By Kelly Capriotti Burton
October is in many ways distinctive, and two in particular merged in my mind today. It is both Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Pastor Appreciation Month, and one person who has been integral in my life deserves a tribute for both.
Marilynn Ruth Mitchell is both a breast cancer survivor and a pastor’s wife. She has been sent by God to my life, as evidenced on many occasions. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, Marilynn was that second mother so many of us need when we can’t possibly see eye to eye on anything with our own parents. She gently helped steer me from a relationship that was not good for me. She opened her home to me for days on end on several occasions. She helped me pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When I became an adult, Marilynn was the one who taught me the truth about grace. When I struggled with infertility – and foolishly believed it was God ‘getting’ me for mistakes I had made, she firmly – no holds barred – told me I was nuts! And then she began to pray and believe for me to have a baby. She gave me verses. She gave me encouragement. She even gave me a baby blanket! I didn’t believe it was going to happen, but Marilynn’s faith never wavered. And she was the second person I called when I found out our baby Miranda Rose (same initials!) was truly on her way..
When I called Marilynn on that amazing day – April 12, 2006 – she was lying in bed recovering from a chemotherapy treatment. They took the energy from her body for days, but there was excitement and joy in her voice when I told her she’d prayed a miracle into existence! Marilynn beat cancer with a big old stick.. she has been cancer free for almost four years, but that fight was never easy. She suffered a bad infection after her mastectomy. She suffered many side effects from the chemo and radiation. And she continued being the glue for her family and her church during all of it. (Oh, and she looked FABulous in her wig and even better now!)
Marilynn has two adult daughters who are like sisters to me, and they have five children between them. Like most young mothers, Sara and Michelle always have chaos around.. be it a green crayon stuck in someone’s ear, a husband in the hospital, or for a few weeks, a newborn who needed a miracle healing. Marilynn – who also houses and cares for her elderly mom and dad – never hesitates to be there. She will pray, cook, clean, drive, deliver, hug, sing, dry tears, finish laundry, or whatever needs to be done for her family.
Did I mention she is also a pastor’s wife? During all of this – her own disease, her family’s struggles – Marilynn stands beside her husband, Pastor Rob, as he continues to build a church and hone his ministry. She is in many ways “that” proverbial pastor’s wife – she plays the piano and leads worship, she hostesses, she ministers in a personal way. Watching Rob and Marilynn minister together is pretty cool. They always seem in tune with each other. They were truly meant to do this together.
Marilynn will always be ‘Grammy’ to my girls and a special friend to me. I used to make fun of her that one day, she would be the personal embodiment of the Martina McBride song, “When God Fearin’ Women Get the Blues.” It seems to me there should be only so much a woman can take before she hops in a sports car and skips town! – and I have only touched on a few challenges and sorrows here. I’m not saying Marilynn never gets discouraged, but I will say that I have never seen her falter from seeking God in her valleys. She prays the Word over her life, her family, and her church. She stomps the devil. She lifts her head to the hills to see her Help on its way.
I never thought I would be a minister’s wife, and now that I am, I am even more grateful for the examples she has been setting for me for the last 14 years. Marilynn, praise God for women like you, who fight the good fight in Jesus’ name! Readers, I encourage you to find someone in your life who has survived one of the things we remember this month – be it cancer or being a pastor – and hug them tightly!