With Thanksgiving approaching I began to reflect on what it means to be grateful. Pastor/Preacher Fred Craddock says that the final act of God in one’s life is to make us both grateful and gracious. As I reflected on that statement I began to wonder, “Who are some of the most grateful and gracious people that I know?” I thought of a number of people, but near the top of my list has to be Romy Merchant. He’s often said to me, “I’m so grateful for what the Lord has done for me.” Recently I sat down with Romy to ask how he lives a life of gratefulness.
He said, “I’ve been blessed that I had wonderful, loving parents, uncles and other folks in my life who have mentored me. My father told me when I was a little kid, ‘Select who you are going to associate with. Water seeks its own level.’ In other words, you need to associate with someone who has the same principals. So, I was surrounded by good people who guided me from an early age and they told me that God had a plan for me. Along the way I’ve learned that God uses both good times and bad times to build character. I’ve also learned to keep my focus on the Lord and to try and do what the Lord wants me to do. I do nothing without discussing it with the Lord.”
Romy knows about both good times and bad times. He has three wonderful children who love and care for him and he was married for 40 years to the love of his life, Dainese. Dainese passed away 24 years ago from lung cancer. Romy said there were times where her pain was terrible, but their faith sustained them both.
Then 10 years ago, Romy was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach. He said, “My oncologist told me the type of cancer I had, very few people go through it and come out alive. The doctor told me that if I gave him four months of my life, between him and God, we’d come out ok. He said in those four months he would take me close to death, but he believed he and God could bring me back.
The doctor was correct. He did take me to death’s door. I remember at the time I weighed 126 pounds, but I never gave up. I’m stubborn that way. On my last appointment with the doctor I told him I was at the point of death’s door and the doctor said he was going to turn it around and he did.”
As Romy reflects on his cancer, he offered these incredible words, “Would you believe that was the best time of my life?”
I asked Romy to share how it was the best time of his life and how his faith helped him during that time. He said, “Well, the book of Job was my main sail during that time. Job stayed the course, no matter what happened. He never went against the Lord and in the end the Lord provided. Me and Job were mighty close during my battle with cancer. And here’s why it was the best time in my life. I’m a fixer and I’ve always been a fixer, but this was the one thing I couldn’t fix and I realized it. I realized I was not in control and that you cannot do things without the Lord.
“So, I turned my cancer over to the Lord. The crazy part was I felt good about it. I expressed things to my friends and family that came to see me, to tell them what they meant to me. I was always looking forward to what I was going to do next. This experience confirmed to me that the only thing that matters is my relationship with the Lord God almighty through Jesus Christ. The Lord just gave me a deep sense of peace during this time. If you keep your focus on the Lord, the peace will come. It’s that simple.”
There was one other thing that Romy said that I thought was profound. He said, “I’ve learned you only benefit from what you give away. Whatever you do, you do it to the best of your ability and you make it better than when you arrived. I was a farmer at heart and as a farmer I always tried to do what was best for the land, to make it better. This farm is a legacy that the rest of my children will enjoy. They have the opportunity to learn from the farm as I have learned from it. You don’t rob the land; you treat it as you go. We are a steward of the land. You do the same in life.
Be good stewards of your life. Give it away in service to others. Keep things simple. Focus on the Lord. Discuss things with the Lord and peace will come.” That’s great advice!
As we prepare our hearts and homes for Thanksgiving, I hope we can take some time to reflect on the wisdom that Romy has imparted. If we heed his advice, I suspect that we will experience God’s peace and grace and we too will be grateful. One final word from Romy. I asked him if there is anything he’d like to share with the good folks of Bethel and he said, “The people of Bethel are an inspiration to me because you see the Light of God in them!” Amen.
May God bless Romy Merchant and his family. May God bless our Bethel Church family and may each of you have a blessed Thanksgiving. With much love and many thanks for each of you.