Thankfulness through Lepers

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It’s been ten years now since Merance was a student in my senior English class at
Pohnpei Island Central School, on a small island in the developing country of the
Federated States of Micronesia. I still remember passing her home, a tiny shanty with a
tin roof, as I walked to church several times a week. She and her family were always
outside laying on the porch or doing chores in the heat as I passed, and she would run
excitedly to the road to greet me with her shy smile. Although speaking English didn’t
come easily to her, she went out of her way to introduce me to her family and invite me
to cultural gatherings in her village. We bonded when we discovered that we shared the
same birthday, and eventually after she graduated from high school, we grew to share a
friendship that I treasured. What I remember most about Merance was her soft, gentle
spirit; her beautiful, brown eyes; and the way she always made me feel just a little more
like I belonged in this foreign land, where I often felt like an outsider.

We remained in touch after I returned to the U.S. She confided in me when she
became pregnant with her first child and told me the news before anyone else. She was
fearful, and I remember praying with her, assuring her that this baby was a precious gift
from God and that she would be a wonderful mother. I was overjoyed and honored when
she sent me the first photos of her beautiful daughter and learned that she gave her my
name, Shannon.

It came as a complete shock to me when I learned about a year ago that Merance
had gone to be with Jesus. She had mentioned to me that she was sick, but what I
imagined from her messages to be a flu or a virus had turned out to be fatal. Her life was
stolen at the young age of 28 by cancer of the liver and tuberculosis. Her cousin sent me
photos of her last days on Earth, and she looked the way I imagine the ten lepers looked
in the book of Luke before they were healed—emaciated, weak, and utterly hopeless. The
photos broke my heart into pieces, especially the one where three-year-old Shannon sat
nestled close to her mother, tenderly stroking her hair.

When I prepared to write this piece, I found myself increasingly angry with the
nine lepers who didn’t return to express their thanks to Jesus. I have no doubt that had
He granted a second chance at life to my dear friend, Merance, she would have run
straight into His arms to show her gratitude. I’ll never know why Jesus called her home
so soon, but my sorrow reminds me not to let myself be one of the nine.

When my children are making a scene in public or talking back to me in a sassy
tone, it is because of Merance that I remind myself to thank God for the opportunity to
mother my children and guide them. When stressors take their toll on my marriage, it is
because of Merance that I remind myself to thank God that I have someone who makes
me laugh to share the adventures of life with. When I worry about finances or career, it is
because of Merance that I remind myself to thank God for all of the many blessings and
comforts He has provided in my life. When I feel like my purpose is unclear, it is because
of Merance that I remind myself to thank God for allowing me time to explore this world
and my place in it. And so, in my grief, I pray that I will always take the role of the one
leper who remembers to say thank you, Lord, for this beautiful, wild ride we call life.
-Shannon Edgar

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