Monday, March 21, 2016

Funeral Talk Number Two

G. Mark Albright, Feb. 23, 2016

Sara enjoyed life and was fun to be around.  She will be sorely missed.  Everyone who knew her enjoyed being in her presence.  She radiated goodness and was close to the spirit.  Mourning the loss of a loved one is one of the deepest expressions of pure love.  It is a natural response to the divine commandment that “thou shall live together in love insomuch that thou shall weep for the loss of them that die.”  D&C 42:45 We can’t really appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now when loved ones pass away.  As Elder Maxwell said, “The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.”
Sara had a firm testimony that we lived before we came to this Earth as spirit sons and daughters of our father in heaven.  There we eagerly anticipated coming to earth to obtain a physical body.  Sara strongly believed that in the pre-existence we willingly accepted the risks of mortality which would allow all of us the right of free agency and accountability for how we live.  Sara knew that death could come as an uninvited guest at any time.  But She also firmly believed what President Joseph F. Smith taught, “May I say for the consolation of those who mourn, and for the comfort and guidance of us all, that no righteous person is taken before their time.  In the case of the faithful saints, they are simply transferred to other fields of labor.  The Lord’s work goes on in this life and in the world of spirits.”
Where is Sara now?  The scriptures teach us that after this life our spirits will be set free from pain, sorrow, grief and disappointment to enjoy life to the fullest extent possible without a body, until the resurrection.  We will thirst no more, hunger no more, and tire no more.  We will be full of life, full of vigor, with no pain and no weariness.
The Prophet Alma taught this principle beautifully when he said: “Now concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection.  The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all their cares and sorrow.”  Alma 40, verse 11 and 12.
I am grateful to know that Sara is now in a place where she is again full of energy, vitality, and vigor with no pain and no weariness that wore out her body while she underwent her long battle with cancer and her long and painful ordeals of the last several months.  We’re grateful that she had a full and balanced life surrounded by friends and loved ones and sweet memories of many successful accomplishments.  Despite the pains and sufferings that Sara went through, her testimony never waivered.  Her love of the Lord, the brethren, the scriptures and her family never faltered.  One of the hidden blessings of cancer is that it allows the patient time to gather their loved ones around and to plan and prepare for their departure into the next life.  Sara, always the optimist, appreciated the opportunity she had to bid farewell over the last few months to her family and friends.
Sara strongly believed and looked forward to being together as an eternal family with her loved ones.  Joseph Smith described it this way:  “The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul … up against the evils of life.  It is like they are taking a long journey and on the return we will meet them with increased joy.”
In other words, Sara believed that in every death there is a re-birth.  Her spirit passed into the spirit world (upon her passing here from mortality) to a reunion of loved ones, family and friends who have previously overcome the struggles of life and gone home.  This reunion of friends and family associations on the other side of the veil robs death of its terror, and sheds life and light on darkness and sorrow.  Christ himself was the first to gain the victory over the grave.  In Him is the sting of death swallowed up.  Sara did not look upon death as an enemy.  With full understanding and eternal perspective, Sara had faith that replaced her fear.  Hope displaced despair as she prepared for this experience.  The Lord said, “Fear not even unto death, for in this world your joy is not full but in me your joy is full.”  D&C 10136
Sara believed the Lord’s beautiful promise “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your hearts be troubled neither let it be afraid.”  John 14:27.  In Ecclesiastes we read that “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven, a time to be born and a time to die.”  Ecclesiastes 3:12. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could witness the reunion on the other side of the veil when the doors of death open to those returning home?  In Psalms we read: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  Psalms 116:15.
Sara believed that Jesus Christ is literally the son of God, that He was the creator of this world, the only begotten son of the Father, the Prince of Peace, the Savior, the Messiah, the King of kings, the only name under heaven whereby one could be saved, that he was born of the Virgin Mary and died that we might live again.  Sara knew that Christ paid the price for our sins so that we might not suffer if we would repent and be baptized and obey the commandments of our Father.
Sara accepted the resurrection of Christ as the most completely documented and witnessed event of historical importance in the history of the world.  She accepted without question the testimony of the women friends of Jesus who visited his tomb on that first Easter morn and were met by angels who announced, “He is not here, for He is risen.  Why seek ye the living among the dead?”  She believed the testimony of the ten apostles who were gathered together behind closed doors when suddenly Jesus himself stood in the midst of them and said, “Peace be unto you.”  They were terrified and thought they had seen a spirit.  But Jesus said unto them, “Why are ye troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?  Behold my hands and my feet that is I myself.  Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.”
