No longer do I call you servants, but I have called you FRIENDS, for all that I have heard from my father I have made known to you. John 15:15
“Well, this isn’t Heaven,” remarked my great-grandmother upon waking up from hip surgery. Her voice dripped with disappointment. Well into her nineties, she was warned that she risked not pulling through surgery, and she was prepared for that. In fact, she welcomed death, for she eagerly anticipated going to Heaven to see her Savior.
My maternal great-grandmother, Grandma Bert or “Miss Bert,” was somebody special, a true wonder. The words she spoke in her rural, Eastern North Carolina accent, though direct, were heartning, and her smile genuine (she had a great sense of humor). Grandma Bert was a friend and help to others throughout her life; she embodied the consummate, selfless servant, writing notes of encouragement and crocheting baby blankets with arthritic hands and failing eyes until her final days. Most importantly, she never ceased telling those around her, Believers and non, about her constantly abiding friend, Jesus.
The Lord came for Grandma Bert shortly before her one-HUNDRED-and-one birthday, but she yearned to see her friend, Jesus, face to face long before then. Nevertheless, she remained strong and resolute in her faith, a sunbeam for Christ, until the end. Upon her request, we all sang one of her favorite hymns, When We All Get to Heaven, at her funeral. I want to be like her, and I believe most everyone who knew her well, especially her family, would say the same.
While visiting her in an assisted care facility, where she spent the last decade of her life, she told me something about Jesus that pricked my heart and convicted me about my relationship with the Lord, or lack thereof, truth be told. I walked into her room and found her where she often sat, in her recliner, reading her Bible. The words on the page were so large that it was easy to see that she was in Proverbs, her twisted fingers gracefully dancing across the page as she read. “Grandma Bert, Grandma Bert, GRANDMA BERT!!!” I shouted into her ear to get her attention. She looked up with a face that glowed. “Oh, I’m sorry, honey; I was just visiting with the Lord.” Like roots of an old tree, her fingers were gnarled with arthritis. Macular degeneration left her practically blind, and her hearing was severely impaired. Nine decades of living had worn her body down; however, her mind remained as clear and sharp as ever. As I surveyed her room, the realization that her entire life was now packed into a small space she shared with another resident suddenly hit me. Her life spanned most of the twentieth century, making her a living history book about The Roaring Twenties, The Great Depression, WWII, The Cuban Missile Crisis, The First Man on the Moon, etc., Moreover, the technology introduced during her lifetime was endless — she once told me that the washing machine was the best invention of all time, with the automobile a close second. She lived through all of these impactful events and more, yet there she sat widowed and handicapped, her days redundant and mundane, at least in my mind.
“Grandma Bert, how do you still find it beneficial to read your Bible? Surely you have read those pages so many times that you probably have every verse memorized,” I practically yelled. The words spilled out of my mouth, and I quickly realized that was a very spiritually immature thing to say, but I was spiritually immature. Very. A junior in college at the time, fighting God over control of my life, I couldn’t imagine reading my Bible every day, not to mention for ninety years. Nevertheless, my great-grandmother, although very Godly, was not a woman easily shocked or hasty to judge. Her pause was long, so I figured she hadn’t heard me, until the corners of her mouth turned upwards, and she took my hands in hers and lay them on her Bible. “Sweet Laura, the Lord will show you and teach you something new every time you open His Word. You only have to open your ears to hear and your heart to receive Him.“
That was not the first time Grandma Bert had shared with me the importance of reading God’s Word, the power of prayer, or that Jesus loved me and wanted to be my friend and to have a close relationship me. Suddenly it dawned on me that the reason my Grandma could be so content in her present surroundings was because she was not alone there in her confinement. She had a close, intimate relationship with the Lord. God was her friend. She met daily with Him in prayer, sharing her fears and giving her thanks, but the conversation was not one-sided, for she listened to God’s speaking to her through the reading of His Word and the moving of the Holy Spirit in her heart and mind.
Later, the power and truth of what Grandma Bert said often prompted me to open my Bible, but honestly, it was the last thing I wanted to do. Up until that point, and for several years after, I placed God on a shelf, only bringing Him down when it benefited me. Then I addressed Him like we were in a business meeting, usually by listing out my demands, delineating my shortcomings and wrapping up with a list of what I perceived to be things I needed to work on for the next one-on-one. Nothing about my relationship was intimate; it was transactional in every way — cold, calculated and enabled me to tick off the boxes on my “Steps to be a Good Christian” list.
What little relationship I had with God was out of fear. The same was true for obedience. Truth is, I did not want to be eternally damned, separated and cut off from God and Heaven, but I didn’t want to fully surrender to His will either. While God’s wrath over our sin is to be feared, His love for us in our sinful condition is beyond comprehension. I knew I was a sinner but didn’t possess any great love for Christ then, which is no surprise, for God says in I John 4:19 that we love Him because He first loved us.
Grandma Bert’s words that day watered one of many Gospel seeds that the Lord had already planted in my heart to bring me into a right relationship with Him. She was a true prayer warrior and prayed regularly for me as well as all of her great-grandchildren. Other Godly people prayed for my spiritual well-being, too, and a few years ago, I sought the Lord and asked him to grow in me a desire to have a close, intimate relationship with Him like my Grandma Bert. God saw my sincerity and fulfilled the promise in Jeremiah 29:12-14:
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you declares the Lord.
I, too, hope that when my life’s journey nears its end, whenever that may be, I won’t fear death or dread passing from this life to the next because I’m consumed with worldly possessions instead of heavenly treasures. Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking the Lord to come for me today, but the closer my relationship with Him grows, the more I look forward to being united in Glory with my Heavenly Father, my Lord and Savior. And I pray that after my life’s work has ended, He will greet me saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” as I’m confident was true for Grandma Bert.
Perhaps you have been blessed with a Grandma Bert in your life, but whether you have or have not, ask the Lord to use you to be a Godly influence on your children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, to impart a spiritual, heaven-bound legacy to the generations you leave behind. My great-grandparents prayed every single day for the salvation of their children and their children’s children, including their future, yet unknown spouses and families. They also prayed that God would use them for His glory and in Kingdom work. Preachers and missionaries, deacons and elders, choir and children’s directors, Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders, church administrators and treasurers, Christian musicians and writers abound in my extended family as a result — what a blessed heritage!
Intimacy with our Heavenly Father takes time and effort, and there will be seasons in life when you will feel closer to Him than others. But remain committed and keep meeting with Him and opening your heart to Him, so you and your family can also sing with assurance and eager anticipation:
When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory