It’s Just a Shadow (Valerie Henry Hildebrandt Eulogy)


Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Prov 31:30 (NIV)

For those who did not know Valerie Hildebrandt, no words are adequate to describe her life.  For those who knew her, no words are necessary.

I first met Valerie at my wife’s graduation from college. It was our third date. At the graduation ceremony I sat with the Henry family and right next to this pretty, vivacious single woman named Valerie who had the easiest laugh of anyone I have ever known.  The way she would lean towards you with her head slightly tilted when she laughed; eyes dancing with the joy that came from deep places of peace in her soul.

I have been the pastor of every person in her family except her.  But she was so affirming whenever she heard me preach. She told me one time that I was her second favorite preacher.  Incredulous I asked, “Whose number one?”  She never hesitated, “Tom Ellif.”

While I was never her pastor, I’ve enjoyed almost 29 years of being Val’s cantankerous black sheep-brother-in-law.

When I told my mother that I had been asked to speak at her memorial service she emailed me, “I know it is difficult but I’m so happy that the family loves and respects you enough to ask you to minister to them in this way.  It could be a lot different.  They are a special family and I appreciate and admire them for their grace toward you.  Don’t blow it.”  So thank you Steve for this high honor.

Jim and Wanda, what can I say about your daughter?  During all those sleepless nights rocking tiny twin babies asleep; I know you never dreamed that you would be burying one of them today. But look at how large the life one of those little babies has lived.  Look around at these people.  We should all live so well to be loved so much.

Jim and Wanda, think back to the decade of the 50s and the 60’s when you took her to church.  You prayed with her at night.  You read her bible stories.  You took her to Vacation Bible School.  You took her to Church youth functions.  You contributed to missions trips.  You went to school plays when she was a little girl.  (You went to school plays when she was a grown woman) You went to recitals.  You invested into her life in countless ways that no one but your heavenly Father knows.  One day not too far from now, you will see your daughter again no doubt surrounded by children and her favorite person—Jesus.

You are responsible for creating the home that would allow this woman to grow in her understanding of God and the things of God and then heed the calling to be a teacher to shape young minds and affect young souls.  You have made it possible through countless unheralded and unnoticed deeds of service to her that were really advancing the Kingdom of God through the ministry of Valerie.

And because godliness of your home: at least 800 children, maybe more, have had your spiritual DNA passed into them through your daughter.

You will hear this again from a much deeper voice than mine but let me say it first today, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”

Cynthia, your twin is with Jesus.  She is dancing…maybe with your son Josh.  She is laughing.  I am not sure if Laura Ingalls will be there but I’ll wager Val is organizing a portion of Heaven into a replica of “Little House on the Prairie.”  Perhaps she is talking with C.S. Lewis about her various productions of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Greg, I have always wondered how you turned out to be such a good man.  You had three older sisters to do things to you that should never be done to little boys.  I will not mention any of them here.  Your oldest sister loved you.  If I received an ounce of her “sister love” and it sustained me and made me thirsty for more, I know that the ocean she gave you was beyond comparison.

I know it was important to you that she approved of Suzanne. When you picked her up from the airport the first time Suzanne met Val, she winked and gave you the thumbs up.  And when Suzanne died two and half years ago, I know Val lost someone she loved very much.  But now they are arm in arm, perhaps watching us all today.  And then when you met Cheryl and fell in love again, I know she loved Cheryl.  She told me that it took her so long to find the right guy and you found two perfect wives so easily.

For my wife Nette, Val was the inspiration for becoming a teacher.  At first Nette resisted the notion of being a teacher.  But while she was finishing her college work she would go visit Val in Tulsa and help her grade papers on the weekends.  They would talk about the calling of touching young lives with knowledge and influencing them for God.  The more Val talked about the joys of being a teacher and working with students and their families the more Nette was moved to become a teacher.

Lynette said she didn’t feel spiritually adequate to be a Christian School teacher.  Val told her, “Oh, yes you can.  All you need to do is love Jesus and love the children.  The Holy Spirit will do the rest.”

Nette told me just this week that a little boy in her third grade class wrote on a recent assignment that one day he wanted to grow up and be a teacher just like Mrs. Chambers.  That would not come true had it not been for Valerie.

I know you are sad.  For you lost more than a sister.  You lost your best friend.  But one day the sadness will go away.  One day you will see her again and you will laugh and laugh and scrapbook together.  I want to quote from one of your favorite characters in literature.

Just after the climax of Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee discovers that his friend Gandalf was not dead (as he thought) but alive.  He cries, “I thought you were dead!  But then I thought I was dead myself!  Is everything sad going to come untrue?

And Nette my answer to you is because or your faith in Jesus and Val’s faith in Jesus and what Jesus did on the cross—YES.  Everything sad is going to come untrue.

Val and MeganMegan and Luke, other than being married, Val wanted to be a mom more than anything in the wide world.  She basked in the joy of being a mom.

