I know we aren’t supposed to choose favorite people.. or at last I’ve been told. But I do. My favorites aren’t usually well known or popular. Even my most favorite kids I’ve ever worked with had some pretty intense struggles and behaviors- and you guys I wanted to adopt them (and still do) and maybe I will. Some of my most favorite people in the Bible aren’t the ones who you’d think. They aren’t the Ruth’s or Deborah’s or even Priscilla. My favorites tend to be Naomi, and Lot’s wife, and even Jezebel.
Maybe because they aren’t big, or well known. They aren’t very prized or cherished or admonished. Maybe because we don’t know, we really do not know what their lives were really like, what lead them to the decisions they made, how things could have been different for them or even how THEY would have explained their choices. Maybe they think much more like me, perceive this challenging and difficult world similarly as I. Maybe life was really difficult, people hurt them, others left. Maybe they grieved horrifically in ways that few others could even try to imagine, let alone relate to. Because that’s how I feel, and it’s not too hard for me to imagine they could have, too.
So my favorite people, they aren’t extraordinary. They have no super strength emotions or vitality. The are very defeat-able, have big deficits, and ache for things beyond their control of obtaining. One of my most favorite people was my grandmother.
Her name was Shirley. I owe any normalcy of a childhood to this dear woman. From giving us normal, regular meals, to movies and beach/pool days and toys, she sacrificed so my sisters and I could have some semblance of what our peers had. And not just in physical ways, but emotionally. She’s the only woman I can recall hugging me. She kissed me goodnight during out sleepovers and walked us to bed. That was a foreign concept to me. She let us pick out special things and asked us questions, like if we liked a specific food or movie, what we learned in school, how sports or art were going.
My grandmother smelled of musty sweet perfume and red lipstick. She loved velour and elastic waste pants, but man was she classy for an older women! Her skin was soft and she loved elephants. She had amazing stories of her childhood and family, of life during war and poverty, of being the oldest of 5 kids and of caretaking for her mother in her mother’s last years of life. Grandma Shirley was kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and sacrificial. She loved her friends as family and her family all the same. I loved to watch her relationships, the ease with which she connected with others. And she loved to talk on the phone (I did not get that trait).
My grandmother is the only person who ever asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. She used to say she believed I could be whatever I wanted. When I was really good in the artistic arena, she always complimented, same with sports and music. She never pushed me, but just believed in me, believed I was more the sum of my situation (which was difficult to say the least). As I was older as a teenager and no longer was able to live with my parents, she’d drive to wherever I was living to pick me up at least two weekends out of the month. She’s always end our time together with some “spending money”, and baked goods for whichever family I was staying with. Even those families came to love Grandma Shirley. She always showed up when she said she would. She loved to see me.
She cared well for her friends. Her friends loved me. I often stopped to visit them in her apartment complex before entering my grandmother’s home. At her funeral, dozens of her friends hugged me and wepted. I told each of them stories that my grandmother had shared with me about them or our stories all together. I reminded them how important they were to her and how grateful I was that she had such wonderful friends. My grandmother was social like me, but also introverted too. She loved people deeply and individually and with all that her heart was able to.
When my grandmother passed away, I was immediately ushered into some kind of care taking role for others. I was even asked to give the eulogy and officiate the ceremony (the perks of being the only family member in ministry). It wasn’t until a couple years later that things died down enough in the relative drama front to feel like I longed for her, grieved her. She was my favorite. I know I was her favorite too. She began to follow Jesus a few years before she died. I celebrated a lot that Easter.
It’s been a couple more years since then. I celebrate her birthday each year. She always celebrated me in whatever way she could. So each year on her birthday, I head somewhere and I buy two cupcakes. I pick out a birthday card and I write her a letter. And then I eat both our cupcakes. Because I know she’d be happy I did. And my heart stays soft in it’s grief, even when I can’t remember what she looked like. And each Thanksgiving, the anniversary of the stroke that eventually killed her, rolls by I remember that holiday that I found her-the precious couple weeks I took the 50 minute drive out to her hospital daily to feed her and read her a Francine River’s novel nightly, and I bake her brownies and mail them to someone I know could use a little package surprise. Because that’s what she did for me. And I honor her memory and role in my life in such a way. And I write her another letter. Because words mattered to both of us.