Sara taught in hundreds of church lessons that Christ also established his church on this the American Continent after his resurrection and that his followers lived in righteousness for over 200 years before a great civil war destroyed the righteous people, approximately 400 years after Christ.  Their last great prophet by the name of Mormon, abridged 1000 years of history, including the invaluable evidence of the divinity and resurrection of Christ, in a written record.  These plates which lay buried in the ground for 1400 years until Christ again came to a new prophet in 1820 and restored his church in its fullness with all of its power, glory and blessings.  Sara Believed that those plates were translated by Joseph Smith and were published as the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus the Christ.
Sara understood that he had fulfilled his mission on earth and that this was part of her destiny.  She strongly agreed with the prophet President Kimball who wrote, “I am positive in my mind that the Lord has planned our destiny.  Sometime we will understand fully and when we see back from the vantage point of the future, we shall be satisfied with many of the happenings of this life that were so difficult to comprehend.”
Sara worked hard to fulfill each and every assignment that came to her in this life as a wife, as a mother, and as a church leader in countless capacities.  She is well deserving of the savior’s praise: “well done my good and faithful servant.”  The prophet Harold B. Lee reminded us that the Lord made death sweet for the righteous and that the greatest day in the life of Jesus was the day that He died and the greatest day in our life will be the day that we die, if we have lived righteously.
Sara knew that by coming to earth we would have both joys and sorrows, ease and pain, comforts and hardships, health and sickness, success and disappointments.  She knew that after a period of time we would die.  She believed that all of us accepted this plan of salvation with a glad heart.  We were eager to accept both the favorable and the unfavorable conditions of coming to earth and obtaining a mortal body.  Sara put her trust in God knowing that despite our limited view, God’s purposes will not fail.  With all of its troubles, life offers us the privilege to grow in knowledge and wisdom, faith and works, to prepare us to return and share in God’s glory.
Sara believed that after her passing she would be able to continue to serve others in the next life.  She was well prepared for such an assignment by her lifetime of devotion and service to others.  She made this world a better place by her life of love and service.  No doubt Sara has been called to do what she loved, teaching the gospel.  Sara was loved by her family, neighbors, friends and colleagues.  She had a remarkable rapport with the youth.  She was gentle, concerned, compassionate and wise.  She was a great teacher.
I look at a funeral service as a type of graduation.  Sara has graduated from mortality to another stage of progress for which her lifelong labors have prepared her.  This funeral service today commemorates Sara’s graduation, which in her case is surely with high honors.  Sara was a kind and thoughtful friend.  She showed courtesy and interest to everyone she ever met.  She gave praise and compliments freely.  She expressed her love to others with generosity.  She fought for the underdog and the downtrodden. She wanted others to be winners and get the credit.  Her life was a sermon, of hope, love, caring, and to keep trying in the face of adversity.
To my knowledge she never turned down an assignment or a calling.  She supported her husband Mike in his callings, including four Bishopric assignments.  She did what she was asked and tried to do her best.  She lived a happy and productive life and was a faithful servant of the Lord, in spite of numerous accidents.  She was a devoted wife.  She was a doting mother to her children.  She was a beloved grandmother.  Sara loved the Lord with all her heart and served him with all her might to the very end of her mortal life.  Through her long battle with cancer she taught us determination and endurance.  She taught us courage.  She taught us that death is part of life and essential to our eternal progression.  She taught us that ordinances made and covenants obeyed qualify us for eternal life.
Sara believed in the atonement of Jesus Christ: After the Lord told Joseph Smith, “These things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good,” he then said, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8.)
Sister Reeves (Gen Conf. Oct. 2015) recently explained about difficulties in our life this way:  “I do not know why we have the many trials that we have, but it is my personal feeling that the reward is so great, so eternal and everlasting, so joyful and beyond our understanding that in that day of reward, we may feel to say to our merciful loving Father, “was that all that was required?”  I believe that if we could daily remember and recognize the depth of that love our Heavenly father and our Savior have for us, we would be willing to do anything to be back in Their Presence again, surrounded by Their love eternally.  What will it matter what we suffered here if in the end, those trials are the very things which qualify us for eternal life and exaltation in the Kingdom of God with our Father and Savior?”
Sara understood that the Savior suffered in Gethsemane so that he would have an infinite compassion for us as we experience our trials and tribulations. Through his suffering in Gethsemane, the Savior became qualified to be the perfect judge. Not one of us will be able to approach him on the Judgment Day and say, “You don’t know what it was like.” You don’t know what its like to have a broken back and then struggle with cancer and then lose the use of my arm and leg. Chris knows the nature of our trials better than we do, for he “descended below them all.”
Like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, Sara and her family have cried out with faith:

“O Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39.)
 But we all must pass through our own Gethsemane.

