Every year I try to get away by myself for 3-4 days around the New Year. I call it my personal high holy days. I muse, write, read, pray and plan. These are just about my favorite days of the year.
Today I arrived at the beach after a 6-hour drive. On the drive here, something told me to listen to an old recording my Aunt Jean made of my Grandmother before she died at age 95, telling the story of how she met my grandfather, and, how she and Grandpa found God. I’d heard these stories before, of course, but not with my present ears. I now have new ears.
My Grandma only went to the third grade, and she was raised in the hills of Tennessee. She didn’t go to church before she met Grandpa, and she didn’t have much of a concept of God. But someone that she knew got ‘saved,’ and she saw how it changed their lives. She wanted that for herself.
I listened to my grandma’s dear voice as she described the journey of her discovery of God; I listened as she recounted her determination to find something real. She went to a church, came forward at the end of the service and prayed. The Baptist preacher told her she was “saved,” and she received baptism in the church. But she was so sure there had to be more! She struggled for seven more years; she sought and despaired and sought again; until finally one day, as she knelt in prayer, she felt something go through her entire body, and she was, after that, a changed woman. A burden was lifted she said. Grandma received nothing less than a mystical transformation. She received it because she refused to be satisfied with anything less. Her faith was unshakable from that point on.
This all happened long before I was born, of course. What I remember of my grandma was that she had not one sliver of spiritual doubt. Jesus was as real to her as her next-door-neighbor. I used to wish I could believe anything that strongly.
And Grandpa! He quit smoking and drinking when he got ‘saved.” At first he became almost sick. He was coughing so hard that he couldn’t sleep. Grandma recounts urging him to take just one draw off a cigarette, to stop his coughing. “You won’t be able to work tomorrow,” she worried. Grandpa answered, “If I never work another day in my life, I won’t grieve my lord.” How serious they were about spirituality. That’s my heritage!
I wept as I listened to the stories, not only because I loved my grandparents and miss them still, but because I heard something new in her recounting of her dark night of the soul, and her eventual triumph of the spirit.
In my younger years these stories had landed with an overlay of guilt, as in, “It’s hard, but you must put your nose to the grindstone and persevere, to avoid judgment and hell.” Suddenly I realized that my grandparents were not moving away from hell, but rather towards something precious – something worth any inconvenience.
I have experienced that myself now, and so when I listen again to the stories, I hear with wonder. I am so deeply grateful to be a part of my family.
I haven’t always felt that way.
When I was young, I heard the stories of dedication as something onerous, as in, “You must be willing to sacrifice everything.” (or else!). It scared me off. Now though, I hear the preciousness of what they were determined to have. I hear how they moved toward God, not away from hell. They attuned themselves to God’s love and rejoiced in it. Cigarettes were not allowed to take that away. Yes, my grandparents took on a lot of dogma and rules that mayn’t have been strictly necessary. But that was not too much to pay. And nothing was going to keep them from the conscious Love of God.
Yes it was the love of God – not the fear of God – that motivated them. Today I heard with new ears.