We have gathered this morning to pay honor to the life of Virginia Shutwell even as we seek comfort as we mourn her passing.
We do so, not with the perspective of despair, but of hope. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” [John 14:2-3] Our comfort today comes from the belief that this is not the end, it is just a point of transition.
Please pray with me,
Our Father, we ask for your comfort and grace as we gather today. Help us not only to remember well but to give thanks to you for the blessing of Virginia’s life. Help us to see beyond the pain to grasp the hope that is sure but unseen. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Virginia Elaine Shutwell, was born March 26, 1920 in LaHarpe, the daughter of Howard and Helen Avery Alton. Virginia was a graduate of the Cuba, IL High School. She married Vernon Shutwell in Middletown, IA on May 11, 1939. The first home they lived in was actually the same as the last home they lived in. She and Vernon lived in the upstairs of her current home until they moved out to the farm. They were back in their first home when Vernon preceded her in death on March 27, 2001. For awhile Virginia worked at the care center in LaHarpe.
Virginia was a hardworking homemaker most of her life. Times were not always easy and she knew how to stretch limited resources and still provide the meals for all the people who would come to help on the farm. She frequently talked about putting another potato in the pot when someone unexpected stopped at dinnertime. Things were never so hard that she couldn’t be generous and gracious.
She raised spectacular gardens, was a talented seamstress, loved flowers and birds, and had a knack for fixing things. She was a good cook. Her family remembers her cube steak and gravy.
She had a great sense of humor and enjoyed kidding people. She would tell silly riddles like this one: “On a mule you find 2 feet behind and 2 you find before. Don’t stand at the 2 behind, before you find what the 2 behind, before (be for).”
When I ask people about Virginia I always get the same response: Vernon and Virginia were some of the nicest people you would ever meet. They were kind, thoughtful, and generous with their time and resources.
Virginia was independent. She never wanted to “put anyone out” and was slow to share “her business” with anyone. While Vernon liked to sit on the front porch and visit with people, Virginia enjoyed sitting out in the back even though she hated the moles in her yard! If you asked her how she was doing she would always say, “I can’t complain”.
Virginia was a good neighbor. She enjoyed visiting with her neighbors and took a special interest in the Burt children next door and the Palmer children across the street. Virginia remembered every birthday with a card and gift. For the Burts she always signed her cards, “From ‘Virginia next door” (to distinguish from Virginia Palmer, across the street). The kids knew if they came over to visit Vernon on the front porch, Virginia would always have cookies to share. I’m told that it was impossible to share something with Virginia without getting something in return. If someone shared some food with her, the container would be returned with something (like more cookies) in it. Virginia would always notice when Melissa was out mowing the lawn and would sometimes shake her finger at her to let her know that it was too hot to be mowing the lawn.
I used to enjoy visiting with Virginia when she was out walking or at the Post Office. Lately, it was common to see her out at Dollar General. I’m told that there were times when she was in the store so long that the staff would forget she was even in there! She was loyal to her store! If there was a chance she could buy it at “her” Dollar General, she would not buy it anywhere else!
Virginia enjoyed pasta, tomatoes, and Dove chocolate. She also enjoyed going out to eat. She enjoyed eating at the Country Café and always tried to save room for pie. She enjoyed Hardee’s and Dairy Queen in Carthage, and in Macomb she would have a Burger King Whopper Jr and then have a McFlurry (from MacDonalds) for dessert. Whenever she was out in the car she always noticed who had mowed their roadways and who did not!
Since she was home alone a lot Virginia liked to watch TV. She liked to watch the Chicago Bulls, Dancing with the Stars, America’s Got Talent, Pickers and Pawn Stars. She did NOT like the show about hoarders.
Virginia loved her family. She was good about telling her kids and grandkids how proud she was of them. She was an encourager. She was a great mom, mother-in-law, Grandmother, and Great-Grandmother. She was a caring neighbor and a person who cared about her community.
Virginia took life as it was. She had her share of heartache. She buried a son and a grand-daughter. She cared for her husband while he had Alzheimer’s. She lost her special friend, Rose Collins who used to check in on her every day. Virginia endured these losses with an attitude similar to that of Job, “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord”.
Virginia died Sunday, July 29th after being in the hospital for over two weeks. She had a successful appendectomy but her body never recovered from the surgery. I suspect she died much the way she would have wanted to die. She didn’t have to be “cared for” and didn’t “put anyone out” for more than a few weeks. That’s just the way she would have wanted it.
