Jan 20, 2013
On January 20, 2013, less than a month shy of the day we met 40 years ago, Nancy Marschall was taken off life support. My wife was a strong Christian, an amazing mother, and possessor of a modest personality that everyone loved. Her shyness masked a robust faith that touched and inspired uncountable people. Many of us would have defined ourselves by the ailments she endured: a diabetic since 13, she sustained several heart attacks, a heart and kidney transplant, thyroid cancer, legal blindness, toe amputation, broken bones, celiac disease, several strokes, dialysis, and, last week, a ruptured stomach ulcer that saw her lose 14 units of blood, outpacing transfusions. She experienced miraculous healings, and some healings by doctors’ hands. Other healings, she is experiencing right now.
For a long time she was unable to exercise, as you might imagine. But she exercised her faith. While waiting 18 weeks for a heart and kidney transplant, she overcame her shyness to pray with patients waiting with her at Temple University Hospital. Then she held services. I assisted, and she recruited our children Heather, Ted, and Emily, to participate in the services and room visitations, and pray with our counterparts in recipients’ families. Our faith was strengthened too as we dealt with heartache, unanswerable questions, grief, and shared joy. We witnessed healings, and helped lead people to conversions, in a ministry that lasted more than six years.
I could write many tributes to Nancy… or share how her life was a tribute to her Savior. Rather, recalling the “great cloud of witnesses” in Heaven who watch us, according to Hebrews chapter 11, I will quote from one of the many articles and media stories about Nancy, additional witnesses so to speak, and her affect on people on behalf of Christ.
“Giving Heart To Those Awaiting A New Life At Temple University Hospital, Nancy Marschall Leads Weekly Prayers For Patients On The Heart-Transplant List. Not Long Ago, She Was In Their Place,” was the headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 28, 1999. By Ellen O’Brien:
Nancy Marschall got a new heart and a new kidney on Valentine’s Day, 1996. Naturally, this is not something she would forget.
But Marschall does more than remember, when she wakes up every morning, that she’s still around at 45, and that – yes, again – she has a whole new day to live. Once a week for the last three years… she goes back to the seventh floor of Temple University Hospital, where she spent what may have been the longest 18 weeks of her life – the floor known officially as the Heart-Failure Care Unit….
“We’re just trying to open ourselves up to what God would have us do,” Marschall said, by way of explanation. “He’s just leading us.” Last Sunday, 14 patients and family members piled in to the prayer service, filling the little room to bursting – white, African American, West African and Asian, all of them speaking of life in very, very simple terms. “Our health is out of our hands. There’s nothing we can do any more,” Marschall said.
But still, she said, there is God to rely on: “He’s here. He’s with us, and nobody can separate us.” She was sitting in a wheelchair near the door, with one foot propped up in a plaster cast. She’s had diabetes for 30 years, which can numb the extremities, so when she broke a bone in her foot, she continued to limp around on it for an extra week, unaware of the injury.
The room where the Marschalls lead their service is small and modern, high off Broad Street, with a line of windows that curve into a bay. Three philodendron plants hang like leafy green globes in the sunlight…. When Marschall was waiting for her heart, patients couldn’t leave their rooms without an intravenous pole – and a hospital nurse to roll a heart-monitor along beside them. But not all the change is good: Now the wait is growing longer because the number of heart-failure cases is increasing every year while the number of heart donors has stayed the same.
“When people would go down for transplant, we’d say we’d pray for them. But did it really happen? . . . I just felt God speaking to me. And Rick had the same call,” Marschall said. “We’re talking about Christ, and the love of God, and the change He can have in our lives,” Marschall said. She added that she prays for guidance in this new missionary role: “I don’t want to mislead people.”
“We try to point everything to a better relationship with Christ,” Rick Marschall added. “We’re Christians, we’re not deists [or mere feel-good cheerleaders].”
In fact, until the transplant, the Marschalls attended services at the Pentecostal Christian Life Center in Bensalem every Sunday, and they still consider themselves part of that congregation, although they’re otherwise engaged now on Sunday mornings. … “I think we’re just like everybody,” Marschall said. “When there are things or burdens upon you, you tend to pray more. When things are going well, you tend to do it less.” Personally, she thinks this is a human trait that God understands.
At Sunday’s prayer service, the last hymn was “Amazing Grace,” but the tape that the Marschalls had brought along – to guide the impromptu choir – failed to include the second verse. This was a verse that Rick Marschall found particularly meaningful. As the tape rolled to the end, he urged everybody on: “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. . . .”
The sound of singing rose, strong and healthy and enthusiastic. You could hear it out in the hall…
Out in the halls, indeed. And far beyond. For the first time in decades, Nancy is now healed and whole and pain-free. I imagine she will look around Heaven for her granddaughter and our own stillborn baby, and the many people she inspired through the years, unless, of course, they see her first. In my picture of Heaven, all those wonderful reunions will have to wait a moment until Jesus stops hugging her as He whispers, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
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Christians often refer to death in a biblical way. It is not a euphemism like “passing away,” but the literal situation – “home-going.” Those of us who remain cannot fail to be a little jealous of sick people who become well, the lonely who embrace their Savior, the troubled who find peace. It is the home prepared for us, a place with many mansions, joy unspeakable and full of glory. This picture finds musical expression in the Negro spiritual based on the tune of the second movement of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” Performed here, with beautiful images, by the London churchboy’s choir Libera.
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