Most grandmothers smell of homemade cookies.
Mine smelled of paint and turpentine.
Grandma loved to paint. She called it her third love. I was captivated from the minute I understood that the swirls of color created a picture. When I started school, I developed the habit of stopping at her house on my way home. As I listened to the whisper of her brushstrokes, I wondered if the sound was really God speaking, telling her what to paint.
It was always a special day when a painting was finished and framed. Together, we would decide where to hang it.
"Here or at The Center?" she'd ask. Since her wall space was rapidly filling, we usually took the painting across the street to The Center.
When Grandma wasn't painting, she was volunteering at The Center, her second love. Sponsored by churches, donation, and an occasional grant, The Center was a potpourri of programs ranging from after-school activities, counseling, AA, clothing closet, and a food pantry. The paintings hanging on the walls usually focused on Jesus, emanating hope and compassion. Grandma loved to paint Jesus.
Because Jesus was her first love.
Several years later, Grandma shared her most glorious secret with me.
"Sarah, One day while I was cleaning brushes, God gave me a vision."
Her blue eyes bored into mine.
"A vision is when God shows you something He plans to do. God showed me a vision of The Center, with a gym in the basement, and full-time counselors to help unwed mothers, troubled teenagers--anyone who needs it. It'll have a bigger food pantry, prayer groups, and even a place for people to stay if they need it. God's hope and peace would hang in the air, breathed in by everyone seeking His grace."
Grandma pointed her brush at me. "He showed me. I'm telling you so we can watch it happen together."
Although I was still young, I understood enough about the vision to get excited, too. Just like the paintings, I was enamored with the vision God had given Grandma. I wanted to hear about it all the time. Soon, her vision became mine, too.
As the years passed, I continued visiting Grandma. Although her health was deteriorating, she still painted and volunteered at The Center. And she still talked about the vision--her vision. It wasn't mine anymore. To me, it was the fantasy of a woman who had breathed in too much turpentine.
After my final year in college, Grandma developed pneumonia. I visited her right before she died. She grabbed my hand, surprising me with her strength.
"I'm going home to Jesus soon. I know that you doubt the vision, but I still have faith. Just because I die doesn't mean the vision dies. Watch for it, Sarah." Grandma laid her head back, and I left her asleep. Then she was gone.
In her will, Grandma left me her house and her paintings. I knew she wanted to leave me her vision, but I didn't have enough faith in her or God to believe the vision was real. Grandma had been wrong. The vision was in the grave with her.
I moved into her house, and watched The Center struggle as the country slipped into a recession. I wasn't surprised to see a "For Sale" sign on the lawn a few months later. The Center was closing.
Several weeks later, I answered a knock on the door.
"Sarah Mills?" a man inquired.
"I'm Michael Hoffman. I own an art gallery. A friend told me about the paintings in the building for sale."
"My grandmother's," I said.
"They're extraordinary. If you have a moment, I'd like to talk to you about exhibiting them in my gallery."
A gentle breeze blew. The Hand of God was moving.
"Come in," I said, stepping aside.
I awoke to the sound of hammering. Usually I'd be irritated by this rude wake-up call. Today, however, I smiled, thinking about the new addition to The Center and replaying the events of the last six months--the showing of Grandma's paintings, the intense interest, the booming sales.
I sighed, wishing Grandma could see how God had used her paintings to buy and expand The Center. As I drank my morning coffee, I recalled the comment of a teary-eyed volunteer. "It's a dream come true," she had said.
But I knew better. It wasn't a dream. Or turpentine fumes.
It was a vision.
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