Marian Gibson was born on October 11, 1944. She came into this world physically challenged, and was immediately put up for adoption by her birth mother. Marian spent the first seven years of her life bouncing from foster home to foster home, unwanted, unloved, until finally being adopted by her mother and father at age 7, growing up in the house she would call home for a large portion of her life at 182 Camden Road.
At the age of 28 Marian met Art Gibson at a Bible Study at the Christian Alliance Missionary Church here in Parsippany, and not long afterwards the two were married at that same church on February 3, 1973. Over the first 16 years Art and Marian lived in various apartments in Northern New Jersey, including Livingston, Glen Ridge, Belleville, Montclair, and Parsippany.
Although they never lived in spacious mansions, the love that Marian and Art shared always had a lot of room in it, and before long they began bringing children into their home from the Foster Care System, adopting them as full members of their family. From first hand experience, Marian knew what it was like to be an unwanted child, and what a joy it was for these children to finally find a place of love and welcome. The first two children to arrive were Patti, age 12 and Arthur, age 11. Next came Shirley, age 3 and Sarah, age 7, both of whom were severely handicapped. Marian’s heart would break when Shirley succumbed to her disabilities, dying four years later at age 7. Next came Robert, age 12 and Mark, age 3. Later Robert would move onto a group home.
In 1989, following the death of Marian’s father, the family moved to the Camden Road house so that Marian could look after her aged mother. Jeremy arrived in 1992 at age 2. Five years later, when Dave and Patti got together, Tommy came to live with the family at age 3 1/2. Under Marian and Art’s care, the children thrived. There wasn’t much space, but there was an abundance of love. In 2000 Marian mourned the death of her mother.
Art and Marian enjoyed going on long drives together. Before the kids came along, they made a long trip together to Virginia. After the kids came along the trips were shorter, and their children have fond memories of this trips: to the Turtle Back Zoo, a train museum, the Land of Make Believe, Dorney Park, and Hershey Park. These were happy times. Marian and Art loved going out to eat, getting on a first name basis with the people who worked at the Empire Diner and IHOP. Marian loved broccoli and cheese omelets.
Marian loved working with her hands on various crafts: beading bracelets, working with latch hook and crocheting, making jig saw puzzles. There is no way to number all the people in this world who have been blessed by the gift of one of Marian’s pieces of handiwork. She loved making her crafts with someone in particular in mind, weaving each stitch with love and prayer.
There were many people beyond the family who found a special place in Marian’s heart, including her neighbors Diane and Joanne, and Lee, William who brought the meals on wheels, Marlene and Cookie, Judy who was Mark’s teacher and a strong support to the family for years, Terry from church who provided her with rides, Andee Milhalko and her two little girls.
Those who know Marian best describe her as “lovely and caring” She had a calming effect on the people around her. Patti said her mother “would do anything for anybody.” Tommy called his Nanny, “awesome” and a “blessing”. He remembers the special presents she would pick out for him; gifts he will always treasure. Art speaks lovingly of Marian’s “beautiful personality.”
Throughout Marian’s life she endured incredible physical suffering, arising from her severe back problems, as well as from the ongoing challenges she experienced with her breathing. This was pain that most of us can’t even imagine. Marian underwent more trips to the hospital than anybody could possibly remember, including three back surgeries. Once when Marian was in the hospital for a bleeding ulcer that nearly took her life, she experienced a glorious vision — she left her body and was floating towards a bright light, the very gates of heaven. It was so beautiful, so peaceful — God’s love so wonderfully present. She heard a voice call her by name: “Marian”. She was told it wasn’t her time yet, that she was to go back to her body, that her work on earth wasn’t done. I found her testimony so beautiful I had her stand up in worship one packed Easter morning to share what she had seen; we were all blessed.
Truly, Marian had an extraordinary sense of personal calling and ministry in this world. She rose above the sufferings she had known; the sufferings of childhood rejection and abandonment, the suffering of grief and poverty, the sufferings of her frail, frail body, to offer herself in generous love on behalf of Jesus. She would turn a frightening trip to the hospital into a ministry, befriending the nurses who cared for her, and the patients sharing her room for her. Who knows how many people in a hospital received a bracelet with a scripture verse on it, made by a tiny little woman with broken back? “God is love.” When Marian gave you one of those bracelets, you believed it was true: “God IS Love.”
I received a number of gifts from Marian over the years. This beautiful, framed crocheted piece sits in my study. The words are lovely, and summarize Marian’s life for me: “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.” Her life was truly a gift back to God by a woman who knew she was blessed, in spite of her many hardships.
Each night before going to sleep Marian would sing to herself, “You are my sunshine.”
Let’s sing it together:
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take, my sunshine, away.
We are not orphans. We’ve been adopted into God’s eternal family. Marian has a brand new body, that no longer hurts her and no longer gets tired. It is so beautiful there. One day we will see here again, and I suspect she’ll greet us with one of her wonderful bracelets, and we will find everybody in heaven is wearing one.