This morning in church we sang the song “Like a River Glorious” that always makes me grin when we hit the line “not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.” Just a few years ago there was nothing quite like the blast of hurry to get all the children presentable and to church on time and then there we sat and sang so sweetly. It impressed me enough that I copied the line in a notebook so I could remember the irony. I do love the song, especially this verse in its entirety: “Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand, Never foe can follow, never traitor stand; Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care, Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.”
Last week my maternal grandma died at eighty-nine years old, a few weeks after she had a stroke and begged Jesus every day to take her home. There was no sting in her death, but it felt sad because it was the end of an era for me. I have no more living grandparents.
Grandma was not a splashy person with big achievements to catch the world’s attention. I suppose you could say that she led the life of a basic Anabaptist woman: married young, had eight babies, worked hard to feed and clothe her family, lived as a widow for 5 years, and died in her old age, surrounded by family. Grandma suffered the heartbreak of a son born brain-damaged and requiring constant care. She supported her farmer husband when they moved from northern Indiana to western Kentucky and then to central Wisconsin in mid-life, leaving some children settled here and there along the way so that rarely did she see them all under her roof. She shopped for bargains, grew vegetables and canned them whether she needed them or not. She saved everything that seemed at all useful, like used food wrappings and tissues that may still have had a dry square inch.
Grandma remained loving and patient when Grandpa started showing signs of dementia, and when he died she put her hope in the Lord and carried on. When Grandma felt lonely and couldn’t sleep at night, she got a hymnbook and sang songs. She wrote scraps of songs and poems on bits of paper and stuck them in her books and in her drawers, so that she might see them later when she needed them. And she wrote letters, hundreds of letters every year. I got a birthday card in the mail every year, with an inspirational verse or snippet of poetry written inside.
At her graveside I sang alto, which I hardly ever do, but some of her church ladies told me that my voice sounded just like Grandma’s alto when she was younger. Like my grandma, I too write down strings of words that bless me or that make me grin in church. I like to write letters and I keep a diary, such old-fashioned concepts. I also share her tendency to flounder when there is no sunshine for a long time, and to indulge in gusty sighs when I am overwhelmed.
In so many ways my life is very different, though. I have had opportunities to travel, to learn about things I am interested in that have nothing to do with cooking and cleaning, to develop gifts. But the bottom line is this: I want to be faithful. I can think of no higher praise than to have that said at the funeral of a person who has lived eighty-nine years.
This afternoon I was listening to “In Christ Alone” and this line caught my ear, “This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm…” I have it memorized because we sang it in choir a few years ago, but maybe I should write it on a post-it and stick it on my fridge.