I wrote the following back in 1998:
“Busy hands,” I heard my aunt whisper as we gazed into the coffin where my grandmother’s body looked so lovely, even in death. Both of us seemed to be alone with her although we were standing next to each other in a room filled with hundreds of people.
“Busy hands,” my aunt whispered again as I turned to look at her. Her eyes were fixed on her mama before she focused on me. Then she elaborated, “You know, mama’s hands were always busy. Think of the hundreds of biscuits she made in her lifetime.” My aunt’s eyes were filled with tears, looking like a dam trying to keep a waterfall from overtaking her.
I said nothing as I looked at this child of the grandma I loved so much.
I had been so lost in my own grief but I was beginning to realize, more deeply, that all of us who loved my grandma were partaking in this grieving process together. It was a bond that unified us even in our silence.
Busy hands. That’s all my aunt needed to say to bring images of countless times I had seen my grandma knead dough for biscuits while I stood next to her, countless times I had sat beside her while she crocheted, and countless times I seemed to have just walked in at the right time to “lick the bowl” where the cake batter seemed to linger -- leaving extra for little hands to dip into. Somehow Grandma’s pound cakes never seemed to be bothered by missing batter.
Countless times, I had seen her sitting at her treadle sewing machine -- she never did get a new one -- mending old clothes or making new ones until the years crept up on her and it became too difficult for her to thread a tiny needle. Funny. Now I sit at an old treadle sewing machine that holds my computer. A place for busy hands.
And countless times, I had been grabbed as a little girl, running past my grandma’s kitchen, only to be stopped by her reaching into her apron pocket to pull out a handkerchief to wipe my runny nose. It was a handkerchief that all the cousins shared. I smiled at the memory of my Grandma’s laughter when countless times, as a grown-up mama, I would share the story of the “chasing handkerchief” from a little girl’s perspective. She had a grand sense of humor.
I sighed as I looked into her now stone-cold face wishing somehow she could laugh again and reach into her apron pocket for a handkerchief to wipe my runny eyes.
As I stood over her I understood more clearly that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” -- this body was just an empty shell, but this was the body that carried my grandmother’s heart, this was the body that I knew and loved.
Scripture teaches that the body is important; that there is as much hope for the body as there is for the soul. Someday, Jesus will resurrect this body from the grave and reunite it with my grandma’s spirit. She will have a glorified body ~ without spot or blemish. Somehow, looking at her aged body lying in the coffin, I was comforted in the truths from Scripture. I knew that my grandma was enjoying His presence in a place where a handkerchief is not needed . . . because there are no runny noses there and God is the One who will wipe every tear from our eyes.
But if she could, my grandma would be right there with her handkerchief. Busy hands. Now they were still. I placed my hand on hers one last time.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, the Apostle Paul states:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus . . . Therefore comfort one another with these words.
I’ve thought about these words a lot since my grandmother’s death in June. And I remembered how I felt when a close friend, who didn't know the Lord, died years before. I thought about the difference in the grief. I grieved for my friend; incredibly so, but I could not be comforted in the same way as I could with my grandmother’s death.
The difference? Hope. For the non-Christian, only eternal death awaits. In a horrible place called hell. I grieved for my friend, because as far as I knew, he did not know Jesus Christ. Once he died, his eternal destiny was settled and there is no hope for him. I cannot hope for his salvation, I cannot pray him into heaven. It is settled. Non-Christians cannot “comfort one another with these words.”
For the Christian, though, eternal joy awaits! We shall always be with the Lord. There is a great reunion waiting for us. We will not only be reunited with those we love but we will see Jesus! The Bible teaches that we will live together with Him. And even though we grieve when someone we love dies, our grief leads us to the comfort found in the salvation of Jesus Christ. We do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus and we are to comfort one another with these words.
Sometime in September …
Jameson and I pulled into a parking space on Bay Street. For such a long time I had said I was going to get the jeweler to restring my pearls. And finally I had remembered to bring them. I put a dime in the meter and . . .
Walking into the Old Bay Marketplace, Jameson and I shared a coke and discussed jewelry. He didn’t know much about pearls but now he wanted to know everything.
After we dropped off the pearls and made our way back to the van, I noticed I still had 20 minutes left on the parking meter. Making a quick decision, Jameson and I headed into one of Bay Street’s gift shops.
We ooh-ed and ah-ed over all the cute stuff as we looked at little turtles, novelty socks, old-fashioned toys, stationary and doorstops. Jameson asked if I would purchase one of the little animals he had spotted and would I please help him decide which one? I took a quick inventory of my “cash money” situation; I didn’t want to write a check for $1.75 and besides I didn’t even know if they took checks. Yes! A five-dollar bill for a little momento of our excursion.
Before I paid for the turtle; however, I told Jameson I wanted to look at the back of the store. I still had about 10 minutes before the meter would expire. We made our way through the shop with Jameson holding his turtle, when suddenly I felt transported into another time. There across from me in this back room of the little gift shop was an old treadle sewing machine ~ one like my Grandma’s.
As I gazed at the machine and then around this little area, I saw that I was surrounded by cloth, lace, and crocheted things. Emotion gripped me. Funny how it hits you . . . in the middle of anywhere . . . when you’re not even thinking about sorrow or grief; in fact, you’re doing quite well. But when you least expect it, emotion reaches into your being, clutches your heart, forces its way up to your face and then drags teardrops from your eyes. Your wound, you thought, was healed. But here it is, open again. Sigh. It hurts and you really don’t want to cry. Not in this store.
