Last month, I lost someone very special to me. She spent her whole life encouraging others, and following Christ. She’s that woman I want to be.
She always had a way of making me feel special.
Like I was the only one in the room.
Like I was the only person she’d ever loved.
Of course, my grandma had scores of people she adored. Family and grandchildren and friends and church family.
But each time I saw her, it was like time stopped.
And for that moment, it was like our love was the only one.
Her lips would spread into a wide, imperfect grin. And then, slowly, her face would light up like a golden sunrise that was so abundant it seemed it could melt the cares of the world with a just few moments of its soft, calming glow.
“Well hello there!” she’d screech. “Lookin’ kinda cute today, huh kid?!?” Her words pattered out with a delighted chuckle that almost sounded like she was laughing.
She’d envelope me in her pale, slender arms — always prickly because she shaved them — and I’d drink in the tangy, comforting scent of her floral perfume.
Her cheek brushed against mine, and into my ear, she’d whisper softly, “I’m just so happy to see you.”
My grandma, Jane Elizabeth, taught me so many things.
Now that she’s gone, I can’t help but want to remember, and record, our memories.
By far, the biggest lesson she taught me was the power of encouragement.
It’s no accident that loving on you and reminding you that you’re not alone is one of the core values of this blog. I hope my message honors my grandma’s legacy, if even in a small way.
Encouragement through grace
It was a hot, humid June day.
My chiffon dress stuck to my back, and I could feel a bead of sweat escape from behind my knee and drip down my the back of my leg.
It was graduation day at the local high school, and our family had found clump of seats on the concrete bleachers. Grandma was next to me.
We held hands as she scanned the field to find my brother and watched as he and his class sat down on identical rows of white folding chairs in their royal blue polyester robes.
‘I’d hate to be in those robes in this heat,’ I grumbled under my breath. She squeezed my hand and smiled.
The principal took the podium and welcomed the crowd, then introduced a student to speak.
It was one of the most awful speeches I’d ever heard. It was hostile and disrespectful. It threatened establishment and aired grievances against the school that were inappropriate to share in this forum. Everything about this speech was horrible, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
As the crowd booed, I turned toward my grandma, ready to vent about what a terrible experience that was.
And I’ll never forget what she said:
“I’m just so glad students get an opportunity to voice their opinions.”
She was serious. She was for real.
She was loving.
She found the good in the awful, the ugly, the dark.
She found the light in the dark. She found the constructive in the destructive. She found the positive in the negative.
She found the good.
She clung to Him.
Encouragement through approval
I was in a crisis.
I found myself slumped on the shag rug on the floor of my son’s room. He was 3 months old, and I hadn’t slept in days. He had colic, and I was wondering why I’d traded heels, false eyelashes and the TV news anchor desk for dirty diapers, spit-up and a baby who cried relentlessly every evening for at least 3 hours.
What am I doing? I’d ask myself as I sat on the steps of our back porch every evening, crying as I held him. He was also crying, and I just hoped the neighbors wouldn’t judge me.
The next time my grandma visited Florida, we bared our souls as we sat on my living room sofa.
And I told her something she already knew.
Motherhood was so much harder than I expected it to be.
“I thought it’d be easy and fun to sit at home and play with a baby all day. But it’s so much harder, and not in the ways I expected,” I vented.
I’ll never forget what she said next.
“Honey, I am so glad you decided to stay home. You made the right choice. I’m so proud of you. You’ll never regret it.”
She was never loud, but her words carried great weight.
And just like that, all my worries and anxieties and concerns melted away.
She had a way of getting way in there, and shedding light on the shadowy, uncertain parts of my life.
I knew I would be fine.
She approved. She was proud.
That was it.
That was good enough for me.
Through the years, my grandma always excelled at making me feel special.
She delighted in telling me some of the same stories about my childhood, over and over. And I always delighted, equally, in hearing them.
“I used to hate my name,” she’d say with a smile. She loved this story, and so did I.
“‘Jane,’ I always thought, ‘it’s so plain.’ It’s like plain Jane. I never liked it. But then, when your dad told me that he and your mom were going to name you Jane, I was like, ‘Wow!’ Every since then, I’ve just loved my name. Jane is such a special name. I love love it so much!”
Always one to encourage and build others up, she also never tired of telling me that I was the reason she and my grandpa (her second husband) had met.
When I was a young girl, my grandma used to take me to church and hold me in the pew. During songs, when the congregation would stand, she’d pick me up, and I’d lay my head on her shoulder and look at the people behind.
One of those people was her future husband, the only grandfather I’ve ever known.
“You’d make eyes with him, and play peek-a-boo. You’d flirt with him the whole service!” she’d gleam. “So eventually, I just had to meet him and see who my granddaughter thought was so great!”
At that last part, I’d usually catch her squeezing my grandpa’s hand as she gazed at me with her huge smile. She loved that story.
It still makes me smile to think about how she intertwined me into the story of their courtship. I don’t know if it’s true that I really brought them together. But it sure makes my heart happy to imagine it.
And then there was the last time I saw her.
She was lying in a hospital bed, and I’d just gotten off a 5-hour flight with our fourth baby, Huntington Jane. It was always very important to Grandma that she meet Huntington, my only daughter, and it was important to me too. I knew I had to make the trip.
We walked into her hospital room, and we were quiet. She couldn’t hear very well anymore, and she was wearing a face mask because she was terrified of getting the baby sick with the pneumonia she’d contracted. It didn’t matter to me one bit.
I laid that baby on my grandmother. And that little girl, wrapped in a swaddle without a care in the world, fell asleep right on her chest.
The next 20 minutes was the last time I spent with her alone.
She told me she had lived a good life and was ready to meet her Lord and see her daughter (who had passed away in a car accident decades ago) and her mom.
She was satisfied. She was full of peace.
And then, she blessed me in a way that only she could.
“You know, you have always been the apple of my eye. I love you so much, and I am so proud of you.”
I can tell you, I will take those words to the grave.
The morning my grandma met Jesus, I had just gotten home and I went upstairs to my room to get a jacket. As I came to the top of the stairs, my eyes fell onto the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen, just outside our window.
An entire rainbow.
In all the time we have lived in our home, I have never seen a rainbow like this.
I opened the balcony slider and paused on the door track, and then suddenly, a rush came over me as I remembered.
My grandma and I were in this exact spot the last time she had come to Florida.
In that moment, I realized that this double rainbow was a gift my grandma had left for me on her way to the pearly gates.
Thank you, Grandma, for the astounding impact you made on my life.
Thank you for the gift of love and encouragement you shared with me, and many others, every day of your life.
I will try, in some small way, to pass on your light through my writings.