For My Grandy

SarahandGrandy

This week, my family said goodbye to my grandfather, my mother’s father. William Mitchell was born and died in Covington, Texas, a little bitty town he loved. He left behind a wonderful wife, four children, and a slew of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and he will always be in our hearts.

This picture was taken at my wedding. Our amazing photographer and DJ coordinated to make sure we had our dance to Just the Way You Look Tonight when no one would disturb us. When the song began, our photographer and his assistant surrounded us to capture this sweet, forever moment. Grandy practiced and built his stamina so he could sway with me for a minute or so. I’ll always think of him when I hear that song – how he looked that night, spry enough for a quick dance, mind clear. His still-bright eyes filled with pride and love.

Oh, how I will miss him.

I had the privilege of giving his eulogy. I thought I would share it with you so you could catch a glimpse of this amazing man I got to call my Grandy. I can’t help but brag on him. He is a part of my story. I am a part of his legacy. And the prayers he prayed for me for three decades changed my life in ways I will never know.

 

Conversations with Grandy often involved him seamlessly spinning together stories, life lessons, truths, praises, and scriptures, so that when you were around him, it was like being encircled by a rich tapestry.

Those stories he told again and again have – as I’m sure he intended – soaked into our bones and become a part of us. So I want to tell you a few of them because they tell of a life well lived and a beautiful legacy.

Grandy’s childhood was idyllic, and then it was tragic. His parents had a home and land on which to grow food, so during the Great Depression they were well off. His beloved mother had cancer. It was terminal, but they didn’t know that because a doctor continued to treat her, trading false hope for everything Grandy’s family had to pay until all their positions and his mother were gone. Grandy’s father had a temper.

He told those stories over and over. The injustice of the doctor. The loss of his mother, who he talked about with love and longing for his entire life. The temper of his father, and that part of his legacy, which he yearned not to continue. With…ummm…varying success.

Grandy walked the streets of Holland after it was liberated from the Nazis. He passed people in cafes who would stand out of respect for the soldiers. The Dutch people, he would say, stood because they had been freed. They stood because they had been rescued.

He came home from the war and met Nanny. He was older and a soldier. She was 15. They rescued each other and started their own family.

Things were tight in those first days of their long life together. After they paid their bills and fed their baby – my mom, Rhonda, there was often not enough money left over for them to eat. They went to Nanny’s cousins’ land where they harvested wild turnip greens and occasionally had enough bullets to shoot a guinea fowl. In the following years, their love and family grew to include Glenda, Brenda and Tim.

Grandy never stopped sacrificing for his family. Every time we buy a rotisserie chicken, My mom remembers that when she went off to college, she thought the most prized and best piece of chicken was the back. The boney back with hardly any meat – it was always the piece that Grandy took for himself, saying it was his favorite. It was years later that she realized he was giving his children and wife the precious meat while, quietly and with no fanfare, saving the scraps for himself.

Grandy’s life was soaked in scripture and prayer. How often did we all call in the evenings to ask Grandy and Nanny to pray for us, knowing that they prayed for each of their children and grandchildren by name every night.

“Yes, sugar. I’d be happy to pray for you. We just finished reading our chapter for the night.”

I see him. Sitting at the kitchen table, warn out Bible in front of him, the windows open, curtains catching a fresh breeze as it wafted in and joined their prayers. He fought battles at that table. He fought battles for us.

He had his quirks, too. For all his faith, Bill Mitchell was a great pessimist, especially about two things in particular: 1 – his health – he’s been dying for approximately 30 years, in case you didn’t know. And 2 – all world events as they pertained to End of Days prophesy, which he kept up with by turning his hearing aids off and the TV volume to max.

My earliest memories of him were of his rough, strong hands and fingernails, which were always caked with grease from working on the railroad. His hands were rough with hard work, but he wasn’t rough. His bear of laugh, bright smile and tender eyes gave that away.

As we’ve shared memories over the past days, my cousins and I all share a similar memory. Every time we were around Grandy, he made it his mission for us to know we were loved, special and valued. It wasn’t small talk or a conversation filler, but something communicated with intention and urgency. He wanted his son, sons-in-law and grandsons to know they are men of character, leaders, capable. He wanted his daughters, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters to know they are beautiful, valued, lovely. He worked those words into us and he prayed we would believe them.