And you wonder, "Does God have purpose in our emotions?" I know He says that He desires a broken and contrite heart; He loves to comfort the afflicted. God is attracted to our weakness and He wants to meet us in our sorrow to cause us to look to and learn from Him and then choose to trust Him . . . even while we cry. It's called faith.
I felt God’s gentle stirring through the pain of my heart and then I began to weep softly and quietly as my mind formed a picture of my grandma’s busy hands, working at her sewing machine and seeming to say to me as she did whenever she found me crying, “Come here and let me wipe your eyes with my handkerchief.”
I did go there, as my mind instructed. I walked over to the sewing machine in this little shop. And there, lying on the top of the workspace before my waterlogged eyes was a little lace handkerchief. My heart smiled through its open wound.
“You know, Mama’s hands were always busy,” my aunt had told me.
Yes, Grandma’s hands were busy. Busy loving me and everyone else God brought her way. My grandma had this way of making you feel that you were the special one -- because, in her eyes, you were. No matter your manners, your insensitivity to her schedule, whether you thanked her or not for all the things she did for you, no matter how long since she last saw you. She always seemed as if she had been waiting on her backporch just for you.
So, in September, it was only natural that I would think of her when I walked into a room that captured her essence. Seeing all the lacy blankets and crocheted gifts made me so aware of the eternal impact she made in my life. I couldn’t escape it and I knew God wanted me to be flooded with a keen sense of fresh grief. Just as He was when He wept for Lazarus, when He suffered on the cross, when He longed for the salvation of Jerusalem, when He was in anguish over my sin. The Scripture teaches that He Himself was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief . . . Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried.” (Isaiah 53:3-4) He can and does sympathize with us.
Lace and crochet. These were a part of who Grandma was. Oh she didn’t keep the beautiful things she made -- she gave them away. To all of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and anyone else God brought her way. I can’t even fathom the hours she put into making blankets, Christmas lace heirlooms, and pound cakes. Busy hands.
And as I continued to look around the back room of this little shop, I was not only reminded of my grief but also that a heart spent getting to know God will express itself in giving to others. Whether in handmade treasures, in time, in preparing and teaching the truth of God’s Word, in “feeding the 5000,” washing the feet of the saints, encouraging others, or giving a drink of water in His name. Somehow while my parking meter was running out of time, I was running into an encounter with God while shopping on Bay Street. He met with me personally.
Jameson and I headed home.
When I drove into my driveway, I sat in my van for a long time. Jameson didn’t say anything as he sat with me. In fact, I didn’t even realize he was still there. I stared at the marsh and the water and then -- without warning -- the floodgates opened and the dam broke. I cried rivers of water . . . salty tears . . . enough to cause the tide to overflow its banks.
I sobbed from my innermost being. If anyone had seen me, it might have appeared like I would never recover. But I must say that I did not grieve as one who has no hope. That afternoon on Bay Street was a reminder to me that a heart spent getting to know God will overflow into the lives of others. Jesus said “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’” It was clear that my grandma believed in Him. Her life was an overflow of her relationship with Christ. So it was natural that the sorrow in my heart would overflow in rivers of water escaping from my eyes. The tears were cleansing my soul.
And when I seemed to be overtaken with grief on that September afternoon, God reminded me too, how a heart that loves deeply will hurt deeply. Paul described it as “sorrow upon sorrow.” He told the Philippians that his friend and fellow worker Epaphroditus “was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” God is moved through our distress and He is the One who either ministers to us personally or He sends someone with tangible “flesh and blood” to help us bear our burdens. And in so doing, we “fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) The tender memory of my grandma awakened a further passion within me to make my life count for Him. Our sorrow needs to propel us toward the Savior, not away from Him.
Oh how much I’ve learned and have yet to learn from my grandma’s life. She gives me hope! But more than the hope her life gives to me, it is because of her Savior that I can really have hope. Oh how I want God to use me to make a significant eternal impact in the lives of my family and everyone else God brings my way.
My grandmother wasn’t perfect. She was the first to say so. And I don’t want to portray her as anything but an ordinary woman who walked with God in the everydayness of life. That was the essence of who she was -- she made God bigger by her life.
Since she has gone home, I miss being able to audibly hear her voice, but her legacy to me is seen in the tangible things she made with her hands. And although I can’t hear her anymore . . . when I wrap myself up in the blanket she made for me . . . I feel the love and the legacy of her busy hands.
And you know what? On that September afternoon when I was unaware of Jameson’s presence in the van, I suddenly felt a hand touch my arm.
Carl had obviously left one of his handkerchiefs that he uses to wipe his brow on Sundays on one of the seats. Jameson had seen me crying, no doubt he felt compassion for me so he picked up the handkerchief and in a 5-year-old way, thrust it before my eyes. Then he said, “Are you sad? Here, do you want me to wipe your eyes?”
It was as if I sensed the Lord Jesus seeing me, having compassion on me and saying to me just as He did to the widow of Nain, “Do not weep.” I went on in the strength of God’s care the rest of the afternoon.
I wrote the following back in 1998:
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