There are some people in your life that make an indelible, remarkable impact. Markelle Elise Dumm was one such person for me. I remember being introduced to her in 1991 and how incredibly similar she looked to my girlfriend at the time. Markelle was my girlfriend’s sister, the girlfriend who would eventually become my wife, making Markelle my sister-in-law. And a more amazing sister-in-law I could never have asked for. Kind, gentle, strong, precious, caring, genuine, authentic, honest, loyal, peaceful, smart, hilarious, thoughtful, creative, articulate, curious, adventuresome, and loving. These are just a few of the adjectives that flood my mind when I think of Markelle. Anyone who knows her is right now adding their own words to that list; because there are certainly more.
Nearly 8 years ago, during a cesarean section delivery of Chris and Markelle’s second daughter Elena, a ruptured cyst was discovered and later found to indicate the presence of stage 4 colon cancer. Stage 4 colon cancer–to those who know–is pretty much synonymous with a death sentence. Statistics show that 5 years of life from diagnosis to death is the top end of the time someone with that type of cancer gets. But Markelle never seemed to listen to that. Its not that she didn’t hear it, and its not that she didn’t believe it, its simply that she didn’t live it.
We started a tradition 4 years ago, between my family, Chris and Markelle’s family, and my in-laws. We’d take a week in the summer, rent a beach house on an island on the Gulf of Mexico and occupy ourselves with 4 primary activities: eating, swimming, laughing, and sleeping. And this past summer was no exception. Just this past August we once again converged in a little slice of paradise and shared that precious time together. No one said so, but we began to sense that perhaps this might be our last time at the beach with Markelle. Just as with the 3 years prior, we soaked up every second of that week together.
It was soon after that week at the beach, and after 100 chemotherapy treatments over the years that Chris and Markelle were told by doctors that there was nothing more that could be done for Markelle. Upon receiving that news, it became even more important for me to give my wife as much time with her sister as I possibly could.
My wife went to Missouri to visit Markelle for a week in September. Then for another week in October. Then for 20 days in November, including Thanksgiving. With so much of life to be thankful for, I was so glad these 2 sisters were together. During Merritt’s September visit, she was able to go out to lunch a few times with Markelle. During her visit in October, Markelle could only get out to a doctor’s appointment. And during the visit in November, Markelle struggled to get from the bed to her bathroom and back. Clearly Markelle’s health was declining.
During Merritt’s visit in November I was able to have a poignant, vital conversation with my oldest daughter regarding Aunt Markelle. With Markelle’s earthly life seemingly coming to a close I wanted–needed–my own children to understand and embrace an important truth. They had all prayed for Markelle daily for nearly 8 years. For her full health, for healing, for recovery, for remission, for whatever way God could heal Aunt Markelle and give her back a “normal” life again. 8 years of asking. But what if Markelle died? What would that mean for all those roughly 3,000 prayers each person offered? Were they wasted? Unheard? Ignored? Did those prayers not make it past the ceiling?
As my wife and I lay in bed on Friday December 14, 2012 we received the phone call that for nearly 8 years we had hoped and prayed would never need to be made. At 10:33 p.m. Markelle Elise Dumm finished her race and fell into the arms of Jesus her Savior. My wife sat on the edge of our bed as she received the news from her mother that her only sibling, her only sister had gone home to be with the Lord. I remember her mom’s words flowing through the phone line and into my wife’s ear: “Her battle is over.” Shortly after, Merritt hung up the phone and collapsed on the bed next to me, her feet still on the floor. I just held her. There’s nothing to say. If you’ve ever been in that solemn, sacred moment you know there’s not one thing to do but cry and embrace.
By mid-morning the following day we had rented a van, kenneled the dog, and packed the van for the 17 hour drive to southwest Missouri. Arriving there under those circumstances would be for me like stepping onto holy ground. Being so close to someone you loved so much and knowing that at that moment they are with the Savior you both love and live for is almost like being with Him yourself. Loving someone who stands in the presence of the King is akin to standing there yourself. Hard to explain, but that’s how I felt and still do.
Markelle’s viewing was a testimony to the incredible number of lives that she touched. For hours a long line of friends made their way through the doors of the church and up the aisle to where Markelle’s body was laid. Her husband Chris stood there and greeted each one warmly and lovingly. In many respects I think that Chris who was among those devastated the most by Markelle’s passing was a great comfort and encouragement to so many who came to comfort and encourage him.
During Markelle’s funeral the next day, her life was honored and celebrated and her love for Jesus was heralded. Chris and Markelle’s pastor Tim did an incredible job of spotlighting an extraordinary life while putting most of the attention right where she wanted it: on Jesus her Lord. I was honored and humbled to serve as one of the six pallbearers for my sister-in-law. This may sound strange to most, but I considered it one of the most powerful acts of worship I will likely ever participate in.
Now, back to that conversation I had with my daughter (and perhaps the point you need to pay closest attention to). We talked about how long we had been praying for Aunt Markelle, and if it happened that Aunt Markelle passed from this life into eternity, we needed to understand and embrace this one truth: God did not ignore our requests. He did not turn a deaf ear and do nothing with our prayers. What God did was to answer our prayers in the most complete and perfect way possible! We had prayed earnestly and faithfully for Aunt Markelle’s healing and God in His great goodness had given her the full healing her body so desperately needed! As I talked with my daughter about this, it was a truth that I myself needed to be reminded of. It was just as much for my own good as it was for hers.
To know that God in fact had heard our prayers. He had listened. He had answered. And His answer was holy. Complete. Perfect.
Below is a poem I wrote for my wife while she was with her sister last month. Maybe it can be an encouragement for you.
When the road you feel under your feet
Turns to rocky ground from solid street
When the skies above that were once so clear
Turn from blue to gray like joy to fear
When what you thought was sure and true
Turns to unending questions in front of you
When more seems lost than what is gained
When you’re tired of standing in the pouring rain
When the life you’re living you’d rather not
When one last breath seems to be all that you’ve got…
Please turn your face to the One holding you.
Please hold out and grasp what He says is true.
Please take your heart beyond the moment you’re in.
Please let God remind you that He calls you “friend”.
Please know that while you feel defeated, He has won.
Please remember that Jesus, God’s only Son
Has taken your pain, your hurts, and your tears;
He’s taken your questions, frustrations, and fears
And has swallowed them down along with your strife
He is the Truth, the Resurrection, and the Life!
So please stand on the Rock that He is for you.
Please know that all that He has said is true.
Now please lean upon His loving chest,
And find within His grace your perfect rest.