Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Whistling to the Lord"

My mother-in-law had a simple beauty. She was more like a grandmother to me than a mother-in-law. Grammy loved her Lord, and she showed it through her generous and gentle life. She's with her Lord now. She taught me plenty about worshiping Him.

Dedicated to Amy Lois Blake


“Mama,” my little girl whispered, “Grammy is holding her book upside down.”

I glanced over to my mother-in-law, and smiled. Sure enough, her hymn book was upside down, but it didn’t matter. She had forgotten how to read. Her short, gray hair stood up in back, and she was wearing a pink, stained sweat suit. The nurses at the boarding home didn’t like to fuss with long hair and fancy church dresses.

I loved her. She had welcomed me into her family and never treated me with the actions of the dreaded, jealous mother-in-law. In fact, since my husband was her youngest child, she was more like a grandmother to me than a mother. She listened to my immature, newlywed worries. She taught me how to bake biscuits, to gather blueberries, and to knit mittens. She played with my babies and shared the abundance of her gardens.

“He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today…” Grammy lifted her face and closed her eyes. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t read, she knew all the words. The pastor asked us to remain standing for the prayer, but Grammy sat down, muttering, “Hurting…hurting.”

I tried to focus on the sermon, but mind was divided between keeping my little ones occupied with crayons and making sure Grammy didn’t try to fix the collar of the lady in front of us. She saw me opening my Bible. Taking one from the rack, she began turning the pages one at a time. It kept her busy, so I didn’t attempt to help her.

The pastor read, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed…” I heard another voice. It was Grammy. She was saying the words along with him. On and on they went throughout the whole chapter. “…he was numbered with the transgressors, and he bare the sins of many…” * Others may have thought she was reading it, but I knew better. She must have learned it sometime during her life. Could I say all of it without using my Bible?

Grammy had changed. Her mind had regressed to the point that she didn’t recognize her own children. She couldn’t identify dillweed from daisies. She accused people of stealing her glasses when she misplaced them. This wasn’t the real Grammy. The real Grammy and her abundance of knowledge and wisdom were locked away in a mind that became fuzzier each day… except for one part. God left one part intact, the part that could still praise His Name…the part that still worshiped Him.

As the pastor continued the sermon, Grammy fiddled with the bulletin, shredded her tissue then wiped her nose on her sleeve, and picked at a fuzz ball on the front of her shirt. Soon I heard her softly humming. The hum turned into a whistle. This happened every Sunday. I knew the words. “Just a closer walk with Thee, Precious Saviour, this my plea…” As the tune proceeded into the second verse, heads turned, making me fidget in embarrassment.

Should I take her out like a little child? I tried to hush her, but her protests were louder than the whistling. Maybe we shouldn’t bring her to church. She took my hand and patted it. No, my mind argued with itself. She likes being here. She likes the hymns and Bible reading. I can’t deprive her of worshiping her Lord. Who knows when she won’t be able to come anymore?After the last hymn and prayer, she clung to my arm as we shuffled to the front door, muttering, “Hurting…hurting.”

The pastor shook Grammy’s hand. “I’m so glad you were with us today, Amy.”

“I’m glad too, but you talked too much!”

As we escorted Grammy back to her room in the senior boarding home, a nurse met us in the hallway. “Did you have a good time at church, Amy?” To me she added, “We always know which songs you sing at church because she sings them all week long.”

Lord, will my life be a witness for you, long after I’m able to read or take care of myself? Have I hidden your Word in my heart, where it will never be lost? Lord, let me worship you with my whole heart, not caring what others say or think. I want to be faithful, Lord, just like Grammy.