As Parkinson’s slowly stole Grandy away, he clung to his praises of us like a lifeboat. His affirmations of his beloved family were so important to him that those words became his autopilot – sometimes the only thing he could even manage to speak. And through repetition and passion he told his brain – these words will be stolen from me last. Up until the very last times I spoke to him, he’d say the words in a cadence familiar to all of us:

“I am the luckiest man in the world. All my children and grandchildren know Jesus and will join me in heaven. I’ve got the prettiest little granddaughters a man ever did see. My grandsons are godly men.”

Grandy was unapologetic in his faith and evangelism. We’ve all heard his answering machine message: “This is Bill and Billy Mitchell. If you died today, would you go to heaven…BEEP.” He witnessed to everyone. Everywhere. He knew no social graces when it came to making sure everyone he met knew Jesus.

And as I think about those stories he told – the boy losing his mother, the young man witnessing the aftermath of war, the new father yearning to start a new legacy – I see one thing clearly: Grandy was rescued by Jesus. And once he was rescued, he became a rescuer. An unapologetic, zealous man trying to get everyone he could to that same rescuer.

He wasn’t just a zealous evangelist. He was a gifted one, too. How many people did he introduce to Christ? Can you even imagine the reunion heaven threw on February 13?

Grandy’s favorite verse was, I have been young, and now am old; Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor their children begging bread. It’s a verse that speaks of a legacy. We all here – by birth, by marriage, by friendship – are blessed to be a part of his legacy.

Grandy’s legacy, now part our legacies, is one of grit and faith, of overcoming, of ruthless trust and endless praise. It is a legacy that is loud and righteous, spun of prayer and scripture and sweat. We are wrapped in his legacy – the tapestry of stories and truths and experiences Grandy wove for us. It is a legacy that will speak long after he is gone.

I’d like to end with a poem that I wrote for Grandy. Amazingly, it was written 10 years ago this week. I think it sums up Grandy and the legacy he’s left us all.

 

Loudly. Righteously.

My Grandy is the best man I’ve ever known.
My Grandy tells me I’m beautiful every time I see him,
And he really means it.
He speaks it loudly, for all to hear.

My Grandy doesn’t hear much anymore.
But that doesn’t stop him from speaking Truth.
Loudly. Righteously.

My Grandy never conquered a nation,
But he changed the world.
I want to explore and travel.
My Grandy walked the streets of Amsterdam.
People – the repressed, the maligned – stood out of respect for him.

I want to be a prayer warrior, but sometimes I get preoccupied.
But not my Grandy.
My Grandy prays every night.
Loudly. Righteously.

He wrestled a demon and learned a lesson.
Cry out Help Me Jesus.
Cry it Loudly. Righteously.

I studied at Schools for years to be wise.
But life and a teachable heart have taught wisdom to my Grandy.
He speaks it. Loudly. Righteously.

I want to change the world for someone – it is my heritage.
The blood in my veins.
I learned how to from my Grandy.
He lives for God.
Loudly. Righteously.

We love you, Grandy. Thank you for loving us so very well.

I Am For You

I AM FOR YOU | Accidental Okie

Growing up in San Diego, our church was situated next to a long canyon that started in our little suburb and stretched the five or so miles to the ocean. If you looked closely enough at the canyon, you saw a collection of large, nondiscript cardboard boxes that blended in with the dry, brambly landscape. The boxes didn’t attract attention, and most people who saw them pretended they weren’t there. They housed a community of illegal immigrants, men who gathered every morning in hopes of finding day labor.

Among the men was Victor, who not only lived in our canyon but came to our church.

Victor was short with a thick mustache, proud cowboy hat and self-conscious smile. His already dark skin was prematurely weathered from the the sun. He’d occasionally pack a travel-worn, hard-shell suitcase with everything he owned, return to Mexico to proudly give his family all his earnings, and then sneak back over the border to his cardboard box.

Despite living in a box, only a small blanket separating him from the dirt at night, Victor’s pearl-snap, collared shirts and jeans  were always inexplicably crisp, as though he’d just picked them up from the dry cleaner’s. It was a detail that’s always stuck with me. Poverty is skilled at hiding itself in plain sight.

