On Grandpas and Books and the Ministry of Presents

A few weeks ago, I wrote here about visiting my maternal grandma in the hospital. In today’s similarly-titled post, we get the story of visiting my paternal granddad at his home near Oklahoma City last weekend. (The significance of attending to the illness and aging of family alongside the joy and birth of the Christmas season has not been lost on me. Perhaps a post for another day.)

Granddad is the kind of relative I don’t know well and only see sporadically, the last time being 5 years ago at a family wedding. But, 5 years makes a big difference, especially for the elderly, and in recent months he’s experienced rapid weight loss, no appetite, and significant weakness.

While visiting, my family and I set out to help him eat a little something 2-3 times a day, do household chores, and do some ministry of presence. Along the way, Granddad gave me an unintentional surprise: the ministry of presents.

Years ago, he attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and served numerous churches as a Baptist minister. I knew this. To this day, he has a sizable theological library collecting dust in his home. I did not know thisIMG_1754.

And let’s just say around a theological library, I act like a puppy in a pet store.

After perusing the shelves, I removed two intriguing volumes, took them to the living room, sat on the floral-patterned couch next to Granddad, and said, wide-eyed: “Your books. They’re amazing.”

“You can have them,” he said. “Any of them.”

FLASHBACK: As a high school student, I sat on the same couch and told Granddad that I wanted to pursue theological studies and work in vocational ministry. He promptly suggested that I can’t preach because I’m a woman. He might have been alright with women in other, non-preaching roles (e.g. children’s ministry, youth ministry). But the conversation ended there. If he was proud of me, I couldn’t tell. END FLASHBACK.

This time around, I know he’s proud of me. I know because he offered me his theology books. And because they used to mean a lot to him, and now they mean a lot to me. And because his 1938 anthology Christ and the Fine Arts showed us that we have some things in common — two things, to be exact: Christ and the fine arts. And I know he’s proud of me because he said so.

In what might be one of our last conversations this side of heaven, Granddad said in a weak, raspy voice, rather like a weary Jesus talking to a wary Peter, “You want to work for the Church?” (Peter, do you love me?) 

“Yes, I do,” I said. (Yes, Lord, you know I love you.)

“That’s real good,” he said. “I’m proud of you.” (Then feed my sheep.)

He didn’t mind that I’m a woman. He didn’t even know that I’ve become an Episcopalian in recent years. He knew that, in the end, we all alike hold fast to “the holy catholic church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting” (to quote the Apostles’ Creed). And what a present that is. 

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