Experiences with her are woven together in a blurry, patchwork of memories. Tables full of cousins at Christmas time. Turkey and BBQ, stuffed raisin cookies, olives for every finger. My favorite part was always the games. Farkle and Canasta. Mille Bornes and that one with the tiles. I don’t remember the name. I never wanted to stop playing games with her.
“I love you.”
I remember hearing these words from my grandma my whole life.
Making up stories with cousins. Playing dolls and creating complex worlds. Driving the 4-wheeler and snowmobiler. Whipping around on the inner tube, barely missing the trees and Grandpa’s wood shop.
I see Grandma’s arms lifting heavy canning basins. I look admiringly at all those rows of cans in the pantry and marveled at all the work she did. Out of all she canned, I loved the dill pickles the most. I can’t tell you how much I loved her dill pickles. Fresh cukes from the garden, plus dill, vinegar, and salt.
I got to see Grandma Jean and this side of the family only once per year. Every year at Christmas break I was asked, “Where are you heading?” To Northern Minnesota, I would answer. My grandparents live on a farm in Bemidji, Minnesota.
The place where I heard stories of thousands of chickens rescued from the cold blizzard by bringing them in the farmhouse kitchen.
The place where I pictured my mom as a kid riding bareback, picking rock from the fields, and squishing her feet into fresh cow pies.
The place where grandma’s big brother rescued her from the billy goat, the mean one that would have surely hurt her.
I call Grandma Jean my grandma with nine lives. She was the last living grandparent I had. Even as a girl, Grandma Jean’s life was saved so many times. She nearly died due to health issues as a child and experienced other near-miss situations as she grew. Somehow God’s hand was over her, keeping her safe.
Safe for 91 years.
Through raising 6 girls.
Surviving the tough farm life.
Becoming a grandmother, great-grandmother, and this month, a great-great-grandmother.
Grandma loved us all.
Even as the ‘outsider,’ the one who lived out of state all my life, I knew she loved me.
As she visited Caleb and me after we established a home of our own, she would often speak of how much she loved us all, and tell stories. During her visit with us in Philadelphia, she especially loved meeting and working with the Youth Challenge students at the church I was serving at the time.
She told stories of her childhood, farm life, and raising her children. She told stories of coming to believe in God and finding the grace of God and the gift of righteousness by faith. She took great joy in knowing God loves and forgives her. She often commented, “How wonderful it is that these young people get to know this Love of God from such a young age. I had to wait until so much later in my life!”
There are other stories too, of course. Stories of sadness, fear, and anger. Shame and hiding. Scarcity and pain. These all come to my mind now too. That’s the thing with grief; it brings everything to the surface. So many stories.
I love how Eugene Peterson translates Matthew 13:34-35. “All Jesus did that day was tell stories—a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy: I will open my mouth and tell stories; I will bring out into the open things hidden since the world’s first day.”
Storytelling is an essential part of being human. The stories we share, as this passage says, bring things into the open, allowing us to be known.
Jesus fully entered our human reality and told stories that revealed the Kingdom of God to those he was around. This new reality that was/is breaking through right here around us. Many of his stories sound a lot like my grandma’s. Embodied stories; human stories. Stories of seed, soil, and animals. Providence and provision. Death and salvation.
Let’s take time to tell the stories that only we can tell.
I pause to thank God for my grandmother.
For all that she gave.
For the prayers that sustained me.
For the encouragement that came as she listened to me preach and my kids share music.
These are memories I treasure.
A piece of my heart and love lies dormant until I see Grandma Jean again.
Yes, we do not grieve without hope, but we still grieve.
I love you, grandma.
Until we meet again, looking into the loving eyes of our Jesus.