Farewell to Sheila

To help us celebrate the life that Sheila lived to the full, and the hope of the future that then opened for her into eternal life and immortality, we asked three questions – concerning her past, her present and her future, starting with:

Question 1. What were some of the highlights of her past 71 years?

Born just pre-War in 1938, Sheila spent the war years of her early childhood in Edmonton, North London – nearly an East Ender, as her husband Geoff teased her. After the war her father took the family to North Devon where he managed a caravan park in the delightful town of Westward Ho, Sheila and her sister Pamela attending school in Barnstable. In a later change of plan he resumed his former craft as a butcher, brought them to Weston-super-Mare, where he literally ‘set up shop’ in Waterloo Street.

By now, having left school, Sheila found work in the offices of the Aircraft Torpedo Development where she met Geoff her future husband in 1953, fresh out of the RAF and still fascinated by aeroplanes. They married in 1960 and soon Geoff transferred to Bristol Aircraft Corporation in Filton to work on quality control aspects of the historic Concorde project, buying a house in nearby Patchway, where we followed soon after – to a council house about 100 yards away. A bit like ‘From East Enders to Neighbours’. My wife Rosemary and Sheila met at the school gates and straight away became friends – we could say ‘From Neighbours to Friends’, but we won’t.

The Maycrofts moved off to Fairford in Gloucestershire with Concorde in ’71 and before long the Thompsons moved up north in ’74. In one of Sheila’s regular Christmas cards she told us Geoff had taken early retirement and they had moved back to Weston. In 1997, fifteen years later, we landed back in the West Country and one day I shocked them by standing in their porch and knocking their front door unannounced – the first of many visits, especially during those years of Sheila’s final illness.

Let’s recall some of Sheila’s admirable qualities:

[] a wicked sense of humour; she loved to joke and play jokes

[] a great organiser

[] a keen gardener (like William Wordsworth she loved daffodils, but did not share his obsession with poetry!)

[] loved to travel

[] enjoyed losing herself in a good book

[] had a thirst for knowledge –

[] especially in tracing family history

[] made full use of the wide range of the computer’s capabilities

[] served as treasurer of the W-s-M Family History Society and the W-s-M Computer Club

But, before sketching her present and her future, one secret needs first to be disclosed:

In one of her early school gates’ conversations, having asked Rosemary what her husband’s work was and discovering he was a minister of the gospel she mentioned something she had done nearly quarter of a century before and since then had never told another soul. Her parents were not themselves church-goers, but sent her to Sunday school in her childhood years, which she loved. One Sunday when she was about nine years of age, she heard the story of Holman Hunt’s painting, ‘The Light of the World’ and his motive in painting it – twice in his lifetime, in fact! He wanted it to depict Jesus standing at the portal of a person’s heart and saying the sentence from the last book in the Bible – Revelation 3:20

‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me’ – an offer of restored communion with the Creator and Redeemer himself.

Sheila responded simply and sincerely, much as they would later invite me into their home on the day I turned up on their doormat. But when her parents failed to understand what her excitement was about, she locked the secret away. Another of Sheila’s characteristics was diffidence, shyness – yet for all that she was also a feisty lady. She asked Rosemary where our four children went to Sunday school. In fact it had been at Little Stoke Baptist Church, until a bout of measles put our household in quarantine for five weeks, and Rosemary started to teach them at home along with the children of another neighbour. On hearing that, Sheila brought her young son and daughter along to the class. Out of that Sunday school a whole new church developed (with the full blessing of the vicar and curate of St. Chad’s and the pastor of the Baptist church). For those few years that we were neighbours Sheila was an active member of our growing church community. And in her latter years she would pray with my wife as a twosome in their occasional times together – as I only discovered after her passing.

Question 2. Where is she now?

