We gather today to remember the vibrant and resilient life of Myrtle Fife and to mourn her passing.
Today we look for comfort and strength in the words of the Bible, where we read,
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 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? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.
Psalm 91 contains these powerful words,
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
It is with this confidence that we turn to the Lord today,
Our Father we bow before you and acknowledge that we are frail human beings. Our bodies, even the strongest of them, cannot last forever. You are our hope. You are our life. You are the One who calls us to something greater than this life has to offer.
Father, today we thank you for the life of Myrtle Fife. Her path was not always easy, but she kept going. In that sense she was a truly remarkable woman. Thank you for her example and her life. Help us to remember affectionately this day. It is impossible to do justice to the life she lived. However, help us to remember fondly. Comfort us in our grief and grant us hope that extends beyond the grave. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Myrtle Catherine Fife was born on August 24, 1916 in LaHarpe the daughter of George Earl and Elva Allen Shutwell.
The four girls all worked hard on the farm. Mrs. Fife was a member of the LaHarpe Union Church, the LaHarpe Historical Society and Club 16. She lived on a farm near Fountain Green, IL, where she raised hogs. She moved to LaHarpe in 1989. She cleaned homes and did odd jobs for several families. Myrtle enjoyed collecting antiques and quilting.
Myrtle was 97 when she died Monday, March 10, 2014 at her home.
She is survived by three daughters,
- Marilyn (Carl) Presley of Galesburg, IL,
- Margaret (Lyle) Oliver of Cantrall, IL
- and Norma Jean (Tucker) Heckenkamp of Quincy, IL,
- eleven grandchildren, Krista (David) Little, Larry (Linda) Johnson, Sandra (Larry) Waddell, Janette Curtis, Colleen Kelso, Lana Rogers, Brian (Ruth) Oliver, Nova Yaris, Scott (Cheryl) Oliver, Christina (Christopher) Shulte and Catherine (Jeff) Eckerle,
- thirteen great-grandchildren,
- three great-great-grandchildren
- and two sisters, Elsie Magin of LaHarpe and Ruth Kirchner of Keokuk.
She was preceded in death by one daughter, Carolyn Hasten and one sister, Lois Crane.
Myrtle Fife and hard work went together. Even up to the very last days of her life Myrtle had work she planned to do.
As Myrtle and her sisters grew up they learned how to work. Myrtle drove the horses and then later drove the tractor. From the very earliest of ages she already had decided that the best way to do things was the way she did things. Shortly after Elsie was born Myrtle was giving her instructions on how to do things right. That instruction continued up until her death!
Myrtle was adventurous. She and her sisters used to get up on the barn and slide down the metal roof. One day they even took a tricycle up to the roof to ride it down! Their dad saw them and put an end to “the big slide”.
When the girls were in high school the family was able to save $75.00 and purchased a Chevy Coupe. Myrtle drove her sisters to school and they all felt pretty special.
Myrtle was in a hard marriage. She was grateful for the children that came from that relationship but the marriage broke her heart. It took her a long time to deal with the grief of her divorce and the rejection and betrayal she experienced.
Myrtle however was never one to mope around. She seemed even more motivated to take care of her children and make it on her own. It was almost like she had something to prove. It meant times were tough at home but it was what she felt she needed to do.
She loved raising pigs. She was always buying or selling pigs. She worked for anyone and everyone. She cleaned houses, did painting, did child-care and even wall-papering. Truth is, there was no task, it seemed, she wasn’t ready to take on.
She worked all the time to make ends meet. However, when there was a need in the community, Myrtle was always there with some kind of food.
Her heart broke again when her daughter Carolyn died. Krista was very young and Myrtle took in her Grand-daughter to raise her. And raise her she did. She used to bring Krista with her when she would work at various homes and lay her down while she worked. Later she made Krista part of the team. When Myrtle went on a bus trip she took Krista with her. Myrtle was in better shape financially to do things with Krista that she wasn’t able to do with her daughters.
