Yesterday, my cousin posted a memory of our Gramma on Facebook. It was a sweet prayer that Gramma had tucked into her favorite Bible. Throughout the comments, some of her other grandchildren had posted memories of her lovable traits.
I found myself choking back tears as I remembered how much I loved her. She died 15 years ago this month after a long battle with dementia caused by multiple strokes. Somehow, it seems like yesterday. I didn’t get to go to her funeral. The pain of that bothers me even now.
The night before she died, my husband and I went into the church auditorium where he worked. He hooked up the sound system and we recorded music for her funeral. I played the sleek, black concert grand, while my husband accompanied me on a song or two at the keyboard. It was some of the hardest music-making I’ve ever done, but for a few seconds, I felt one last, brief connection with her. My Gramma. My role model.
She loved with quiet intensity. Her love was tangible. She loved our Grandpa so much that she put aside her favorite colors to wear what he thought made her look beautiful. She loved her kids by scraping together fabric and fashioning the best clothes she knew how to make. She loved her grandkids by letting us “help” her in the garden, telling us stories of her younger days, and cooking the best food I have ever tasted.
In Gramma’s later years, she suffered a series of debilitating strokes. She woke up from one stroke thinking she was seventeen again. She had to relearn who she was, year by year. While she could remember events from her past, the present was a jumbled confusion to her. Her second husband of only a couple years had to remind her who he was each morning. She lost much of her eyesight. She lost the ability to do the things she loved: sewing, cooking, debating, entertaining family.
She did relearn one important thing. Probably the most important.
She spent her last years praying. I distinctly remember a visit I made while I was in college. After breakfast, Gramma and her second husband opened a Bible. For the next couple hours, they let me witness their daily ritual of Scripture reading and prayer. Together, they prayed for their children and extended family. They prayed for their grandchildren…and even for their future spouses.
I often wonder how much in my life today is a result of those many, many prayers. It is comforting to know that God has stored up all of Gramma’s prayers and pours them out onto my life as needed (which is often!).
She hungered for Jesus.
As a little girl growing up in the Great Depression, she didn’t enjoy many luxuries. Sometimes their dinner consisted of a rabbit one of her brothers shot and skinned that afternoon. Other times, they weren’t so lucky. Their house was often cold and leaky, the only heat coming from the kitchen stove. Gramma told stories of her and her sister shivering under their shared blankets during the cold winter nights.
In the middle of these hard times, Sunday school missionaries came to their local schoolhouse on Sunday afternoons. It was here that Gramma heard about Jesus. In the words of her second husband,
“She felt the call of God on her life. She made a commitment of her life to Christ. It was a very real experience for her. She immediately had a strong desire to read God’s word…It became a source of comfort and strength…when their personal needs were not met. She knew there was a God and relied on the promises of God when things became too much for a little girl.”
Her love for Jesus was as tangible as her love for her family. Knowing how much a few missionaries changed her life, she wanted to give to help other missionaries reach people with God’s love. She had very little money to spare, so she bought powdered milk instead of whole milk. She set aside that extra grocery money and gave it to the missionaries. As a kid, I remember her working away in her pink kitchen with the radio always broadcasting a sermon or a song about Jesus.
She shared her Jesus.
We never got to live in the same state. Our farewells were always hard and filled with tears. I remember one parting when I was in elementary school. Through her own tears, she told me that if I wanted to be close to her, then I should get close to Jesus, because she was close to him, too. My literal child-brain couldn’t comprehend what she meant. It wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I understood.
To know Jesus was to understand Gramma. In Jesus, she found her life’s meaning, her purpose, her love, and her joy. Even in the her hardest trials, Jesus defined her prayers. She wasn’t perfect. Like the rest of us, she had her foibles. She was fearful, shy, and often succumbed to worry. But Jesus shone through her flaws and made her supernaturally beautiful. Throughout the debilitating strokes, she lost much. She even lost her knowledge of God for awhile. But it came back in those Bible verses she learned as a child. They enabled her to pray for those she loved most on this earth.
She wanted all to know the forgiveness she found in the Savior who died for her sins. She longed for them to know the perfect peace that comes from a mind fully surrendered to Jesus. She wanted them to know the same joy she experienced from following Jesus. Her heart’s desire was to share the Savior she knew and loved.
THIS is a portrait of a beautiful woman. A woman who loved Jesus with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength.