Bill & Averil Muehlenberg

She Trusted in Him Until the Very End: In Honour of Averil

21 July 2023

8.5 MINS

Graham, Bill, Warwick and David at Crossway for the funeral of Averil

Editor’s Note: Please find this heartfelt story below by Bill Muehlenberg about his wife’s funeral. The team at the Canberra Declaration were represented at Averil Muehlenberg’s funeral on 17 July 2023 in Melbourne by Warwick Marsh. Bill Muehlenberg, pictured here with Dr Graham McLennan, Warwick Marsh & David Jack, was in good spirits considering he had recently lost his wife.

Bill Muehlenberg was the original drafter of the Canberra Declaration, which then went through many revisions. Please pray for Bill Muehlenberg and his three sons in the loss of their beloved wife and mother. See Bill’s website here.

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Monday 17 July 2023 was a busy day as we said farewell to Averil Ann Muehlenberg. It featured the noon burial at the cemetery with the immediate family, and then the public church funeral service held later in the afternoon. My wife got a special send-off. A million thanks to everyone who was involved. The problem is, how do you properly pay tribute to someone in a 90-minute service?

That was the dilemma for all of us. In my case, I was married to her for 41 ½ years out of my 70 ½ years – and had known her for around 44 years all up. So, my ten-minute talk was quite selective. The whole service can be seen online if you missed it, and you can hear the words and thoughts of all the others involved:

Here, if you don’t mind, I will share a bit about what I tried to say in my short reflection, in case you have not yet seen it but are interested.

I began by thanking various folks. That included Anita who had set up a Christian crowdfunding site so early on when we learned that a new immunotherapy that might help would cost us $60,000. But within two weeks, all that money came in! That shows how much people cared about Averil – and myself.

And the chief person to thank of course was God Himself: for weeks now, the weather has been quite cloudy and/or rainy – as it is again today. But Monday was a perfectly sunny day with blue skies everywhere, and even rather mild temperatures. Thank you, Lord, for that amazing weather. We even brought Jilly dog along to the burial at the cemetery.

I then spoke about how her life was characterised by trust – trust in God through Christ. Here are a few great biblical passages on this (the four starred verses are the ones I used in the service, and are especially important):

  • Job 13:15 ~ Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him
  • Psalm 13:5 ~ I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
  • *Psalm 56:3 ~ When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.
  • *Psalm 62:8 ~ Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.
  • Psalm 115:11 ~ You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield.
  • Psalm 125:1 ~ Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
  • Proverbs 3:5 ~ Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
  • *Isaiah 26:4 ~ Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
  • Jeremiah 17:7 ~ Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
  • *Nahum 1:7 ~ The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him.

I then ran through a dozen photos of her and us.

I then offered two words of testimony. The first came around six months ago. In one of our many meetings with the oncologist, he said how amazed he was at how strong, positive and resilient she was, and how she was holding up so well. Averil immediately replied: “It is not me, but my faith”. And by that, she did not mean faith in faith, or faith in herself, but faith in her Lord Jesus Christ.Averil

The second testimony involved a Christian nurse who was with her when she was in one of the hospitals. Averil always asked about the staff, learned their names, inquired about their well-being, and so on. I mentioned this on social media a while back, and a few days later this nurse made this comment:

“I can attest that Averil had an enormous impact on those who cared for her. Her graciousness, gratefulness and peace (beyond understanding) profoundly affected the staff in a way that I haven’t seen before. Caring for her was a privilege I cannot express adequately. I will be forever thankful to have been there for that small part of her journey home.”
— Nurse Michelle Louise

I then featured two quotes. The first comes from Dr James Dobson and his book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense:

In my first film series, “Focus on the Family,” I shared a story about a 5-year-old African-American boy who will never be forgotten by those who knew him. A nurse with whom I worked, Gracie Schaeffler, took care of this lad during the latter days of his life. He was dying of lung cancer, which is a terrifying disease in its final stages. The lungs fill with fluid, and the patient is unable to breathe. It is terribly claustrophobic, especially for a small child.

This little boy had a Christian mother who loved him and stayed by his side through the long ordeal. She cradled him on her lap and talked softly about the Lord. Instinctively, the woman was preparing her son for the final hours to come. Gracie told me that she entered his room one day as death approached, and she heard this lad talking about hearing bells. “The bells are ringing, Mommie,” he said. “I can hear them.”When God Doesn't Make Sense

Gracie thought he was hallucinating because he was already slipping away. She left and returned a few minutes later and again heard him talking about hearing bells ringing. The nurse said to his mother, “I’m sure you know your baby is hearing things that aren’t there. He is hallucinating because of the sickness.”

The mother pulled her son closer to her chest, smiled and said, “No, Miss Schaeffler. He is not hallucinating. I told him when he was frightened — when he couldn’t breathe — if he would listen carefully, he could hear the bells of heaven ringing for him. That is what he’s been talking about all day.”