Immigration is a complex issue, and illegal immigration – that’s a whole other can of worms. The ramifications are broad in our society, economy, national security, and a host of other big ways. Frankly, I don’t read enough or watch enough any CSPAN to help me form an educated opinion. Sorry, but it’s the truth. I don’t know how I fully feel about every aspect of immigration — what I am for and what I am against.

But here’s what I know: I am for Victor.

It’s been almost two decades since I last saw my crisp-shirt wearing illegal immigrant friend, but still his story anchors and colors everything I hear about immigration.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, this for and against thing.

God, in his wisdom and righteousness, laid out all His standards of right and wrong. He gave us a list of commands. There are plenty of things to be against. But his two commands, the ones he placed the greatest emphasis on, were to love Him and to love our neighbors.

Love God. Love People. It’s become the battle cry of my generation.

What I love is that God laid out all the do’s and don’t’s, while knowing we wouldn’t be up for the task. He took care of that himself in the hardest, worst, most beautiful way imaginable. And He showed us – over and over, generation after generation – that despite our problems, our failures, our blatant disobedience, our temper tantrums, He is for us.

Paul even said it. “If God is for us, who can be against us.”

How is that even a thing? It’s grace hard to even comprehend.

Amidst gratuitous grace and not-at-all subtle commands to love, it seems like Christians – or at least evangelical churches in America – are against more than we’re for. And it makes me so very weary.

Somehow the message has been warped: God is for us. We are against you.

Who am I for? Who am I against? What am I for? What am I against? I’ve been pondering this for weeks now. And the past weeks have provided excellent, tragic and lame fodder for pondering. Especially when two things happened during the same time frame.

First, there’s the Target gender-neutral toy section “scandal” – like seriously, don’t even get me started on that soap box. I will just say this, copied from my personal Facebook status:

The week the Target gender toy thing was going on, I was creating a brochure for new college freshman female STEM students with inspirational quotes from young professional women in STEM fields. Their quotes and the reality of the discrimination women still experience was sobering. “Expect to be looked down on because you are a woman.” “Nothing will be given to you.” “Prove them wrong.”

It made me stand up and cheer that little girls don’t have to go to the boy section any more to buy building blocks and regular Legos (not the lame smoothie shop girl Legos).

Heaven forbid a girl wants Star Wars sheets or a boy wants Olaf sheets.

Excuse me while I fetch my fainting salts.

As if on cue, Christians everywhere freaked out. Franklin Graham called for a protest, and people inundated social media with promises to never even drive through Target parking lots again. The fake Target customer service Facebook account made for excellent entertainment, but seriously people. Come on.

It’s like any piece of news large or small warrants a preacher-pundant with a $3,000 suit, spray tan and blindingly white teeth to appear on all the cable news channels and tell us all that this…law, policy, social media platform, entertainer, obscure ruling, celebrity haircut…is something we Christians are AGAINST.

We have become caricatures of ourselves.

I know what you might say. The differences between boys and girls should be celebrated. That’s true. Maybe you’ll call it a slippery slope. Here’s all I can say: 1. Pegboard colors, people. They changed the pegboard colors from pink or blue to a light wood grain. That’s it. 2. The reason we have seven aisles of girls/boys toys is we’ve swallowed the pill that we need all.the.things. Kids don’t need half the crap in those aisles. 3. I’ll see your slippery slope and I’ll raise you piles of dead babies and mass graves.

The Target pegboard “crisis” occurred in the middle of the the Planned Parenthood videos breaking. Planned Parenthood, the organization founded by a self-proclaimed racist and eugenicist who preyed on the poor, the vulnerable, the desperate. Now they’ve been caught selling baby parts. They’ve been caught harvesting organs from late-term, aborted, whole, alive babies.

I once watched a future dystopia movie with Scarlet Johansson that had nearly the same plot. (And just so we’re all clear, the people harvesting the organs were the bad guys).

What they are doing is horrible. It’s unthinkable.

In reaction, Christians organized a simultaneous nationwide protest to encourage our lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood and better fund the many nonprofits that provide essential, life saving women’s and maternal health services that are not lining their pockets with livers and brains.

In my head I totally get the reasoning for the protests. Demonstrating to leaders that their constituents are against public funding is valid. Doing it en masse provides support to the assertion that defunding PP isn’t something only the crazies want, but a lot of people who fall on many points within the political spectrum.

