By: Rev Ed Schneider
There she stood, my grandmother, the very anchor of my existence. With her feet firmly planted in the front yard of our small brick three bedroom house in a working-class neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, she looked like a weird version of the Statue of Liberty. As she stood in the middle of her neatly manicured, vibrantly green lawn, sweating, flushed, rake in hand, and wiping her brow, she had that smile of her’s working in high gear, just as she always seemed to have whenever she saw me coming. She looked down the street to see me along with some of my neighborhood friends coming home from school. She began waving in my direction welcoming me home from a hard day of elementary school.
As I arrived at our front yard and my friends continued on their way, I walked up to her and received her usual bearlike hug with its accompanying kiss – and there was always a kiss – on my left cheek. The very moment I returned home and right after the required welcome, she would always ask me one of two questions: “How was your day at school? “ or “Tell me what you learned today.”
Like the sun raising every morning, I could count on hearing an inquiry regarding the effectiveness of my daily school experience. No matter what happened or didn’t happen at school each day, it was my grandmother’s firm belief that I should never return the same as I left. Coming home unchanged in some way was simply not acceptable in my grandmothers view.
From her perspective, “continual transformation” was a fact of life and the quicker I came to embrace that understanding the better off I would be.
My grandmother was a remarkable woman during her life here on earth. When I remember her, I envision a 5’6″ tall, hard-working, warm hugging, loud laughing, deep frying, hymn singing, dancing, take charge, hand-holding, tear wiping, and cheer-leading southern woman with graying hair placed on the top of a slightly overweight, but healthy vibrant Arkansas frame.
Her name was Fern-Louise and she would be quick to claim God’s joy and service in all that she did. She had the ability, not unlike many women of past generations, to do all that was necessary to keep family and friends together, engaged, challenged, and full of food and laughter while never losing a single step to the world around her. From the perspective of a small boy who absolutely adored his grandmother, she was some kind of woman, and I loved her with all the depth any little boy can.
And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe [and] to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: Dt. 28:1 – KJV
As a grown man who has children of his own, I look back with amazing respect and affection for what my grandmother was able to do “with me” and “for me” throughout much of my life. She had an incredible way of offering me the most in-depth, astute and homespun sounding advice that could only be described as life-altering, life-initiating and life-transforming. Even though not every story I tell about her is technically true in every detail, much less historically accurate, her real and sustainable effect on my life continues to inspire, motivate and encourage others as I weave her mythological status through my sermons, teaching, writing, and daily interactions.
As I look back over my life, it is easy to see how influential she really was. Wow, what a woman! At a moment’s notice, she would be able to turn any opportunity of learning into a surrealistic microcosm of Christian values, biblical principles, theologically profound nuggets of truth and marvelously humorous anecdotes that were often challenging and always filled with practical “let’s get real” observations and advice. She lived and breathed the philosophy that any life should be filled with faith, the love of God, hope in the future, the affirmation of life, and a no-nonsense call to authenticity and humility as we walk with God.
The aged women likewise, that [they be] in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; Titus 2:3 – KJV
My grandmother didn’t just “talk about God,” she openly lived her walk with the Creator with an unashamed spirit. She took the greatest of care to share much of the feisty down-home wit and wisdom she possessed as the opportunity presented itself and yet she never seemed to me to be pushy or overbearing. She was not only willing, but enthusiastic when it came to sharing that “God loves everyone” and if they would just think about it for a minute it ought to make you feel really good. She would say that phrase all the time. “God loves you! Now, doesn’t that make you feel really good?” To this very day, the memories of her sitting next to someone while uplifting them in some way permeates nearly every aspect of my life as both a Christin man and a minister of the Gospel of Christ.
Even long after her death, a death caused by the debilitating and deadly disease of Alzheimer, she remains stunningly vibrant and divinely active in my daily walk of faith. My grandmother gave me a sense of joy and wonder about life in general and God in particular. She offered to me a sense of authority over my life while providing a profound gift of insight into Christian faith that has continued to sustain me even as I become a pastor, teacher, orator and writer. Her memories, stories, and inspiration for life-lesson development have not only filled my life with genuine joy and purpose, she has also, through the ministry that God has blessed me with, advanced the life of others. Her stories, character, her very life, have touched literally thousands of other searching souls who have needed to hear the same lessons she shared with me as well as the furthering of other stories her life and interaction with me have prompted.
Beloved, verily, verily I say unto you, the biggest lesson my grandmother ever taught me concerning the “things of God” was when she would emphasize over and over again the primary means any of us can meet God. She made it very clear to me God is primarily experienced is through another human being. It is through the interactions of others that we either verify or reject the nature, characteristics, and even the very possibility of God. Without question the single most important lesson Fern-Louise taught me was about the partnership we humans hold within God’s divine plan. When any Christian interacts with another person they may be the only soul a searching…or troubled…or questioning individual will be exposed to who can show them the love, grace, mercy, joy, and power of God.
She never let me forget that important lesson and I remind others of that same practical wisdom even today. Peace.