The simple scriptural answer is: she’s asleep. The apostle Paul put things this way in one of his letters:

‘Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you don’t grieve like the rest, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.’ [1 Thessalonians 4:13-15]

What happens when people sleep? I remember having a very vivid dream that I was able to recall in every detail on waking up, including a telephone number I also could recall but had to look up to find out who’s it was – it was the number of someone significant to the saga in my dream and helped certain people to plan their future! My body was in my own bed in the South West of England but I was elsewhere – running in mere seconds of earthly time across five miles of moors near Bolton in North West England. I was not with my wife in my dream; she was with my body in Weston-super-Mare. I was with our daughter Fiona who had not lived in our house for twenty years or so. In my imagination, in my Freudian unconscious, in my spirit I was elsewhere and with someone else.

When the Bible speaks of death as sleep it refers not to a person’s spirit but to their body in this present time-space continuum. There in that casket Sheila slept physically. But in spirit she was elsewhere and with [capital S] Someone else – the Saviour she had welcomed into her life 62 years before. To quote St Paul again:

‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to be with Christ, which is better by far; but … I know that I will … continue with all of you. [Philippians 1:21-25]

That old mortal ‘computer’ there in the casket, which Sheila had animated for 71 years, was being disposed of that day. The ‘memory stick’ of her life was now present with the Lord. That recording will be edited in preparation for a transformation at the end of history. She is in that other zone with Jesus outside creaturely time and space. The formula e = mc2 no longer applies.* to quote another of Jesus’ apostles, Peter:

‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ [2 Peter 3:8]

Question 3. Where will she be eventually?

Soon after Geoff and Sheila married, men walked on the moon and brought moon rock back to earth. But [yawn! yawn!] all that is so-o-o boring, when you consider what happened nearly two millennia before, when Jesus took a body of earth dust (of the same materials as our bodies and of the soil in Sheila’s garden) back to that parallel universe of heaven. It makes Dr Who look so tame!

We were about to lay to rest Sheila’s out-of-date mortal computer, her body of flesh and blood. Her ashes may be scattered as seed in the ground. In due season, it will arise in a radiant form. As when you plant a little acorn a great oak tree emerges, so when the last trumpet sounds and time as we know it ends, from some tiny DNA specimen God will produce a state-of-the-art, top-of-the-range new ‘computer’ into which that edited recording of Sheila’s life can be played out forever and ever in glory – a body like Jesus’ glorious body.

To quote Paul one more:

‘We eagerly await a Saviour from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.‘ [Philippians 3:20-21]

‘Transform’ is the Greek word they used in our biology class to label the radical change from humble caterpillar to spectacular butterfly – metamorphosis. Sheila will have perfect faculties, and her every joint and muscle will be supple and free from pain. And, like Jesus after his resurrection, she’ll be able to express her will through a body of molecular structure that can appear or disappear, or travel from Venus to Mars at the speed of thought, totally responsive to the Spirit of God in fulfilling God’s good will perfectly! In fact, the whole cosmos will be transformed – Scripture mentions a new heaven and a new earth!

This is my convinced understanding of Sheila as she was, and is, and will be. Amen! And hallelujah!

P.S. * The mention of e = mc2 reminds me of a story about Dr Billy Graham. The church ministers of North Carolina decided to prise him out of retirement and honour him with a celebration breakfast as a kind of lifetime achievement award. They told him he was not expected to preach or do anything special. But after the meal and the eulogies he asked if he could say a few words.

‘You see this suit I am wearing?’ he said, ‘it was bought for two occasions: this breakfast and my funeral. My wife and family told me I was starting to look scruffy from sitting around at home. The only time I expect to wear it again will be when I am buried in it.’

He continued, ‘This reminds me of a true story about Dr Albert Einstein travelling by train from New York State when the inspector came into his compartment to check the tickets. The absent-minded genius began frantically searching his brief case and every pocket, even his hat but could not produce one. “Don’t worry, Dr Einstein,” said the official, ‘”I am sure that you have paid your fare.” But minutes later when he came back through the train he was alarmed to see the great scientist on his knees still hunting for his ticket under the seat. Again he reassured the learned gentlemen, “I know who you are”, to which the famous traveller replied, “You know who I am and I know who I am, But I don’t know where I am going!”‘

Then Billy delivered his punch line. ‘When you next see me in this suit, be sure of two things. I know who I am and I know where I am going!

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