Once, when I came to visit and Megan was about 3 years old, Steve was working so Val fixed me supper.  She was so proud of Megan.  We went out on the back porch and watched Megan be Megan all over the backyard.  Then Megan climbed up into the tree house and wouldn’t come down.  I said, “Do you want me to go up and get her?”  She said, “No, I’ll get her.”  I let her. It was a long ways up there.

She loved you Luke.  Mommy loved you Megan.  As you grow older we will tell you more about her.  We promise to not let the memory of who your mother was dim with time.  Never tire of asking us about your Mom.  We promise to never to weary telling you about her.

Luke and Megan, there is only one person on this earth that she loved more than you…it was your father.

Steve, what I am going to share with you may come as a shock, but early on in Val’s life she was a bit headstrong.  Fiercely and tenaciously committed to doing things the right way…which, interestingly seemed to always be her way.  Shocking right?

And the more independent and headstrong she was the more of the wrong kind of man would be attracted to her.  She would ask Lynette, “Why can’t I find tall, strong, good-looking and man like…Brian?”

She would bring guys to family gatherings and Brian and I would just shake our heads and marvel at them as they followed her around like puppies.

One time we were at Tom and Debbie Beaty’s house for a gathering and one of her boyfriends was with her. He was good enough guy and he liked wearing sweaters.  It was getting a little warm in the house and she walked by and said, “Take your sweater off.”

I thought, “What you do next is going effect the entire trajectory of your time in this relationship.”  I was rooting for him.  I was thinking, “Don’t do it man.  Hold your ground.  It is just a sweater to her but you know it… and I know it…it is so much more than that.  Turn away! Sneer. Give her the stink eye like I do.  Hold your ground man! That is no sweater.  That is your armor…it is your manhood! In the name of John Wayne don’t take off that sweater!”

He peeled it off like an obedient man.  Never saw the little fella after that.  She did that a lot….

Until she met you Steve and then she changed. You not only refused take off your manhood for her, you made her cut her hair.  In you she found the strong man who loved her but could handle her.  You’re not as tall and handsome as…Brian.  But she found someone who would speak grace and truth into her life.  Oh, the strength of truth and the gentleness of grace.

Steve you have no idea how much God used you to mold her into the woman that everyone here loves.  Once in a lifetime two people find each other just in the nick of time.  She loved you with a godly love.  She loved you and was loyal to you.  She wanted to be the wife you always dreamed of.  She wanted to be your life-long friend.  She wanted to be your intimate lover.

She was all of that and so much more.  I am so glad you guys found each other again.  For you gained a wife, she found her husband and I gained a friend.  There is a hole in the world today.  I pray that the Holy Spirit anoint with the Balm a Gilead that emptiness in your heart tonight and especially in the mornings.

I know Jesus said,

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  John 14:2 (NKJV)

I know that is true.  But I also know that in that mansion, Val has already picked out the carpet and painted the walls in the latest cool colors.  And she has coffee brewing, supper on the stove and she is waiting for you.

Let’s turn our gaze from our wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend, to her Lord Jesus Christ for just a few moments.

“2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” Hebrews 12:2

If you aren’t careful when you hear that you think Jesus received his heavenly joy because he endured the cross.  Like He just gritted His teeth…got through it and then received his “heavenly compensation of joy.”

Hear that verse again.  “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”

“JOY” came before the cross.

What could draw Him away from heaven and towards the cross?  What could He possibly be looking for that He didn’t already have in Heaven?  What could He want so badly that he would leave all of that and come to a cross and suffer, and suffer, and suffer?

What could make infinite suffering worth it?

The only thing He didn’t have in heaven was you. He came to earth suffered death on the cross to make it possible for you to be with the Father.

A pastor was driving with his children to his wife’s funeral where he was to preach the sermon.  As they came into an intersection in front of them stopped at a red light was a huge truck and the sun was shining on it at just the right angle that took its shadow and spread it across a snowfield beside it.  As the shadow covered the field, he said, “Look children at that truck, and look at its shadow.  If you had to be run over, which would you rather be run over by?  Would you rather be run over by the truck or by the shadow?”  The youngest child said, “The shadow couldn’t hurt anybody.”  “That’s right,” the father said, “and death is a truck, but the shadow is all that ever touches the Christian.  The truck ran over Jesus.  Only the shadow has gone over mother.”

1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Psalms 23:1-6 (NKJV)


7 thoughts on “It’s Just a Shadow (Valerie Henry Hildebrandt Eulogy)

  1. Joe, word of “Miss Henry’s” death traveled to me in Tulsa the day after her Memorial service. What a shock. She and my Mom taught together at Eastwood Baptist. She was my third grade teacher in 1980. I would always ask my Mom every year around holidays :”Has Miss Henry’s Christmas card come yet?” I will miss them! Your tribute was so helpful for me to read! Thank you for posting!

  2. Pingback: 2010 in review « Above Tree Line

  3. This was beautiful & touching. Although I didn’t know Valetie I knew Cyndi from her college days in Shawnee, OK. Thank you for “sharing from the heart”.

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