There are probably no greater Gethsemanes than the death of one of our children or spouse. Just minutes after he learned of his ten-year-old daughter’s accidental death, a father wrote a letter to her.
I feel it applies to our beloved Sara:
“You have been an angel of light in our home. Even in your passing you have sanctified the experience by the sweet sorrow of this temporary parting. I have confidence that you are really home. It’s pleasing to know that you are not encumbered by troublesome physical limitations you accepted and lived with in such an adorable, noncomplaining way.
“Mom and I and your brothers and sisters are better because you came to our house. Soon after your day of birth, you helped us to accept fear and the unknown; to better love others with physical challenges; to accept the disappointment accompanying an unwanted medical prognosis; and to query and plead with our Father, who today you know better than we do.
 “We pray for all of us whom the Lord expects to stay here on the job for yet a while. Our prayers are that we will be worthy to be reunited with you and to see you again whole and perfect. Oh, how we would have loved to have you stay here on earth with us! How we would love to hear your ever-so-spontaneous ‘I love you’! How we’d thrill to feel that clinging embrace! Oh, yes, especially today.”
Sara believed the Holy Ghost will testify to us of truth.  If you have felt something in your heart today, Sara would want you to know it is the Holy Ghost testifying to you of the Love that Christ and Heavenly Father have for you.  Sara would urge us to do good and always be looking for ways to serve others, like Christ did.
That the Lord’s blessings of comfort and understanding will be poured out on all of us and that God will bless Sara’s family with comfort is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Talks from the funeral: Life Sketch

About a year and a half after we moved to Texas we came back to visit and I was sitting in the Relief Society room next year to my mother. The dear sister giving the lesson said, "Raise your hand if you think your mother is perfect," and my hand shot up immediately. My mom's face turned red and she whispered to me, "Put your hand down!" But the dear sister at the front said, "Okay Angie, you're right, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the lesson so you're going to need to put your hand down and let us talk about how we all need to be easier on each other."

The church has asked us to not have mission farewells on Sunday during Sacrament meeting anymore, so we're having ours on a Tuesday morning, surrounded by family and friends who, in the way my mother saw the world, were very interchangeable. Family and friends were always kind of the same thing. My dad has five siblings, I think, maybe six, no, five siblings. Six in his family? No, six siblings, seven in his family, and my mom has six, and so you would think that according to the math you could figure out how many aunts and uncles we could have, but you'd be wrong. I probably have fifty or sixty aunts and uncles, a lot of whom were adopted over the years by my mother and father because they knew something they have always tried to teach us: that we are all just family here. The only things that divide us and separate us are things that we make up ourselves.

My mother was born in Las Vegas on November 29th, 1956. She had three older siblings, Les, Holly, and Ellen, and two younger siblings, Susan and Lisa. And my mom loves talking about growing up in Las Vegas, because it was really fun. She loved telling stories about roller skating. She loved telling stories about playing with Kelly and Karen. She loved telling the story about when she found the neighbor's cat outside and knew it wasn't an outside cat, and nobody on their street locked their doors so they rescued their neighbor's cat and put it back inside her house, only to find out when the neighbor came home that it was not her cat.

My mother was an example of service no matter what the cost and whether you liked it or not. She went to Clark High School, where she graduated, although she didn't attend many classes her senior year, especially during the winter. She knew the principal very well and was such a good student that frequently when she would get bored she would ask the principal if she and her friends could go skiing instead of going to school that day. And he would say yes. My mother has proudly told me on more than one occasion that she has never "sluffed" school. She always had an excused absence. Because she wanted to go skiing and the principal said okay.

My mom had a pilot's license and could legally fly airplanes before she could drive a car. My mother has friends literally all over the world. That began because her mother was a travel agent and her father flew airplanes and so for her the world was always a very small place.

After graduating Clark high school she went to Rick's College, because what's better than leaving the arid desert of Nevada to go to the frigid and completely frozen place that is Rexburg. She loved it so much that she left after one year and went to BYU instead. While at BYU she joined the folk dancers, because my mother has always loved music and dancing. While with the BYU folk dancers she went on a tour of Europe, danced before the King of Denmark, and met and fell in love with a banjo player. They fell in love all across Europe and when they came back home, after an appropriate time, they were married in the Provo Temple on December 14th, 1977, for time and all eternity.

