When I first met her she was an angry, bitter old woman. I had a newborn and sitting in an aisle seat at church was just the sensible thing for a nursing mother with two small boys to do. I was in and out quite a bit during service and yet “set up camp” on the front row - which was a hot-commodity in our rapidly growing church plant.
One Sunday morning, I got to church a little late to find someone in my seat. And not wanting to come across as being rude and asking her to move, I just smiled and sat next to her.
Four years later, I’m still sitting next to her. I save her seat, and if I’m sick, gone, or traveling - she keeps mine warm for me.
I started calling her “Grandma” within a year of our introduction because she reminded me so much of my own. The two of them have met in person, and it blessed my heart when they instantly hit it off. I watched their sassy-selves hug each other and look at me with that exact, same look - they were proud of me.
And I was thankful for them - to have them in my row and in my corner.
Year after year, service after service, and message after message, I’ve had a front-row seat of her heart-change. She's been made new.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!"
Her anger and bitterness disolved under Christ’s redemptive power. She found an authentic, life-changing relationship with Jesus and He reached into the very depths of her painful past and spoke healing to where there was a plethora of pain.
Things started changing for me. I got on the other side of postpartum and weaned my baby. I began getting more sleep at night, running, writing, and found myself being more present in the room.
Things started changing for her as well. She starting serving and attempted Cleaning, Greeting, and Café. She longed to find a ministry niche where her health and age wouldn't hinder her. She re-connected with old friends and made new ones. At church, I noticed her smiling, laughing, and praying for people. Her estranged relationship with her daughter was restored and I watched her come alive as she released the weight of her hurt and unforgiveness.
It turned out that I needed her. To slap my knee during a funny part of my husband’s sermon. To look at me with concern while I was wading through two separate rounds of postpartum. To ask me if I was getting enough rest or sleep, or both. To tell me to put on some weight when I was getting too thin. To come over to my house to color with my oldest, while the younger three napped, so I could sneak out of the house and run an errand.
I think she needed me as well. So she knew that she always had a spot. And a seat. And a ride to church after a terrible snowstorm. To remind her that she wasn’t forgotten. That God loved her and so did I. That she wasn’t too old to do something for the Lord. That she had a place at River Church and that God wanted to use her to serve His people and to advance His Kingdom.
After women have birthed their babies, mothered their children, and released their young-adults into the world, the enemy whispers in their ear that their value has expired. Believing this lie, their passion wanes and their purpose fades.
The “empty-nest” stage is hard for many and I’ve watched women wander about - lost, confused, and feeling deeply alone. Years or decades may pass until grand-babies (or great-grandbabies) are born which sparks the joy for most. However, there are always a few that get pulled back into the waves of that dark ocean of depression.
And that was where I found her.
She refused my extended hand for quite some time before she finally accepted it. And once she grabbed on, I never let go. I am convinced that just as much as she needed me, I needed her.
Earlier this spring, I came across Psalm 92:12-15, which I underlined and wrote in my Bible’s margin, “My when-I-get-old promise...”
12The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
Wanting to encourage her, I read her that promise; and later rejoiced with her when she began to tell me how the Lord had stirred her heart to start a Bible Study in her apartment building. Just this week over the phone she exclaimed, “Even at this age, God is working on me and is still with me!” And at 85, what a testimony of His goodness and grace!
Grandma Joyce, thank you for letting me into your heart and life. For loving on my babies. For the countless hugs, prayers, gifts, and phone calls. For sitting next to me week after week, and year after year. I pray that we have another decade - at least - of that before Jesus takes you home. You should stop asking me why I love you so much, because it’s not going to change anytime soon. And lastly, thank you for stealing my seat four years ago because by doing so - you captured my heart.