Myrtle received Social Security money for Krista. She never spent any of it. She saved it and gave it to David and Krista later. Did I tell you that Myrtle was independent and determined? She was not a person who needed help from anyone.
Myrtle liked to garden, she loved to Quilt, she stripped and stained furniture, she learned how to cane chairs, and she loved to cook. From early one she cooked her own sage and used it to make her special dressing which was a family staple at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Myrtle took great pride in her home. She was always cleaning and washing the dishes in her cupboard. She laid the brick sidewalk at her home. She had David come and wash the outside of her house twice a year. She even made sure she washed the rocks outside of her home every year! She took great pride in having a well kept home.
In the fall, Myrtle always raked her own leaves and she could tell you how many bags of leaves she raked and took out to the burn pile. She always helped her neighbors. Even after she couldn’t drive anymore she still insisted on walking to church!
I remember one day she showed up at church all dressed up and walked into the church and began to head to the sanctuary. I asked her what she was doing. She told me (a little perturbed) that she was coming to church. When I told her it was Thursday she laughed, turned around, and went home. It was one of the few times I ever saw her even a little confused.
Myrtle was active in the community. She loved to play cards and Bingo at the Senior Center (even though she wouldn’t have lunch there). In fact, Myrtle almost never ate in a restaurant. She loved to fix food but didn’t need anyone fixing food for her. (Did I mention she was independent and strong-willed?)
Myrtle donated a quilt to the Sr. Center for a raffle. She also worked tirelessly at the museum. She was there every Monday and Saturday. She loved to cut out coupons for a project of the American Legion Auxilary. They sent the coupons to service families at home and abroad to help them make ends meet. When Myrtle was at the museum she was always cutting out coupons! In fact even when she couldn’t get to the museum any more Ada Hubbard brought coupons to her house so she could continue to serve in this way. She always wanted to be busy.
For my 20th anniversary as Pastor of the Union Church in 2002, Myrtle made us a beautiful huge “Virginia Reel” quilt. It is among our cherished possessions. Each stitch is an expression of love.
If you know Myrtle, you know she loved to go to auctions and she always would buy something. Her house and her garage are filled with things she picked up at auctions. She could tell exactly which auction went with which “treasure”. She loved antiques and all kinds of other things. Myrtle had saved her money diligently and was now able to have some fun at auctions and she did have fun! She was able to see beauty in old pieces which she would strip and refinish. She was immensely talented.
When Myrtle started to fail she was in the Nursing home for just a little while. She hated it! She never used (or even knew she had) her “call light” because she knew she could do things on her own. She took it upon herself to push other patients in the wheelchairs. She insisted on taking her own bath. She wasn’t sick and certainly wasn’t disabled! The only thing she liked about the Nursing home was winning prizes at Bingo! I have to imagine she hated having to eat Nursing home food!!
When Myrtle went back home she wasn’t particularly keen on having other people in her house doing housework. That was her job. Besides, there was a right way and a wrong way to do things and they weren’t doing it the right way! (I told you she was independent, right?)
When I went to see her last week she told me she still had a lot she needed to do and insisted on getting up and sitting in the living room. After all, what kind of host would lie in bed when they had a guest?
Myrtle Fife was a warm-hearted, outspoken, hard-working, talented, and independent woman. She was faithful in her church attendance and her faith was seen in the way she lived her life. She loved to laugh and was always ready with a story. We thank God for her.
Proverbs 31 is about a virtuous wife. It does not apply to Myrtle in the sense we normally think of, however, as you hear this description you can’t help but think of her.
13 She finds wool and flax and busily spins it.
14 She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household
and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
16 She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She is energetic and strong, a hard worker.
18 She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.
19 Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber.
20 She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.
21 She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.
22 She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.
Doesn’t that describe the kind of woman Myrtle was?
The apostle Paul wrote,
9 Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you.
