I had the privilege of serving as an interim pastor of a small congregation in Waynesburg, Ohio. That time ended in November 2011. It was my first pastorate, which I thought would never come. I learned a lot about myself and about the Church through that process. I am still processing and probably will be processing those experiences for quite some time. During that time I got to know these people pretty well and came to dearly love them. They are good people and they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. One particular woman from the group stuck out to me, Margie. She was an active member of our congregation and served the Lord well in our group. Margie was a widow and had lost her husband not long before I came to know her. In March 2011, I received the news that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Soon after that, my wife and I began to visit Margie most weeks after church. Through these visits we got to know some of her family. She always had a bright smile, she was always playing hostess despite her limitations and she gave the best hugs! Best of all, she loved Jesus Christ and held strongly to her faith in Him through her experiences with cancer.
I had the amazing honor of taking part in her funeral along with her brother, a retired pastor. I can’t describe fully the impact of that day. My time with the church had ended, but I began to see that Margie was one of the lasting things from my experience there. I had the privilege of walking with Margie through her last days and experiencing death from a pastoral perspective. I admit I was scared. Could I offer her what she needed to hear? Could I be what she needed as a pastor during that time? I wasn’t what she needed; she needed Jesus and needed to know that He was with her every step of the way. Margie was my friend; she was not just another person, not just some ministry experience. I will miss her tremendously.
My friend, mentor and pastor told me a few days before the funeral that Margie had taken her first breath of eternal air, just after taking her last breath here. Naturally, I stole that and used it at her funeral, not because it was a good little saying, but because it was true. When Margie’s eyes closed here to all the trouble and pain that her cancer had brought her, she opened her eyes to the smiling face and outstretched hand of our Lord and Savior. She breathed her first breath, her eyes opened and she was home.
I am excited to see her again in eternity. Eternity; that is quite a concept! It’s a lot longer than the work day that I have had today, that feels like forever. It is a lot longer than my 27 years here on this planet that feels like quite a long time. It is a lot longer than I can even grasp. The same friend, mentor and pastor had told me before as well that he believes in Christianity because it’s true. It is the truth. Truth is something that is scarce to many these days. It is something that many try to find and that many pretend to not care about. The truth is, we all have a forever and sorry Rob Bell, but we have two options of where we go, Heaven or Hell. It is a startling reality, especially when someone is close to death, when you are close to death. I felt close to death, not for myself, but to the reality of death as I sat next to Margie about a week before she passed. I asked her if she had any doubts about her faith. She was having trouble concentrating and she was not really looking at me, but when I asked her that question, she paused, turned her head towards me and looked almost right through me down to my soul and said, “No, I believe He will do what He said, because He said it.” Then she smiled and went back to staring off. This life isn’t forever, we are all dying and it’s not because of hydrogenated oil or high fructose corn syrup, but because these bodies are frail and not eternal. My friend Margie knew something as she approached her last day, something that sustained her until she opened her eyes to see the fulfillment of her faith. I pray you know what and who my friend knew and now knows face-to-face.
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” Jude 24-25