Celebration of Life – Sarah Schuermann

*The “Celebration of Life” service held in remembrance of Sarah Schuermann was held at First Christian Church of Hampton, on Thursday, 16 May 2019.  Sarah was precious to all who were graced by her presence, her love, intellect, music, and much more.  While I have known Bill since 1990, when he was still an active duty Air Force chaplain and I sought endorsement from our denomination to serve as a Navy Chaplain, I did not know Sarah until Alzheimer’s had taken its long toll.  It is surely my loss.  I am thankful for those who shared insights and memories with me, so that I could honor her life.  May we continue to lift up Bill, their family and all who loved Sarah. – Vinson

 Readings for the service were Psalm 100, Psalm 150, and Psalm 23.

_______________________________

INTRODUCTION

It is my hope, Bill, that I get this right!  As a colleague in ministry, thank you for trusting me with this service, so we can truly honor Sarah.  I will also note that if today is about celebrating Sarah’s life, it seems to me that to do so is to acknowledge today is also about a love story.

This is a story of two interwoven lives from youth to being aged, spanning over six decades of marriage and even longer of being in love.  It is about two people, committed to one another and as much to our Lord, paired for life, hand in hand.  It is about a deep and abiding love which embodied the vows of marriage and commitment in parenting.  It is about an abiding, gentle friendship that enjoyed the safeness of shared confidences.  It is about a complimentary ministry of music that ran parallel to and in support of Bill’s ministry, one largely about caring for those who wore the nation’s cloth and their families.

WHY I BRING THIS UP

I say this to ask each of us to stop for a few moments and ponder the life Sarah lived – in the team that was marriage, family, and ministry.  In this, consider how you hear the joyous love of our Lord, in the witness of Sarah’s daily life.

FOR INSTANCE

Raised in the church as a musician, meeting Bill in high school, dating through college, Bill and Sarah didn’t wait until she graduated to get married.  I’m not sure how you did it, Bill, beyond promising her dad that you would take care of Sarah.  Getting a father’s permission was a really big deal.  I know my Dad had no such luck with his future father-in-law, who made them wait.

In an age when marriage often ended a woman’s college path, Sarah finished her degree.

She did it while pregnant, and STILL finished the last two semesters.  Her professors must have loved her, because they worked with her to make it happen.  While EVERYONE always speaks of Sarah as such a sweet woman, it took real steel for her to accomplish that:  Steel enclosed in great kindness and joy.

Perhaps the most defining part of Sarah’s life was her 30 years as the wife of an Air Force chaplain.  Not only did she have to navigate her husband’s absence for years in Vietnam, she had to stay strong for their children. Staying close meant phone calls that could not be transparent due to censors and letters that were never fast enough.

More than just sustaining their own relationship and sharing at a distance the life of their young family, hers was the only truly safe ear for Bill.  That’s the way it is for chaplains.  Their wives offer that special gift, and carry that special burden.  It would be what she did to strengthen Bill as he cared for those bearing the weight of battle, far from their own families, suicidal, depressed or grief-stricken over friends lost to the war, receiving “Dear John” letters and being unable to go home, and even giving needed insight to commanding officers.  In the thick of it all, Sarah was Bill’s confidante, his friend.

Being a chaplain’s wife means going wherever the military says her husband is needed, bringing any children in tow.  It might be every three years, or receiving surprise orders in the middle of an assignment.  Rarely in the same location or even state.  If the last tour was here at nearby Langley, other tours meant living in the Philippines, Hawaii, Guam or elsewhere.  Anyone who has done a career, especially one of 30 years, would learn the Air Force has installations in some nice locations.  It also has them in just as many in places in the middle of nowhere, or of being in a country while a dictator was toppled – giving Sarah the opportunity to view the infamous Imelda Marcos shoe collection!  Regardless of where, the nature of such a life is that Sarah often sacrificed being close to her larger family.  It was in the selfless way she supported the man she loved, adored, and in whose gift of ministry she so strongly believed, that Bill could serve others and God.

