On Sunday we said our final goodbyes to my gramma. She was such an awesome grandmother and I'm really going to miss her. Actually, I have spent the last couple of years missing her because of her progressive dementia. Slowly but surely it overtook her. We had a pretty neat situation in that after my grandpa passed away, she moved up and lived on our property from the time I was in the 7th grade on through my years in college. She lived close by prior to this arrangement and I have many fond memories of my brother, sister and I riding our bikes to their house. Those were fun times...there was always a warm welcome at gramma's house.
I used to walk down the hill to pay her a visit and we'd talk for such long times and I loved to hear about her life. One reason I have felt particularly close to my grandma is that I see a lot of her in me. That is, I have a lot of the same struggles as she did. What an encouragement it was to see her overcome her struggles in God's strength. The biggest one that comes to mind is her fear. She struggled with fear of varying things throughout her life. She wasn't one to like stepping outside of her comfort zone and yet, in God's strength, she did. Oh, how I identify with this. I have almost always viewed change as the enemy. I like things to be easy, predictable and in my comfort zone. I hate being noticed (for good or bad), and love to blend in. But I don't think that's how God wants us to live our lives. "Come out from them and be separate" the Bible says. We do this by being obedient, which almost always means stepping outside of our comfort zones. While my grandma wasn't one for change either, she was obedient when the Lord called her to follow Him into the unknown. Seeing her courage and the results of her obedience encourages me to do the same. And I'll be honest, there are times that the prospect of adopting scares me to death. I know that God has led us to this point and I know I need to trust him and follow no matter what anyone says, but that doesn't mean it'll be easy. I guess God probably doesn't want us to walk an easy road, because when it's easy, we don't rely on His strength. Being at a place where we have to come to God continually for guidance and strength is a good place to be. I'm so thankful to have watched my gramma talk the talk and walk the walk.
I also would like to share the letter that my sister wrote to our gramma. It's beautiful and touching even if you've never met my gramma.
Here it is:
We said goodbye to you last night. I miss you so much. I’ve spent most of the day listening to the audio clips Sarah has of you and reading the e-mails you sent to me while Nate and I lived in Alaska. I’m definitely feeling, “so heavenly minded that I’m of no earthly good” as the kids are asking for my attention, but I’m only thinking about you! Who you were, what you taught me, where you are now. It’s hard to process through the feelings. Happy, sad, excited, reminiscent, disappointed. Most of all, I feel like I want to talk to you and tell you thank you and get a warm, cushiony Grandma hug.
Where to start? How about with THANK YOU. Thank you for your faithfulness. Your willingness. Your honesty and humility. When God looked down and saw Abraham, he did not choose him because of his brains, brawn, or incredible courage. He chose him because, with God’s help, he was going to be faithful. Faithful to God and faithful to pass on God’s blessing to his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That is what you have done for us. You have been faithful to tell us, in word and deed, about what Jesus can do with a surrendered life.
Your life tells a story of obedience. When you sent your last child on to college and could have heaved a huge sigh of, “Whew, time to relax!” You didn’t. You felt God calling you to foster parenting. You took in two teenage girls. Two wild, undisciplined teenage girls. You cared for them, fed them, disciplined them, loved them. You still love them and they you. One of those wild girls became your Hospice nurse in these last few weeks, coming full circle to care for you in your time of greatest need. (I bet God had a good chuckle over knowing the end of that story!).
When you finally ushered your foster girls out on their own, you felt a stirring in your heart. You wanted to do something big for the Lord, to start something new. You weren’t sure what, but asked the Lord to speak to Grandpa. He did. One day Grandpa walked in from the barn and said, “I think we should sell the farm and travel the country helping churches.” “Exactly!” you exclaimed. You and Grandpa sold your farm, house, animals, everything! You bought a camper for your truck and began to travel the states helping churches. You traveled from Alaska to Arizona, from West Virginia and New Jersey to Oregon, helping Eskimos, hillbillies and everyone else in between. One place in Arizona said they didn’t need help at the time, but Grandpa, tired of driving through the terrible Texas weather, decided to turn back and talk to the pastor anyway. They weren’t ready to build their new church, but told you of another church about 35 minutes away. You headed up there. No one answered the door at first, so while Grandpa was walking around back, you tried the door again. A man, the pastor, finally answered and when you asked if they needed help, he said, “Would you believe, I just got up off my knees praying that God would send someone to help us!” Teaching Sunday school, painting walls, building structures, relieving burnt out teachers, playing janitor, you were willing tools God used to build His church.