But as I watched pictures of protests pop up on my news feed, I felt so uncomfortable. Something gave me this feeling of ick, and after a day of pondering, I could finally name it:

I am against abortion, but to the women walking into the clinics, I am for you. It makes me cringe that even one of those women saw the protesters and felt condemned, less than, shamed.

I watched the pictures of the protesters and the women walking into the clinics, and I prayed for the lives that would be ended and the lives that would be forever changed, and I wanted to scream, I am for you!

In fact, it is these very women who cause me to be both a feminist and an abortion abolitionist. Women who have abortions have higher likelihoods of suffering from things like suicide, depression, infertility and certain cancers. To the woman struggling in mental anguish days or decades after an abortion who were watching those same protests on her Facebook newsfeed, I wanted to scream to her, I am for you! Jesus is for you!

I thought about Planned Parenthood and I thought about Target, and I could not help but mourn for everyone.

When Christians scream with equal volume and indignation about pegboard colors and infanticide, we are ridiculous. We diminish our voice, we forfeit our influence, we waste so much.

Are we so busy running around being against things that being for things has become like those French verbs I used to be able to conjugate? Ten years of inattention and that skill is gone.

The 24-hour news cycle did its thing. I think another celebrity couple broke up. Another famous person got a new haircut or a new purse. And all we remember from the already fuzzy, but not so distant past is that things happened and Christians were against them.

Then my pondering on for and against took an even more tragic turn.

It took a little Syrian boy – his shoes just like the shoes I put on Dub’s feet, his fingers just like the sweet baby fingers I kissed this morning – to wash ashore with the bodies of his brother and mama, all three still covered in the tears of their helpless daddy and husband – to wake the world up to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Why did it take so long? And I’m asking myself that question.

I learned that we’re witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. More than 200,00 people have died, more than a million are seeking refuge. They risk it, though, because if they stay they will surely die. Oh, and America is going to take in 1,000 of them.

I forced myself to look at Aylan’s picture. I said his name. I slapped myself awake up from apathy. Then I leaned into the sadness, let tears fall freely, and I didn’t resist when his lifeless image infected the haunting dreams of restless sleep.

Oh sweet boys, oh sweet mama, I am for you. I am for you.

I have this dream, and I want to tell you about it.

I dream of a day we mobilize as passionately and efficiently for the things we are for as we do for the things we are against. If we did this, we would be unstoppable. We would be so amazing.

What if that day of protests against Planned Parenthood was followed up by a day of service in the same communities?

What if protesters scrubbed the toilets of a dilapidated free clinic where elderly ladies get their mammograms? What if another group called a crisis pregnancy center and asked, “What do you need? Make us a list.” What if the free breakfast pantries of low-income schools were full?

I know there are a lot of churches and Christians doing wonderful things for their communities and world, and I don’t want to minimize that. To everyone who is already mobilized, whose hands are dirty and feet are barefoot, you are rad. To the pray-ers and the people quietly and faithfully serving, you are so close to God’s heart.

I’m not suggesting we chuck discernment out the window and become a people who stand for nothing, nor am I’m saying we need to be bombastic self-promotors. No one likes those people.

I’m saying, what if we are for as loudly as we are against? I think if that happened, people would start to believe us when we say we were for them.

Maybe the poor and the suffering would stop believing we were treating them like pawns in our causes, because maybe we’d stop treating them like pawns in our causes.

It’s my dream that every person who attended a protest; every person who is awash in grief for the refuge seekers, the hurting and the unborn; every person who is used to pulling out markers and poster boards for the next protest or checking off another business to boycott; that all of us would pick something – someone – to be for.

I took the first step today. I researched and found an organization that helps refugees who are in the Oklahoma City area. I want to stop just donating money and start donating time. I’m a natural purger, and take great delight in hauling big trash bags of unwanted clothes and stuff to good will. Maybe I should stop donating things with holes in it. Maybe I should remember the pride Victor took in his appearance. What if I ironed the clothes and organized them by size and dropped them off at a women’s shelter, and found matching earrings? What if I showed how much I care?

I’m committed to making my for’s louder than my against’s. And I’m gobsmacked that through all my stumbling and failing, I am loved by Jesus who said through word and action over and over that He is for me.