Through the many times that the family would be uprooted, as the mom, Sarah would navigate them through the transitions into new schools, neighborhoods, friendships, routines.  Each time she would reinvent what was “home.”   Then, when their now adult children were back in the states, while they served in the Philippines, Sarah still found a way to connect to her children and grandchildren.  When apart, it was reading books onto cassette tapes for them to read along with her.  When together, there was driving go-carts, bowling, roller skating, or whatever other fun filled adventures she conceived.  Always, it was making sure they knew family was important and loved, as she shared her enthusiasm for the life God gives.

Sarah reveled in bringing her lifelong love of music and talent as a both a pianist and an organist to a variety of settings.  In chapels, it was more than just Sarah playing.  If there wasn’t a choir, she invented one:   their kids quickly drafted as the first members, naturally.  Having been the drum major of her high school marching band, no small thing – especially for a young woman almost 70 years ago, it was a given that all the kids would learn instruments and sing, and she would lead them on!   This congregation itself experienced Sarah’s gifts and the love that radiated through her as she played and sang after Bill’s retirement — always with joy upon her face!  No wonder she had from childhood, a lifelong love for the words to “Jesus Loves Me!,” its words echoed through her life:  “Walking with me on my way, Wanting as a friend to give – Light and love to all who live.”  Knowing this, now imagine what she was like for those far from their own families, for whom chapel was their “home away from home” family?  While in the Philippines, far from their own grown children, Sarah became the welcoming “mom” to young airmen far from their own families.  Bill and Sarah’s home, became a place for home-cooked meals, music and love – especially for the single airmen.  She took care of other people’s children, as she put it, in hopes that someone would take care of hers.  It was simply how Sarah lived out her faith in God.

A chaplain’s wife tends to be widely known both for her own personality but also because she IS the chaplain’s wife.  It meant Sarah was regularly approached by other wives, those far from their moms needing advice about babies, or faith, or those trying to navigate new marriages under the stresses inherent to all military families.  Always, the safe ear.  Whether walking into the chapel to worship or the commissary to shop for groceries, a chaplain’s wife is often looked to as someone compassionate, loving, approachable, and automatically trusted for her presence of faith.  Sarah would know how to help!  Absent of title, make no mistake, Sarah had her own special form of ministry in partnership with Bill.

SO WHAT?

Having journeyed through such a life, I know taking care of Sarah wasn’t what Bill anticipated.

Life can take us in directions we would not always choose.

If Alzheimer’s, the disease of forgetting, would become her life, remembering FOR her became Bill’s mission– her door festooned with photos of a young woman, of a musician, of a wedding, of children, of a life with the one whose hands would always hold hers.

Some hands are truly meant to be held for a lifetime: Bill’s would be the gentle hands that fed her every day, the hands that stroked her head.  He sang to her and always,  ALWAYS!  kissed her.

Sarah would, in the words of the Psalmists, now be the one served as “goodness and mercy” [Psalm 23:6] followed her all the days of her life until she could enter the Lord’s “gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” [Psalm 100:4]  And, if Sarah was once thrilled to touch the stadium field of her beloved Nebraska Huskers, an enthusiastic lover of football, how much more now the streets of gold in heaven?  There, at last, to live fully those eternal words, to “Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing (and to) make a joyful noise to the Lord!” [Psalm 100:2]

“Let everything that breathes praise the Lord” [Psalm 150:6], for the precious life of Sarah!

Amen.

______________________________

Jesus Loves Me 

Jesus loves me! This I know,  

For the Bible tells me so;  

Little ones to Him belong;  

They are weak, but He is strong. 

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

The Bible tells me so. 

 

Jesus loves me still today,  

Walking with me on my way,  

Wanting as a friend to give  

Light and love to all who live. 

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

The Bible tells me so. 

 

Jesus loves me! He who died 

Heaven’s gate to open wide; 

He will wash away my sin,  

Let His little child come in. 

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

The Bible tells me so. 

 

Jesus loves me! He will stay 

Close beside me all the way; 

Thou hast bled and died for me,  

I will henceforth live for Thee. 

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

Yes, Jesus loves me!  

The Bible tells me so. 

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