Singing woke me, and then came the sunshine. Every morning at Grandma’s house started the same way. “Let the sun shine in, face it with a grin, open up your heart and let the sun shine in.” Then Grandma would open the blinds and the sun would pour into the living room where my brother and I would sleep when we stayed over with our cousins.
We often spent weekends at that house. After that bright morning ritual, we’d share another tradition. Grandma would make poached eggs, and she’d have her grandkids help her. I always loved breaking the bread into little pieces. We’d share breakfast and then face whatever adventures were in store that day. Climbing trees, going to the park, helping Grandpa in the garden, or watching I Love Lucy for the hundredth time. It was all special.
As I got older, Grandma Charles remained a fixture in my life. I’ve never lived more than 45 minutes away from her. She would attend my sporting events in high school. She was at my graduations. She was there at my wedding. In between, we shared many moments playing Wii Bowling or putting together a puzzle. Well into her 90s, she still had more energy than I did, and she always stayed up late. We shared many laughs and special memories. And whenever we would end a call or I would leave to go back home, she’d often share the same parting words of encouragement.
“Blessings on you!”
On Tuesday, April 30, 2019, my Grandma passed away. She was 96 years old.
At that age, we knew the day would come. But when I got the call, it had not even entered my mind that this would be the reason for the call.
Just eight days earlier, we had all gathered to celebrate her 96th birthday. Though she had begun to slow down a bit, she was still strong and energetic. She was the same woman who beat cancer and who wanted to go skydiving for her 90th birthday. They wouldn’t let her, so she went up in a hot air balloon instead. She always did do things her way.
“Her way” was the way of love and caring for others. She raised seven children, and she helped raise all of us grandkids, too. She always had a smile and a song ready to sing. She loved singing old hymns and spiritual songs. Over the past week, I’ve been thinking back on memories shared around her piano as she would play and sing for us.
In fact, that was the setup for one of her favorite stories that she often shared with me. When I was little, my brother and I were staying over with our cousin, Janelle. Every night, Grandma would play the piano to get us to sleep. As she was about ready to finish playing one night, she heard my small voice from the other room.
“Grandma, you can stop playing now. They’re asleep already!”
Vera Charles built her life upon the solid rock of her faith in God. When we stayed with her, we’d always accompany her to church on Sunday mornings. Through her singing, but even more through the way she lived her life, she was an example to all of us of what a strong faith looks like.
My grandmother taught me many things, but one common lesson that keeps coming to mind is how she always encouraged me to be thankful.
She knew I loved to write, and so when I was in college she sent me journals. In these journals she had written verses and notes. I remember she wrote out Colossians 3:15 and she made sure to underline the portion of the verse that says — and be thankful.
My grandmother was constantly praising God and giving thanks. She loved to sing. She is now in the fullness of that blessed assurance that carried her through this earthly life. That glory divine is no longer a foretaste for her. It is now her eternal experience of praise, and I’d like to imagine she is singing out all the more because of it.
But it’s not as if my grandmother praised and thanked God because her life had been without difficulty. Even when burdened with a load of care, Grandma set the example that counting your blessings will keep you singing as the days go by. My grandmother was the strongest person I’ve ever known. She seemed invincible to me. When you met her for the first time, you might have instantly noticed her short frame, but there was much more to her than that. She was so strong, but her strength did not come from sheer determination or force of will (though she certainly had enough stubbornness to go around). No, her strength came from above — from walking and talking with her Lord and Savior who time and time again told her that she was His own. God led her through many good times, yes, but also times more difficult than many can even imagine.
Now that I am married, I reflect, too, on the example of marriage set by my grandmother and my grandfather, Landon Charles. They loved each other and were fully devoted to each other. They were married for 56 years, before my grandfather preceded Vera in death. One of the greatest joys of my life will always be that my wife, Sarah, and her family were able to get to know my Grandma Charles.
It was always a comfort to me to know that Grandma was praying for me. She was constantly praying. She had a charge to keep, and a God to glorify. He helped her watch and pray, for it was on Him that she relied. Over the past week as we’ve been going through her things, we’ve found countless prayer lists where she kept track of the people in her life that needed to be lifted up.
That was my Grandma. She cared so much and so deeply.
It is not lost on me that my grandmother celebrated her 96th birthday on Easter weekend just days before she passed away. Easter is a time in the Christian tradition where we reflect on the tension between Good Friday — when Jesus died on the cross — and resurrection — when He was raised to life. We reflect on that victory that Christ won over death. And we reflect on the fact that hope and love ultimately rise above pain and loss. Jesus Christ was my grandmother’s hope, and her God was the source of the love and mercy that flowed from her like a ceaseless stream.
Vera Charles cherished the love that was shown to her on an old, rugged cross. She has now laid down her trophies having clung to that love throughout her life. And now she has exchanged them for a crown. She has reached Heaven’s joys, her victory won.
As I’ve been reflecting over the past week, I’ve thought often of the call of Christ in John 13:35 that “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” I don’t know anyone who lived out that love quite like my grandmother, Vera Charles.
I love you, Grandma. Thank you so much for all the times we shared.
Blessings on you.