The email was a welcome bit of encouragement: you are not forgotten, I pray for you and your family, your work. There was a simple ask at the end. Just a request to partner in ministry.
And yet… the tears.
The email was from my grandmother’s church; a strong, faithful fellowship of believers with whom I have had the privilege of worshipping since I was seven years old. Through building campaigns, VBS evenings, hours of Adult Sunday School, and quite a few plates of fried chicken, the tapestry of my spiritual growth bears more than a few strands labeled with the name of that community. It is, forever, part of me.
My first reaction at the email was a smile. My grandmother loved that church, loved the buildings, yes. But most of all, she loved the body. She was proud of her pastor, and his strong commitment to the Bible, to ministering to the sick and elderly, and to serving God without a fear of pleasing man. She loved the young families, the teenagers, the widowers who sat up front every Sunday morning and night. She loved special singing, and prayer meetings, and visiting missionaries. My grandmother loved that church– almost as much as she loved a certain missionary family.
To know that nearly two and a half years after her passing, the relationship between her church and her granddaughter’s family continues would bring my grandmother immeasurable joy. And when I first read the email, that’s what I saw: another row woven into the tapestry. The work going on.
And then, I realized what this email meant. For the first time, I will walk into my grandmother’s church without her.
I will sit in the pews without carrying her Bible for her. Chances are good that “her pew” won’t be available, and that I will sit somewhere other than the far left corner. I will not hear her voice crowing over me as I meet newcomers: “This is my granddaughter. First granddaughter. She’s got a beautiful family, she’s a good mother. We’re awful proud of her.”
I will walk in as me, myself. Somehow, the realization brings with it a fresh wave of grief.
The loss of my grandparents is never far from me. I think when you’ve been loved well, the absence of the ones who wrote that tenderness on your heart lives just under the surface longer than we expect– maybe, even, forever. The gift of that love is a life-long softening, an ability to give and receive freely the devotion you’ve experienced. The two go hand in hand.
I am aware, day in and day out, that our farm here in Tennessee is just a shout from my grandparents’. The topography, the accents, the taste of the water is familiar enough that I have been able to feel at home here with unusually small effort. If we had moved here five years ago, I could have spent Sunday afternoons up to my elbows in flour making dumplings in my grandmother’s kitchen, kids chasing ducks and cats behind the house, my husband and grandfather talking fences and tractors in the living room.
The temptation is to ask why we are here now, not then, to stomp my feet, to feel cheated. But though the temptation is there, it’s not a road I’ve allowed my heart to travel. Why? Because that isn’t the path God had for us. He moved us to Washington, where so many beautiful seeds were planted and bloomed. He called us to Nepal, where He continued to work on our hearts. He took us to North Carolina, where we rediscovered our happiness. And then, at last, he moved us here… in His time.
The grief will keep coming, and that’s o.k. Every time I’m caught off guard by another wave of loss, I remind myself to be grateful– grateful that I had relationships worth mourning. Grateful that my goodbyes were really just “until we meet again.” Grateful that I was loved so well, for so long, by someone that pointed me not back to themselves, but instead to Christ, who is love.
And so I hit reply, and I say that yes, we would love to be involved in their project. We would love to. Because yes… He first loved us.