Sunday, July 14, 2013

Big Deal

The sound of the vacuum cleaner greeted me as I walked through the doors and into the church foyer. It was 1998 and I was volunteering a few hours a week as a secretary. The man holding the hose - the custodian of the building - saw me. A half-smile flickered across his lips and he leaned over. He flicked a switch, and the vacuum's engine wheezed to a stand-still, rumbling its last bit of protest as he approached me. He had his "I got something to tell ya" look on his face, all serious. I wondered what in the world was next.

"You heard that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, did ya?" he asked me.

I nodded. "Yeah, I heard that somewhere or other." 

He leaned in closer and his voice became a hoarse whisper. "Well - he didn't get this far north!" Then he rocked back on his heels as I laughed ... and grinned as he turned back toward the vacuum. 

He was like that. 

He loved a good laugh. He loved food (cooking it and eating it!) He loved his dear wife. And he loved his Savior. Everything he did, he did with his whole heart. There were never any half-measures. It was whole hog - or in his case, whole "Jiggs dinner" (corned beef and cabbage) - or nothing.

He took particular delight in making people laugh. With him, not AT him. Though he and his wife were never able to have children, kids loved this guy. They flocked around him, calling him by his first name with the title "Mister" before it. "Mister Merrill" was a fixture at the preschool that was housed in the basement of the church for many a year. 

He was a living example of joy and of how the flame of romance never had to go out. He never lost the wonder that his little slip of a wife, whom he considered to be the most beautiful lady on the planet, was in love with him. And my, how he loved her. He always referred to her as "the bride." His bride. Wow.
This photo, "Wedding Day Thoughts"
courtesy of Timeless Photography at

One friend tells me that he'd say her name over and over to himself as he worked. Out loud - so her name would echo in the halls and come back to him. He did all the cooking, all the housework. He drove her to Costco nearly every weekend and filled up the van with whatever she wanted. And speaking of the van ... since she was small of stature, he would outfit any new van he got with running boards, so that she could step up into it with no trouble. He'd hold the door open for her. He doted on her every whim. 

On the days I'd come in a little late to the church office, the vacuum would be silent. I knew he was catching a little snooze in one of the back pews - a habit he started in his youth and never saw any reason to stop - and that he would be awake in a half hour or less, full of energy to face the rest of the day. 

He shared his philosophy of daily living with anyone who would hear. "We're here for a good time," he'd tell me. "Not for a long time." As a matter of fact, he shared his opinions on a bunch of things with anyone who would take the time to listen. I remember him telling me about what he thought the problem with the modern church was. "Unbelief." He'd shake his head. "Unbelief, pure and simple." Religious people, he shared with me, were more concerned with the right way to do things (and whether everyone else was doing it right) than they were about enjoying the life they had and the relationship with God that they had. 

Over the last six months, he had not been coming to church because he was physically unable to get out. And this morning, as we were worshiping, his wife, mother-in-law, niece and nephew gathered around his bedside in the hospital as he quietly slipped into the presence of the Master. 

He truly found out, as former Imperials singer Jake Hess sang, "Death ain't no big deal." The "big deal" awaited him as he made his entrance this morning.

I'm sure they had a great big rotisserie bar-b-que (with all the utensils) waiting for him when he got through the gates of Heaven, and a big ol' apron with "Kiss the Cook" written all over it. I can't imagine anything he'd like more to keep him busy until his bride arrives.

Life will never be the same.
For him  ...  or for those left behind - those who love him.

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