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October 7th, 2017

Meditation – Pastor Bob Thompson

Over 40 years in church ministry, I can count on one hand the number of pastoral care visits I’ve made outside the Atlantic states.  Someone has to be pretty special for me to find a way to connect across hundreds of miles.  Marilyn Woodall was pretty special.

The story begins in the fall of 2014.  Each year at

our church, the senior adults take a trip to the nearby mountains to enjoy the fall colors.  Pastor Lori generally organizes the outings, but when my wife Linda and I are able, we try to go along as well.

So it was about this time three years ago that we were loading up the church bus to head north toward Boone.  Marilyn Woodall had signed up to go, but she was uncharacteristically a no show.  We tried calling her – no answer.  Finally, after delaying the trip well past the arranged meeting time, we knew we had to head out.  We learned later that she had been in an automobile accident.

So it was time for her to transition to a place where she would have round-the-clock care close to one of her children.  It happened to be Dana, who lives in St. Louis.  She moved there the following March.

Here at Corinth, we all grieved that moment, even though we knew it was necessary.  For the better part of a decade, Marilyn had embedded herself deeply in the hearts of this church family with her generous heart and warm testimony of faith.  The choir was especially her connection to us.

Last spring I was invited to speak at a church in Edwardsville, Illinois, just across the river from St. Louis.  There was no way I was getting that close without a visit to Marilyn.  Dana helped me with the connection and with picking out her favorite flower and candy.  I think I brightened Marilyn’s day, but I can sure tell you that selfie represents one of my favorite memories in four decades of pastoral ministry.

Felicia said her mother was a disciplined Bible reader, and Mark added that one of his mother’s favorite Scriptures was John 1:12, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  Marilyn loved knowing she was a child of God.

I decided to read the first 14 verses of John’s gospel, because the stories Marilyn’s children related to me this week reminded me how John’s prologue points us to the many ways God makes himself known to us.

The most common way God shows himself is through creation.  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (3).  All around us we see the wonder and beauty, the creativity and variety of all God has made.

Marilyn loved God’s world.  I’m sure that’s why she didn’t want to miss that fall mountain trip.  She loved yellow tulips, she loved her garden, she loved butterflies.  Mark said butterflies probably symbolized her carefree spirit.

She loved colors.  Several of us are wearing pink today, one of her favorite colors.  My wife and I went shopping for a new television the other day.  We haven’t bought one in ten years or so, which is not surprising for us.  We had a black and white TV for the first decade of our married life – basically two colors which shades of gray in between.  The salesperson told us you can now get a TV with billions of colors.  Seriously?  Who knew?  Marilyn probably did.  She loved the infinite hues of God’s pallet.

But that wasn’t all.  She loved animals.  Dana recalled Duchess, the family German Shepherd when they were growing up, and Alex, a shih tzu later in her life.  Think what the world would be like without God’s gift of animals.

Also on this creation theme are the sounds of the world around us.  Marilyn had one of those contagious laughs.  It’s one thing to see a smile, but can you imagine a world where you can never hear someone snicker or guffaw?  Marilyn couldn’t.  It’s one of those amazing ways we can reflect the image of God and enjoy his creation.  You can experience so much of the majesty and wonder of God in the natural world.

The most concrete way God shows himself is through people.  “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light” (6-7). As if his created order is not enough, God teaches us so much through other people.  We’re relational beings, and when we live in connection with others we learn so much about them, and us, and God.  The reason we can have relationships is because we’re made in the image of God, who is throughout eternity three persons in perfect community.

A nation is one aspect of that community, and Marilyn loved her country.  Mark said she “was the most patriotic person I’ve ever known.  She very highly valued honoring, respecting, and esteeming the flag, the national anthem, and any other national symbols of the United States of America.”

Marilyn was just easy to love, and she reached out to others.  She was an excellent cook and also enjoyed making things for others.  She made two different blankets for Linda and me, which we still curl up with during the winter as we remember her.  Mine was especially in honor of the only sports team I avidly pull for, the Carolina Panthers.

Will and Cori Thompson were among those she first connected to here at this church.  When she joined, in fact, they were the only two people she wrote down as friends.  Through the years that bond stayed intact.  Cori’s now part of our Elder board, and when Marilyn’s name came up in May of this year on our alphabetical list of Families of the Month, Cori called Marilyn.  Her prayer request was that “her grandchildren will know Christ personally.”  Cori said Marilyn told her that “Her joys are her eight grandchildren.  The 16-year-old took her spring break and came to St. Louis to visit her – blessed her so much.  She’s at peace and knows the Lord is with her.  She wanted me to tell Bob her favorite food is ice cream.”  (It’s mine too!)

