What a Legacy, and What a Hope!

My friend Amanda posted Rev. 21:4 this morning.  So thankful for the truth of this verse!!

I pulled into the Neighborhood Market parking lot last night and found myself in tears.

I hadn't realized, until last night, that every time I pull into that parking lot I subconsciously wonder if I'm going to run into Bro. Phil and Mrs. Merlene.  We have bumped into them there so often over the years that apparently I've grown to anticipate that possibility.

We've known for a week that our sweet friend Merlene probably wouldn't come back home to Fort Smith, but would almost assuredly go straight Home to Jesus from her hospital room in Little Rock.

Last night in the parking lot, the realization hit that we wouldn't ever round a corner in the store and see her scooting around in the motorized cart again.

And it made me cry.

Often, the kids would see her before she saw us.  Their faces would light up and off they'd go...sometimes in a big rush, sometimes very quietly and stealthily so as to "surprise" her.

They love Mrs. Merlene.  Oh how they love Mrs. Merlene.  She's been like a grandmother to them.  She's been like family to all of us.

The moment she would see them...any of them, or Billy or I...her face would light up, too.  No matter how much pain she was in...and it was often obvious she was in a great deal...she would pull everyone down one at a time for a hug.  Usually they were more than just quick hugs, and often she would whisper a message into our ears as she squeezed tight.

We are going to miss those hugs. 

As I wiped my tears and pulled myself together to go into the store, I began to try to organize the flood of thoughts swirling in my head.  They still aren't very organized, but I'm afraid they are as good as they're going to get. :)

Encountering Sunshine

Not for the first time by far, I pondered the fact that there are certain people you just love to bump in to when you are out and about. An unexpected encounter just makes your day.  You leave with a smile and a bit of an extra bounce in your step.  Those visits are like sunshine peeking out from behind a cloud.

Then there are those people you dread bumping in to...you see their car across the parking lot or you catch a glimpse of them across the store, and you do everything possible to avoid a face to face  encounter, because you know that their gloom and grumpiness is going to cast a pall on your day, as an unexpected black cloud hiding the sun on an otherwise beautiful afternoon.

Merlene was part of that first group.  It was always a delight to see her.  I never came away from an encounter with her that I didn't come away feeling encouraged and loved.  Things weren't always rainbows and roses, but even when our visits involved hard things, they were still a blessing.

That wasn't just true for me, or for our family.  It was true of many, many people.  As her children have posted updates this week on Facebook, so many people have shared what  Merlene has meant to them over the years.  She made all those around her feel loved and special.  

What a legacy! 

Heritage of Faithfulness
As I was hunting for my favorite photo of Merlene earlier this week, I was reminded of this blog post. The photo was taken at the 50th anniversary celebration for our former church, and that post was written about what God taught me through the time of preparation and celebration.  Merlene is one of those who has been known for her faithfulness...and for God's faithfulness evident in and through her.

As a faithful pastor's wife, as a mom, as a friend, as a mentor, as long-time children's Sunday School teacher and department director, she has impacted many for the Lord.

What a legacy!

Sickness to the Glory of God
This week as we have grieved the coming loss, we have also prayed, for her sake, that it would come quickly.  She has dealt with pain and debilitation for so long.  Once it became obvious that her healing would almost certainly come on the other side, rather than this one, we longed for her to experience that healing and see her Savior face to face.  We knew that she longed for that, too.

Bro. Gary has been preaching from John 11 the last few weeks, and we've been reminded about "sickness to the glory of God."  Like my dad in his illness, Merlene in her illness has been a constant conduit of God's glory. (Read more of my dad's testimony here and here.)  While she's been open about her struggles, she has been steadfast in her certain hope in God throughout.

Her focus has been first on the Lord, and then on others: her family, first and foremost, and then many others for whom her loving concern poured out.  During some of our hardest conversations about her health, she always seemed to come back to her concern for our children.  She knew they worried about and prayed for her, and she didn't want to cause them grief or pain.

What a legacy! 

God just keeps showing us examples of "sickness unto the glory of God."  I posted yesterday on Facebook a link to a blog post that ministered greatly to me.  Benjamin is a young man the same age as our Peter who has been fighting cancer for over two years now.  Many of you have prayed for him and his family.  His sister Esther's post from a couple of days ago is a must-read for anyone touched by cancer or grief.  Here's an excerpt:

The cancer isn't consuming him; the Lord is slowly pulling him away from the cancer. In the end, it's God that wins.

Our entire purpose for living here on this earth is to bring glory to God.

...soon God is going to answer our prayers. My brother will be healed forever.

So, this is my new perspective. My brother isn't dying; he's slowly being healed.

This past week in that hospital room in Little Rock, it may have looked as though the cancer was consuming Merlene.  It wasn't.  God has been slowly pulling her away from the cancer.

Last night around 9:42 p.m., the prayers of hundreds for healing for Mrs. Merlene were answered.  She is pain-free, and worshiping her Savior face to face.  I can't help but wonder if she's been greeted by Mrs. Mavis, Gary P., my dad, and so many others who have gone on before her.  Regardless, her joy is now complete.

Our prayers are now for her family and the many, many who loved her and were impacted by her life.  And we thank God for the ways He used her in our lives and the blessing she was to us in so many ways.

Most of all, we are thankful for the sure and certain hope of believers.  Merlene knew without a doubt that when she left earth, it would be to step straight into Heaven, because she had been convicted of her sin and called on the Lord to save her many years ago.

What a comfort, and what a hope!

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.
~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Today's Creativity Thursday has been postponed until tomorrow. Please check back then for Part 3 on Resources for Teaching Creativity. 

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