"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
~ Isaiah 41:10
There is not a Saint Patrick's weekend that goes by that I don't seem to stop and think about my great-grandmother, Audrey Faye Swift DeAtley. This year she would have turned 126 years old on March 17. If there is "one" particular person that was in my life that I could say helped to shape my faith the most, she would be the person I would name.
It was in her home as a child that I would listen to my dad and his brothers sing hymns on cold, winter evenings, as I sat in front of the propane heater. The flames would heat up fire bricks within, as a fan would circulate air into the room, caught on the harmonies and melodies that would surround us. I listened until I would feel the arms of one of my parents carrying me to the car, wrapped in something warm, after I had fallen asleep.
When I was a little older, I remember a group of women from her church coming over for coffee and conversations that would always include something sweet, and pages of the Bible being shared as they took turns reading at the dining room table. My great-grandmother did not travel, but the room was filled with tea cups and saucers from all around the world that people had brought her. A small table lamp that would simulate water falling from Niagara Falls, with a small boat below, that could keep my attention while the women talked and prayed.
Major holidays would mark the family coming over, and being one of the oldest grandchildren in my family, meant that I was given the task of watching my younger cousins at a card table set up in the living room next to the dining area. The "child's table." Everyone seemed to fall silent as she, or another family member, would ask us to bow our heads and pray, bringing all of us together.
I remember the time that my great-grandmother ended up in the hospital after a fall from a ladder. She was picking pears from one of her trees, fell to the ground. But being the "lady" that she was, she put the ladder up, went in and cleaned up, before going to the hospital. I can then remember our family praying for her recovery.
If there is one thing that I can point to as the greatest lesson that she could have ever taught me that I still try to practice each day, it is, "Believing in the best of people, and to try to love them no matter what."
When one of my uncles suffered from addiction, she welcomed him, loved him, and prayed with him each day.
When relationships failed, or a job was lost, or when the valley seemed to be the darkest, the back porch door was always unlocked. A smile would welcome, and her infamous word, "Well..." would give way to listening ears that seemed to understand, even when the generations were separated by decades.
The thing about having people like her in our lives is that it serves as a reminder to each of us that God remains God. No matter how you age, or what your age, each of us can be an illustration to and for others of who Christ living in us can look like.
I know that she struggled at times with aging and understanding how some of us in our family got into the situations that we did, but there was never a moment of judgment or complaining. Each afternoon when she was still able, you could find her on her front sun porch, sitting with her Bible, and often praying for one or all of us. It was a given that at some point in the day, there would be the acknowledgement that God had created something good, and that while we may have struggles in our lifetime, they cannot overwhelm God's ability bless us.
Even as I write this, I can hear her reminding me that, "God will always be with you."
Her words were the words that she had read in scripture and believed. From Matthew she lived the words, "and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Thank you Mamaw DeAtley for reminding me to, "Stay in God's grip!"
G. Todd Williams (c) 2019
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.