The goodbyes began this week. It seems as though we’re walking in between waving farewell to friends here and waving hello to friends ahead. It’s usually a good thing if that in between period doesn’t last too long. More than anything, more than sadness, I feel deeply thankful for the connections we’ve made here knowing I don’t have to break any of them. I get to keep the friends I’ve made and take them along with me in my heart as I meet new ones.
One of my goodbyes will be to my 96, almost 97, year old grandmother Retha. She lives in a nursing home in Anderson and I went by to visit her today. Luckily she was up in her wheelchair instead of lying in bed, so I took her down the hall to a nice, open room with big windows letting in the sunshine. We sat facing each other and catching up. Grandma does remarkably well considering her age. She was really happy when I told her John has a pastorate now and we have a good place to go live and serve. She was also happy it’s not terribly far away.
A good friend of mine, who has been friends with my grandmother for much longer, is a lady named Ann Smith. Ann radiates joy and life out of her relationship with Jesus, even now in her eighties. The last time I saw her she gave me a Bible verse to read to my grandma. I shared it with grandma today. It’s Isaiah 46:3-4:
I have cared for you since you were born.
Yes, I carried you before you were born.
I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you.
When I finished reading and looked up, it seemed Grandma had tears in her eyes and she was smiling, such a warm expression on her face. As I looked into those gray-green eyes, I got a sudden sense of the overwhelming and enduring love God has for her. She is his girl! He’s been caring for her since before she was born and He has promised to keep carrying her and being with her ’til the very end.
I read a few more passages to grandma and then asked if she had one she’d like to hear. She said, “How about that white hair one again?” So we read it again. Isn’t it wonderful that God is involved and interested in her life even though she’s now old? It’s a tender love. I can just imagine him carrying her now, very gingerly and carefully, glad to have her company. He loves her. I love her.
Emotion swelled up inside of me as I read Psalm 139 to Grandma. I had to focus on voicing the words so I wouldn’t cry. As I read, I was picturing Grandma and thinking of God’s presence in her life all along, how his thoughts of her even now still outnumber the sand. That passage talks about finding God’s presence no matter where or when we find ourselves.
If I go up to heaven, You are there.
If I go down to the grave, You are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I asked Grandma if she thinks about going to heaven and she nodded with a smile. “What do you think about it?” I asked. She answered, “That I won’t have to worry about anything anymore.” She repeated that sentence a few times and as she did, the truth of it seemed to wrap itself in warm comfort around the two of us as we sat knees to knees, holding hands. “I will just let go…” she said softly.
As I said goodbye today and hugged her small shoulders, pressing my cheek against her soft, wrinkled cheek, I could hardly let go. But I’m so, so glad God reminded me of His care for her in that place, in this time, always, while her hair is white with age, while her mind is tired and slowing, ’til the very end.