Sunday, August 24, 2014

Eugoogly for G-ma

Friends and relatives and Grandma herself have remarked on the time I devoted to visiting Grandma and Grandpa these past years, at times making extended trips to Taiwan but seeing mostly just the inside of their Taoyuan apartment rather than exploring the island with friends my age. 好有孝心 they would say, but truly, the only response I have for what compelled me, is that Grandma and Grandpa loved us first. They poured out their lives for us. Though as 外孫女 I did not share their name, they made me, their youngest grandchild and sole granddaughter, their little princess. In their care I knew palpably what it was, to be "somebody's baby." I was the object of totally unmerited favor. These last years, it was my honor to return just a tiny bit of the joy and care they poured into my life. It was truly a privilege to spend time with them and form an adult relationship with them.

Grandma brought a lot of light, hope, safety, wonder, and laughter to my childhood. She spent more than half of each year in a foreign country to make sure Joshua and I had the best shot possible at growing up. She came to be a mother––to my mom, but also to Joshua and me. The only people I spent more time with than Grandpa and Grandma, was my brother. Grandma really let us be children: for example, pretending to be mad while allowing us to jump on her bed, delighting in and encouraging our play and exploration. Seeing what a chatterbox she was, even in the last months when her voice was weak and damaged, I know now that Grandma had left her comfort zone, a social realm in which she was the glue, the queen, the life of the party––to make my brother and me her world. She loved preparing or hosting feasts, she remembered everyone's every birthday and anniversary. We had this wonderful example of a pious life oriented toward loving people and lavishing generous grace everywhere. She and Grandpa were world travelers in those retirement years, and they would bring stories and gifts from far corners of Indonesia, Israel, New Zealand, Holland, Egypt... to the confines of our little home in Warrenville/Naperville, where language barriers limited their adventures. Joshua and I do not know where we would be today, if it had not been for her.

Certainly, without Grandma, I would not know how to be a lady. I remember with fondness how Grandma loved to style me pretty. She would jokingly plead with me to be more ladylike: "I already have 7 grandsons! Don't be another one," she would say. I of course had spent my childhood trying to catch up to the boys. And she often reminded me to keep it classy... and be pretty. I was her ちびや--her babiest baby. I remember how beautiful she was. And how she never seemed to believe it, when people complimented her. I remember how she loved to brush and braid my hair, and to dress me like a "娃娃," or "doll," as they called me. But still, she was spunky, playful, athletic, witty––and I very much loved how hip and "with it" my Grandma was.

As a child I cried a lot. In more recent years I also carried a heavy heart which she shouldered with me, praying for me, and celebrating the miracle that I had been preserved in the church––her daily prayer for our whole family. All throughout my life, Grandma would tell me to "stop crying. 阿媽喜歡妳!" even while she would be crying with me. I think if she were here now, she would tell me to stop crying and enjoy my 20s. She told me to laugh often, said she liked the sound of my laughter, and to keep my heart open and tender, to leave the heaviness behind, and sing. I loved to hear her sing. Even when her voice got as wrinkly and cracked as her skin, she would sing at church, and those were precious sounds to me.

Each time Grandma left for Taiwan again I could be counted on to cry, beg her to stay. I'd follow her as far as the airport security would allow, and plead with her, "Don't go. Take me with you." She would assure me that they would be back soon, and tell me to listen and obey and do good in the meantime. I grew up with this rhythm of anticipating reunion; so that years after, when I was gathered up by grace to share in Grandma's faith, I had a real tangible sense of what it meant to wait and hope and anticipate a promised return. Her absence left a real lack and longing––but these were inevitably met with certain fruition each time. And there was feasting and kisses, gifts from afar (always 4+ 70lb suitcases with candy and frozen seafood from Hokkaido), stories of their traveling days. Tickles, laughter, and gifting and hugging. I WILL see her again.

I will see her again. I know it, because it was Grandma's hope in Christ that enabled her to persevere in service and love to others. She spent herself for Grandpa in the last years; we all saw it, we all asked her to rest more. But hers was a self-forgetting love, and she loved us all until the very end. For her self-forgetting love, she is remembered and repaid by Christ himself. I hope when I'm 60, 70, 80... That I will be as alive as she was, still praying, still loving Scripture, still hoping, still loving, still serving others.

Grandma's final months were dark, confusing, and painful, as she fought wave after wave of illness. We have great comfort in knowing she inhabits a renewed and restored body now. She is even more lovely and loving than we knew her to be. For this and much more, I give thanks.

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