Today is my mother’s 70th birthday. I love her so much, and I wish the miles between Texas and California didn’t keep us apart—but they do. My mom and I don’t keep in touch by texting, twittering, skyping, or whatever else is out there to make communication more “convenient.” If we can’t be together in person, we take care of it the “old-fashioned” way. We talk on the phone . . . daily.
Although many miles have separated us almost my entire married life, my mother and I have remained close. I am fortunate. I have been blessed with a loving and godly mother each step of the way. My mother was not so fortunate. She had a loving and godly mother also, but their time together was unexpectedly cut short.
On May 18, 1969, my mother turned 27 years old. That same day, my grandmother passed away. She was 64.
It was a Sunday. After attending church in the morning, all the family gathered at my aunt’s house to celebrate my mother’s birthday. The party was similar to the many birthday parties the extended family has celebrated since: sitting around the living room, talking, laughing, telling stories, and eating more food than anyone should.
My parents, my mother’s parents, and her older sisters and their families attended the party. I wish I had been there, but I was not born until the following year. My only “recollection” of the party that afternoon is an old photograph I have seen of my then seven-month-old cousin, Lisa, sitting on my grandma’s lap. It may have been my grandmother’s last picture.
Grandma was named Charlotte Erna Augusta Schaffer. She was affectionately call “Lottie” by many and “Mama” by her children. Grandma came from Germany to America through Ellis Island when she was a small child, and her mother and she settled in Illinois. Soon her mother remarried, and they made their home on several acres in rural Missouri. When Grandma was a teenager she became a Christian, and, in response, her harsh and unbelieving step-father banished her from their home. From then on, Grandma relied upon the kindness of neighbors for food and shelter. Every morning as she walked to school down the dirt road, she passed her family’s farm. And every morning, Grandma could see her mother far down the lane standing on the porch waving a white dish towel—a wave that silently cried, “I love you.”
Grandma was a poor, young teenage girl turned out to the world she had chosen to forsake. Yet, she did not cave. She did not turn back. She simply and quietly clung to her Savior. Along with the Psalmist, she could say, “For my father and mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10). He took Grandma by the hand and began forging a faith in her that would become steadfast and complete.
A few short years later, Grandma married my grandfather. I wish I could say he was a knight in shining armor who rescued this fair maiden. But, he was a difficult man, and the marriage was no fairy tale. Nevertheless, Grandma persevered, still clinging to the One whose love never failed. She moved with my grandfather across the country leaving all that was familiar, her infant son passed away, physical pain and ailments often plagued her, and the family always had more needs than dollars. Her joy was her four beautiful daughters, who to this day are walking with the Lord. She loved them, and later she dearly loved their children.
I have asked my mother on various occasions to tell me about Grandma. Mom has mentioned Grandma’s soft skin, her wonderful Sunday suppers, her tradition of serving jello (instead of ice cream) with cake, her generosity to hobos who often knocked on the back door, the dresses she made, and the way she would turn in circles and gently clap her hands while listening to her favorite gospel music.
More importantly, my mom describes Grandma as what some would call a prayer warrior. “She trusted Him for everything, and she prayed for everything,” my mother once said. Parking places, future sons-in-law, misplaced books, broken doorknobs, healing, strength for the day . . . anyone and anything . . . the list went on and on. My mother remembers that when Grandma ironed clothes she often lost herself in prayer—mom could tell by the look on Grandma’s face. She also remembers when the phone would ring, Grandma would take the call and then afterwards make her way straight to the bedroom. Later, mom like any energetic child, would barge into the room to ask her Mama something. There she would find Grandma on her knees—faithfully praying for a friend, a neighbor, a need.
Grandma’s petite frame was no indication of the size of her faith—she had a mighty confidence in God. She loved to sing of that confidence with a favorite hymn, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able / to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” Another favorite song was: “I’ll Fly Away:” “Some glad morning, when this life is over I’ll fly away / To a land on God’s celestial shore; I’ll faly away! / I’ll fly away, Oh, Glory! I’ll fly away! / When I die, Hallelujah! By and by, I’ll fly away!”
The Day she would fly away must have been on Grandma’s mind regularly. (She probably prayed about that, too!) She thought about it often enough, that on one occasion she declared that when it was her time to go, she wanted to die in church.
On May 18, 1969–my mother’s 27th birthday–the Lord, in a final act of faithfulness to Grandma in this world, granted her desire.
After my mother’s birthday party that afternoon, Grandma attended the evening service at her church. During the service, Grandma suffered a heart attack. She was carried to the back of the chapel . . . and she flew away.
Grandma’s daughters agreed together not to wear dark colors to the funeral. Their shock and grief was immense, but they knew their Mama was in Heaven—where there was no more sin, pain, or tears. And so, they wore light-colored dresses. My mother, who wore pale blue, found comfort in knowing that the Lord took Grandma in His perfect timing. The date, time, and place were no accident or surprise to God. There was peace in knowing His hand was upon it. I recently asked her how she had come to these conclusions.
“It must have been the Holy Spirit, because at that time I certainly had not been taught the sovereignty of God,” she replied.
“Do you think you believed God was in control because of the faith Grandma modeled before you?” I wondered.
“Probably so, ” she answered, “. . . probably so. Her confidence was in God.”
Grandma left a simple, yet significant, legacy which continues to reverberate through the generations. It was a legacy of faith, trust, and prayer. I have memories from my own childhood of walking past my mother’s bedroom and seeing my mother on her knees, elbows on the bed, praying. I want my children to see me praying by my bed, in a posture of humility and dependence on the God who is faithful to all generations. I don’t want my children to see me there, just to see me. I want my children to see me there, so that they will see God.
Grandma was a woman who walked—and prayed—wisely. My mother and I kneel in her shadow.