I recently had the opportunity to visit with a 99 year old Christian woman. I say recently, but really it has not been so recent as of today. She actually turns 100 this week. Yes, 100. Insane. This little visit may be one of the most important things that has happened to me thus far this year. In fact, it has been on my mind so frequently since visiting with her, that I still consider our visit to have been recent. Needless to say, I have been meaning to write.
My small group was invited to visit with this woman of God because her nephew is the small group leader. We gathered one evening in the small living area of her room at the retirement home she lives in. It was an intimate setting, and we tried to stuff as many of us in there as we could. Our faces eager, waiting for the words that she would share. We had all heard stories about her and knew that anything she said would be valuable, treasured even. We hung on every word she said and were patient when she began to repeat herself. She occasionally told us the same story over again, but I don’t think any of us really cared. It was still a blessing to hear her say something twice.
As she spoke, I noticed a few things. The first – her Bible, in all its many frayed and tattered parts, laid open across her lap the entire time. The second – she held onto the hands of her nephew as she spoke. The third – a James Patterson novel was sitting next to her couch.
I don’t know if you have ever been in the presence of a 99 year old person before, but 99 years is old. Like really old. Like the human body as a functioning machine just literally begins to wear and shut down. That was apparent to us as we watched her movements and spoke loudly enough for her to hear. Amazingly though, she is mentally coherent and alert. I don’t think the James Patterson novel was decoration. She is still an avid reader, using her mind. At 99 years old. That is amazing.
I lived with my grandparents for the majority of my college years and for several years after returning from living in Italy. Those years taught me valuable lessons about how lonely it can be in the later years of life. Sure, there were times that living with 80 year olds was frustrating, but I treasure the time I spent there. I know more about my grandparents, their lives, and life lessons than any of my cousins because of that experience. I also know how difficult it was for my grandparents when I finally bought my own house and moved out. Because I allow my life to stay crazy busy, I only see my grandparents once every few months now. When I do, my grandmother squeezes me in an awkwardly long hug. I am always tempted to cringe, but watching this 99 year old woman holding her nephew’s hands reminded me of what I know my grandparents struggle with. No one goes to talk to them much anymore. My grandmother misses our 2 AM talks about my students, struggles with my parents, or any other random thing that came up in the middle of the night. The woman never sleeps. My grandfather misses the afternoons that I would sit and listen to him tell me all about Hitler and the ways in which he managed to mobilize a following for a crazy insane belief. He owns the largest collection of books on Hitler, Nazi Germany, and World War II that I have ever seen. My grandparents do not know Jesus like this lady does, but they too have valuable, tested wisdom on life. They value my presence and my attention, and I saw how much this lady values the same. The elderly should not be people that we forget, especially when they contain a wealth of Godly wisdom.
Have I mentioned that she was 99 already? I just need that to be very clear here. That is an enormous amount of years spent walking with Jesus. She spent all of her life ministering to the people she was around, loving them, caring for them, and sharing the gospel with them. And there sat her Bible in her lap. After years and years of service to the Lord, she is not bitter or worn out or calloused by those who have hurt her, shunned her, or refused her words. She still sits on the couch with her overused Bible in her lap. She spoke with tender love and compassion in her voice, and her stories frequently brought her to tears. She views her life as one of joy and is filled with gratitude for what God has done in and through her. I’m also thoroughly convinced that though her body may be frail, her prayers could destroy an army of the adversary. When she spoke in the name of Jesus, even I shuddered.
Like I said, there is so much that I could say about this experience, but I want to focus on only one more thing. At the end of our visit, one of the last questions we asked her was if she had a favorite Bible verse. Now, this is a woman who has obviously spent countless hours devouring God’s Word. Her Bible was literally in pieces. Her answer was simple though, and I was floored by it. Of all the thousands of verses that she has likely read and memorized numerous times, this is what she said:
God is love.
That’s it. Of anything she could have chosen; God is love. Technically, this exact three letter phrase is actually only a part of a few verses, but these are the three most important words to her in the Bible. If I had not had to get up and leave at that point (because everyone was exiting the building), I could have sat in silence and stillness under that declaration for the rest of the night.
The truth is, hearing her say that slapped me in the face. Her years of learning and growing and serving all brought her back to the fact that God is love. The best part about it is that I think this might be her favorite thing because of how in love she is with God. And to top that, instead of spending her years here, on earth, longing to be with Him in eternity, SHE CAPITALIZED ON BEING WITH HIM NOW.
I am so guilty of dealing with the difficulties that I sometimes face in this life by complaining to God and longing for the day that suffering is no more. At the rate I am going, if I were to ever make it to 99 years, I do not see myself having a positive attitude about still being alive. If I spend my years longing to be with God insteading of basking in the present being with Him, I am missing out. I left that visit longing for the intimacy with Jesus that I witnessed in my brief time with her. The example of a long life surrendered to the Lord has left a lasting impression on me, one that encourages me to sit at the feet of Jesus more and fall deeper in love with Him.
Let’s face it…. I am a glass half empty kind of girl, and this taught me a lesson.