Also, I still shop at Target.

Praying for a Second Miracle

praying for a second miracle

We’ve never had nice cars.

I’ve always had Volvos, and I like them. I’d rather have an older, safer Volvo than something new. I was the middle-income kid at a high school that was named snobbiest school in America by Time Magazine my junior year. A handful of my classmates had Vipers. I had Jean Claude, an aging Volvo station wagon I talked to in a French accent.

Jean Claude – he was awesome. I’d show you a picture, but I think I destroyed everything from those horrible brassy hair-dye years.

The Professor is the same way. His first car was an old oil field truck he used for pumping wells in college. It was gone long before I came into the picture, but I hear it was sturdy, but battered, and covered in red dirt and crude oil.

Yes, some Oklahoma stereotypes are very real. 

I think the truck racked up 300,000 hard miles before The Professor and his dad limped it to the lot and traded it in for a used SUV after he got his first teaching job.

Last year, right in the midst of our fertility treatments, our old but reliable cars started dying fast. Both of them. Simultaneously. My Volvo sedan was well over 200,000 miles and the Professor’s old Explorer our “reliable car” was suddenly very unreliable.

It was a time of big stress, but even bigger prayers. I prayed so hard, so often that sometimes I felt a little inside out. Like I dwelled in my heart more than my body. Those were days of deep, intimate times with God.

Now I added our car need to my big prayers. God, both our cars are crapping out, and if they die at the same time, we’re screwed.

Can you say screwed to God? And crapping out? I think you can.

As I prayed, I had this vision of me strapping our baby’s car seat into an SUV. I saw this vision over and over as I prayed, so I began to pray specifically for it. 

I cast a wide net, looking on Craigslist, online, newspapers. Nothing was in our price range.

Some friends were moving back to the mission field after a year back in the states for her to have a kidney transplant. Maybe we could buy their car?

I learned it was on loan to them from an older couple in our church, people we knew. So I emailed the car’s owners, apologizing for my impertinence, but would they be selling their old SUV? What would be the cost?

It was the quintessential casting a big net moment. Praying hard and following any lead.

Just 30 minutes later, I got a phone call from our friend. It went something like this. “Oh Sarah! What an answer to prayer you are. We were just praying about what to do with that car. We have no place to put it and no use for it. So we’ll just give it to you!”

Really, give it to us?

Had God just answered our prayers in this big, majestic, undeniable way? He had, and it was a lot to take in. I started crying. Not in a socially appropriate, pretty, I’m-so-thankful-for-you sort of way. No, slobbering, snotty, ugly crying on the phone with the classiest, most composed lady I know.

A month later, our friends plus one new kidney went back to Nicaragua where they help rescue children from human trafficking. And we got our new car. It was was 12 years old – way newer than our cars. It was our first car with keyless entry. And it was fancy.

I prayed for that car with yearning, and God gave it to us. Really, I just prayed for a car we could afford, not a free one. But that’s what he provided. It was beyond anything I could have imagined.

The next day I had my second miscarriage.

It was hard and horrible because miscarriages are hard and horrible. But this time, I had a glimmer of hope. Intertwined in my prayer for the car was the vision I had of putting a baby in an SUV. Logical or even theologically correct I still don’t know, but in my mind, God gave us a car to put a baby in, so I knew he’d give us a baby.

He had to. 

The next month, we got pregnant again. And miracle of miracles, we stayed pregnant. It all felt so perfect, driving our miracle car with fancy keyless entry to the doctor to check on our miracle baby. We drove it to Texas for baby showers. We transported our loaned bassinet in it, and we thanked God and our friends for such an answer to prayer. 

Then one morning when I was 35 weeks pregnant, we woke up early so I could get to the city for a midwife appointment. I walked outside to find that our SUV had been stolen in the night.

Like really, actually stolen. It was the strangest feeling.

How do you process your car getting stolen? Especially when you live in a nice, low-crime town. We live in a cul-du-sac at the end of our well-kept, but not fancy neighborhood. One of our neighbors told me he leaves his keys in his car and has never locked his house. Another neighbor accidentally left her garage door open the night before and nothing was taken. We almost always put it in the garage, but just hadn’t that night.

It was, in every way, an anomaly.

