Have you ever noticed how the same theme runs like a thread through different parts of your life that are totally separated from each other? Something said in a sermon is repeated the next day in a devotion. The same emphasis in Sunday School reappears in your midweek Bible study. I love when that happens. It’s like the Holy Spirit is confirming the lesson to me, saying, “Hey you need to pay attention.” Like a little kid, I need repetition for the message to sink so I get to hear the same message said different ways.
This week, that message is about spiritual heritage. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m teaching a class on becoming an influential grandparent. This week, my Thursday afternoon bible study is considering 2 Timothy 1:3-5. The title of the chapter in our study book?
Remember your heritage.
As I’ve thought about the influence older people can have on the younger generation, I’ve reached back into my memory banks, savoring past moments with those who impacted my life. Who have been the spiritual influencers for me?
The first one that comes to mind might as well have been a grandparent. We called her “Grammy Jean.” Jean and her husband Lowell were winter visitors to our church in Tucson, spending their summers in Washington. Grammy Jean could write a medical book based on the illnesses she had experienced. She was in constant pain. Yet I rarely ever heard her complain. If we asked, “How are you?” she would respond, “It’s a lovely day outside.” If we said, “How are you, really?” then she would confide in us.
Grammy Jean showed me that a relationship with Jesus was real and intimate, not a textbook exercise. Tweet this. She talked freely about her prayer life, saying often, “I couldn’t sleep last night, so I decided God must want me to stay awake and pray for people.” She reminded me often that I was a frequent recipiant of those prayer attacks.
She was blunt and direct. I couldn’t get away with anything and she never would let me use my limited vision as an excuse. One look at her wheelchair told me to shove my excuses and try again.
She cared about people. In spite of her limitations and pain, she always asked about us. As an older teen, I was insecure and lacked social graces. It amazed me that someone like Jean would show any interest in a backwards kids like me, but she did. In public, my family looked put together but behind the doors of our home, we had our dysfunctions. Grammy Jean wormed her way into our family life and loved and accepted us the way we were. My stepfather, who was not a Christian, also suffered from severe pain. Jean would limp into our home, look directly at my stepfather and say, “So Bob, how are you today? Probably in as much pain as me, huh? Gotta keep moving, don’t we?” By her love and acceptance, she softened many of our family’s rough edges.
She taught us to have fun and treasure the special moments. After I became engaged to my husband, I came home for Christmas. Jean decided she needed to take me shopping, so we loaded her wheelchair in her car and she drove us to the mall. I pushed her in her wheelchair through several department stores and together we picked out wedding veils and wedding dresses for me to try on, giggling like we were both twenty years old. The store clerks must have thought we were nuts!
She was transparent and real, admitting when she was struggling to trust God. One summer, we got word that Lowell had suffered a devastating stroke. Only nineteen at the time, I was crushed by the news. Realizing I most likely would never see Lowell again this side of heaven and even though I had no experience with what Jean was facing, I was filled with compassion. I don’t know where I got the idea – okay, only God – but I decided to write her a letter every week through the summer, a letter that was light, newsy, hopeful and reassuring her that her church family in Tucson was praying for her and Lowell. This was so uncharacteristic for me or for any member of my family, but I had it in my head that this was what I needed to do.
Lowell did pass away and Jean came back to Tucson a few weeks later than usual – alone. The first Sunday, she stood up in church and told everyone about my letters, how they sustained her through a dark and difficult time. Now that I am the age I am and have much more life experience, I think, good glory, yes, weekly letters from a teenage girl would be an encouragement to someone like Jean. But at the time, I was unsure of myself, always second guessing myself worrying that I was more of an intrusion than anything. Jean’s public acknowledgement of her need and how my letters provided the encouragement she needed affirmed my efforts to serve and love others with the love of Christ in a huge way. She could have chosen not to say anything. She could have been annoyed with my bumbling efforts or told me I needed to work on my handwriting or spelling. Instead, she lifted up the halting efforts of a nineteen year old girl and gave the unspoken message, “What you did was important and is worth doing.” Her affirmation gave me the courage to keep reaching out to others, to take risks in loving others in the name of Christ.
Jean was one of those classic ladies that we never could figure out how old she was. I’m guessing that she was probably in her mid 60’s when I first met her. Let’s just say I’m a lot closer to my sixth decade than I was at nineteen. I’m thankful for the spiritual legacy Jean and others have left me, for the way they’ve modeled the Christian walk and the sound foundation of biblical doctrine they’ve laid. I find myself wondering more and more, what kind of spiritual legacy am I leaving? Who am I influencing? How can I be more intentional and prayerful in modeling Christ and encouraging young believers?