It really is true that the people connection Marilyn valued the most was her family – her children and grandchildren.  Felicia said she would joke that her four kids made her crazy, but they were also her life.  She had moved to Hickory in 2004 to help Felicia care for Amanda and Paige, whom she took on countless Starbucks dates.

Mark said his final conversations with his Mom included lots of laughs, including over a recipe for Ronnie Rooster Cinnamon Toast.  That’s really a thing, you know?

Dana remembered Mom teaching him it’s OK to cry, and telling him he could do whatever he wanted if he put his mind to it.  He set his mind on the United States Military Academy at West Point, and he got there.  She hand wrote and mailed him a post card every single day during his first summer of training as a plebe.

Paul was adopted by Bob and Marilyn, which he always took as a model of extreme generosity and kindness.  Even though he has led, in his words, an unconventional and anarchic life, he never doubted his mother’s love and acceptance.

In all those ways, Marilyn showed us that it’s not difficult in the midst of human relationships, flawed though we all are, to see the character of God.

Finally, the most complete way God shows himself is through Jesus.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (14).  Although God shows us much about himself in nature and in personal relationships, we would have been lost forever if God had not stepped into our world and become one of us.  Jesus Christ is his ultimate and only way of saving us from our sins.

When people join our church, as Marilyn did in 2008, we ask them to write a brief statement of faith in a little box on the membership form.  Apparently the box wasn’t enough for Marilyn, so she typed out her faith on a half page of paper.  Here’s what she said –

Jesus is my Lord and Savior whom God the Father sent to earth to teach us everything we need to know.  He was crucified, rose from the tomb and ascended to sit at God’s right hand.  He did this all for me and all who believe in Him and accept Him as their Lord and Savior.  My confession of sin and asking Jesus to come into my heart brought the Holy Spirit to live within me.  The Holy Spirit is my constant refuge and guide.

I was brought up in the Christian Science religion which I now believe to be false teaching.  In 1995, at the age of 56, I accepted Jesus publicly as my Lord and asked the Holy Spirit to come into my heart and govern my life.  The Lord had been leading me for some years but I didn’t recognize who it was that was leading me out of Christian Science.

I was divorced in 1989 and the Lord took me to a series of churches that preached the word as the Bible teaches.  I was baptized in a lake near Charlotte in approximately 1998. 

My love for Jesus and the Holy Bible has steadily grown.  But I am way behind others who have known Jesus much longer than I.  I feel as though I have graduated from Kindergarten and am ready to earnestly work at my spiritual education.  My hunger to know Jesus better and more intimately is very strong.  He is not only my Savior, but my best friend, my husband and my lover.

It has been a slow process for me.  I never became connected in many churches I attended.  Now I am ready to “connect” at Corinth.  I look forward to the adventure.

Marilyn’s faith changed everything for her, and it was her hope and strength as she took her final breaths on the earth this past Monday morning.  I’ll leave it up to Mark to share a little more of his Mom’s faith and those last hours when we close the service.

Final Thoughts – Mark Woodall

Those of you who know me know that I tend to be a man of many words. You would think that a man of many words would have much to say in memory of his mother. In fact, I have but one thing I want to share with you in memory of my mother today.

In 1994, at the age of 55, my mom acknowledged to God that she is a sinner. She accepted Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as the only sufficient payment for her sins by which she could enter the kingdom of heaven; and, she invited Jesus Christ into her heart to dwell there forevermore as her Lord and Savior.

Eight years prior, at the age of 19, I had done the same.

My sister shared with me that, among our mom’s last strained words were, “Mark, Mark, Mark, forever and ever, Mark, Mark, Mark.” My sister shared with me that she understands the meaning of these words to be an expression of love for me by our mom. Regardless whether it was her actual intended meaning of those words, it is a fact that, by virtue of our brotherhood in Christ Jesus as our shared Lord and Savior, mom and I will indeed be together, sharing our love for one another, forever and ever, in the Lord’s kingdom to come.

Regarding all of her many virtues and blessings to myself and to multitudes of others on this sinful fallen earth in this sinful fallen life that we are all living here, there is nothing that comes close to comparing to the significance and importance of my mother’s decision, 70% of the way through her life that just passed, to acknowledge her need of a Savior from her sin and her choice to turn to Jesus Christ and accept His death on the cross as the only sufficient basis of that salvation.

Mom, I look forward to sharing your love for me and my love for you together, forever and ever, in the next, far better, life to come. I’ll see you there soon; and, I look forward to that reunion with longing.

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