This one comes to us from Will Ryan.

My birthday, May 14th, has always been a source of pride for me. It’s not a particularly momentous day in the grand scheme of things, but in the particular year I was born, that day happened to be Mother’s Day. I’ve always reveled in being able to say I was born on Mother’s Day.

It was made even sweeter by the fact that my older brother was born on April Fool’s Day; I used to say the days we were born fit us perfectly: I was a gift, my brother a joke. I’m surprised he didn’t beat me up more than he did.

But the day has taken on a new and more somber note the past couple of years. It was on May 14th, 2018, I was summoned to the hospital where I heard the first diagnosis for my Grandmother Patricia, or Grandmommy Pat as we called her. She was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma—terminal brain cancer.

On one level, it made sense. She had been acting erratically for some time, saying things she wouldn’t have before if only because she knew they weren’t right to say out loud.

On the other level, it was devastating and it still is. This woman nurtured me into the Pastor I have become. She was the living embodiment of Dr. Steven Paulson’s words, “The primary [gospel] activity in the family does not come from mother and father, but it comes from grandmother and grandfather, most especially grandmother. The main way that the faith is actually handed down from one to another in a family is through the grandmother.”

Don’t get me wrong, my parents were instrumental, not only in my personal faith but in seeking ordination. They took me to worship 48 out of 52 Sundays a year, plopping my rear in the pew right next to them week after week. I watched them host my brother’s youth group and lead the discussion. They pushed me to participate in leading the liturgy when I was old enough. They helped me raise money to go on my summer mission trips. They also didn’t force me to do things I didn’t want to, like church camp. Even if they didn’t know what they were doing all the time, they faked it well enough.

But Grandmommy was a force and a beacon of grace they could never have been.

Paulson continues, “The grandmother is almost always the one through whom this faith has been preserved within the family. Why is that? Because the mother has to say ‘no.’ The father has to say ‘no.’ And what does grandmother say? ‘Yes!’ And now she becomes the conduit of what we mean by the gospel and the grandchild is actually able to hear it.”

It was Grandmommy who took me to visit the old folks at the hospice home where she worked when I was a toddler. It was Grandmommy who always led us in prayer over my brother’s and my Happy Meals when we stayed the night at her house as kids. It was Grandmommy who gave extravagant gifts for birthdays and Christmas (even if we did have to return them because they weren’t our “style”). It was Grandmommy who, when I mentioned I was thinking about ordination, took me to lunch and asked encouraging questions. It was Grandmommy who advised me not to take Hebrew because it was the only “B” she ever got during her tenure in Seminary.

The only thing she ever asked of me was a thank you note now and then. Other than that she was all “yes!”

After Paul’s kenotic hymn in Philippians, he encourages the Philippians with a promise, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:13) The same God who emptied and humbled himself to death on the Cross is at work in us today. God certainly was at work in Grandmommy nurturing me with grace.

There’s a saying I offer up every once in a while: “I don’t believe in Providence until It forces me to.” There are times where the very palpable and very real presence of God is too poignant to ignore.

Here’s one example: a couple of months after Grandmommy’s diagnosis, my wife and I moved to a different city for her to take a call at a new church. When we moved I was without a job. I did any number of things to take up the time: play the guitar, read all the books of the Harry Potter series, run, apply for jobs, etc. While frustrated in the throes of boredom, I was able to go see Grandmommy as she sunk further and further into her illness. Each week I would travel to see her and each week she would be a little closer to death.

During one of the last times I visited (the last time she would be able to speak words to me), I was wrapping up our stay by hugging her on the couch and saying goodbye. She wouldn’t let go—which was fine. I didn’t want to let go either.

As I told her over and over that I loved her, she whispered something in my ear: “What’s your daughter’s name?” I was taken aback, caught off guard. My wife and I didn’t have kids. I had to say, “We don’t have a daughter Grandmommy. We’re trying, but we don’t have one yet.”

“Oh, okay. I love you.”

Little did I know she was a lightning rod of God’s ever-surprising, ever-powerful grace — my daughter, Abigail Ann, was born less than 9 months after that. She shares the same middle name with her Great-Grandmommy through whom God was at work that day, and myriads of others like it.

To be sure, I’m certainly listening a little closer for the Gospel because of what she did for me. Sometimes I can even hear it and remember it.