Being the middle of summer, we figured a few bored kids found some trouble, and the car would show up in a day or two in an empty parking lot or underpass. But it didn’t. Also, our insurance guy had advised us against full-coverage insurance because of the payout versus premium. So, no insurance coverage. And I was 35 weeks pregnant! 35!

I cried out to God with honesty and confusion. What are you doing, God? We’re about to have a baby! The Bible is full of honest prayers, so I think God was fine with those. I really do.

But here’s what he’s not okay with. He’s not okay with us forgetting who he is.

I prayed so big, so boldly before, but I didn’t this time. I didn’t because God already gave us a miracle car. Who was he to provide us with a second miracle car? Add a miracle baby on top of that. We had reached our supernatural provision quota. We were on our own with this one.

I couldn’t ask for more, I decided. And so I didn’t. 

My initial Psalms-like “where are you, God” prayers quickly turned to bitter, accusatory rebukes. 

This was the car God provided for us, for our baby. In just a few weeks, we were going to drive it to the hospital and a few days later actually buckle a baby into a car seat.

Now what? Now what, God? You let this happen, now fix it. 

This went on for a few weeks. A few very unproductive weeks. Shock.

One Saturday three weeks later, I was driving home from the grocery store praying my usual, “What were you thinking, God?” I can tell you what intersection I was at when I heard a voice deep in my heart, deep in my ears. 

“STOP!”

And when you hear God tell you to stop, you stop – your angry prayers that is, not your car in the middle of traffic. There have only been a few moments in my life where the Lord’s voice has been so…so present, so undeniable. It was a stern rebuke, but it was gentle and loving, too. 

“Pray that I would work this out in a way that would give me the most glory.”

To my shame, in three weeks, it never even crossed my mind to pray that prayer. Even knowing our car being stolen was a complete, total anomaly, I never thought about God’s glory. Instead, I had assumed I was marooned, forgotten.

When I forgot who God is – that he doesn’t abandon, he doesn’t forget – I began to focus on my inconvenience, my suffering, my beautiful ideal vision shattered. 

So I prayed, God work this out in a way that would bring glory to you. Let this be a story about you, not a story about a car. The more I prayed it, the more I believed it.

Later that day, we got a phone call from some family members. I won’t mention who they are because that would embarrass them, but they are awesome parents, foster parents and intentional in their community.

They needed a different car and couldn’t get a fair trade-in value for their older-model Volvo SUV. They were so annoyed that they decided they’d rather give it away to someone than essentially give it away to a car dealership. Did we want it?

Wait, what?

The story unfolded. Two weeks prior, they realized they weren’t going to get a fair trade-in value. She started dreaming of driving halfway across the country to give us their car, but that’s ludicrous, right? So she kept it in her heart. Then, on that Saturday, her husband brought it up to her. He had been praying about it, too.

We could only afford to pay them what the dealership offered, but they refused and God worked in some cool ways to get a few repairs it needed done at a lower cost. Our family came together and paid for some of the repairs. The Professor’s dad flew out to help them drive the car to Oklahoma. They arrived the day Dubs made his eventful entrance into the world.

It’s equal parts amazing and humbling. No, it’s more humbling to be loved in such a real, sacrificial way. 

God is not a genie in a bottle. He wasn’t waiting for me to say the magic words so my wish would be granted. But he was, I think, holding out his grand solution until my heart changed, until I remembered who he is.

It’s hard to ask for a second miracle.

It’s hard on our egos and it really seems just too much. God already brought miracle provision. He can’t possibly do it again. He forgave that massive screw up. No more grace for me. I already prayed for and had a healthy child. Can I pray for another miracle? Like, am I even allowed to?

Over the coming weeks after Dub’s birth when my postpartum anxiety/OCD became very bad, that car became more than a car. It was a standing stone (errr…a rolling stone) of God’s faithfulness, and a reminder that I could come to him moment by moment.

That vision I had of buckling Dubs into his carseat in an SUV came true. Like the rest of this story, it was completely different than I had imagined. Our first trip by ourselves was three weeks after he was born and we went to my first counseling appointment to begin tackling my postpartum anxiety.

I’m by no means wise or anything like that. But after this experience, this is what I know: When we believe God is who he says he is, we can pray for a second miracle. Or a seventh or hundredth.

Because who God is, is enough.