This last summer we said good-bye (for now) to my beautiful, 97-year-old grandmother, Lillian. She was a bright, spirited, fiercely independent lover of Jesus. Her life was a tapestry of God’s grace woven through the ordinary everyday of one who chose to live a life of service to Christ. Grandma’s parents were song evangelists in the 1920s, and when her father died in an accident, her mother carried on the work through the Great Depression. That was Grandma’s life and her dream. She followed in her parents’ footsteps, marrying a man from South Dakota who sang baritone, played the trombone, and preached the Word. Together they travelled over a million miles in the United States and abroad during 50 years of service as Camp-meeting song evangelists.
In April 2001, we said good-bye (for now) to my grandfather, Kenneth Knapp. It was a beautiful service and a celebration of his life. The evening before, at the viewing, a well-meaning lady took me aside and suggested I should be a bit more somber for such an occasion. I was taken aback by her comments, though in hindsight, just before she greeted me in the well-wishers’ line, I had been giggling with my cousin and mom and aunt about trading shoes. The woman’s words were well-intended, I have no doubt (she didn’t know about the shoes), but something dissonant jangled in my spirit.
Those words came back to me in June when we celebrated Grandma’s life. She was a profound influence and a constant. Grandma’s house was a place of peace, stories and memories, scrabble and laughter, good food….and pie. (Oh the grape pie!) It was a place of prayer and joyful devotion to Christ. My earliest memories of Grandpa and Grandma’s house are of kneeling in the living room to pray after breakfast, and of listening to Grandma play the piano and sing the choruses and hymns of the church. Those memories are dear to me.
Yet, though I grieved, her funeral was a soul-deep, joyful celebration of the life she lives now, present tense. Today she stands in heaven with many of those she loved here on earth, praising her Savior, face to face.
She has finished her race, her faith is made sight; her victory is won; she has finished the fight!
And if that is not a cause for a loud “Hallelujah, amen!” then I don’t know what is!
Grandma loved Jesus, and she loved to sing about Him. I will always associate this hymn with her:
“There’s within my heart a melody, Jesus singing sweet and low, fear not I am with thee, peace be still, throughout all life’s ebb and flow! Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go!” (He Keeps Me Singing, Luther B. Bridgers)
This could have been her life song. Jesus kept her singing every day. Now she stands in Glory, the veil is lifted and she sees, with clear eyes, the joy of her salvation. To mourn for her in somber angst would be to grieve only for me and my loss—and to utterly miss the point of her life. She lived with one true aim: to one day see Jesus. She was not distracted by popular theology or by the mess the world is in. She lived focused on the truth of who Jesus was and who she was in Him. I loved my Grandmother deeply, and I am filled with joy for her. Some have said she’s now singing with Grandpa again, and she may well be—no one know what to expect in heaven. But this truth I do know: to be absent from this body, is to be present with our Lord. And that is my grandmother’s present, living, and eternal reality. Hallelujah and Amen!