My grandmother told me countless times the story of how she was the very first person to touch me in the hospital after I was born. She was so proud of this fact, and every time she told the story, she beamed as though it were the first time she’d ever told me. At the end of her life here on earth, I held her hand and was one of the last people to touch her before she left this world behind. In between these 2 touches were 37 years of a very special relationship that continues to define my life even though we are now apart.
As a little girl, I spent so many days with my grandmother. She did not have money, and she couldn’t buy me things. She gave me what money could not buy- the gift of her presence and her time. She always had time for me, and she loved me so much. So many days I would sit beside her gliding rocking chair after school. She would always talk about Jesus, and I would listen and ponder it all. We would talk about Jesus together, and I would ask so many questions. My grandmother didn’t feel a need for heavy philosophy or excessively deep thinking. She had the heart and faith of a little child, and her answer to all my questions was always, “Well, my Katie Beth, Jesus said it. So I believe it. And that settles it.” As a little girl, I would nod and accept that as a fantastic answer to my questions.
When I was a teenager, my grandmother was a standing pillar on the foundation of my life when all other pillars came crashing down. My sister was diagnosed with cancer. We left the church family I’d grown up in and all the people I knew. My parents got divorced. Boyfriends broke my heart. I lived out of a suitcase never quite sure to which parent’s house I’d be going to after school. I had no idea who I was anymore. But there was my grandmother… always reminding me of who I was… always telling me that God was still with me…. always telling me I was still her “Katie Beth” no matter what… even when my life careened off course for a while. And when my prodigal self came back home after running 900 miles away for months, there she was… a pillar standing strong in my life to help pick me up and dust me off. She was always praying for me. She never stopped praying for the people she loved.
I grew up, got married, had children, and my grandmother was always around. She was constantly at my house helping me and visiting with me. We got together several times a week for many years and eventually she moved in with us. We were so close and talked about so many things. I’d grown up a lot though, and I had the mind of a deep thinker. I wanted to discuss the more profound things of God, theology, and apologetics. She would just smile and nod and remind me that in the end all that really mattered to her was “Jesus said it. So I believe it. And that settles it.” She would exasperate me with her simplicity. It frustrated me to no end. But there was something deeply comforting about her steadfast childlike faith. There was no room for doubt in that kind of faith. It’s the kind of faith I knew I could fall back to or lean on when my own faith began to shake.
It wasn’t until I was much older and more recently that she began to tell me the more difficult parts of her life and her past history – things no person should have to endure; emotional scars she lived with since her youth – wounds that many people don’t overcome. And yet here she sat before me… peaceful and still encouraging ME and praying for ME. All these years she had poured her heart into my life and the lives of so many others, and I wondered how she did it? How did she overcome so much of her own grief and pain and unanswered questions to remain so focused on the people she loved and so self-sacrificial of her own life? She could have easily crumbled or self-destructed in her own sorrows. I’ve seen it happen to many others. She would tell you God healed and restored her life completely, and she would tell you that’s why she needed no other proof of God… no other deep philosophical thoughts… no other profound truths of life. She had her Bible, her Jesus, and a faith in His promises that was so unshakeable, it held me up and gave me a light for my path in the darker times of my life.
In our conversations over the last 10 years, my grandmother and I talked about her death often. It’s a difficult subject for most people to talk about, but she needed someone to talk to, and she knew the two of us shared such a strong faith in Jesus which gave us the freedom and delight to talk openly about stepping from one life to the next. She and I both knew her death was not something to fear or dread. It was something to look forward to. We would imagine Heaven together, and she would talk about seeing her husband and her son again. But most especially, she was so ready and longed daily to see her Savior.
One of my pastors once compared this temporal life here on earth to babies in their mother’s womb; they know nothing of the world they will be born into. Their eyes have not yet opened. All they know is the womb. They cannot even begin to fathom anything greater. All their thoughts about what life will be like after they are born are centered around and limited to how great it would be to have so much room to kick and roll around with no problems. Kicking and rolling is all they know of existence. They know nothing of running, jumping, skipping, flowers, blue skies, sunshine, mountains and oceans. They trust their mother, not because they can see her, but because they hear her heartbeat and feel her presence all around and believe she is good and will take care of them. On the day of their birth, what a surprise awaits them when they open their eyes for the first time and see their mother’s face and find out about a whole world and new life they could not have imagined even if they tried! My grandmother and I had the gift of a tender relationship living together in the womb of this short life. She took care of me for many years, and I then I took care of her… all along the way we feebly imagined eternity together.
The day she died, I sat beside her bed and cried such happy and sad tears. I was incomprehensibly overjoyed for what she must be seeing and realizing in that very moment. Birthed into an eternity she could never have fathomed and all her long years of simple, childlike unwavering faith turned to absolute undeniable sight. All her questions answered, and the purposes for her pain and scars revealed in a beautiful unfolding that I’m sure made every moment of the hardest times of her life completely worth it in her eyes, as she suddenly understood the reasons and the “why’s.” I wept tears of thrill and jealousy knowing she was perfect and whole, standing before the throne of God for the first time with 10,000 times 10,000 angels gathered around as her Savior said to her “Well done.” The fact took my breath away, because I knew in my heart it was a fact… not an idea or a hope. Every day this week I have walked into her empty room and have felt a little bit alone and cried sad tears for myself, but I imagine that she is remembering me still in the womb of this life with eyes that cannot yet see, and I imagine she is saying “I wish I could show you everything, Katie Beth. Hold on to your faith. Jesus said it. Keep believing it.”
Gram will always be one of the pillars of my foundation. Her life and her faith was an anchor to me, and I know that my 37 years with her has shown me how to be an anchor to my own grandchildren someday. When people talk about the legacy that she leaves behind, they will have to include her granddaughter Katie Beth in that long list. I am who I am, in large part, because of who she was.