They had their first daughter, Anna Ciera, on February 4th, 1979, and I am ashamed to admit just how much of my life it took for me to realize what an awesome person my sister Ciera is. She is amazing, and I don't know if it's entirely her fault because how could she not be amazing with such a mother. After Ciera, I was born on October 12th, 1980, and they named me Angela Dawn because I was born in the morning. I was always disappointed about that. It took me a long time to figure out that my name meant more to my mom than just I was "an angel born in the morning." To her I was a messenger from Heaven, and it has taken me a long time to figure out what that meant. I can say that because I haven't fully figured it out yet, but I have a long time left to do it.

After me, my parents had another daughter, Karissa, who was born on September 30th and lived for one day. Because of complications she was born via C-section and my mother was under anesthesia, and so the first time my mother met her daughter Karissa was last Thursday night, because Karissa has been waiting for her mother for most of my life. And so we know who my mother's first mission companion is.

My mother and my sister are together, and I honestly don't know if she's here with us right now because there were few things my mother actively hated. She hated snakes and spiders, she hated throwing up, and she hated being the center of attention. So having an entire meeting dedicated to talking about her, I think for her must be the worst thing about this entire process.

After Karissa came Stephen Michael Newman, born May 21st, I think in 1986. He's nodding, so I'm right. And that was our family. We grew up in Payson, Utah, which when I was young and naive I thought was boring, and now that I'm old and tired I think is a wonderful place. We were raised by parents who taught us not to be afraid of hard work, because things that were hard were usually the things that were the most worth doing. And things that were worth doing were worth doing well.

I am still learning to appreciate this lesson, because I have not always been a fan of hard work or of things that are hard. But my sister said something profound last night as we all sat around the table. She said that, "Sometimes our hearts are shattered so that God can help us rebuild them and add more pieces. Without that growth we cannot love more deeply, or understand more fully, and without that breaking cannot be made anew."

I would also like to remind you that my sister is awesome, and I have learned that by now.

While I was growing up my mother was on the board of directors for the Springville World Folkfest, and she did that for most of my life. And she was amazing at it. Without us ever needing to leave Utah Valley, Utah County, Utah, she brought us the world. She brought us people from every culture, every walk of life, every facial iteration and every skin color and welcomed them into our home and said, "See? See these people? They are your brothers and sisters." And she was right, and they were awesome. Because of my mother's involvement in the folk festival, I lied to the Chinese government when I was twelve years old. Because of my mother's involvement in the folk festival during some of the most intense fighting she had a group of dancers from Israel and a group of dancers from Palestine at the same time. On purpose. And by the time the folk fest was over that year those two groups, whose governments have yet to find a way to communicate with each other as people, left Springville, Utah, as friends. That was the kind of miracle that my mom was used to doing, because she thought it was part of her every day life. That was part of her responsibility, to bring people together and make them feel loved.

She served in many different capacities in the church throughout her life. She served in Relief Society presidencies and Stake Young Women's presidencies. She served as a missionary in the church office building for years. Because of the service of my mother when I was out in Texas listening to Sister Dalton speak I went up afterwards to shake her hand and tell her what a good job she did. She looked at me and said, "You're Sara's daughter!" and gave me a big hug. My thought was, "Oh my gosh, you know who I am!" Because my mother loves people she told me before I went that Sister Dalton loves honeycrisp apples and Russell Stover chocolates and I had better come prepared. And I was.

And because of my mother and the love she had for everybody when she was in the hospital in December and early January she would send my dad out to the cafeteria to get cookies, or my aunts would get carrot cake, and every person who came in her room got something to leave with. "I've come to check your blood pressure." "That's great! Would you like a cookie?" "Mrs. Newman, can you tell me what day it is?" "No, but would you like a chocolate?" "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm in the wrong room." "That's okay, take some carrot cake with you and here's some for the person you meant to go visit."

Many of you have noticed and commented to me about the candy bowls and how that is so Sara. My mom asked me to do that last Wednesday, just slightly less than two weeks ago. She said to me, "Oh, do you know what would be nice? Let's have bowls of candy out in the foyer so when everybody comes they can have some." Because even now, she wants to make you all feel comfortable, and loved.

My mother served on the Olympic Committee when the Olympics were in Salt Lake. I'm feeling hesitant to tell you this story because I know how embarrassed she would be but because I know how embarrassed she would be I'm going to tell you this story. My mother was one of the volunteer workers in the back hallway where performers would enter and exit. Everybody was supposed to have a very special badge. A gentleman came up and walked past her and he wasn't wearing a badge. She stopped him with an "Excuse me," and he turned around to look at her and then ran off. She thought, "Oh no." Looking around, she saw some security guards dressed in military uniforms and called over to them, saying, "Hey, hey you army guys!!"

