My grandmother went home to be with the Lord last Thursday at 5 PM, just like Jesus has promised to everyone who believes in him. Erica, Stella, and I were able to see her in some of her last lucid moments. We were able to let her look at Stella a little while and let her touch Stella’s hand. We were able to tell her that we loved her and that we would wait with her until the end. And we did.
Let me tell you just a little bit about her. She was born in 1927 and contracted polio when she was very young. In fact, by the time she was 3 she would never walk again, and she has been in leg braces and walked with crutches ever since. She was married to my grandfather, Philip, for 56 years. They weren’t sure if she would ever have children, but she had 3, not to mention 4 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. She moved with my grandfather to Virginia soon after they were married as he had taken the pastorate of a small country church. My grandmother was not babied by her parents when they learned she had polio. Growing up she had to do her chores just like everyone else including scrubbing the floor on her hands–she would drag herself across the floor to get the job done. That kind of upbringing prepared her to do the things she needed to do as a wife and mother in somewhat difficult rural circumstances (running water wasn’t always a given in that area). She was able to scoot up and down the stairs to do the laundry, dragging a basket as she went, and she was never afraid to try anything like baseball (hitting only of course) and even sledding in the winter. My grandmother lived with cancer for many years, post-polio complications, and chronic pain due to a steel rod that had been placed in her back decades ago to keep her spine straight. Her last few months were spent at a Mennonite care facility in Pennsylvania. My grandmother wasn’t perfect and all I’ve said doesn’t mean there were no mistakes or less than desirable circumstances at the end of her life. But she was a remarkable and determined woman, and needless to say, she endured a lot more physical suffering and hardship in life than many of us have or will. And I can honestly say that she did it without complaining. That isn’t hyperbole-she just didn’t ever complain.
I’ve been reflecting a lot since we returned from Pennsylvania, and I was struck with this thought. As much as my grandmother suffered in life, and as glad as we are for her to be free of suffering forever, I don’t think that’s the chief thing on her mind right now. Yes, Christians have the hope of an eternity without pain, suffering, tears, inequity, disappointment, frustration, and all the other things that taint literally every second of the human existence. But I don’t think the first thing my grandmother did when she opened her eyes was look at her now-braceless and fully functioning legs in delight.
I think she opened her eyes and looked at Jesus and delighted in him. After all, isn’t he what heaven is really about? My pastor has said on several occasions that heaven is not primarily about the streets of gold and the pearly gates and the “Mansion Over the Hilltop” (that’s a rough paraphrase). In fact, if all those things were there, but God wasn’t, it wouldn’t be heaven. Heaven is about GOD! It’s about Jesus! It’s about truly unbroken fellowship for the first time in our existence with the one who created us. Heaven is heaven because of WHO not WHAT is there. It’s not an eternal Rodeo Drive that will fulfill our every want for all eternity. We can and should be happy about all that eternity offers, but I think our first joy will always be in the one who in mercy gave his life for us and who in mercy has given all kinds of blessings to those who have believed in him. Being with him is, indeed, the greatest reward one could ever hope for. And I couldn’t be happier for her.