* Isaiah 53 (KJV)
“He Lives” by Alfred H. Ackley
“Just a Closer Walk with Thee” traditional folk song


  1. Oh Vonnie...being a Pastor's wife in churches where the elderly far out number the youngerly, I chuckled a few times as I read this. Especially the part where you had to keep her from adjusting the collar of the person in front of her. :)

    But seriously...If people have problems with an elderly saint in church, it is just that...their problem. Your Grammy earned the right to be who she was and I'm sure she blessed many and inspired some to one day be just like her.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. What a legacy "Grammy" left for her children and grandchildren. You were blessed to have her, and she was blessed to have you. The picture of her is too precious for words. Oh, to have a heart so full of God that it has to spill out or burst.

  3. What a bitter-sweet memory. I remember hearing from a pastor whose wife was in a nursing home. She didn't even remember her own name, her family, or any one. Someone asked him if he prayed that God would take her home. He replied, "No." When they asked why, he told them that the one thing his wife remembered and continually repeated was "Jesus loves me" and he felt that she was continuing to be a witness just as she was.

    I hope that when I've forgotten everything else, that I don't forget Him and His Word.

    Thanks, Vonnie, for this lovely tribute.

  4. Amazing Grammy and beautiful tribute, Vonnie. Sniffle, sniffle. I too hope to have that kind of abiding, obvious faith every day of my life. Thank you for this heartfelt memory.

  5. Some days, I really miss Grammy. Some days, I wish I could take a walk with her in the woods that she knew and loved. I wish I could talk with her and ask her how to be a good mother-in-law and grandmother. I want to be like her. She taught me so much; I only have to remember.

  6. I absolutely, positively, LOVE this, Vonnie. Such an amazing legacy, and an awesome lady - and lesson - for all of us.

  7. I love your true story about Amy. She was a remarkable lady...taught us much with the way she lived her life...without words at times..the best life "sermons."Amy was a deep influence on all my (now adult) "kids" reason that Allen felt called to full time ministry. Amy would pick me pails of blueberries and then thank me for taking them!!!I also remember her singing hymns from memory as the rest of her memory failed. Thank you for the renewal of my memories. Jeanne

  8. So much love wrapped up in this beautiful tribute to an amazing woman of God!
    It also stirred up a few memories of my mom.
    Thanks for the blessing!

  9. Oh, that was a poignant look at life and aging. Beautifully written, Vonnie!

  10. Jeanne, yes, she had the most generous heart I've known. I can't eat a raspberry without thinking about her. A seed catalog came in the mail and made me remember her pouring over hers - like a kid in a toy shop. We were very blessed just to know Grammy.

  11. Oh, you've gone and made me cry...not cry...sob! This was just beautiful and so full of wonderful memories, but the part that brought tears was the part of your mother-in-law that showed God's love can't be edged out by disease or decay. It was truly, deeply a part of her. And Vonnie, a large part of Her definitely shines through you!
    Love you!

  12. Like Mid, I had the tears. This is such a sweet story. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Wonderful tribute! She lives on in her family.

  14. Thank you for sharing this reflection. Amy meant so much to me. I wrote a piece about her for a creative writing class in college once (I wonder where that is) and have shared stories about her in sermons many times. I am so thankful for her influence in my life.

  15. Oh Vonnie, when I read this I thought of my grandma. I used to sit in her bedroom until late at night talking about Scripture. She was so full of wisdom and strength. I miss her.

    Thanks for the memories.


  16. Tissue please! Okay everyone, go call your grandma, if you can.

    For all the godly women we've been gifted to have in our lives, we say, "thanks be to you, O God."

  17. I'm sorry I made everyone cry.

    I was only trying to "encourage" you to treasure each moment that God gives you with the ones you love.

    (You want to know a secret? I cried myself to sleep after posting this.)

  18. I love the fact that when you're old, you can say exactly what you think and not get in trouble for it! lol. This is a beautiful tribute, Vonnie. Thank you for sharing a bit of her life with us.

  19. Oh, boy, I am posting a series on dementia this week - up close and personal with my Mom. This really touched me!

  20. This is beautiful. I never had a grammy, so can't quite relate. I do recall an elderly lady in choir who many times stood next to me. She would have her music upside down, but singing from the heart.

  21. Your post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, thank you, thank you!



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