Updated: Jan 27, 2019
Margaret (Dickinson) Reese was the grandmother I never knew. She had reached so many milestones in her short life, and had so much potential for having a positive impact on the world, yet her life was cut short at the age of 24. She died just ten months after the birth of her first child, my mother. The desperate prayers of her family and friends failed to yield the miracle they sought. My grandfather was crushed and my mother grew up never experiencing the pure love of a mother. They picked up the pieces and carried on, but the road was never easy. Life can seem so unfair.
All my life, I struggled to understand why or how it could have happened. How did she get cancer? She never smoked, never did drugs, and she was so young. Why did God let her die? I have always believed there had to be a reason.
Nobody is perfect, but from what I've been told, my grandmother was a very devoted and righteous Christian woman. All her good works are not known to me, but I found a newspaper clipping from 1950, announcing that she was directing Vacation Bible School, a ministry for the local children. She was active in the church and ministry with her family all her life. After graduating high school, she left home to attend two different Bible colleges. She aimed to spread the gospel in Europe. One of her classmates went on to become a famous evangelist converting many souls to Christ. (He is shown in the yearbook page below with her). It was there, at Metropolitan Bible Institute, that she became better acquainted with her future husband, Lloyd N. Reese, who was also a student there.
Everything was done in the proper order. She wouldn't even date him until her final year of college and they were married after graduation, in 1952. Their priorities were in order, with God being first in their lives. By 1953 they were pastoring a church for the Assemblies of God and my mother was born in November. It seemed like things were looking good, but very soon after, Margaret was diagnosed with melanoma cancer and she died in 1954, on September 11th, of all days.
Letters Margaret wrote to her mother express her will to live. She desired to continue to serve the Lord. Nevertheless, she died. Why? Shouldn't Christians be protected?
Was she being punished for something? What could she have possibly done to deserve such a harsh punishment? She had grown up in a large family, one of several children of Rev. William H. Dickinson, lifelong Christian and minister of the Assemblies of God churches in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. All her brothers and sisters were blessed with long, productive lives. A few of them are still living today, yet Margaret has been gone 62 years as of last September, 2016. Why?
Was it Satan who caused her to get cancer to keep her from spreading the gospel? She did pose a serious threat to his cause. Was Satan afraid of the impact my grandparents could have made together?
Was her death a test for her family - her parents, brothers, and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins who walked in the faith? Was it a test for her father, the Rev. W. H. Dickinson?
Was it a test for her husband, my grandfather? The Biblical account of Job always comes to mind, because my grandfather truly has always been the most righteous person I knew. I can picture Satan taunting God, as he does DAILY*, bragging about our shortcomings to Him. "You think Lloyd loves you, but he loves Margaret more and I'll prove it! If you allow me to take her from him, surely he won't love you anymore." (*Revelation 12:10)
Of course, it didn't work, and it wasn't the last time my grandfather's faith was put to the test, but that's another story.
There are so many possibilities as to why my grandmother's life wasn't spared. Maybe it was a little bit of all of these reasons.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God,
to them who are the called according to his purpose".
- Romans 8:28
After years of contemplation, my conclusion is that God knew her heart's desire was to reveal the truth about Salvation through Christ to people and He gave her the rare opportunity to demonstrate the absolute reality of it to her loved ones, on her deathbed. Her husband and family were able to witness her reception into heaven firsthand, and I believe this is partly the reason none of them has ever wavered in their faith, having seen with their own eyes the absolute reality of life after death. Although it was heartbreaking to lose her, the experience strengthened her family's faith for years to come and the testimony still speaks to hearts today. In this way, she was most victorious.
The following is the written testimony given by her father, regarding the experience. It was given to my mother years ago, so that she would know the events surrounding her mother's glorious departure from this life. It reads:
"I have been asked to again repeat the most wonderful deathbed words I have ever heard; those which came forth more from the heart than from the lips of our precious Margaret. All should know that these words were the result of a deep Christian experience and a wonderful knowledge of Christ.
The last person she called for was her eldest brother, Ben, whose earnest prayers had, in previous weeks, brought great comfort and inspiration of faith to her heart.
It seemed like a call from God for us, Ben, Marion and me to witness a scene which was not of this world; to hear words which the Holy Spirit inspired.
We trusted for a miracle of physical healing. We had seen months of miracles, such as relief from agonizing pain. In answer to prayer again and again pain would leave within a few moments and would not return for hours. These experiences would make her so happy that she would instantly begin to rejoice in the Lord and tell Him how much she loved Him and wanted to serve Him more. Even the coughing would cease in answer to prayer. We prayed that the doctors' predictions would not come to pass and should she go, it would be without physical agony. The lungs were to have collapsed many days before according to all medical information. This was plainly stated by the physician. She lived four months longer than the average and longer than any on record that we know of. True, she was very uncomfortable because of the numerous growths and inability to lay in any but one position, but through it all she was so happy in knowing that Jesus had made her acceptable through His Blood and she knew it. She never once trusted in her own righteousness. She rejoiced in His righteousness and love.
As we came to her bed side she began to say, "According to the power that worketh in us." Ephesians 3:20. Then she began to speak in a beautiful heavenly language which our eyes and minds could not understand. She then said, quoting from Hebrews 11:6, "Without faith it is impossible to please God;" and she said, "And I have pleased Him." What a light shown on her face as she said that and then she burst out into a laugh, a beautiful laugh, a laugh of triumph and victory. Again she spoke in that unknown language. God knew it. She was talking to Him, I am sure.
Then she exclaimed, "He is my Shepherd! He is my Shepherd! And though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for He is with me." Three hours later she woke up in Glory without coughing once more or choking in the three hour period.
What did her words mean? You must turn to these references to understand more clearly. There was a Force working in her which came some years ago when she was filled with the Holy Spirit. The first part of the verse says, "He is able to do exceedingly abundant above what we can ask or think." Actually God was doing this in a way beyond what we could think. He was giving to this saint the abundant reception into heaven.
Then the second quotation. By reading this, one can see that it is faith in Jesus that pleases God. She had kept this faith right up to the last and joy filled her soul as she thought of it. Then along with faith and the indwelling Christ comes a blessed assurance, "He is my Shepherd."
That is the sermon she left for us, the secret of a happy life in God. These are the steps. May I live and die as victorious as this." - Rev. William H. Dickinson
For to me, to live is Messiah, and to die is gain. - Philippians 1:21 (ISR)