I lost my grandmother on the last day of the year.
In the months leading up to her hospitalization and death, my grandfather was actually the source of most of our worries. A diabetic, he’d been diagnosed (again) with cancer, this time stage four in multiple locations throughout his body. He’s always kept us on our toes in different ways. When we were young, he’d wake us up at his house with the question, “Do you want some grits and eggs or eggs and grits?” We followed him through the grocery store, the commissary, or “Penny’s.” He never parked close to the storefront; he liked the walk. He slowed down over time, then he took a bit of a tumble, breaking his hip and bruising his spirit. He’s spent the past five years or so in and out of hospitals for multiple reasons. And in every absence, my grandmother couldn’t sleep a wink. She worried so much about him. We’ve spent much time in prayer for his physical health, but more so for his spiritual well-being, as he frequently makes it known that he’s “not a religious person.” What he means is he’s not a believer. Not in God, not in Jesus, not in eternity. He’s already somewhat planned his own memorial service and has asked my husband to give the eulogy, warning him, an evangelical pastor, against making any mention of Jesus or a better place.
It’s hard to hear someone so turned off to the God who defeated death for him. But in all that he’s overcome and despite what he doesn’t believe, I remind him that we pray for him frequently and that I firmly believe the Lord continues to extend grace and time so that he can be saved.
While focusing on him, something happened. My grandmother couldn’t breathe one night, so they called an ambulance for her. She was fine, really. They just couldn’t get her oxygen level to where it needed to be. Then she had a heart attack. We had flickers of hope over the next three weeks that she’d recover, but in the end, neither her lungs nor her heart could bring her back to us.
The day my grandfather broke the news to me that his sweetheart would never be coming home, he had also learned that he was miraculously cancer free (again). He said all the doctors call him the “miracle man,” and he wondered out loud why he’s still alive. I told him (again) that I believe he’s been given another chance to realize his need for the Savior. That sparked a long conversation about God and Heaven. He said he doesn’t see how anyone could create a child and then tell that child that they’d done anything bad enough to land them in eternal damnation. He said he’d like to think that if there is a Heavenly Father, then surely he hasn’t done anything bad enough for Him to deny His child a spot in Heaven. After all, he’s never killed anyone, and he believes abortion is wrong. He sounded offended that I’d believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven. Like the fact that there is a way is bad news. He insisted that nobody is perfect, to which I agreed whole-heartedly. I told him that in the end, it’s not about what we’ve done or how good we are; it’s about whether we believe that Jesus is who He says He is.
He took that as me saying his wife was on her way the hell. He took that to mean that my beliefs have the power to judge whether a person deserves to be in Heaven or in hell forever. He seemed to conclude that I wanted the latter for him and for her.
Over the past month, I’ve come to realize that I’ve done a very poor job of reflecting the love of God to my family. You could say that I was born into a very interesting group of people. Occultists, atheists, convicts, strippers, drug dealers and addicts, alcoholics, lesbians, and homosexuals are among the bunch. All of us are pretty introverted -- some of us (my hand is raised) more so than others. We’ve all kind of always done our own thing behind closed doors. But when “my thing” became the Church, then college, then settling with my husband and kids away from home, I apparently became the enemy. My sister told me recently that she’s come to understand me better since then, but pretty much no one in my family likes me or wants to talk to me because “we all got tired of you telling us we were going to hell.”
To be clear, I have never told anyone they were going to hell. That’s not a call I even sort of want to have the power to make. I really don’t think I’ve ever even thought about piously chanting, “You’re going to hell” to anyone. Though I’m not an atheist, a stripper, a convict, a druggie, an alcoholic, or a lesbian, I still need Jesus. And though any one of them might be an atheist, a stripper, a convict, a druggie, an alcoholic, or a lesbian doesn’t mean they’re too far gone. The blood of Jesus covers a multitude of sins and was shed for each and every one of us! Praise God! But anyone who does not confess and repent of their sins, anyone who does not pray to be washed in the blood of the Lamb, is, according to the Word of God, on the wide road to destruction. That isn’t my judgment; that, based on the infallible Word of God, is just the truth. But apparently my inability to communicate well said something different. Apparently my actions spoke loudly against that. Instead they told my loved ones, “I’m better than you.” They screamed, “I can’t wait to get to Heaven, where I’ll be far away from all of you.”
When I’m left to the quiet of my own thoughts, I sometimes catch myself slipping down a dangerous path. Maybe God does just want us to be happy, I think. Why is the God of the Bible so vindictive and mean? Why would anyone want to spend eternity with Him? Maybe He doesn’t exist. I make myself feel better for long enough to remember God’s goodness, God’s justice, and His sovereignty. And regardless of what I believe, the truth is true. Jesus is the only way.
Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow. Sometimes it hurts your heart and twists your stomach into knots. Sometimes it robs you of your breath and keeps you awake at night. In this case, the truth, whether we believe it or not, is my grandmother is no longer in this world. The truth is I don’t know if she was saved when she died. Losing her has so far proven to be painful, difficult, exhausting, and consuming. My friends and church family who know more details about my family say I must be such a light to them. But now I wonder how true that really is. Was I a light to my grandmother? Did I accurately reflect God’s love and truth to her? I pray that I did. God, I hope with all my heart that I did. I ask the Lord for some sort of confirmation that I will see her again someday. And I beg His forgiveness if her blood is on my hands.
Brothers and sisters, maybe you needed a call for introspection. I didn’t have a clue, but it was beyond time for my own. Our actions speak much louder than our words. As tempting as it may be, I have no intention of finding or following my own truth (whatever that means); I plan to actively live The Truth more accurately and lovingly henceforth. It is actually a matter of life or death.