They looked at her like, "Army guys? Really?" but they came over to her gesture of come here.  She told them, "A guy just ran past me not having a badge and he wouldn't stop when I called him." Their eyes got big and they left in a hurry. Afterwards, when everything had calmed down she saw the same two army men and went to talk to them. She asked them what had happened, but they told her it was classified. She said, "Remember how I was the one who saw him and got your attention and told you which way he went?" Sheepishly one of them nodded. She repeated, "So what happened?"

"We can't tell you all the details, ma'am, but we did catch him and everything is all right," he said. So among her list of accomplishments we can add my mother saved the 2002 Olympics from something that would've been terrible.

In June of this past year my mom was in a horseback riding accident and broke her back. I am so grateful for that. We moved to Texas about eight years ago and every since then I haven't had a lot of time to spend with my mother. But when she fell, I stayed with her for two weeks and took care of her, and it was some of the best two weeks of my life. We had so much fun, other than her excruciating pain and when I had to force her to take her pain pills that she didn't want to take. We ate Chinese food and watched old movies, which has always been our thing. We watched HGTV and talked about all the changes we wanted to make to her house and to my house, and to pretty much any house we'd seen passing by, because one of her passions has always been making the world more beautiful. And if I had not had that time to spend with her this would be so much harder for me now. Because it isn't that it's not hard, it's because she's not gone. She's not lost to us. We know where she is. We know that we will see her again, and we know that she loves us. And I know that for certain because a week ago today, at this time right now. I don't know if you've noticed me glancing down at my phone but it's because at this time one week ago today that I sat at my mother's bedside holding her hand and she was starting to lose communication. She couldn't speak very well. She couldn't keep her eyes open. But she could squeeze my hand and she could say one or two words at a time.

I said, "Mom, you know I love you, right?" She squeezed my hand and nodded her head. I said, "You know I'm going to speak at your funeral?" She squeezed my hand again and I said, "I know that you want me to make them laugh." At that she opened her eyes and said, "Yes, please!"

I said, "I know that you also want me to tell them that you love them." She said yes. I said, "I will tell them that you love them, and I will tell them that you were not afraid, and we'll all look out for dad." She squeezed my hand and nodded, and then she fell asleep. I was going to leave really early the next morning, so early that I wasn't even going to sleep, just go to the airport and wait. So that evening I held her hand again by her bedside and I prayed with her that she would be received to the other side, surrounded by family who loved her, and that she would know that we were going to be okay. And that she would know that because of her example we were all going to try and be better. Then I squeezed her hand and closed in the name of Jesus Christ. She was trying really hard to tell me something, but she couldn't talk anymore. I said, "Are you trying to tell me that you love me?" She nodded her head. I leaned over and gave her a big hug and said, "I will never forget. And I will see you in the morning."

Because that is how long her mission is. She has gone on before us because the Lord needs her. Back when this whole process started I went to the temple and got three separate and very distinct impressions. That everything was going to be okay. That everyone was going to feel peace. And that the Lord NEEDED my mother. And I am not surprised, because I have met her, and she can move worlds. And I know now that when I pass on and see her again that the other side will be so much more organized and prepared because she has been there, and that everyone is going to be more happy, more ready, and well fed. Spiritually, because she won't be able to feed them physically.

She has often said to me, "Everything will be okay in the end, and if it's not okay, it's not the end." And I am not completely sure how one is supposed to end a talk at a funeral, but I know that my Redeemer and my Savior and my elder brother would not have taken my mom from us if He did not need her more, and if He did not know that we were going to be okay. And I have had lots of people, hundreds of people, ask what they can do and if we need anything.

Well, my mom made a list. These are the things that my mom has asked us to do. Read your scriptures. Pray every day. Be great at making choices. This one says, "How's my buddy?" Which means she wants us to take care of ourselves. Let us oft speak kind words. This one says, "I will look down on you every day," and this one says, "I will always be with you."

That's my mom. The person who will always be with you to help bear your burdens, and carry your loads. The person who will love you and feed you whether you feel like it or not. And if she wanted to be your friend you may as well just give up and let her in. And it's okay. It's not easy, but nothing is too hard for us to do together. And if something is worth doing it's worth doing well, and everything will be okay in the end. And right now it's not okay, but it's not the end.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.