As I continue to develop this blog, I have a goal to include more personal faith stories. The devotionals and Bible studies I write on this platform are always rooted in something that God is showing me or teaching me from His Word, so what I write about is definitely related to me personally. But I don’t often share personal details from my life. Mainly because I don’t want the blog to be about me; I want you to look at Jesus, and the best way I’ve found to do that in my own life is to focus on His Word.
But I do believe there is a place for learning about one another. I love reading your stories, and how God uses the seemingly random and mundane details of life to shape us into His character and image. So today I wanted to share part of my family’s story on my mother’s side because my grandmother’s example had a great impact on who I became, and what I believe.
When my mother was eleven years old, her father walked out on them. He left behind my grandmother (a marriage of 17 years) and five children without a backward glance. I’ve heard bits and pieces of this part of our family history, enough to know that even while he was still living with them, he was not a good example of fatherly love. Alcohol had a strong hold on him, and my mom grew up in poverty, but with a mother that loved them and loved Jesus. I called this grandmother “Mamaw Todd” because that was her last name. (I know, weird that I married a Todd, right?)
So, I grew up never knowing my grandfather. I saw a few pictures of him, and as I got older, I would hear stories about him, but we never knew what happened to him. My grandmother never heard a word from him.
Mamaw Todd was always a “fun” grandma. She lived in Chicago when I was younger and would visit us perhaps once a year, and we visited her there in Illinois a few times. I loved going to the airport to pick her up because, in those days, you practically met them on the tarmac. It was very exciting to a kid. She always brought us presents (although I can’t remember one), but more than that, she brought sunshine into our home. She loved music and sang and played the piano. She was always smiling. Looking back, I know now that she exhibited “the joy of the Lord” because life had been hard on her, but she never lost her optimism and her joy. She had two babies die, she lost both a son and a daughter to cancer, but as long as she lived, she kept smiling.
When I was eighteen years old and in my first semester at Liberty University, someone knocked on my door and told me there was a phone call for me on the hall phone. It was my mother, and her first comment was, “Well, if you’d been home this weekend, you would have gotten to meet your grandfather!” (My mom has a way with words. 😊) I was confused, surprised, and had a thousand questions. The story unfolded in the next few months.
Apparently, when my grandfather left my grandmother and his children, he had made his way to California, where he lived with another woman for 30 years. Thirty years with no contact with his own family back in NC. He worked under another social security number and made a new life for himself. We all thought he was dead. For some reason (I don’t know why), he decided to leave that life and make his way home. I’m guessing as he aged he began to have some regrets and wanted to see what he could to do repair the damage before he was too old to do anything about it.
Here’s the thing. My grandmother took him back.
It didn’t happen right away, but it didn’t take very long. She could have had him declared dead seven years after he left. She could have divorced him. She could have moved on to another relationship. But my grandmother had taken her marriage vows seriously. And she also took seriously Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22:
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Our family (particularly my mom, her brother, and sister) were pretty amazed at Mamaw’s decision to allow this man back, not only into her life but into her home. She really didn’t know who he was or who he had become, and he had lived with another woman for more than twice as long as he had lived with her. I never talked to her about why, but her actions told the story. She believed in forgiveness, no matter what the rest of the world might say because she believed God’s Word was true. She understood that God commands us to forgive, and she took it literally.
When my grandfather left, he was not a saved man. He spent his life drinking, caring more about himself than he did his own children. And I don’t know if I would have made the same decision my grandmother did. I’m sure I could have been cordial and nice; I wouldn’t have wanted revenge, and I wouldn’t have hated him. But I don’t know that I would have had the courage to reconcile.
How did the story end? It could have gone badly for my grandmother. My grandfather was a selfish, lost man, and he could have brought more heartache home with him. But God had a different plan. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but within a couple of years, my grandfather walked down the aisle at church and gave his life to Jesus. He had experienced forgiveness and grace in such a way that the gospel made sense to him. God restored him to his family physically, and while there were some scars that never quite healed, there was a restoration.
My grandfather got to meet both of my daughters. He made all the food for my wedding reception. My parents took he and my grandmother on many trips together. My grandparents had sixteen years together before they both ended up in the same room at the nursing home and died within a few months of each other. My grandfather was not a perfect man, and his remarriage to my grandmother was not without its bumps. He was kind of grouchy, and very opinionated. He loved to argue (I think my brother inherited that from him!). But the fact that he did not turn into the perfect husband shows, even more, the power of forgiveness. When Mamaw Todd took him back, it was not under a set of conditions and stipulations. They renewed their marriage vows, and she took them just as seriously as she always had.
She had been forgiven by the grace of God, and she lived out that forgiveness in a very real way.
I’m thankful for what my grandmother showed me by her life and commitment. If ever I am faced with a decision to forgive or hold a grudge, I can look back at her example and know that forgiveness is always possible and that God will use it to redeem and restore.
Matthew 16:14-15 – For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.