My wife and I received Christ on October 15, 1999 and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I experienced my first crisis of faith.
I was born in the summer of 1952 in southern California. My parents divorced in 1957. It was a time before women’s lib, a time when society blamed women for the failure of marriage and a time when my mother turned to alcohol.
The bitterness of the divorce destroyed my mother, older sister, younger brother and me. I was a sad little boy, living in a world devoid of parental love and affection. The only joy in my life was my grandparents, especially my grandmother.
Just when I thought that things couldn’t get any worse, she’d swoop in unannounced, gather us kids up, and take us home to a place of safety, a place where we were loved and cared for.
I remember sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table, watching her work, legs swinging because they didn’t touch the floor. As she prepared supper, she’d teach me how to spell and told stories of what it was like to grow up on a Kansas farm in the early 1900’s.
Sometimes my grandfather would take us to the beach to collect shells, sand dollars and starfish. When we got home my grandmother would boil up the starfish and set them on the back stairs in the sun to dry. I remember my grandfather hanging an old fisherman’s net on the concrete block wall of the outdoor patio and my grandmother decorating the net with the shells and starfish that we had found.
My fondest memory of my grandmother was watching her work in her rose garden in a broad brimmed, straw hat and yellow gloves with small blue flowers. She had roses, dozens and dozens of them in every color imaginable with each bush surrounded with a red concrete scalloped border. She’d kneel on an old piece of folded rug, tirelessly filling an old galvanized bucket with cuttings, weeds and leaves. When the bucket was full I would empty it for her. She’d prune and clip for hours, cursing aphids and other insects with a passion as full as the flowers’ bloom. We’d talk about anything and everything, my grandmother patiently listening to every word I said. I don’t ever remember her saying that she loved me, but it was present in everything she did.
My grandmother died in 1983 at the age of 84. My wife and I were living in Colorado at the time and I was out of work. I couldn’t afford to go the funeral and spent that day huddled in a blanket on our back porch watching the rain.
I didn’t cry when my father died and I haven’t seen my mother in years. Every so often I stumble across the memory of my grandmother. I remember how she took care of me, how she loved me. The pain of her loss always catches me off guard, the depth of the heartache always a surprise even after so much time has passed. I often find that I still yearn for those hot afternoons in her garden.
My crisis of faith came during a sermon on heaven and eternity. My grandmother was not a believer and when I realized that I would not spend eternity with her I became angry with God. That night, as I lay in bed staring holes through the darkness, I cursed Him for not having a place in heaven for a woman like my grandmother.
As I fell asleep I became five once again. I was standing in my grandparent’s driveway before a wooden door set in a concrete block wall that led to their patio. A gentle breeze tempered the hot southern California afternoon. I reached up and released the wrought iron latch and opened the door. There across the sun dappled lawn, kneeling in the rose garden wearing a broad brimmed straw hat, was my grandmother. She lifted a gloved hand and waved, her sweet voice drifting across fragrant backyard beckoning me. I spent the night talking with her in her garden one last time. She told me how much she missed me and how much she loved me.
The God I prayed to receive on October 15, 1999 is the God who created me. He’s the God who loves and forgives me. Most of all, He is the God whom strengthens and encourages me every day of my life.
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