My grandmother died the night before my 33rd birthday.
Considering that she was 91 years old, it was expected in some ways. Yet, it still seemed a surprise because, well, of course she’s always been there. She lived with my parents for almost a decade so my visits with my mom always included her. The idea of her not being there is still foreign.
But something happened in Grandma those last weeks, something that I didn’t even recognize at the time, but now I keep looking over it– thinking through our conversations and the ideas that were passed between us.
Grandma always had wonderful health. There was a bit of a scare when I was nineteen and she ended up in the hospital with shingles. We didn’t know what it was, so it seemed like her life hung in the balance. Soon they identified it, she healed, and then she went on for years and years without many issues.
And she often would say that the one thing she was worried about was pain. She knew she was getting older and she did not fear death– but a painful death was her nemesis. She feared it.
But Thanksgiving day, as we gathered around the table, she sat there looking more frail than she ever had. When it was her turn to tell us what she desired prayer for, her words surprised me. “I’ve always said I’ve wanted prayer that when my time comes to an end, there won’t be a lot of pain. But I’m not asking for that now. I just… I just want to bring God glory. I want my family, all of them, to know Him. And if me facing pain will accomplish that– I’m okay with it now.”
As Christmas came, she grew weaker.
And her words wouldn’t leave me alone.
At Bible Study one night a friend shared a passage from Acts 17 with the group. He was sharing how God had been teaching him, comforting him, with the promise that God alone places us on earth– He is the one who positions us in the exact place and time that we were meant to be.
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
But I was overwhelmed with the following verse.
so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being
We have all been set in our specific times and places for the sole purpose of being able to seek the Lord– in the hope that we might reach out our hands and find Him, because He’s right here beside us.
And suddenly Grandma’s words made sense.
When I think of “groping” for something, I picture being in the dark and reaching out my hand to feel around– to discover what I am searching for. Grandma had this dark place in her life– this fear of pain– and when it came down to the end, she groped for the Lord, and He was found by her.
In truth, God was gracious. Grandma died with a houseful of family and friends, who sat with her, sang to her, laughed for her– and when the end came, her grandson was holding her hand telling her a story about fishing in Alaska, which is just the kind of thing she loved.
But she was also at peace with the idea of pain, which showed that God was so close, just as He said He would be.
Really, this is the heart of what God has been teaching me for over a decade. It’s the heart of my first book, and the heart of my conversations, and the heart of everything I’m trying to teach my children– but it took watching Grandma to finally name it.
I believe that when we are in darkness and we reach out our hands, seeking for the Lord, He will be found.
And there are more– smaller ones that still mark me– bitterness, frustration, anger, pride.
Dark things that can surround me before I even realized they had arrived. Like nighttime sneaking up on you when you’re out enjoying the evening, and suddenly you realize you can’t see anymore.
No matter what darkness is pressing on me, the truth is that God is near.
So day after day, I reach out my hands, groping for Him, and His presence overwhelms me.
We find God by reaching for Him and when we do, we realize He’s always been there. Right beside us. And it was always through Him that we lived, and breathed, and had our being.
Dearest ones, may you find what I have found, what Grandma found, what is available to you–
May you reach out from your darkness and grope until your hands find the nearness of Christ.