She is survived by her son, Jerry and his wife Peggy Shutwell of Biggsville, IL, 2 daughters, Sharon and her husband Dick White of Tucson, AZ and Mary Beth Shutwell of Las Vegas, NV, 6 grandchildren, Milissa Wise, Stacey Bucchianeri, Chad Shutwell, Michelle Dunn, Jennifer Thompson and Nicolas Shutwell, 10 great – grandchildren, 5 step-grandchildren, 1 brother, Howard Craig Alton of Lake Tapps Washington, 1 sister, Patsy Russell of Washington, and many nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her parents, a brother, her husband, 1 son (Ronnie) and 1 granddaughter (Megan Shutwell).
In the book of 1 Peter we read these words,
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6,7)
Virginia was a person who took this command to heart. To be honest, I wish Virginia attended church more often. I would have liked to sit down with her and have a theological discussion. Frankly, that wasn’t her style. Like many in her generation, her faith was private. It was something you DID, rather than talk about.
Virginia was a member of the LaHarpe Union Church. She used to stop in an pick up a bulletin every week to keep up on what was happening. She served for many years as part of the monthly mailing crew. She enjoyed serving and visiting with friends.
I believe Virginia had put her trust in Christ and sought to live out her faith. I would like to think that this is why she was humble and tried to focus on the needs of others. She lived her life in a way she believed was pleasing to the Lord.
The promise of the Bible is that if you live your life in humility and trust in Christ, you will receive the reward of honor before God in Heaven. It is tempting as we stand here to think that this is just wishful thinking to help us cope with the grim reality of death. However, I believe this belief is anchored to something very real: the Resurrection of Jesus himself. He came to earth, taught with authority, gave His life as a sacrifice for us, and then rose from the dead. It was this same Jesus who said, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live even though he dies.”
Whenever I wonder if this Christianity thing is really true (I guess I am suspicious by nature), I go back and examine the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. Because of this I believe His promise has unmatched credibility.
The point is this: Today it is natural to experience a variety of emotions: you may have regrets or feelings of guilt. There may be numbness. There could even be anger. All are common emotions at a time of loss. However, in this emotional time the thing we should not feel is hopeless. Jesus has cracked the door just a little to show us that there is something wonderful on the other side of this life for those who put their faith in Him.
Virginia Shutwell has begun to enjoy the reward of her lifetime of faithfulness. She is reunited with those faithful ones who have gone before her. She has experienced the true greatness of God’s character, love, and mercy. And I suspect she has been surprised to learn all the ways God used her to bless others. She was a quiet woman but not an insignificant woman!
Today, our job is to do several things. First, we should thank God for the blessing that we too often took for granted. Second, we should cast our cares on the Lord. We must face the very real fact that this life is short and this should remind us to see the bigger picture. It is our job to strengthen our grip on the Lord and examine our own hearts to make sure that we have put our trust in the person and work of Christ.
Finally, we work to learn the lessons of Virginia’s life and apply what we learn in our own lives. Here are just ten lessons from her life we can embrace,
- Simple kindnesses, extended consistently, will make a profound impact.
- It is not how much you have that matters; it is what you do with what you have that counts.
- When we stop looking at ourselves and instead focus on others, we discover life to be much richer than most people ever realize.
- Cookies always send a message of love!
- People respond to encouragement more than criticism.
- Nothing tastes better than a tomato from your own garden.
- Marriage isn’t easy, but the rewards of working hard at your marriage are well worth the effort. The result is a blessing few ever experience.
- True faith is about walking, not talking.
- A sense of humor will brighten any day.
- Life takes turns we don’t understand. It is best to put our trust in the Lord rather than in our ability to understand.
We will miss Virginia Shutwell more than we thought. However, if we learn what she had to teach us . . . we will see her again.
Please pray with me,
Father, we thank you for Virginia’s life. Thank you for the love she shared and the character she demonstrated. I ask now that you welcome her into the place that you have prepared for her. Grant her the blessings of your mercy and grace.
Help this family as they grieve. Help them to remember well and to cherish what they remember.
Finally, help us all to take these lessons and learn from them. Help us to renew our faith and our trust in You. Help us we pray in Jesus name. Amen.