By Judy VanderWilt
A note from Karen: Dear readers, Marlin VanderWilt was Pastor Emeritus of my congregation, Hope Church. His work deeply touched my life. Earlier this year, he passed away. His wife of 60 years, Judy, has been grieving the loss of Marlin . . . and doing so amidst the pandemic, political discord, and racial unrest of our world in 2020. Judy shared the following reflections with me; it inspired me to copy Romans 8:38 and post it on my bulletin board over my desk. Maybe this story will also give others an anchor during difficult times.
On Sunday, November 28, 1971, the first Sunday of Advent, Marlin preached his first sermon at Hope Church. In that sermon he had reflected on how God provides for us a “bridge over troubled waters.” The following morning Marlin’s mother called, telling him that his father had a serious heart attack. Marlin left that day for Iowa, but his father died before he arrived.
Fast-forward four decades and I am cleaning out some family files after Marlin’s death. I come across some of Marlin’s notes that he created during Lent of 2017, where we studied times of lament at Hope Church. In these notes, Marlin recalled how he felt when learning about his father’s death. Marlin’s notes described how empty he felt as he experienced his separation from his father. As he reflected on that event, he wrote, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God,” the verse which was the central text for his father’s funeral. After his father’s funeral, Marlin created a wall plaque that included the full text of Romans 8:38 on the front and a copy of his father’s funeral folder on the back.
Towards the end of Marlin’s life in 2019, the Hospice nurse notified us that Marlin probably had only weeks to live, not months. One day shortly thereafter, as Marlin was trying to come to terms with his own death, Pastor Gordon made a pastoral call. After helping Marlin identify his feelings regarding his own death, Gordon ended his visit by reading from Romans 8, concluding with verse 38. At the end of that reading, even though Marlin had limited cognitive understanding, he said, “Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, Gordon! That was wonderful!”
Not too long ago, while going through a box of old documents, I found the Romans 8:38 wall plaque that Marlin made in 1971. I hung it in my office.
As I work through my grief over Marlin’s death and my separation from him, I take comfort from the text: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” At my times of deepest lament, I, too, take comfort from the words which were Marlin’s “bridge over troubled waters.”