TITLE: Live Forever (Part 1) updated 12/22/15
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Grandma didn’t say much, but she influenced many in my family to follow Christ by speaking Jesus with her life.
She loved to read the Bible and always had it next to her chair. During my unannounced visits to her home while growing up, I would sometimes catch her with her finger moving slowing over scripture, diligently absorbing the words.
As her eyesight started failing, she would sit on the back stairs in the morning and read her Bible because it was only with the bright natural sunlight that she was able to continue studying scripture. It is this mental picture of Grandma sitting on the stairs, engrossed in her Bible, that comes foremost to mind when I think of her.
I believe that God embedded His selfless, sacrificial Spirit in Grandma through her eager study of scripture.
It is difficult for me to think of someone else who loved to pray as much as Grandma did. It didn’t matter where she was. Even in a crowded public area, without hesitation or self-consciousness, her whole body would transform into a figure of deep reverence for God with eyes closed, head bowed, hands clasped, and shoulders tipped forward.
Grandpa had immigrated to Oahu, Hawai’i from Japan in 1918 to work as a farmer. Grandpa’s and Grandma’s families arranged their marriage in 1923 when Grandma was eighteen and Grandpa was twenty-three. Grandpa sailed from Hawai’i to Japan for the sole purpose of marrying Grandma and bringing her back with him to Hawai’i.
As a farmer’s wife, Grandma lived a hard life working in their banana, papaya, and taro farm alongside Grandpa while raising eight children, five girls and three boys, in a two-bedroom single wall farmhouse that Grandpa and his friends built. But she didn’t complain. She expressed gratitude for everything.
When Grandpa died in 1993, which was fourteen years before Grandma passed away, they had been married for seventy years. Grandpa, like Grandma, didn’t say much, but he lived a righteous life. Grandpa decided that Grandma and their seven children at that time (the eighth child would be born years later after the family moved to Kaneohe) would attend Kahaluu Methodist Church on the windward side of Oahu, Hawai’i. Their farm was next to the white one-room church. The entire family accepted Jesus as their Savior, lined up in a row, and Reverend Chinpei Goto baptized them.
My cousin Garret and I interviewed Grandma during a family gathering in her living room when she was ninety-five years old. I had prepared a list of questions to ask her and Garret videotaped the interview.
With knitted eyebrows she said, “Why do you want to film me?”
“I want to record your memories,” I replied.
At first, not wanting to draw attention to herself, she refused. But when I asked her questions about growing up in Japan and her war experience on Oahu, she started talking, especially about the December 7, 1941 Japanese warplanes. She pointed over her head, reliving the moment she saw the planes fly over her, “I knew they were Japanese planes. Reverend Goto came to our house and told us that the planes had attacked Pearl Harbor. We were afraid of the consequences of the attack.” My grandparents, mother and her siblings were not interned during the war. On my father’s side of the family, however, my grandparents, my father, and his seven siblings were interned at the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona.
Another question I asked her was, “When did you fall in love with Grandpa?” She replied, “After the fifth child.” I stopped the video, stunned by her selfless statement. Grandma’s frank answer was a mirror held up to my heart. Immediately, I knew that I needed to change from a grumbler into a woman like Grandma or Mary, mother of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and give birth to Jesus, she responded, “May your word to me be fulfilled”(Luke 1:38). Grandma and Mary submitted to God’s plan for them.
My four aunts and mother, who were sitting next to Grandma and heard her say, “After the fifth child,” provided a logical reason for her answer. They agreed, “That makes sense because she had four girls first, but Grandpa wanted a boy.” Grandma had held on to and taught me Japanese customs like humbly giving gifts to others and keeping a fresh flower arrangement in the house. It was probably because she clung to old Japanese customs and beliefs that she must have felt ‘worthy to love and be loved’ when she gave birth to the long-awaited boy.
Grandma was bedbound at home from age 101. My aunt, mother, and I continuously cared for her. She was sad when she realized that she would be confined to a bed. While sighing Grandma would say, “I’m a burden.” But I encouraged her by responding, “Just enjoy your meals and rest.”
When I played Japanese folk music for her, she would dance in bed by waving her arms around, and she was full of smiles and perky when people visited her.
She didn’t remember any family member’s name except mine because we played the “What’s my name?” game. If she said my name, “Suji” (My nickname is Suzie, but she would say Suji because of her Japanese accent), I would give her ice cream, which she loved. So she knew that when she said “Suji” she would get ice cream. “Yay, Grandma,” I would cheer, then feed her a scoop of ice cream. She would wiggle her toes when she ate ice cream. But the best part of our daily time together was seeing the contented look on her face when we prayed together.
During the summer of 2007, I noticed that Grandma didn’t break into her usual smile when I teased her. I recognized that she was peacefully fading from this world.
Leaning close to her, I asked, “Can you see Jesus?”
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