That precious child died on his mother’s lap later that evening, and he was still talking about the bells of heaven when the angels came to take him. What a brave little trooper he was! His courage was not reported in the newspapers the next day. Neither Tom Brokaw nor Dan Rather told his story on the evening news. Yet he and his mother belong forever in our “Heroes’ Hall of Fame.”

Averil, too, was such a brave trooper.

My second quote is one of my favourites from the famous English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon:

“God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart. When you are so weak that you cannot do much more than cry, you coin diamonds with both your eyes. The sweetest prayers God ever hears are the groans and sighs of those who have no hope in anything but His love.”

I then closed with a song I had only discovered a few weeks ago. Near her end, I played a Christian worship music video for her near her bedside. Even though she was really not responding by this point, it was hoped the music would still be heard and bless her spirit.

A few days later, I found some massive 12-hour video with a kazillion such worship and praise songs. Perhaps an hour in, I heard a song that seemed to so perfectly describe Averil. I had not heard it before, but I loved the lyrics – and the music. So I sought to look it up. It seems it was first done by Lauren Daigle. It is called Trust In You.

However, the version I had heard was by Elenyi. I looked them up and they seem to be three teenage sisters (two born in Chile). You can listen to this beautiful and powerful song here. Please watch – it has become my favourite worship song:

The lyrics are these:

Letting go of every single dream
I lay each one down at Your feet
Every moment of my wandering
Never changes what You see
I’ve tried to win this war, I confess
My hands are weary, I need Your rest
Mighty warrior, King of the fight
No matter what I face, You’re by my side

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust
I will trust in You

Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
So in all things be my life and breath
I want what You want, Lord, and nothing less

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through

When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust
I will trust in You
I will trust in You

You are my strength and comfort
You are my steady hand
You are my firm foundation
The rock on which I stand
Your ways are always higher
Your plans are always good
There’s not a place where I’ll go
You’ve not already stood

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust
I will trust in You
I will trust in You
I will trust in You
I will trust in You

That is what Averil did: she fully trusted in Him, even when mountains were not moved, waters were not parted, and questions were not answered. Bless you, Averil. I love you. I miss you.

Afterword

A very good friend and sister in Christ – and someone who has known her fair share of suffering and hardship – posted this after watching the live stream of the service.

It occurs to me today, that even on his or her worst day a Christian “must” point, much like the Bethlehem Star which led the wise men in the nativity story, towards Christ. Even on his or her hardest day of suffering, on their day of greatest loss, they must not point to self, or even to the greatest achievement of their most precious loved one. They must keep their eyes on Christ, and their finger pointed firmly in same direction.

And not “must” in the sense that they “must”, “or else”. But they “must”; in that they are compelled by the love of Christ Himself, a love which gave everything, even his very life, in order to point us all back to the Father. They are compelled by their love of humanity, by their love of others, that they “must”, even on their worst and hardest day point directly towards a greater good and glory – the only greater good and glory – their Saviour and the Saviour of mankind – Jesus Christ.

I was thinking this today at her funeral, as we celebrated the life of this one-of-a-kind wonderful Christian lady, whose life was lost so painfully to cancer, and who lived a full and selfless life worth celebrating, but really all she in her dying, and her husband in his grief and loss wanted to do was point… even if just one person, toward their beloved Saviour.

Difficult, I would imagine for their friends and family who aren’t Christian to understand; why can’t we have this one day just for her, why can’t her husband have this one day just to grieve and to be… can’t we all just have one day when we can just focus on something else? But that is not true in the Christian’s spirit, even for a second, for just like the shining star in the Christ birth story, it is within their redeemed nature and it is what they were created to do; it is all in fact they “must do”, to shine brightly and point steadfastly their loved ones toward their beloved Saviour: Christ.

Beautiful, powerful and anointed words – bless you, Rissa Hann.

Postscript

A few brief things about the service. Well done, Carolyn Williamson, Crossway Baptist Church, and the techie crew. You all did a fantastic job.

Thanks again Crossway church team for putting on such a great service in all respects. You are champions.

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Originally published at CultureWatch.

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4 Comments

  1. Jim Twelves 21 July 2023 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Bill and family, thank you for sharing. Amidst tragedy you point to Jesus, thank you.

  2. Bill Muehlenberg 21 July 2023 at 10:48 am - Reply

    Thanks Jim.

  3. Ann 21 July 2023 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    So Sad…words do not convey the grief of what happened. A brave & wonderful lady. Sincere condolences… but they really do not say enough. The words really touched me deeply!

  4. Bill Muehlenberg 21 July 2023 at 5:13 pm - Reply

    Many thanks Ann.

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