There are so many things in my daily life that are touched by Marla. She was the first to make me listen to Brian Regan, she and I shared a love of muppets, and a love of decorating, and a love of applying movie quotes to daily life. She insisted that I try mint caramel dove chocolate, and we both love candy corn and tim tams. Even as I look around my office I see a stuffed kitty-kat that Marla gave to me one winter when I was battling a particularly nasty cold, a mug in the shape of a caldron that was filled with fall themed candy, a book that I loaned her years ago and just never took home, and a picture of us at NACCAP in front of a very amusing 4-story tall mural of Jesus. All of these things are shot through with joy, sass, and tenderness. I have so many memories of Marla saying something completely unexpected at just the right time, and it was hilarious. And even as I try to remember all the places in my life that are touched by Marla, it only hints at what it is that she meant to me and the impact she had.
That's the thing about Marla- her greatest impact is shown in the lives of people around her. Sometimes it feels like everyone says that, but it was true in such a special way with Marla. She listened without judgment, she was great at keeping confidences, and she invested deeply in the lives of those around her because she had a gift of seeing beauty and good in others. She was great at remembering and caring about things that were going on your life, following up on those things, and asking you what you needed in order to grow and move forward in your life. It is a rare gift indeed to actively invest in the growth of others as it interacts with daily reality.
I think this last thing was rooted so deeply in Marla that it was hard to see. It can be hard to see that someone cares about your personal growth and your relationship with God. It can be harder to see when someone is invested deeply and advocating for you; and it can be even harder yet to see when that gift is in someone who is unassuming. I have seen it today in the outpouring surrounding Marla’s death. So many people have shared kind words and stories about Marla and they all contain some reflection of this particular strength. “She always wished she had more time to spend with each one of them.” “I am privileged to have known her.” “She truly fought hard to live well.” “Your love for the Lord was evident and you will be missed.” “Boss and dear friend.” “Co-worker, friend, confidant.”
One thing people remark on is Marla’s faith and her attitude in the midst of several battles with cancer. She would be the first to tell you that it was the Spirit in her. I know that she treasured the chances she got to point to the Lord and that she carried a burden for others to know the love of Christ. That has also been very clearly reflected in people's remembrances of Marla from sharing verses to talking about her example, encouragement, and joy that she is in heaven.
A few years ago, right after Marla was diagnosed with stage four cancer, her church started a series on heaven. It was a delight to be friends with Marla as she learned more about heaven and leaned into that reality in a deeper way. She had the unique position of being able to learn knowing that it would be true not just “one day” but one day soon. One of my favorite memories was when she learned that we will work in heaven- that we will have labor that is free from the fall and full of reward and fruit. Marla loved work, she loved TIU, and she loved the people she worked with. So the thought of having a role, a way to contribute that is not fallen and tainted with the struggle of sin- that was a glorious thought! I cannot wait to get to heaven and see what it is that Marla is up to and how much work she already has done, and to hear about it, and see the things she has built. As I sat there listening to her, we were both getting excited about this upcoming reality, and it hit me- she got to go first. I told her as much and she replied “You are darn right I do, I have cancer, and something good has to come out of this.” And it has, friend. I submit that many, many good things have come out of your cancer, and I am so deeply sorry that you had to walk through this and I can only wish that you never had to.