I was ushered into a bright, airy room which offered a breathtaking view of lush vegetation and distant mountains. The setting was so peaceful and relaxing, with the chirping of the birds outside giving background music, that I was unprepared to see my friend, Merle—that vibrant, out-going lady—lying so helplessly on the high, hospital-type bed.
She asked who had come in, as her sight was just about gone. When I called my name, it took a few seconds to register as I had been living away from Jamaica for many years. Then her sharp memory put it together, and before I knew it, she was asking for all the members of my family by name and saying over and over, "What a mighty God we serve!"
As a double amputee, with restricted hand movements and diabetes-ravaged sight, she evoked pity. Great sympathy welled up in my heart for this lovely lady who had so many strikes against her. But, I dared not express even one word of sadness, despite my aching heart. Even to my inquiry, "How are you doing?" elicited only praise to God for His many blessings.
She wanted to hear all about my children and grandchildren. Yes, all my children were grown, married, and pursuing their own careers. When she asked I told herof my mother's passing, and she expressed words of comfort and spoke of being faithful so we could meet my mother in the better land.
We talked, laughed, and exchanged experiences for over an hour; and not once did she mention an ache, a pain of any unpleasant circumstances. No expression of discomfort for having to lie in bed for over ten years, no bitterness for having to suffer severe pain, no rancor for the aborting of a successful career escaped her lips. I looked at her and marveled. She was a cheerful and sunny as the birds outside her window. What an example! What a wonderful spirit!
Then I noticed the telephone resting on the pillow in her bed. She told me she started and has maintained a telephone ministry for many years. She prepares a text from the Bible, a devotional thought, and some philosophical material every week. This she uses to encourage and cheer about 20 people every Friday. At the end of each call she reminds the individual of the time sun sets. She cannot leave her bed, but she is ministering to others. What a triumph of the spirit! No self-pity! Her only desire is to continue to be the shepherdess she always was and serve in any way she can.
My mind raced back to the Merle Bennett I knew 15 or 20 years ago. As a pastor's wife, her wise counsel, dedication, and positive outlook endeared her to her husband's parishioners. As an effective, caring teacher, she distinguished herself in the Education Department of the West Indies College in Mandeville, Jamaica. Her students made history in educational circles at that time, for on more than one occasion all her teacher trainees, in one sitting, passed the Joint Board of Education government examinations. This was quite a creditable accomplishment. Merle, however did not "blow her own horn." She had the satisfaction of a job well done and that was good enough for her.
Merle was progressive and ambitious. Not satisfied with her B.A. and M.A. degrees, she set her sights on a terminal degree. Unfortunately, after successfully completing all the course work for her Ph.D., illness forced her to shelve this dream. However, though all the vicissitudes of her life, her mind remains alert, her memory keen, her spirit sweet.
Her voice refocused my attention on what she was saying. "Thank you for the inspirational poems you have been sending me; and you know, I listen to the tapes you gave me almost every day."
"That's nothing," I replied and hurried on to sidetrack by saying, "Tell me about your children."
"Wayne now lives in the United States and is doing very well." She continued to tell me about his new position and then she mentioned her daughter. Melody returned home after getting her M.A. degree and accepted a position at West Indies College as Director of Admissions and Records. Merle smiled as we talked of her children's successes.
An optimistic outlook end a positive attitude helped li-r to count her blessings in spite of all her physical afflictions. Her loving and devoted husband, Harry, has been a pastor for 41 years. He was the Church Ministries Director for the West Indies Union and gave his services as lecturer for many years at West Indies College. Now retired he helps to keep Merle happy, for she depends upon Harry to be her best friend, confidant, lover, and nurse. She counts him as her specialblessing, for to her he epitomizes the spirit of the vow, "for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health ..." They have been married for 42 years.
Other members of this close-knit family rally around Merle in support and help. Pastors and church members come to look for her from time to time. Individually and in groups, the shepherdesses in the area visit her to sing, read, and pray with her. She counts these times as real blessings and looks forward to the interaction and fellowship.
Merle's indomitable spirit reflects the working of the Holy Spirit in her life, As a committed Christian, she gives her life to God anew each day. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit" is the only way a person saddled with such discouraging disabilities can valiantly overcome and display the sweet fragrance of God's love. She is an example to all who complain for every little inconvenience or problem. Instead of recounting sorrows, she counts her blessings; for she is not disabled but enabled through the triumph of the Spirit in her life. It is only through the Holy Spirit, who comforts and sustains her, that she continues to "fight the good fight of faith."
Merle is a source of inspiration to the downcast, a fount of encouragement to the depressed; and she brightens every life she touches because of the triumph of her own beautiful spirit.