Sun., June 19, 2016
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…
The last card game has been played. The last load of wheat straw has been hauled. The last call to the co-op asking about the price of beans has been made. On Wed., June 8, 2016, Anthony L. Vielhuber gave his final instructions before rejoining his wife of over 60 years, Ersel, at his heavenly resting place.
This is the opening line from my father-in-law’s obituary. Eleven days ago, we said good-bye to Tony. The end of his life came over a several week period. The 91-year-old patriarch of the family didn’t let go easily and hung onto life until the very end.
Yet, Tony lived a full life. Tony will be remembered for many successful Canadian and other fishing trips with family, neighbors and friends; proudly displaying a winning scorecard for the previous evening’s card club; making well-used machinery operate on their farm; having grandchildren and relatives drive his line of reconditioned antique tractors in local parades; looking forward to visits from and Sunday lunches with grandchildren and great-grandchildren; never being short of finding chores for everyone else to do.
One of my father-in-law’s most defining traits was being a farmer. This spring, he was at the eye doctor’s office. The receptionist assumed he was retired. He corrected her and said he was a farmer. She quizzed him about what kind of animals he raised. In the end, he admitted, “I feed the cats.”
Tony’s favorite way to farm was to assign jobs to others and make sure the work got done. In April, Tony wanted urea spread on the winter wheat. The day he chose to do this was a perfectly nasty day: cold and rainy. Tony called the co-op and the wagon was delivered. He helped my husband Rick by putting the pin through the tongue to attach the wagon to the tractor. Rick dutifully ran the wagon across the fields spreading the urea, getting colder and wetter with each round. When done, Rick went into the house and Tony exclaimed, “Whew! I’m glad I got that job done!”
Before he married his wife of 60+ years, Tony bought a milk route. He began hauling with a 1946 Ford open van can truck. In 1975, my husband Rick officially took over the milk route and hauled for 25 years. Currently, the Vielhuber milk route is run by Rick’s son, Darran. It is not common for three generations of milk haulers to haul milk for three generations of patrons. Yet, this is true for the Vielhuber milk route. In the above picture, Tony, Rick and Darran and pictured with the potential fourth generation of Vielhuber milk haulers, standing next to a replica Tony’s first truck.
One of the most touching moments I’ve had with my father-in-law happened a couple weeks before Tony’s passing. Tony had fallen the day before. He was having a hard time breathing and was easily confused. On Hospice, he was going to the hospital for five days of respite. Tony was never quite sure if he’d been baptized. We decided he would be baptized. In the TV room at his house, my sister-in-laws Judy and Linda, Rick and I gathered around Tony. With a small bowl of water, I baptized Tony with his children present as his sponsors. I’m confident everyone felt the Spirit’s presence with us and knew this was a very holy moment. As a pastor, I have had the great privilege of being a part of many very special moments. There is no question being able to baptize my father-in-law will rank near the top.
We often think life is doing great things in order to make our mark in this world. Through Tony’s life, I am again reminded it isn’t the big things that are most important. It’s doing a whole bunch of seemingly little and maybe insignificant things that are deeply meaningful to someone else which are most important. We are all called to reflect the light of Christ in our lives: the things we do, the choices we make, the priorities we make with our time and resources. None of us will ever do this perfectly, including Tony. Yet, this should never stop us from trying to honor Christ in all that we say and do.
Thank you Tony for reminding me once again of this very important lesson. On the Father’s Day, whether you can call our Dad or reflect upon who he was, may we also remember whose we are. We have a heavenly Father that loves us unconditionally who has done a bunch of big and important as well as small and seemingly insignificant things for us. Happy Father’s Day Tony, my Dad Dick, my husband Rick and all those other men who hold special places in our hearts.
Almighty God, there is a season for everything and a time for every activity under heaven. Sometimes our earthly fathers disappoint us and let us down. Other times, they are amazing examples of love and provision. May we see ourselves as always unconditionally loved by you, our forever Heavenly Father. Amen.
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