Mealey was a good guy. He was also a smart guy. He knew his cancer had a big head start and he knew it was a long shot to beat it to the finish line. He also knew that his time was running out to get right with God.

The first time I talked to Mike after his diagnosis things were well advanced. We had that conversation everyone needs to have. Mike was not under any illusion that he was good enough to get to Heaven. He knew instinctively that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3;23). He knew he had done things that were displeasing to God. He knew He should have given thought to the things of God much earlier in his life. The fact is, Mike wasn’t sure that God could forgive him.

I reminded Mike that the Bible is filled with accounts of people who had really blown it in life. There was David the murderer and adulterer, Noah the drunk, Lot who was guilty of incest, Jonah who ran away from God because he refused to do what God told him to do, and there was the Apostle Paul who had executed Christians before he was converted. I assured Mike that God had sent Jesus into the world to save flawed and damaged people like him and like me.

I explained that getting right with God involves three big steps

  1. We had to acknowledge we could not save ourselves and that we were guilty of resisting and rebelling against God. In other words we had to drop our defenses and admit the truth about our lives. We had to stop lying to ourselves that we were “good enough”. Mike had already done that.
  2. We needed to be truly sorry for the way we lived not simply because it hurt people but because it was an act of rebellion against God who deserves our obedience rather than our “attitude”.
  3. We needed to embrace Jesus Christ as the only one who could save us. He came to earth, He taught us, and He died for the purpose of making it possible for us to have a good relationship with God. It was Jesus who said, “I am the resurrection and the life He who believes in me will live even though he dies.”

I explained that Jesus, as the Son of God, was the only one qualified to pay the debt we owed to God. When we put our confidence and trust in Him; when we embraced Him and sought to follow Him, we would be forgiven . . . completely forgiven . . .of everything we’ve done, everything that haunts us, everything that fills our life with regret.

I told Mike it wasn’t about saying certain “magic words” because God looked at the heart. I warned him that simply confessing faith in Christ as kind of a “fire insurance” might fool us, but it wouldn’t fool God. It had to be the real thing.

Mike had questions and to the best of my ability I gave answers (some of them were “I don’t know). Mike was not angry at God. He accepted the fact that things happen that are outside of our control. He wanted to be ready to face the Lord. He said he wanted to “think about it”.

Mike talked to several people about finding life in Christ. We talked several times after that visit but it never was a good time to talk. There were either people around or Mike just wasn’t feeling well.

A week and a half ago Mike went into the Hospice House in Burlington. When I arrived early one afternoon I was surprised (and grateful) to find him alone and sitting in a chair. There was little small talk. He was ready to talk about ultimate issues. He told me that talking about such personal issues was very difficult. He wanted me to know that he did believe in God and He did want His forgiveness. He told me, with regret, that this was something he should have done a long time ago. He asked if I would pray with him. We went into the little room off of his room and prayed right then and there. I told Mike that he should tell people that he had turned to Christ and made his peace with God.  He said, “Really?” I assured him that people would want to know.  Just in case he didn’t tell you . . . I’m telling you now.

Minutes after this conversation visitors started entering the room. I felt that God had created a “divine appointment” so one of His children might have one more opportunity to come home.

Obviously, I can’t know Mike’s heart any more than you can know my heart. Maybe they were mere words from the mouth of a desperate man. But I don’t think so. I think Mike wanted to believe and I think He did believe that the Jesus who died on the cross actually did so for him.

The amazing thing about God’s grace is that it is not contingent on how much we know (the thief on the cross knew little but was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise”). It is not contingent on certain deeds we do. Jesus said, “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” Mike didn’t have time to grow in faith but that is not a condition of forgiveness. God is like a loving parent who holds out to his arms to a child in a burning building. He says jump. He urges his child to trust Him. All the child has to do is trust that those loving arms will catch them. I believe Mike jumped. I believe the Father caught Him. I believe the Lord of Life has taken him home with a grace that will be infinitely more staggering than the benefit that was held in Mike’s honor.

As we look at Mike’s death we are reminded of three things.  First we are reminded of God’s Sovereignty. No matter how much we feel we are in control of our lives; it’s not true. At any time God can change our plans and our circumstances. God is the One who is in control. We are like those kids who sit in the car in their car seat with a plastic steering wheel in front of them. They may think they are actually steering the car but they aren’t.

Second, we are reminded of our own mortality. Mike was just a few months older than me. I hope I still have a couple of decades left in life. Mike’s battle has reminded me that there are no guarantees. He’s reminded me that the only time I have is right now. This is the time to cherish people. This is the time to express love and gratitude. This is the time to stop playing at life and strive to do something that will matter even after we are gone.

Third, we are reminded that the issues of death and eternity are real and should not be put off. Every day it seems, I talk to people who vow that someday they are going to get serious about their relationship with Christ. This always troubles me. It troubles me because they seem to think that living outside of a relationship with God is better than being His follower. I believe with all my heart they are wrong. It’s true that when you follow Christ you do different things than when you are still chasing after the brass ring the world holds just beyond your grasp. But I reject the conclusion that the life of the disciple is less than what the world offers. I have found it to be so much more.

I am also troubled by those who put off getting serious about following Christ because they may not be given the time that Mike was given. This is the most important issue of this life (and the next)!  To put off addressing the issue seems to me to be a very foolish gamble.

I am troubled by those who say they believe in God but the God they believe in is a construct of their own imagination. Their God has no standards, gives no direction, and is indifferent to sin. They are running after a mirage that will disappear when they need it most.

So what I am suggesting is this: Remember Mike and give thanks to God for his life. But I urge you to also learn from Mike. Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty, face your own mortality, and jump into the loving arms of the God who has been waiting for you to come home all your life. Once you have done so, follow Him wholeheartedly. Drink deeply of the life He has to offer. And do so with the knowledge that someday, Mike will be there with a big smile waiting to welcome you into the incredible life that we did not earn, we do not deserve, but has been extended to us as a gift that is greater than anything the world has ever known or imagined.

It is that hope that mitigates our sorrow. Until then let us embrace the lessons of Mike’s life,

  • Let’s make time for and give to others
  • Let’s enjoy the journey
  • Let’s be friendly even to strangers
  • Let’s cherish the family that God has given us
  • Let’s give each other a playful hard time to show affection
  • Let’s work a little harder to “keep in touch”
  • Let us try to “live beneath the radar” embracing the humble reality that the world does not revolve around us
  • And let us jump into the arms of God – sooner rather than later.

[SONG]

Our Father, we have been blessed by the life of Mike Mealey. He warmed our hearts, he stood with us in trials, he brightened our lives, and too often we took it all for granted. Today we ask you to open your arms to our friend. We plead not on the basis of his goodness but of your grace. We loved Mike, but we know You loved him more. Grant Him the joy and forgiveness that can only come from You.

Lord, grant Mike’s family and his dear friends an abiding comfort. Grant warm and vivid memories. Help them to find strength when they feel weak from loss. Help them to remember and be spurred on by thoughts of “what Mike would do”.  Most of all, build within them an abiding sense of your presence and your love.

We ask now that you lead and keep us until the day we gather together in Your House. Amen.