Last week Katie Donovan, my mother-in-law, went to be with Jesus. My son, Stephen, shared these thoughts about her at the memorial service. I couldn't have said it better.
Words somehow seem insufficient for conveying the beauty and love of a life so well lived. Nevertheless, words and tears and laughter are the only ways to acknowledge the goodness of the life of my grandmother, whom I have only ever known as Grandmomma. When I think about Grandmomma, the opening words to Martin Luther’s famous hymn are brought to mind: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper he amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” In the middle of her house on Richard Rd. was the fireplace around which the whole house seemed to be built. Grandmomma was like that fireplace. She was the matriarch. She was the firm center around which everything was built.
When we stayed with Grandmomma, she would get up early on Sunday mornings and make her famous biscuits from scratch. As we frenetically scrambled around getting ready for church, we would eat those biscuits. And we ALWAYS went to both Sunday School AND church. In fact, I think she holds a few records for perfect Sunday School attendance. She was a woman of great faith and faithfulness. Just as the fireplace provided warmth during the winter, so too the fire of her faith warmed and kindled the faith in our own lives. I dare say that the faith of her children and grandchildren cannot be understood apart from the brightly burning flame of her faith in Christ. As I grew older, I found out that every Monday, she prayed and fasted for her grandchildren until we all came to faith in Christ. Indeed, my faith cannot be understood without reference to her faith and prayer.
I had the privilege of interviewing Grandmomma about her WWII experience two weeks ago. This interview confirmed what I already knew about her: she was a woman of extraordinary character. Scarcely a month after she finished her nursing training at Louisville General Hospital, she, a 21-year-old raised in small-town Kentucky, was shipped to the Pacific where she served on Tinian in the Mariana Islands. During the interview, it became ever clearer to me that Grandmomma was a woman of great compassion. As a Christian and medical professional, she had a deep respect for the sanctity of life. Although the Japanese were technically her enemies, she was deeply saddened by Japanese loss of life. She had the remarkable ability to see the enemy as fully human, as made in the image of God. This is a virtue that is growing increasingly rare. After the bombs were dropped, she occupied Japan and helped to reestablish hospitals in Tokyo. While doing this, she worked side-by-side with the Japanese. She developed a great respect for Japanese culture. Grandmomma was, above all else, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and following his example, I believe that she learned how to love her enemies in a way that few are able to. Perhaps it was this experience overseas that ignited within Grandmomma a lifelong passion for missions that led her, as an 82 year-old, to go to Mexico on a missions trip.
As I stand here, I cannot help but thank God that I am the grandson of a woman of such beauty and faith as Grandmomma. Because of Grandmomma’s great faith, I feel that it is appropriate to end my reflections with a prayer of thanksgiving. We give you thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord for the life and faith of Grandmomma. We give you thanks because you are the God not of the dead, but of the living, and we know that Grandmomma lives with you. We ask that the life of Grandmomma will continue to live and burn deep within us. Just as her faith has spilled over and kindled the faith of her children and grandchildren, we pray that her faith may continue to spread and in so doing nurture the whole church. We pray that like Grandmomma, we would see others with eyes of compassion, that we would learn to love our enemies as Jesus taught us. We pray that the beauty and love of Grandmomma’s life may somehow be reflected in our lives to your glory. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.