What is it about grandparents? There’s some sort of other-wordly bond that seems to be created between a grandparent and grandchild. It’s quite different from that of a parent to their child. I can’t describe exactly what kind of a love and a joy it is to be a grandchild of a grandparent (specifically a grandmother), who has truly loved and invested in you from the moment you were born.
My Lola (the Filipino word for grandma) is 95. Today she has probably spent a long period of time being fed slowly, in small bite size pieces, by my aunt who is taking care of her. She probably got up, only with the help of others, and in much pain, into a wheel chair. Here muscles have atrophied for the most part since she no longer is able to get up and move around. Any thoughts that she’s wanted to speak have been forced out in garbled sounds, no real cohesion to much of what she says. Even though there are many people around her that love her, she will quickly forget their names, or most likely not even remember them at all. About five years ago, she began to display signs of Alzheimer’s, and a few years after that, was diagnosed with a form of the disease called dimentia. She can go between extremes of anger and great sweetness and tenderness. A few years ago when I visited her in New Mexico, and the effects of the disease were becoming very evident, I couldn’t believe how differently she appeared to me. My only knowledge of her has been memories of tenderness, a great sense of humour, and a really deep love that was displayed in all she did towards her family, and most of all, towards the Lord. To see her, forgetting who I was, unable to communicate her thoughts, and often easily irritated, was a very difficult thing.
Over the past few years, our visits have been sporadic because of the distance between us, but thankfully, she was able to come to my wedding three years ago with the help of my aunt and uncle, and now, last week was able to join our entire family at the beach for family vacation. And in spite of all her struggles, what an encouragement she was once again!
This is what I will remember most about my grandmother. I know she has not passed away, yet for all of us it’s not a question of “if”, but rather “when”. She knew Jesus. They were and are still very close. Growing up, I remember I would often walk into her room early in the morning to find her quietly, solemnly, focused in prayer, bible reading, or singing hymns. Even as a little girl, I knew that those times were not to be interrupted. Not because I was afraid that I’d upset her, but because I knew that what she was doing was very important. If I, or anyone else ever brought her a prayer request, you could be sure that she would take it most seriously and spend considerable time carrying you before the Lord. Every birthday, even though I lived miles apart, she’d send me a special card with a verse or some words of encouragement. In 2005, I had the great privilege of helping lead a Bible camp in the Philippines alongside Georgie. We went there in part to meet my Lola and help bring her back to the States. While we were there, she was a tremendous source of encouragement to us about our mission work. She was throughly interested in all that we were doing, and had many words to say in order to spur us on. I remember sitting outside with some friends one afternoon, while we were teaching each other some songs to be sung at the camp. My Lola walked by, and proceeded to join us in song. At the end she said, “Do it again, but with more enthusiasm. You are singing to the Lord!”. She is one of the wisest people I know. I can still think of a few proverbs that she would often say that have really stuck with me even now. On that same trip, I remember going into her room one evening, overcome with worries about something or another, and sitting on her bed, pouring out my heart to her. She was an excellent listener. Yes she advised me. But what I remember the most about that evening was the time we spent in prayer together. I know that for each of her children, and her grandchildren, her greatest concern was that they would know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. And our bond with one another had the added sweetness of sibblingship in Christ. What freedom there was to speak openly and honestly with each other, to share our joy in the Lord! This is what I felt made us even closer than we would have been otherwise. A few years ago, I was visiting her and spent some time in her room looking at her collection of family photos and other personal items. She is not someone who owned much in this life. The few things she always had when she travelled were her Bible, her hymn book, and a small journal. I came upon these little journals and flipped through and noticed dates going back all the way to when I was born, and even before. In it were lists of people and things she was praying for. When I caught my name time and time again, from years back, I was struck. How many of these prayers had God answered? I’m sure countless ones! It was such a testimony to God’s faithfulness through my Lola. To read of things she had prayed for, and then to know that He had answered them, was beyond me. They knew each other well. She prayed, not as a futile exercise, but as a form of consistent warfare. She was always fighting in prayer and I am sure that she has dealt many blows as a result of all her hours on her knees. And after all these years, that is the legacy that I know I will be left with. Her investment in this life has not been primarily an earthly one, but for the world to come. I wonder how many souls will meet her in heaven and see and hear of her prayers on their behalf that were answered. Yes, she’ll be remembered for being loving, and kind. Most definitely! But I know, that her testimony of faithfulness will shine on that day.
I am not going to forget my most recent encounters with her. At the beach last week, my mom and I both spent some time reading scripture to her. She was tearing. Although she can’t speak, and can barely communicate, she remembers the Word. She can hear words of hymns, and they are ingrained upon her heart. God has not left her. He promised His people that He would never leave or forsake them. All her years in the Word have left it imprinted on her heart, unable to be removed by the sands of time and the destruction of disease. I was telling her a few months ago on another visit that she can’t forget that even when she feels alone, the Lord is always with her. I asked her “Lola, do you know that?”, and she said “I know.” That to me is such a testimony of God’s goodness. To be at her age, with a disease that has rendered you incapable of almost anything, and yet to have the confidence that the Lord is good, and He is by your side, is more valuable than any insurance policy that the world could offer. How can one face death, with that kind of fearlessness? When you know the one who holds the keys of death and life in His hands, and has overcome it, then you are at rest.
I had chosen this verse to put on the back of the programs at my wedding because it reminded me of my Lola, but more importantly, it reminded me of who my God is. It is Psalm 71:18 and it reads “So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.” He has not forsaken her. He has given her that great privilege to testify of His might to several generations, and His power is still being displayed in her small, frail body. O Lord- make that our testimony too. May we be shown as faithful until the very end. Even in our old age (if you would have us live long), let our lives show that you are our greatest treasure and that sickness and death cannot separate us from the love that is shown to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.