Monday, October 10, 2011

The Castle In The Trees - Part One

The world appears to have been washed clean by some desperately needed rain this morning. It is sunny and cool and I stopped to admire the view outside just in time to see my barefooted little girl sailing across the back yard with her head thrown back and a big grin on her face. She was on the zip line headed for the landing of our tree house which we lovingly refer to as 'The Castle in the Trees.' This sight brought me back to a special place in my memory. The place where the events that unfolded would result in loss, grief, hope and then eventually, the creation and construction of our beautiful little castle. Here's how it all started...

A couple of years ago, around this time of year, I received a phone call informing me that My grandmother, Mattie, (yes, my daughter is named after her) had suffered a major stroke and was in the hospital. This came on the heels of a devastating year in which our family had already lost my maternal grandmother, my mother and then my aunt all within months of one another. I was feeling fragile and overwhelmed to begin with and this news about my grandmother really hit me at the knees. I remember being told that Mattie (Grandmattie) was unconscious and was unlikely to wake up and that she could stay in that state indefinitely. I was at a loss as to what I should do. Part of me wanted to rush to her side and part of me wondered if I should wait to see how things were going to unfold.

That Friday night, after praying and tossing and turning I sat up in bed just somehow knowing exactly what I needed to do. I felt peace about my decision to go to Dallas right away and spend some time with her. I decided to go up on Sunday after church, spend the rest of the day with her, then drive home on Monday morning in time to pick up my kids from school. The drive to Dallas was routine and uneventful. When the familiar sight of the Dallas skyline came into view, it didn't bring its usual comfort and feeling of homecoming. As I passed the old Mercantile Bank building, with its blue and red neon clock and spire (where my grandmother had worked and eventually retired), I couldn't help feeling nostalgic as though it were the last time the Dallas skyline would represent something constant in my life.

When I walked into her hospital room and saw her lying there in that bed, my heart was overwhelmed and my mind was racing with memories of this amazing, faith-filled woman who was at the center of some of the few times I actually felt safe and loved as a little girl. I remembered the visits she and my Grandad made to see us at Thanksgiving. My parents generally behaved themselves when they were around. I remembered the time she refused to go with the rest of my family on a day trip to Reynosa, Mexico because I was grounded for losing a schoolbook. She drove me to the school and walked all over the place, even digging in a dirt pile where I had been playing until she found the book and I was ungrounded! She was loyal like that. She was a force of nature to be reckoned with and I know that her unceasing prayers and unwavering faith have a lot to do with why I am saved today and am seeking to continually strengthen my relationship with God. She was a spiritual dynamo! She was an inspiration to me and I hope someday people will be able to say the same thing about me, too.

My aunt and uncle had been there at the hospital for a while and they decided to go back home and get some rest. I leaned over and stroked my grandmother's beautiful white hair and sang hymns to her. There was no response from her at all. I sat with her and talked to her and held her hand. I called my sisters and held the phone to her ear so they could speak to her. Finally, I was all talked out and exhausted and tearfully said good-bye to her for the last time. I walked out of the hospital feeling unsettled and restless and profoundly sad. I drove to my aunt's house, chatted with them for awhile and then headed to bed still feeling empty inside and with no peace whatsoever. I planned to sleep in a little and then drive home after breakfast. But God.....

At the crack of dawn, my cell phone rang and it was my friend Michelle who NEVER calls me in the morning. To this day...I can't remember what it was she wanted but once I was awake I started feeling compelled to get up and go back to Mesquite to the hospital to see my grandmother one more time. I tried to talk myself out of it but there was this feeling that I knew it was right to go back. So, back I went and just happened to end up in the elevator of the hospital with my grandmother's doctor. He said his decision was that she would be released that day and be sent to the nursing home where she would probably remain until she passed. He said it could be days, weeks or (though unlikely) maybe even months. Right after he left her room and we were alone...the strangest thing happened. I felt peace come over me and I realized right in that moment why I was back and exactly what I had left unsaid the night before. I sat down next to her and whispered to her. I told her I loved her and that we were all proud of her for a job well done. I told her that I would take over in her place and pray daily for the salvation and protection of our family. I assured her that I was safe and that we would be together in heaven and that if she was tired, it was okay for her to go ahead and go to Jesus. That He was waiting for her with open arms. I cried all over her as she started making little grunting noises in the back of her throat for the first time since I had seen her and her eyelids were fluttering a little. I knew she was hearing me! So amazing. What a gift. I just can't even put it into words.

I left the hospital knowing I would never see her again but finally having peace about it. Driving home to Houston, I was singing praises out loud with the radio feeling such gratitude that God had led me back to her and given me the opportunity to say everything I needed to say. I was missing her and remembering her and then about an hour into my drive I received a phone call from my aunt. My sweet Grand Mattie had passed away a little over an hour after I left her side. Wow. Just...WOW.

The timing of those events was not a coincidence or an accident. It was simply a gift from God to both of us and he allowed us to fulfill a need in each other one last time. I know that my grandmother needed to hear that I would be praying without ceasing for my family's salvation and protection. I felt the baton was being passed and knew what God wanted me to do. My grandmother understood the power of prayer and in my mind, that was her most powerful and important legacy of all. Sharing her faith with everyone she met. She was an inspiration and example to many. I miss her so much.

Yes, I remember my grandmother often. I think of her with special fondness when I look outside and see my children squealing with delight on the zip line and watch them running around in their little Castle in the Trees. What does my grandmother's memory have to do with our kids' tree house? I'll tell you the rest of the story next time. Until then...



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