My eyes swish in their sockets, moving left to right beneath my eyelids. I’m about to wake up. My eyes open as I hear a door gently close and then the synchronized creaking of a banister and the heavy footfalls of worn house-shoes. Slowly, both sounds fade to the floors beneath me.
It’s still dark and, as my eyes adjust, I realize that the day hasn’t yet begun. Though I am never willingly up this early, I find myself climbing out of the daybed in the large, converted attic of my grandparents’ house and heading downstairs. My bare feet move down to the homes second floor with a stealth usually reserved for Christmas Eve.
Two more sets of carpeted stairs stand between me and what I now see is a dim light emanating from the first floor. As I turn the corner to arrive at the last set, I see my grandmother sitting quietly by herself at the dining room table. The lights are dim, and a single candle is lit before her. Within seconds, she turns to notice me. I’ve caught her in an intensely personal moment, the only such moment I would ever see.
Ma died a little over a decade later. But a few weeks ago, she appeared in one of my dreams. I remember walking through the front doors of her immaculate and richly decorated home into a living room that seemed to be edged in clouds; its duskiness a frame for the scene before me. My grandmother stands before me elegantly styled in a manner almost identical to a photo I’ve seen of her on my mother’s wedding day. In both, she’s barely smiling, yet a weighty joy covers her face and seems to emanate from every pore. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s love.
She walks the few steps toward me and cups my face in her hands. And while this moment is not one we’ve played out in real life, it is one we fall into seamlessly. We stay this way for a long while. No words, no tears, just a silent and joyous greeting that could only happen on the other side of eternity, only in Heaven.
I love my grandmother, my mother’s mom, though I barely know her at all. My grandparents’ home – one that always welcomed and made space for children – was a place where children were seen, not heard, speaking to adults only when spoken to. She died just as I was entering a time when I could be both. As a result, I know more about her through watching her ways than by actually talking to her.
My wise-cracking grandmother – who had left Jim Crow and a family farm in rural Virginia for big city living and its resident chaos and hypocrisy in the North; married and faithfully loved my grandfather for over half a century; raised eight children, plus one in heaven; and nurtured countless others through fostering – didn’t have too many conversations with children.
But love was there. It was in the clothes on our backs, sometimes purchased, other times hand-sewn, ice cream and homemade desserts after dinner, dance lessons and a special room in the basement called the playhouse – a room filled with enough toys to fulfill any fantasy. Love was everywhere she was, though I would learn that much too late.
But there is one thing that I know for certain. My grandmother prayed for me. Though I only saw her in that scene once and never heard her words, this singular experience told me that she knew God and that one day, or perhaps on many, they would talk about me.
This realization, gifted only in the hindsight of adulthood, is a thought I return to often. In the years since, I have wondered what situations those prayers have covered. I’ve wondered whether they shielded me from harm, opened doors, saved me from myself or simply kept me sane in a world that she knew all too well was crazy.
When I think about her story and where her life took her, I see a woman who trusted God – with her future and her family – despite rarely, if ever, saying a word about it in my presence. Sometimes I wonder if I owe my entire relationship with God, and its many benefits, to my grandmothers’ unseen prayers. Is this detail a key part of how the profound loneliness of my depression led me to God? Maybe. I may never know.
But one thing I do know, is that this simple example and my suffering combined to open me up to the possibilities of an intervening God; a God who was interested in what happens to me and what I have to say.
Hers was just one simple, yet impactful example; a small part of who knows how many other pieces that joined together to spark my faith in God – The Father, Son & Holy Spirit. For her role in bringing into my life even the possibility of consciously living in God’s passionate love for me, I will be forever grateful. She was one of many direction signs, stepping-stones and signals pointing me to an available and loving God. Yet, her contribution was vital and one that I stand on today as proof that God loves me. And it’s one of many reasons why I can look you in the eye and tell you that God loves you too.