They left the graves of their two precious children behind when they abandoned the farm. It was time. The Depression years had lasted long enough.
I thought of my grandparents yesterday and so wished they could have been with us. Our granddaughter, (their great great-granddaughter) was baptized. On her own she sought out the youth pastor at her church and told him about her encounter with the living Jesus. He showed up as powerful and deeply intense feelings and even though she is not yet twelve-years old she knew that she knew that he was speaking to her and asking her to make a public declaration of her faith. The symbolism of being buried with Christ and rising to new life in him was made even stronger by the fact that since this group doesn’t have a built-in baptismal tank they purchased a portable tub originally designed as a birthing tub. Perfect.
One of the triggers that brought up the memory of my grandparents was being greeted by familiar friends from my childhood when we arrived at the church. They just happened to retire in the same town where our son is now a pastor. “I can’t believe Aunt Annie’s grandson is our pastor!” “Matt’s” wife said with tears in her eyes when we first ran into them. “Matt” was the son of my grandmother’s life-long best friend, who we called Little Mary, and her husband Spencer -with whom my grandfather shared an amazing experience I only heard about a few years ago.
My grandparents’ baby girl died when she was only a few days old. Grandma never knew why. The crops had failed again that year and even if they could have scrounged up the money for a doctor he may not have been able to make it through the spring blizzard or been able to help when he got there. She and her husband were devastated, but went back to work ploughing, and planting and trying to raise their three- and five-year old sons. Then only a few months later their youngest boy died.
“Quinsy. That’s why we give you medicine for tonsillitis now,” she told me when I was a girl. “We didn’t have any back then. It was such a hard year. Your daddy was left all alone without his sister and brother and played “funeral” by burying pretend children in matchboxes in the yard and then digging them back up again. I cried a lot, but your grandfather was angry a lot. Then Jesus came into our lives.”
My grandfather, Clarence, always used words sparingly. He wasn’t miserly with his words, he just didn’t have many. His thoughts came in the form of deeply intense feelings. It was my Dad who told me the story of how Grandpa met Jesus.
“There was this nurse. Nurse Conners,” Dad said. “She wanted to be a missionary overseas, but the missions board rejected her because they said she was too small and too sickly and just a woman, so she decided instead, on her own, to go out west and be a missionary to the settlers on the prairie. She rode around the district with her horse and cutter in weather conditions that were tougher than in any tropical country. She looked after the folks and taught them about Jesus and even started a kind of training school where she taught young men how to preach. Some of these young preachers came around to the nearby village and held some old-fashioned tent meetings. Your Grandma walked down the aisle that first night to find out more about this Jesus and she never looked back. Your grandfather went to the meeting with her but he wanted none of it. He was an angry, bitter man who had enough of religion. His mother was a religious woman in the Temperance League movement and she had already attempted to literally beat it into him.
He was in the barn late at night tending the horses when a bright light appeared behind him. He could feel something was happening before he had the nerve to turn around. When he finally did he saw Jesus standing there in the middle of the light.”
“‘Why are you fighting me?’ He asked. ‘Why are you kicking against the pricks?’” (This is close to the phrase, in King James English, that Jesus spoke when He appeared to Saul, a man who hated Christians so much he led a movement to imprison and kill them. One modern translation puts it this way: “It’s hard for you to fight your own conscience.”)
My grandfather turned his life over to Christ that night. If that experience wasn’t amazing enough, when they went to the meetings in the village the next evening he learned his good friend, Spencer, had exactly the same experience at the same time in his barn a few miles away. The transformation of two families began that night.
A few years later Grandma and Grandpa left their children’s graves and their failed lives as farmers behind to move to the city where they bought a big old boarding house that became a place of refuge for many folks at low points in their lives.
So yesterday, there I sat in the same room as Spencer’s son listening to Clarence’s great great-granddaughter talk about her encounter with the living Christ and wanting to follow him for the rest of her life. When she stepped out of that birthing tub she symbolically left her grave behind to be raised up with Christ.
If that wasn’t amazingly joyful enough Jesus encountered me there as well, as he often does, through music. This is a church that praises God with contemporary music. I loved hearing Kim Walker’s song, “How He Loves”. It was perfect for the occasion. But then the worship leaders started singing a song I haven’t heard in years. What? It seemed like a totally unlikely song to sing in a modern sophisticated church setting. It was an old Hank Williams song I heard crackling out of my grandparents’ record player. “Praise the Lord, I saw the Light.”
Like my grandfather -and now my granddaughter I felt His presence before I had words for the experience. The connection to memories of Grandma and Grandpa hit me deeply and I cried and cried.
I had said earlier, “I wish my grandparents could see this.”
I think the song was telling me they did. Thank you, Lord! What a gift!
I have a good inheritance. God is good, so very, very, very good.