My grandmother passed away a couple of weeks ago. In a family that has been blessed by longevity, she is the first person in my immediate family to die. Gram was the family matriarch on Mom’s side of the family. Despite the fact that she was born with a handicap, Gram had a zest for life. Her mantra, “God will provide,” allowed her to enjoy every day without worrying about tomorrow.
When I was preparing the eulogy that I would give at her memorial service, I was thinking about the many ways that God provided for her—the ways that He lived up to her trust in Him. The first was before she even knew He was caring for her…I moved to Florida about 13 years ago; so now when I go back to NY, I act like a tourist. Last summer, I took my sons to see the Statue of Liberty and we visited Ellis Island. While I was there, something really powerful struck me. Gram came to America from Italy when she was about 3 years old. That would’ve been around 1923 or 1924. According to the historical records at Ellis Island during that time period, there were doctors who were doing physical and mental exams on all immigrants. If an immigrant was found to have an illness or even a physical deformity, he or she would be sent back to their country of origin. So that left me wondering, How did she do it? Gram was born with one leg shorter than the other. How did she, with her physical handicap, get passed the physical exam? Was the doctor not paying close attention or maybe he was on a break? Was her mother carrying her so they wouldn’t notice her legs? Maybe the doctor who did the examination felt sorry for her and allowed her through? It is something that we will never know. And yet, it is a moment in her life that could’ve changed absolutely everything! I wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t been granted permission to America that day! I’d like to think that it was through the grace of God that she got here and that it was His provisions that allowed her passage to her new life.
Another example of God’s goodness was when she was moved in with her family in Port Chester, NY. Apparently her parents couldn’t afford to keep her with them and they had no room for her where they were living, so they had her live with her aunt and cousins. To most children who would have to live without their parents, this would be an extremely difficult and sad situation, but to Gram, it was a blessing beyond measure! She grew up as an only child and she hated that she was alone because she never had anyone to play with. But then, when she got to live with her cousins, it was like having instant siblings. She had playmates and she loved it there. Once again, God provided for her and turned a difficult situation into a blessing. He added to that blessing ten-fold when she married my grandfather and inherited his family of nine siblings.
She never let her handicap hold her back from living every day to its fullest. She swam, danced, jumped rope, drove, worked, and traveled. She was blessed with children and grandchildren whose company she loved more than life itself. She never passed up the chance to go out to eat or to attend a party. Gram loved going to the beach and soaked in the sun. She was the first to ante up to a game of cards. She enjoyed a glass of wine at happy hour, an occasional cold beer on a hot summer’s day, Asti on New Year’s, and even a shot of Goldschlager if it was offered to her! She was always the perfect companion for a late-night movie, cup of coffee, guilt-free piece of cake, or even a casino trip. She and Pop weren’t rich by any stretch, and yet they always seemed to have just enough. Especially as they got older, they never fretted about where they would end up. They didn’t like to plan out the steps too far into the future. They didn’t dwell or complain about how they were lacking. Instead they always made the best of what they did have; they were generous with it; and they always said, “Don’t worry, God will provide.”
I don’t remember Gram being an overtly Christian woman. She wasn’t preachy and she didn’t attend church too often. However, the relationship that she had with God when no one was looking was a different story altogether. One time, I went to visit her and my grandfather at their apartment in Peekskill, NY. When I walked in, Gram was sitting in her chair in the corner of the room. She had her eyes closed and her hand was resting on a stack of papers. I assumed that she was sleeping. But when she heard me, she opened her eyes quickly and said, “I’m almost done. Just a minute.” Huh? Almost done with what? Napping? A few moments later, she opened her eyes and said, “Okay. I’m finished.” I asked what she was “finished” with and she opened her hand to show me her stack of papers. I’m finished praying. “Praying? Praying for whom? Here? In the middle of the day?” At this point in my life, I was a “pray the same prayers before bed” kinda girl. I’m not sure why, but the realization that Gram was praying for people mid-day was strange to me. As it turns out, Gram prayed for people everyday—lots of people, by name—maybe even some of you reading this right now! She had a daily routine and it included saying her prayers. She was faithful about that and it made an impression on me that day. It also made me feel good because in my heart I was sure that I was included in her daily chats with God. J
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” When I think of this Scripture, I think of someone’s “purpose” as being something that is big and grand, like someone’s job or their life’s conquest or their big accomplishments. Thinking back on Gram’s life, I think that her purpose may have been a bit less glamorous, but no less purposeful or powerful than anyone else’s. Her purpose was carried out in the way that she lived. She showed us by her life that we can do anything by trusting in God. Her life proved to us that He worked all things out for good—no matter how difficult or burdensome they seemed. I for one am grateful to her for fulfilling that purpose, whether she knew she was doing it or not. To see the life of a lonely, poor, handicapped immigrant transformed into one that was filled with laughter, adventure, family, friends, and an abundance of love is quite inspirational. And then to know that she lived that life believing and trusting that “God would provide” and time and time again, He did? Well, that’s enough proof for me to want the same for my life. Thanks for your example, Gram…