Today my Great Auntie Margaret died.
She was in her 80s so she had a good run. She survived two husbands, one who died fifty years ago and the other died much more recently. Last time I spoke to her in depth (not long after her second husband died) she was telling me how different it was, making decisions beyond caring for him, and it struck her that she liked driving her car to a certain place to go for walks, and that other people might like to do that too, so she decided to invite other people to go for trips out with her on these walks. I love that there she was in her 80s, thinking of new ways to connect with more people and to bless them. It really inspired me. I hadn’t realised she’d been ill, so when your last memory of someone is of them still being up and about and involved with life, it’s a shock to hear they’ve just passed away.
That was the first thought that struck me today.
The second thing was that here was a lady who had prayed for me my whole life. My great-grandma had seven children and lost one daughter and her husband in her early thirties, so she raised those five boys and one girl into adulthood, and when they got married and had children of their own, she prayed for them by name every day. Then when those children had children, she prayed for them all too. She made a list so she wouldn’t forget anyone. So when Grandma Parkinson, as she was known, passed away, her own children took up that mantle and used that list to keep praying for every person in the family. Auntie Margaret was one of those constant prayers – the surviving daughter. The aunts and uncles would gather regularly to pray for my parents’ generation, my generation and the children we went on to have too.
Sometimes I wonder how it was that God seems to have had His hand over me from such an early age. Why I just got to know Him early on, without complications, and why following Him mattered to me more than any other motivation that I could’ve chosen. I honestly think that those prayers made that difference in my life. I’ve still been free to make choices about everything. Just because my name was on that list doesn’t mean I didn’t have a choice about what I did with my life. For all of us on that list (and we are now a huge family!) we have been free to do our own thing. Yet a very very high proportion of us have gone on to want to choose to follow God and give our lives over to the mission of the church. I don’t know if anyone’s done the maths but it is staggeringly high for the amount of us there are (I think my dad is one of twenty-three cousins, so I’ve lost track of the numbers after that…).
The third thing that really struck me, and has been the hardest thing to deal with today, is that she’s my grandma’s best friend. As well as being sisters-in-law, their husbands were best friends, and those two husbands died within a month of each other. Auntie Margaret lost her youngest brother and her husband in just a few weeks. That was fifty years ago, and that’s a long time to journey alongside one another through so much. My grandma has six children (also five boys and a girl – it was eerie how history repeated itself there) and Margaret has one son. My grandma never remarried and Margaret started again with somebody new. They lived close to one another all this time and as well as praying together, they did many other activities together too. It has been an amazing blessing for me in my confusing journey to look at these two women and see how despite their tragedies, they kept making good decisions, with no excuses, that impacted the next generations that came after them. I feel like they have treaded the ground with such dignity, good humour and determination to serve others, that they have set out a path that is worthy of following.
Sometimes I feel like I have an unfair advantage when I come from such an amazing heritage. It’s been easier for me to stick on the straight and narrow path when I’ve had such great role models around me than for other people who have come from dysfunctional and unstable families. Part of the reason we moved away from family to go and plant a church in another town was to try and bring that sense of stability and grounding to people who hadn’t had a chance to experience it through their own family life.
At the same time, we are all free to make our own decisions. If we come from stability, we can choose to carry that on, or disregard it and do our own thing. If we come from dysfunction, we can choose to find a new way to live and begin to carve out a new road in the hope that future generations will join us on it. I’d love to be able to go further back through history and find out who it was in my family line that started making those decisions to put God first and to make church central to the family. I’d love to show them all the people in my generation and thank them for the decisions they made, and how they have impacted us so many years later. I’d also love to think that in a hundred years’ time, my every day, hum-drum, plodding down this road of making right decisions even though I don’t feel like it, fairly boring household management and teaching my kids the same thing over and over again, church-focused life (even when people at church may hurt or disappoint me), will still be impacting people several generations on from me who I never got to meet.
And my fourth thought, after feeling pretty emotional over all those other thoughts today as I was doing my housework, was that early this morning that beautiful faithful lady got to see Jesus. There is nothing else for her to contend with now. No sucky, horrible, rubbish deaths of the people she knows, no living on without people she loved, no watching this crazy world self-imploding in on itself, no more pain, and no more questions. For her now, everything will make sense, and everything will be perfect, because she gets to be with Him. As much as I hate death, and the pain left behind from it here, I want that for her much more.