This upcoming weekend, I’m attending my 5-year reunion at Wheaton College, as part of their Homecoming. It feels weird that half a decade has already passed, but so it goes with time. Its relentless pace never ceases to surprise.
Returning to Wheaton this weekend will be a celebration of time gone by, of blessings given, and of the immense joy both before and behind me. And it will also be a time to celebrate the life of my dear grandmother Marilyn McCracken, who died today. She was my last living grandparent, and she also went to Wheaton. This week is a different sort of homecoming for her.
Grandma McCracken was the most generous-spirited person I knew. I never left her presence without some sort of gift. No one really encountered her without experiencing her generosity. She lived in Wheaton when I was in college, and on a pretty regular basis I would come back to my dorm and there would be a bag of goodies from Grandma left at the front desk for me. My roommates and I had a never ending supply of Pepperidge Farm cookies and Cracker Jacks, thanks to her. She was always so interested in listening to people and caring for them in her sweet, hospitable way. Every time I would visit her apartment, she would insist on putting together a plate of cookies and crackers for me, while we sat together and talked.
My grandmother was a godly, giving, genteel woman, as classy a person as I ever knew. Whenever I saw her, she was always dressed to the nines and adorned with her trademark massive jewelry. But her classiness went way beyond her outward appearance. She was exceptionally tactful, wise, quick to listen and slow to speak. She never liked to dwell on the negative, and in almost everything it seemed like she tried to look on the bright side.
Now she’s gone on to the ultimate “bright side,” and I know she’s experiencing unspeakable joy. But I will miss her so much. I will miss all of my grandparents.
It’s an odd stage in life to have no grandparents left–to realize that your parents are now the oldest generation. Where did the time go? I have such great memories of each of my four grandparents, but it’s strange to think that I will never make more memories with them.
I will never wake up on Christmas morning at Grandma McCracken’s house, and look forward to the “Scottish song singalong,” wherein Grandma would sit at the piano and lead the whole family in songs like “These are my Mountains” and “The Scottish Soldier” (she was really proud of our Scottish heritage). I will never again receive another chain e-mail forward from her, or sit in her TV room with her to watch cable news and eat orange slices. I will never again meet her at Red Apple for lunch, or hear her tell tales of the lanky, high-water-pants country boy she remembered from her days at Wheaton (Billy Graham).
Unfortunately life is full of these “never agains.” I’ll never again be a freshman in college, and I’ll never again be a teenager. I’ll probably never play capture the flag at camp in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, and I’m sure I’ll never play in a marching band again. But that’s okay.
The joys and relationships we experience in life, fleeting as they are, seem always to be pointing to something other. They are the “faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when He made the world,” as Lewis says (The Weight of Glory). Now imagine what it will be like to taste at the fountainhead of the stream “of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating.”
I want to thank my beloved grandmother for offering me such refreshing tastes of the lower reaches of glory. With every bag of goodies, with every tender kiss on the cheek, with every box of Cracker Jacks or word of warmth or wisdom, she imparted a reliable goodness–the type of goodness that feels mostly like being at home, known and loved, settled and restless on the favorite old couch that never exhausts the presence of the good ole days.