Major Sheila Bradley remembered
by Robert Docter –
Under a brilliant southern California sun and in the shadows of the San Gabriels she loved, officer colleagues, friends and fellow soldiers of the Pasadena Tabernacle said farewell and vaya con dios to a thoroughly committed wife, mother, registered nurse and sterling Salvationist, Major Sheila Bradley, promoted to Glory March 10, 2010.
A capacity audience joined her family as celebrants of a life well lived—a life of courage and commitment, a life of consistency and consecration, a life filled with beauty and love.
For almost two decades, Bradley fought the ravages of leukemia, winning battles time after time that provided lengthy periods of remission. As additional bouts with the disease attacked, she demonstrated strength and courage as a real fighter, persevering to the very end.
Led by long time friends, Lt. Colonels Doug and Diane O’Brien, Northwest divisional leaders, the celebration of life service opened with “Christ is all, my all in all, my Christ is all in all,”—a reflection of Bradley’s daily perspective.
Born Sheila Stewart in Dundee, Scotland, she was an officer for nearly 26 years, and was a first generation Salvationist. Brought up in the Church of Scotland, Bradley joined The Salvation Army through a corps youth group at 16. She was commissioned as an officer with the Overcomers Session in 1976 and served in three appointments in the British Territory as commanding officer in Shepherd’s Bush, West Bromich and Smallthorne. Bradley briefly left officership to complete a nursing program, when she was introduced to Steve Bradley by then Captain Doug O’Brien in 1981. Following a long distance courtship, the two were married in January 1983 at the Torrance, Calif., corps. She became a licensed nurse in California in 1984 prior to entering the School for Officers Training with Steve.
The Bradleys have two children: Jonathan, 24, and Aleen, 23.
In addition to her skills in discernment and counseling, Bradley was also known for her soprano voice. She enjoyed singing duets with her husband and participating in the Pasadena Tabernacle Songsters.
In tribute to her, the Songsters, led by Martin Hunt, presented a rendition of Andrae Crouch’s “Through it All.” The words: Through it all I’ve learned to trust in Jesus—that my trials come only to make me strong, awakened memories of Sheila’s courage, strength, determination and most of all, her faith.
The Tabernacle Band, led by William Flinn, offered “From Earth’s Confusion” and the Swedish hymn “How Great Thou Art.”
Soldiers, friends and family identified personal characteristics of Bradley’s remarkable contribution to the lives of those she touched. People spoke of her smile and her joy, of her gift of strength when they felt weak, of her reminder that fear is only the way we diminish our confidence in God. They spoke of the way she modeled a complete life, showing how to live a life like Christ, how she lived to radiate Christ’s love and life.
“Sheila was tested, tried and found victorious,” said friend, Major Mariam Rudd. “She has made heaven a sweeter place for me.”
It was her family’s tributes, however, that displayed abounding love for this woman.
Jonathan, said, in a firm, strong voice: “She was strong; she was brave; she was righteous; she was true.” He commented on her consistency—“exactly the same with everyone. I never saw her judge others or speak poorly of others or try to put them down. I never saw her turn down the chance to help others. She also commanded respect. She had an aura of confidence about herself—even confronting people in public places if they were swearing or fooling around. Sometimes, I thought my mom and I were about to get beat up, but they would all comply. Amazing!” As he concluded, he said: “I’ll miss her presence deeply, but am thankful that she is in my life and always will be.”
Aleen began with a verse she and Jonathan sang with their mother as kids:
And her attributes can’t be compiled.
She’s a marvelous mum and a marvelous chum,
And she thinks I’m a marvelous child.
She continued, “The word ‘marvelous’ can’t begin to describe my mother. Every day she told me she loved me—she cherished me, and she saved me—saved my soul for Christ. Truly, she was, as my dad says: ‘the real deal’—the genuine article. Death was conquered by love.
“I believe you are here today because she passed on some of her God-given light to you,” she said. “My mother was a bold woman who made bold requests. Today, my bold request of you is that you promise me and her that you will take whatever light she gave to you and ignite it in others. If you can make this promise, please stand now.” Everyone stood. “Let her light continue to shine from you,” she concluded.
Steve, in his imitable fashion began by calling Tabernacle corps officer, Major Ron Toy, to the platform: “Major, if Sheila were here, she would remind me that we are late with our tithe. Here it is,” he said, handing Toy his tithe envelope. “The tithe represents consistency and commitment—parts of Sheila’s character that were consistent with her mission to glorify God,” he said.
“Through the 27 years of our marriage, she taught me to enjoy life free of worry—to live each day a day at a time, that I did not have to be in control but only trust. We’ve learned together that we could glorify God by the way we met life’s numerous challenges. We decided a few years ago that we would not ask God why things were happening to us. We would ask ourselves, ‘Why not us?’ We determined that it would be our mission, our privilege to take on the challenge in his strength and for his ultimate glory.
“I’m convinced that her life accomplished this mission,” Steve said. “Perhaps the best description of Sheila I’ve heard since her passing was when Commissioner Linda Bond referred to her as a ‘champion.’
“Sheila was the ultimate encourager, and when asked about her relationship with Christ, she would invariably say, with certainty and no hint of arrogance, ‘I am God’s favorite child.’ Then she would always add: ‘And so are you. You are God’s favorite child, too,’” he said. “You’re my favorite, too, sweetheart. I love you forever and always.”
Lt. Colonel Doug O’Brien built on the memorable line of verse 21 from Philippians 1:19-27, read by Major Linda Markiewicz: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
He spoke in a relaxed tone about the “hard topics of life and death—about how the mind of a sinful man is death—about how we tend to blame others or external circumstances for our own problems—about how we have great difficulty accepting responsibility for our own choices. He used the confession of David to Nathan following his affair with Bathsheba, I have sinned before the Lord” (2nd Samuel 12:13), as a model of responsibility.
O’Brien spoke of the reality that “the wages of sin is death”—the idea of “retributive justice,” and the additional reality that “the gift of God is a joyous and exuberant life.”
He drew upon the words of Moses in his final days of leadership of the children of Israel when he said: “This day…I have set before life and death, blessings and curses. Now, choose life.”
“Sheila chose life, and her life radiated the light of life,” O’Brien said. “But she was not defeated, not beat down, not discouraged. In Christ she had overcome all adversity and I know her name is written in the book of life.”
The final line of the closing song, “Eternal God” (song No. 5 in The Salvation Army Songbook): For Christ has overcome the world, repeated three times with dramatic crescendo that echoed through the room. Bradley would be proud of this message, for it was her motto in life—Christ has overcome.