When your traveling days were over, you and Grandpa served the local church. You passed out the missionary books, encouraging young and old alike to take their eyes off of our own American “woes” and remember what it is like to serve Jesus around the globe. I’ll admit, I read those missionary books, not because I was so interested, but because I knew you wanted me to. You wanted everyone to remember the lost and hurting. There were three little girls hanging on your fridge. One from Africa, one from South America and one from the Navajo reservation, if I remember right. And you truly cared about them! You would read me their letters, and carefully write back each time.
You greeted people at the doors of the church each Sunday for almost 20 years! You worked hard to memorize their names (when memory is not one of we Vander Stoep’s strengths). Sarah remembers a Hispanic family with 7 little girls. You would study the directory to remember each of their names and try, in vain, to speak their language. We got a chuckle out of the way you would say hola. Even when you couldn’t stand anymore, you sat by the doors of the church, greeting people with your smile and kind words.
The thing is, your natural tendency was fear. You ran out of Tillamook High School terrified to death when you first came to Oregon. You never went back, even though your dad was so disappointed. You did not like social situations or talking to people. You were shy. On one of the audio clips, you tell Sarah, “I was always a scaredy-cat. I wasn’t outgoing at all…when I started working in those churches…everything changed! People would ask us our stories. We would talk like we were professionals!” You even spoke at the big zone rally in front of crowds of people. The verse you used to describe this change was Ephesians 3:16: I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.
You allowed Christ to change your inner-being. You allowed him to work through you. He gave you a spirit, not of fear, but of power and self-discipline. A simple “jar of clay” filled with God’s grace and power.
The thing is, those little girls on your fridge and coming in through the church door did not even get to see your everyday rhythms. You were the same on paper and at the church door as you were at home. How many times did I tromp in through your front door when you were living down below us on Mom and Dad’s property. You would drop what you were doing, listen to me, talk to me like an adult. I would barge in on you reading your Bible, playing hymns on your piano, or your dulcimer, or your piano/horn, whatever that thing was called. Or, I would find you out in the garden weeding and watering and watching for birds flying over. I loved being with you. The day I came down with Nate to tell you that God had called us to serve in an Eskimo village in your beloved Alaska, you didn’t grow sad like my mom, you squeezed my hand and just said, “Good. Go.” with a gleam in your eyes.
You told us stories. Stories about growing up on the prairie, riding your horse, going to school with 4 other children (2 of them your sisters), driving to Oregon to realize your dad’s dream, meeting Grandpa and falling in love with his dashing suit. Stories, stories, stories. But the stories I remember most were of the things God did for you and in you. Like the moment He filled you with the realization that even if you were the only person on the planet, He would have died for you. You told me that one while we were blackberry picking, just the two of us. Or how after Grandpa died you were filled with fear every night and most of the day. One night, God gave you the story of Peter walking on the water, I think it was, and God filled you with peace then and every night from then on.
You were not perfect. Oh no. You grumbled quite a bit, about aches, gas prices, pains, gas prices, new-fangled singing at church, gas prices, all the things that would break around the house, and gas prices. I think gratitude, like most of us, was something God wanted to perfect in you right to the very end of the sanctification process. Even your last months on earth, when Alzheimer’s was ravaging the last we knew of you, it seems God was in the process of sanctification. And you eventually surrendered to it, even when your mind was almost gone. Your last week with us, your countenance suddenly seemed to change from mourning and agitation, to peace and love. You smiled, hugged and kissed your kids one last time. God brought you home quietly, in your sleep, the way we always prayed he would.
Grandma, you have brought things in to perspective for me. Is perfect skin really all that important – no, you were famous for your wrinkles. Is wealth and a large retirement fund all that important – no, a small trailer near your children will do just fine. Is having the perfect waistline a big deal – nope, but wholesome meals around the table are. How about education? You went through 8th grade. Career? When Sarah asked you about that, you laughed. Traveling around the world? Only if its in a camper trailer with the man you love serving Jesus’ bride. Accolades, awards, medals? Yours will come posthumously, as your family and friends gather in a church and share the memories we cherish.
So, what is important, we might ask? If I look at your life, I would say Jesus, His church, your husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, heck, children everywhere. What is important is listening and obeying what God has for you. Being humble enough to do what he asks. Giving up our own “rights” to embrace the life that is truly life. For this, I know that last night, as you stepped in to heaven, Jesus met you at the gate. “Well done my good and faithful servant. Come in and dine with me - and Al, and your sisters and brother, and your parents.”
I can’t wait to come too.
Love you forever,Heidi