by Sara McClelland, City Church Deacon
Several years ago as we entered the season of Advent, my family also entered the season of telling our beloved grandmother goodbye.
Now, let me set the scene a bit more. This lady was not a typical grandmother. She was a living Energizer Bunny. Her days were spent taking fitness classes with her friends, checking in on those in need in her community, and serving various mission partners. Her humor was unexplainable; you never knew what was going to come out of her mouth and whether or not it would send you into a fit of laughter or a moment of embarrassment (it was usually both).
Her diagnosis came quickly after what we thought was just a cold became an ICU visit. She spent what little energy she had making phone calls to ensure that the homebound church-goers were being visited and the ministries she served were covered before collapsing back in her bed in a fit of coughing and struggling to breathe.
She made it out of that hospital and was able to spend a few more months loving her family and her community before she made the decision to stop treatment and start her journey home. I was blessed with enough vacation time to move in with her and be with her through the dying process. As an ICU nurse, I thought I was prepared, but I was far from it.
As my dear Mammam weakened, and I saw her body go from a fit adult to a gaunt shell, my heart broke more and more. As her mind deteriorated I could sense my understanding of the world shift. But through the end her faith prevailed. She left a note in her Bible asking for someone to read her the 23rd Psalm when she could no longer do so on her own. She mouthed hymns even when her eyes were not opening. She was blessed with the sight of my grandfather, her parents, and her infant son who passed away shortly after birth. She knew where she was going and was ready to get there. She would tell us “Christmas is my birthday” which we attributed to her confusion without knowing that on Christmas day she would take her last breath.
I am blessed with amazing examples of faith in the midst of crisis, which have given me models to mimic through suffering that I have encountered through my life. I saw my grandmother who was sure of her destination and loved the Lord through it even though she wasn’t sure what the journey would look like and the suffering she may encounter along the way. As we venture through Advent I am struck by the immense faith that Mary showed despite the loss she may have experienced along the way. She was a teenager who was given the honor of carrying the Messiah, what a gift, but also, what a loss of her way of life. She knew there would be no way of hiding her pregnant belly. Would she lose her betrothed? Would her friends turn their face away? Would her parents believe her, or look at her with disgust? Would she have a home to return to? Would she survive delivery? What would that look like? Yet, Mary started her song with “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior… For the mighty one has done great things for me and Holy is his name.” Mary showed a perfect example of “I don’t need to know the whys, I just need to be firm through my faith in the destination.” I am struck by what Mary did right after this life changing vision: the Lord led her to run to Elizabeth, to community. She did not carry this beautiful, blessing-filled burden alone but reached out and joined hands with her sister in faith.
Life has not been easy since my grandmother’s passing. There has been various kinds of loss and transition within important relationships, an unexpected diagnosis of a chronic and lifelong illness, a sideline view as my mother fought through cancer, and my father survived a near life-ending injury sustained in his law enforcement work, hours working in an ICU through COVID, and the physical separation from my family after a cross-country move. But every step of the way I lean into my sisters in faith and the example they set before me, and with that my “spirit [can] rejoice in God OUR savior.”