My grandmother was a strong, independent woman with even stronger opinions. She never shied away from a debate or filtered her words to hide her true thoughts or feelings. Her love for her family was even stronger and she showed it through acts of service. Respect for elders was paramount even if undeserved or misguided.
When she and my grandfather visited the Christmas after I became a believer, I tried to share my testimony with her and encourage her to put her faith in Jesus, too. She responded very sternly, “I need Jesus? I certainly never talked to my parents the way you do! Maybe you need an extra dose of Him, but I am just fine.” Her words cut deep but gave me pause as a new believer. My actions needed to reflect my new-found faith.
She would go to church with us when she was in town, also attending events at the Christian school we attended. But, she never wanted to discuss religion or politics with us, always changing the subject or leaving the room.
In 1995, when my grandfather’s Parkinson’s had advanced, she allowed our pastor and his wife to come for a visit and pray with them. But, she was very adamant that no one speak to my grandfather about his relationship with Jesus or eternity. It weighed heavily on my mother’s heart as she wanted assurance that my grandfather would be in heaven, so she spoke to my grandmother about it often and my grandmother felt like she was being pestered about it.
One afternoon, my mother took my grandmother shopping and I stayed with my grandfather. My mother asked me to speak to my grandfather. As soon as they were gone, I asked him if anyone had ever shared the plan of salvation with him and he said, “You love me enough to tell me about Jesus and heaven?” Of course, I did!
In talking with him, I learned that as a young man working for a beer distributor in Baltimore, MD, a Methodist preacher introduced him to Jesus, but he had gotten away from having a close relationship with Him. I knew from our conversation that he was a believer and would spend eternity in heaven. He seemed at peace and told my mother and grandmother as soon as they got home. My grandmother was not happy that her request had been ignored. In fact, she did not speak to me about it until after my grandfather passed away 6 months later.
When my grandfather died, our church gathered around to comfort our family, especially my grandmother. They held the wake in the fellowship hall, catering the food and taking care of everything. With just a few visitors left at the gathering, my grandmother came to me and said, “You know that conversation you had with Pop? I would like to know more about Jesus and heaven, too.”
It was such a sweet blessing to see her relationship with Jesus grow. She started to attend church faithfully, joined a Bible study and gave of her resources to building funds and missions. And even though she was afraid of the water since she never learned to swim, she got baptized in the inground swimming pool in my parents’ backyard. She remained outspoken and opinionated and starting defending her faith, engaging in living debates when our pastor and his wife would visit her during weekly visitation. She even brought her cousin to church and was instrumental in her decision to rededicate her life to the Lord.
In the fall of 2006, when the doctors told her that the cancer had spread too much for treatment, she moved in with my parents. She was 82. I was a stay at home mom at the time and was able to care for her as my parents worked. In those last few weeks that I spent time with her she spoke of being able to see my grandfather soon and other relatives gone before her, especially her sisters. But, she was a bit anxious about the ‘between’ part of dying, the part between the last breath and seeing Jesus’ face. She would ask me to sit with her and hand her hand while I read the verses in Psalms that she had highlighted. They spoke of peace and not being afraid. She said she did not fear death but feared the unknown of how and when.
It was a pleasure to stand with my family as she peacefully took her last breath and slipped into eternity with the assurance of seeing Jesus and my grandfather. Jesus had changed her destiny without taking away her tenacious spirit. She was still independent, strong, opinionated and at times stubborn, but now she left a legacy of faith and trust for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She is a true example that when you find Jesus is not nearly as important as finding him and letting Him change your life.