Six years ago today was the Friday that Thanksgiving break started. It was my freshman year of college. My best friend and roommate was going to be transferring to another school at semester. Most of my new college friends lived on the opposite side of campus, and I decided to move over there so that I wasn’t completely alone when Tyann left.
I had begun packing my things earlier on in the week, and Friday was the day to move all my belongings across campus. I had one class at 8am and Mom was going to come up after that to help me with the move then take me home for the break because I didn’t have my car in Ames at that time.
So I went to FSHN 187 (Food Sciences and Human Nutrition) and received a phone call from Mom right after class was out:
Mom: “Hey Jackie, Grandpa just called and Grandma’s not feeling well this morning. They’re going to run into the hospital to get checked out, so I’m going to hang out at home just to make sure everything’s okay.”
Me: “No worries, Mom. I have to finish packing my things anyway. Call me when you’re on your way.”
You see, my grandmother had been diagnosed with colon cancer only a short time before this and had just started chemotherapy. She knew there would be side-effects from the chemo, but wanted to go to the doctor anyway to make sure that what she was experiencing was just side-effects.
So I kept on packing. Mom called a few other times throughout the day to let me know how things were going. Around lunchtime she said that Grandma was scared, so Mom was going to go down to the hospital to be with her but reassured me that everything was “fine.” A couple more hours passed, and mom decided that it was just too late to drive up to Ames to help out. No big deal - Tyann and I had been packing and already moving some things over to my new dorm room and she could give me a ride home when we were finished.
Around five o’clock, Dad called. Tyann and I were unloading things in my new room...
Dad: “You need to come home...Grandma’s not doing well.”
We ran to the car. Tyann would drive me to Culver’s in Urbandale to meet my brother, Jeff (he was working there at the time and was going to wait for me to get there to head down to the hospital). We pulled out of the parking lot, out onto Lincoln Way; only minutes had passed when Dad called again.
Dad: “She’s dead.”
Horror struck me. It seemed as though I could literally feel my heart breaking. What could I even say? “I’m on my way. I love you.”
I don’t remember the ride home. I don’t remember if a word was spoken. I don’t even remember crying. All I know is that Tyann knew the pain I was in. She knew how hard this was for me. I remember pulling into the Culver’s parking lot. Jeff was waiting. I hugged my best friend as she said, “I’ll be praying for you.” I grabbed my things and climbed into my brother’s car.
I was dreading getting to the hospital. I didn’t want to see everyone. I didn’t want to see them all crying, hurting. I didn’t want to believe this was real. But it was very real.
When we got to the hospital, I grabbed my purse and stood beside the car for a minute. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I opened up my backpack and grabbed a Bible. I didn’t know why. A friend had given it to me only two weeks prior. All I knew was that once we got into the room with everyone else, I would have to be strong...and I knew there was no way I was that strong.
As we walked into the room, heartache and suffering overwhelmed me. A lot of the time, in situations like this, people’s condolences include, “She’s better off now,” or “She’s not in pain anymore,” or something along those lines. But this was different. No one knew what to say. I remember thinking, “I don’t understand...she was fine yesterday.” It wasn’t even the cancer that took her. It was her heart - the healthiest organ in her body just...stopped. She was fine Thursday and gone Friday, and none of us understood why.
I just sat on the floor with my Bible in my lap. I didn’t know how, but I knew that the Bible I was holding could give me the strength I needed. I didn’t know most of the words contained in the book, but I knew that they were powerful. I didn’t know where to turn, so I sat on the floor looking at the cover trying to understand. And, it was there, on the floor of the hospital room mourning a loss that I understood and felt for the first time the overwhelming, comforting love of Christ.
My knowledge of the Bible was limited, but what I did know was that I was dearly loved by God. He may have taken my grandmother before any of us were ready for her to go, but in that I realized that I needed something more than myself. I had to be strong, but I was so weak. I didn’t know God personally, I just knew Him as Creator and Governor, but I also knew that He was much more than that. I knew that He was strong, and I knew that I needed to be close to Him.
I didn’t bow down on my knees and recite any scripted prayer asking Jesus into my heart. I sat on a cold hospital room floor with a Bible in my lap and said, “God, I need you.”
It’s been six years, and it’s amazing to me what God has done in my life. I now understand that He loves me and knows me and cares for me. I now understand that whole “personal relationship” thing - that He longs for me and wants me to know Him and live for Him. I now understand the simplistic complexity of the cross of Christ:
Simplistic in that Christ died for me. I was a sinner condemned to hell, but God sent his Son to take my sins upon himself and die on a cross in my place SO THAT I would not spend eternity in hell but instead in heaven with Him.
Complex in that it seems completely absurd that the God of this universe would go through all that suffering for me.
I get it now. What was once a mystery to me now makes sense. I had heard about this “Gospel,” but I never understood it, and God used the unforeseeable death of my grandmother to reveal this mystery to me, to show me His love, to draw me into His strong arms.
I still see her sometimes...in other people. When I’m at the grocery store or in the mall - I see people who remind me of her. I almost always take a double-take, excitedly saying her name in my head, sort of like when you see a friend somewhere unexpected. It only takes a moment for me to remember that day in November. And, while my heart hurts because I never got to say goodbye, my spirit rejoices in the life I now have in Christ.