The Bible points out that those who work hard to provide for their needs, those who refuse to simply sit back and let others care for them, are evidencing a deep faith in God. They believe if they serve the Lord the best they can, He will provide for them.
I sense that this was Myrtle’s heart. Instead of falling completely apart when her husband left her and when her daughter died, she fought through the heartache and kept moving forward trusting that God would meet her needs. And He did.
There are many people, of course, who believe there is no God and no such thing as life beyond the grave. For them, all the hard work is simply to amass a pile of stuff that you leave to your family. That’s it. Life is basically a mad dash to nothingness.
That’s not our hope today. I am not trying to imply that Myrtle worked her way into Heaven. She knew better than that. There is no way for us to “earn” Heaven. Every one of us is a sinful person. We turn away from the Lord constantly. We deserve Hell.
However the wonderful message of the Bible is that God became man in the person of Jesus, lived a perfect life, suffered what we suffer, and then gave His life (of infinite worth) as a payment for our sin. He came to be our substitute. He suffered what we deserved to suffer.
The Bible tells us that those who entrust themselves to Jesus as their own Savior; those who cling to Him; will live even though they die. They are made “right with God” because of His death on our behalf.
It all sounds pretty good. But how do we know it is true? We know because of the Resurrection of Jesus! After being confirmed dead and being laid in a tomb for 30+ hours he opened the tomb and emerged fully alive. He was seen by hundreds of witnesses who ate with Him, fished with Him, learned from Him, and talked with Him for the next 40 days. These same people watched Him ascend into Heaven.
Jesus told us that we too will live beyond death if we believe in Him. If we will follow Him and put our hope in Him (rather than in ourselves) we will live eternally.
Now, you of course, don’t have to believe this. But I think a pretty good principle in life is this: if you have to choose between opinions on whether or not there is life beyond the grave, listen to the guy who Rose from the dead!
We stand here today and rejoice not simply because Myrtle worked hard. We rejoice because she was a woman who trusted Christ. She did what she felt He wanted her to do, even when life was very hard. I believe that this is not the end for Myrtle Fife. In truth, this is her finest day. It is her graduation day.
At the end of 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul concluded his comments on the resurrection this way:
58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
In other words, of all the treasures that Myrtle was able to purchase because of her hard work . . . the best treasures are the ones waiting for her in Heaven.
And one thing I’m pretty sure of is this: Myrtle is not sitting on a cloud playing a harp. She is engaged in some kind of fruitful labor as her way of honoring and celebrating the Lord who saved her. And I am sure that her stubborn independence has given way to joyful dependence on the One who has loved her from before the world was created. She can rejoice and serve the One who has walked with her throughout her life. The struggle is over. The joy has begun.
From Myrtle’s life we learn several things,
- Weakness and helplessness are a state of mind.
- You can do whatever you set your mind to do.
- The trials of life can deflate us or they can motivate us. The choice is ours.
- Faith is seen most clearly in the acts of love we express to others.
- Passing on what you have learned is one of the great blessings of life.
- The best way to live is to not stop living, until you die.
- Perhaps cleanliness IS next to godliness.
- Finally, the real satisfaction of working hard in life will come most fully when we stand before the Lord and hear Him say “Well Done!”
Well done, Myrtle Fife. Well done!
Let’s pray together.
Father, we thank you for Myrtle’s life. Thank you for her spirit, her determination, and her resiliency. She was a remarkable woman. We can’t even begin to know how many lives you touched through her. Thank you for the blessing of her life.
Our Father, I ask that you help us to remember her fully. Grant comfort to this family. Help them to build on this foundation that has been laid. Help them in the weeks ahead with the work that is yet to be done. Grant that there might be many wonderful memories shared.
Lord, help us to use this day to consider and address our own mortality. Help us to strengthen our grip on the Lord Jesus Christ. Grant that we too might live faithfully so that when we stand before you, by your mercy and grace, we might know the incredible joy of hearing your “Well Done.” We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.