About a month ago, I lost a dear friend. Her death was not tragic, as she was 91, heaven-bound and living at home until nearly the end. And yet, when I heard the news, I cried for a long time and struggled with a deep sense of loss. I miss her. She was like a grandmother to me, and a source of wisdom, guidance, love and strength. God brought her into my life at a crucial time, and she played a leading role for over a decade. I still have a hard time accepting that the “Grandma Marianne Era” is over, and find myself remembering the special moments we had together.
Marianne Nelson walked into my life one night in the early nineties at an evangelistic tent meeting my former church was holding. I had lead worship and after the event, she approached me, introduced herself and told me that I reminded her of one of her granddaughters. This particular granddaughter was also biracial, but lived too far away for Marianne to see often. As we talked, we soon found out that we had Brooklyn in common. She had emigrated there in 1926 from Husum Sweden when she was eight years old; and I was born there forty years later. Like so many immigrants of that time, she didn’t know a word of English, but learned it quickly to escape the taunts of her peers.
Anyway, what I remember most about that evening was her piercing blue eyes. She was in her late 70’s but still so attractive, sophisticated and classy. And those blue eyes bore into me with kindness and warmth. To my delight, she invited me to come visit her anytime and I took her up on it about a month later. From that time, for many years, I visited her just about every-other month. I packed my overnight bag, drove the 50 miles to her home and spent hours listening to her stories and testimonies of God’s faithfulness in her life. I learned about Swedish Almond Cookies, and enjoyed tea from old European cups. I heard the love story between her and her husband (they met when she was 10!) and searched through yellowed pictures. It wasn’t all happy and light. She had lost her husband and both of her sons way too early. And over the years that I knew her, she also lost most of her eyesight. Nevertheless, she laughed often, and remained faith-filled and encouraging. I visited her after boy-friend breakups, or when I was discouraged or just needed the wisdom, listening ear and unconditional love of a grandmother. As a matter of fact, I remember a friend of mine suggesting on several occasions, “You should go visit grandma Marianne.” And sure enough, I’d come back happier and stronger.
She was such a gift to me. Only God could have brought two such different people together: a gracious, quick, elderly Swede and a young biracial woman, full of questions, longings and dreams. God knit our hearts together; we cried, laughed and prayed together dozens of times and we witnessed God’s faithfulness in both of our lives. That is what happens in the Kingdom. God brings people together to enrich and encourage each other, crossing generational, cultural and racial boundaries. If we cooperate, the blessing is vast and deep.
I am not yet ready to go to Heaven. I have two boys to raise and a husband to love. But I do long look forward to seeing her again. For now, I gaze up, envision her in that great cloud of witnesses and salute a woman of noble character.