Sunday, 5 March 2017

In Memory of Grace

Grace and I met when she was in her eighties, I believe, and I was 17.

I'd been given a job to clean her cosy, ground floor flat, recommended by the skills of my older sister who had done a stellar job in the house of a friend of Grace during her gap year.

Alas, my sister got the lion share of the cleaning genes. I like things to look tidy, and can rearrange objects like a boss, but when it comes to actually making things less dusty, less dirty, less smudgy- I'm distinctly average. And there wasn't much tidying to do at Grace's lovely flat. The only rearranging I managed to do were the times when I accidentally rearranged precious heirlooms in to very many irreconcilable pieces all over the floor.

So it wasn't long before I didn't work for Grace. I think she endured my replacing one set of window smudges for another for about a year. After that, Grace employed a proper cleaner, who wasn't seventeen and prone to unhelpful clumsiness, and who hopefully had the knack of removing, rather than adding fluff to surfaces.

But, during this period, Grace and I became friends, and so even after the real cleaner had taken over, we continued our catch ups over tea.

And we stayed friends for very many years. I continued to visit her every few months while I was at school, and I'd try to see her most times I came back home- from Manchester, Nottingham, Cambridge, France, Oxford, High Wycombe, Oxford again. I'd go and see Grace, and we'd talk about how things had been going.

Grace was a beautiful little lady, full of warmth and joy. She was one of 7 sisters, and I met and got to know quite a number of them as their visits to her coincided with mine quite a few times over the years. She'd open the door to me with a beam and a disbelieving shake of her head, and give me a huge hug.

After the warmth of the welcome, we'd sit down and talk about how things had been. Grace would tell me about her week, her purchase of a lilac coat, her ride on the ferris wheel in town, her trip in to the village where she'd been presented with a full tray of hot buns and had chosen two. She'd talk about how much she loved her Tuesday Fellowship group, how sad she was her church's pastor was moving on- and then in later years how much she appreciated the new pastor. She told me about the students at her church calling her Aunty Grace, about how much she loved to sing. Sometimes she'd ask me to read her devotion for the day to her, and once or twice we prayed together. Grace felt emotion deeply, and shared openly- so we had that in common.

Grace had loved to travel. She'd been married to a man named Len, and there was a lovely picture of the two of them in a gondala above her fireplace. She wasn't able to go abroad by the time I knew her, but she had a friend from her Tuesday Fellowship who she went to Eastbourne, and other places with. I remember her horror about the bingo that was played, and the dancing in the hotels. I was careful not to mention their Ceroq classes, when Grace asked after my parents.

Growing older was hard for Grace- and she was aware of her increasing frailty. As she lost many of her contemporaries, she wondered why she was still around. "I don't know why he doesn't take me," she'd say. Her testimony, time and time again was, "if I didn't have Him, I don't know what I'd do." She wasn't lonely. She worried about her upstairs neighbours, who never went anywhere, and who didn't believe; she had a deep, fiery desire to see them come to Jesus. She had a long prayer list, and often reminded me I was on it. Students often asked her to add them to her list; I think she must have been a notorious prayer! We weren't at the same church, and so we'd only see each other when I came to visit- which was a few times a year.

She loved reading the Bible. She had a large print copy of Daily Bread, and reading it was the highlight of her day. At her funeral, donations made to the Gideons were requested instead of flowers. Grace loved flowers! But she loved the Bible more.

Grace and I were friends for more than ten years.

If it hadn't been for Jesus, we wouldn't have been. I think I would have stopped not cleaning her house, and never seen her again.

But holiday after holiday, he prompted me to get in touch, to walk up the hill to see her, to hear more stories of spring holidays, of delicious pastries, of gardening successes. We cared for each other. And Grace reminded me of the care of Jesus.

I was away at university grappling with the challenges of secular and liberal theology, or adapting to the challenges of being on the Christian Union Committee (I think we thought we were the Midlands' answer to the Council of Nicea)- and Grace would remind me of intimacy of the God who cared about her now quiet life of plumbing anxieties, overrun gardens and trips to the market, who was a Provider and Friend to an old age pensioner in a quiet suburb in Cardiff.  Of course, Grace had been through greater trials, including mourning a husband, before I knew her. But Grace was a reminder to me that Jesus would have all cares cast upon him, and that he would faithfully bear those burdens, and daily demonstrate his care.

I saw Grace a couple of times in her care home. She was so very low to be there; her house had been a real source of joy to her, and she was deeply distressed to have to leave her home.

The last time I saw her she was at the home with her sisters, who were talking her in to signing the documents that would let someone else move in to her house. It was evidently the right thing, for her care, and for her sister's peace of mind, but it was a very hard thing for Grace to give up. I tried to remind her of what she'd testified to me so many times: that God was faithful, that God was 'home' enough.

It was so sad to see her sign the papers. She knew it was the right thing, but it was a very painful surrender for her. She died suddenly, but peacefully about a year later.

It gives me great joy to think of Grace now, in her true home, with Jesus, in a place prepared for her by him, belting out her favourite choruses, re-telling triumphs of his grace. I'm deeply grateful for a friendship that enriched my life and brought me joy, and I can't wait for that day in glory when she sees me, beams, shakes her head with disbelief, and gives me a big hug.

"He has made the boundary lines fall for me in pleasant places. Surely, I have a beautiful inheritance."
Psalm 16:6

[If you happen to know Grace, and more specific details I have missed (for example, her exact age), please feel free to let me know; I'd be grateful.]
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