She was a genuinely funny person. I am confused to this day about the spelling of her last name because of a remark she made about fortresses and sandwiches and mountains. I doesn’t make much sense right now but to be with her in person and hear her talk about it was hilarious. She was a fixture along with Bev Drager in skits that became famous in the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. Somewhere in my pile of stuff there is a chicken tie that would take too much time to explain right now, but LWML Counselors were pretty much forced to wear it – in a kind way of course. She could do a mean Norwegian accent and I believe that she auditioned for one of the Kroll Diner commercials. She did the “sit down and eat” bit with German brogue for me about five times and she was very good.
She received the sobriquet “Mother Superior” in the LWML Assembly of leaders some years ago, not because she acted superior but because she was a servant leader, gracious and kind and extremely patient. Upon meeting her you knew you had a friend. When you walked away from her you knew she wouldn’t forget you. When she said that she would pray for you, you knew it was not just a clichéd conversation ender, it was a promise.
She and her husband Don were extremely interested in Missions. They were fixtures and pillars in the LWML, LLL, Orphan Grain Train and so many other things. Marlene was very interested in the All Faiths Chapel music ministry and supportive as well. They attended everything and supported so much, including each other. I very seldom saw her without him and vice versa. I am sure that Don will continue on as example and support.
She was also a theologian. I had a long conversation with her years ago that has stayed with me because of two things. We were on the telephone and she kept going to the window to see “what Don was up to in the yard”. I could imagine her moving the curtains to see if he was loading or unloading a bin, or moving machinery, all the while conversing with me about consolation. How we got on that topic I have no idea. The point was that no matter how funny, perceptive, faithful, conscientious, a person is there will be trials and tribulations and difficulties in abundance. We don’t just dance through the world, much of the time we are just limping along. Some times in the limping we help.
The conversation came to my mind because it seems like at least once a week I have repeated the same words from the funeral agenda, the old one. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort whereby we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1)
“Blessed be God!” Paul is full of wonder and praise and so was Marlene. She was always a bit stunned that God empathizes, sympathizes, feels for human beings in the terrible things that happen in life. Knowing that God is “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” a God who sent His Son into this world out of love and grace and shear mercy for the sinner, can “sigh with” us in our tribulation is an incredible thing (Is. 66: 13). God’s mercy is also active. God does not just feel for us, He does something. Our conversation was about the magnitude of having a God aware of our many troubles, to have God sigh with us in them and then having comfort, that effective strengthening power in enduring sufferings. For Marlene these were not just words but a powerful impulsion to seek out those who were suffering and comfort them with the comfort she had so often received. We talked about how so many folks want to avoid suffering and those who are in the midst of it. “They need their privacy” or “we don’t want to intrude” are the excuses. The truth might be that we haven’t allowed God to comfort us. We don’t need comfort, we need escape and sometimes it doesn’t come. If God doesn’t rescue, the old human nature rebels even against the comfort. Marlene had great insights into the nature of human beings because she sought to be “truly human”. That means to have the full and complete reliance upon God which is the essence of the 1st Commandment, and the essence of being a creature. She lived in the rhythm of saying “God be merciful to me a sinner” and hearing the Gospel announcement of forgiveness in Christ, to responding with “blessed be God”.
Marlene died early this morning and we mourn with her family and friends but we also say “blessed be God”. You cannot tell by the picture whether Marlene is waving hello or goodbye. Some of us never had a chance to say good bye but many people who saw the picture of her surrounded by former LWML Presidents have told me that that is the essence of the LWML – the ongoing and continuous sister and brotherhood in service and devotion to Christ and His church. We don’t have to say goodbye. Someday we will meet at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that will never end. For those who knew Marlene, don’t be surprised when you get there to hear a voice with a German brogue say, “sit down und eat”.
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