Yesterday, May 5, 2009, was the memorial service for my close friend, Marietta Welter. It also happened to be the birthday of her husband, Gary Welter, who was married to her for 35 years. (They knew one another since they were teens.)
The service was beautiful. Knowing that Marietta is with Christ and will rise again on the last day (as Jesus promised), we celebrated her life rather than only grieved her loss. Others spoke and told stories about her. It was a time of loving, laughing, weeping, but most of all, rejoicing in her life on this earth. A life that blessed so many people.
I was asked to give a speech remembering her. Here’s the transcript of what I said:
I own a 2,000 page manual entitled WHAT TO DO IN EVERY DIFFICULT SITUATION.
So when Gary asked me to share the opening at this service, I immediately grabbed that manual. I went to the table of contents and found the entry that said, What to do when you are asked to speak at a close friend’s memorial service – page 500.
I quickly turned to page 500, and discovered that the entire chapter had been ripped out.
Consequently, I don’t have the vaguest idea on how to do this. So I’m just going to speak from my heart.
My wife and I got to know Gary and Marietta very well over the last three years. We become very close friends. About as close as friends can get.
When Marietta was diagnosed with her illness, she and Gary lived in our home for 3 months. We spent every day together. We laughed (if you know Marietta, she would have you laughing), we cried, we prayed, and we fellowshipped. This was a great privilege for us.
Beyond the joy of knowing Marietta and being blessed by her friendship, there were a number of things that Marietta taught me personally.
First, she introduced me to a new dimension of the creativity of Jesus Christ. I remember sitting on my couch with Gary and Marietta. And we watched the DVD of her paintings and murals. I sat there stunned at the incredible gift she had to portray God’s creation. An artist always puts a piece of their own personality into their artwork. You will see a presentation shortly showing you that very DVD. Please keep this in mind when you watch it. And you too will be stunned.
Second, she taught me how to trust the Lord in the face of adversity. Now I have gone through trials before. But nothing like what Marietta faced. And I watched that woman walk through the blackest night with grace, peace, and faith in her Lord. I never saw her flinch or hiccup on that point. Treatment for Leukemia is no picnic. It’s brutal. She had to endure it twice because the first blood transfusion didn’t take. She spent a total of 7 months in a hospital bed. She spent Christmas there. Yet every time I was with her, she didn’t fail telling a jokey comment or a funny quip. And her concern was always for the state of mind of her loved ones. Even when she went through the most suffering, she was more concerned with the suffering of others. She kept thinking, “What about Gary? How is he holding up?”
Emerson said, “The hero is no braver than the ordinary person; the hero just fights five minutes longer.” Well, Marietta fought 7 months longer. And for that reason, she’s become one of my heros.
Third, she taught me how to die. I was with Marietta on the last day that she graced this earth with her presence. All throughout the entire ordeal, up until the very end, she had the countenance of God’s peace and grace upon her face. She showed forth the spirit of the Lamb up until the Savior brought Him into her arms.
Before she fell ill, she told us that she was asking the Lord for opportunities to share Him with those who didn’t know Him. Well, she was given that opportunity. Marietta shared the Lord with everyone who cared for her at the hospital – the doctors, nurses, social workers, and the rest. They were profoundly impacted by her. And they all fell in love with her. I saw them coming in to greet her on the last day she leaved, many of them weeping.
We Christians really don’t die. We fall asleep. The New Testament is clear on this. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. But our bodies sleep until the last day. Marietta just fell asleep a little bit ahead of us. And she fell asleep with style, with class, with faith, with grace, and with a heart filled with love for others rather than pity for herself.
I thank God for having the privilege of knowing this sister. The world is not worthy of such a one as this. She was a choice vessel of the Lord. And she greatly impacted the life of Frank Viola.
While her passing is great gain for her; it’s a huge loss for us who knew her. There will be a gaping hole in our hearts for some time. But God will use the instrument of time to heal those holes.
There are so many things that we don’t know on this side of the veil. We are finite creatures, tied to space and time, captured to a little speck of human history and experience. God is infinite, He is eternal, He sees the beginning from the end and the end from the beginning. He knows all things that can be known. He sees the big picture. That which we can’t possibly know or see.
It is for this reason that so much of life is a mystery. Our God has chosen to not fully disclose His every plan. He instead beckons us to trust Him. To rest confidently in the fact that He can see further than we can. And what He does is always right and just.
Nonetheless, we can take comfort in a few things this morning that simply will not move.
While our God is sovereign and sees and knows all things. We can be assured of this. He suffers with us in our pain. He grieves with us in our loss. He hurts with us in our suffering. So we can cling to Him in our time of grief and mourning.
While the wisest among us do not have any answers as to the question, “why” … and such answers really wouldn’t remove the pain anyway even if we knew them … as children of the most high God, we can weep with those who weep and suffer with those who suffer. And therein, we can find some comfort.
I’ll close with a Scripture.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever trusts in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
Therein lies the destiny of Marietta, and it’s the destiny of all who have trusted in the Savior, the Lord Jesus.
These are the Scripture I read at the graveside ceremony. I include them here in the advent that you have lost someone in Christ. I trust you’ll find them a comfort as I have:
And Martha said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies …
For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.
We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of the world, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.