Earlier this month in Lafayette, Indiana, my 91-year-old grandmother, Lois Long, died in faith like the saints of Hebrews 11. She left 90 descendants, including 21 grandchildren and 51 great-grandchildren. She was able to speak to all of us in the last few weeks of her life, and she spoke to many of us until the last six hours before she died peacefully. She affirmed her love for us, spoke to us of the faithfulness of God, and pointed us to the Lord Jesus Christ. There was nothing unusual about this; she made a practice of pointing people she met to Jesus.
When grandchildren have a grandmother named “Lois” who lived and died full of faith, it’s impossible not to remember the words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5)
How did we know of the faith that dwelt in our Grandmother Lois? In part, because we heard her tell almost everyone she could about the object of her faith, Jesus Christ.
Her faith was a gift from God. She knew that. She was born in a loving home where she went to church weekly and was taught a good work ethic (I’ve reflected on it in part here). In early adulthood, she pursued fulfillment in life in many ways, but none of them brought satisfaction. The Lord worked faith in her heart and the heart of my grandfather when she was 37 years old and they repented of their sin and believed in Jesus Christ (I’ve written about aspects of their remarkable conversion here, here, and here).
When she came to know Jesus, everything changed in her own life. And she knew others needed to come to know him too.
Grandma Long was a very hospitable woman (as Barry York also recounted here), and she used the tables in her kitchen and dining room to make friends quickly. She knew the importance of names and remembered them well. She worked to remember people’s names, in part, by noting them in her journal and reviewing her journals. Her sense of hospitality extended to the church, too, of course. One day, a few years ago, she expressed frustration to me over breakfast that people in the local congregation were not effectively welcoming the college students who were coming to church. So, Grandma told me, she took it upon herself to give the women in her Bible study a tutorial on how to greet these folks. With sparkling eyes, she informed me,
I told them, ‘Here’s how you do it. You walk up to the student and you say, “Hello, my name is Lois Long, and I’m glad you’re here. What’s your name?!”’
She went on,
And these students, well, now they all come up and give me hugs every week!...They do!
Imagine that. The power of intentionally going back to the basics!
In the early days of her Christian life, she led Good News Clubs for children in her neighborhood and led children to Jesus there. For 20 years, Grandma led a women’s Bible study at the local YMCA where ladies turned again and again to the Scripture. At the funeral, many people recounted how Grandma had asked them upon first meeting if they knew the Lord.
Every day was a new opportunity. One day in the early years of my grandmother’s faith, a drunken woman was dumped by her husband on my grandparent’s front lawn. Grandma brought her in and took her to Jesus. Her new friend believed on the Lord Jesus a couple of weeks later. Together, these women, along with many in the church, prayed for the woman’s husband for 45 years until he turned to the Lord. They were all part of the same congregation to the end. Hours before Grandma died, her dear friend and sister in the Lord came to her bedside and they bade farewell until glory. Needless to say, those of us present were all moved to tears.
Starting at age 60, Grandma began to volunteer to lead women’s Bible studies in the Tippecanoe County Jail to supplement the work being done by men from the church in the men’s blocks. She served there weekly for nine years and then for another eight years as a substitute leader. There she ministered in person to her “captive audience” and through many letters written to women who went on to prison and beyond. She made it clear that she was not there to help with their legal troubles but rather to study the Scriptures. So, she was provoked when she was subpoenaed to court one day as a character witness. The defense wanted her to testify to the defendant’s reform through the Bible studies. As Grandma took the stand to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth she asked the judge where the Bible was upon which to place her left hand. But there was no Bible in the courtroom...and the judge got a little bit of an earful about the absence of the Scriptures in the courtroom...the kind only a sixty-some year-old woman can give a judge in a courtroom and get away with it! After swearing to tell the truth, she recounted later,
I told them on the stand I didn’t really have anything to contribute to the case...the woman had come to my Bible study a few times but that was all. But I told them that since I had sworn to tell the truth I better tell what I did know to be true, and that is this, that if any man is IN CHRIST, he is a new creation, the old things passed away, behold all things have become new!
She was immediately dismissed by the defense attorney without further question, but her witness still stands.
Grandma looked for objects that might turn people to look to the Lord. Perhaps her favorite was the penny. Whether in her early days in Christ at a gas station with an attendant providing full service or in line at the grocery store, she’d pull out her change to pay. Pausing, she’d ask the clerk,
Have you ever noticed what it says on this penny?
Of course, the employee was forced to break the monotony of the work to respond. Having their attention, she’d say,
‘In God We Trust’ is what it says. Do you know what it means to trust God? Do you trust God?
Sometimes, new doors were opened. In every case, she gained a new acquaintance (and often remembered their name), and many times, she gained a new friend. Sometimes it would lead to more conversation on the spot. Besides the Lord, who knows the final fruit of those exchanges? The day before she went home from the hospital to die, she engaged one of her nurses in the middle of the night when she thought no one else was listening and said,
Say, let me ask you, when you see a penny on the ground, do you pick it up?
The nurse answered,
No, not usually.
Her patient replied,
Well, do me a favor from now on and pick it up, because it has a very important message…
and she was off with the story of good news again. If there seem to be fewer pennies on the ground in Lafayette these days, you’ll know why.
We also heard our grandmother pray in faith. She knew that so many of the people with whom she spoke did not believe. She could only pray for them, and so she did, often with tears. My siblings, my cousins, my children, my nieces and nephews, and I are the beneficiaries of so many of those prayers. Her testimony and witness was fueled by fervent prayer. Now, her voice on earth as a witness has fallen silent in death.
It was quite a sight to see most of the 51 sets of great-grandchildren’s eyes peering intently over the edge of Grandma’s grave as the workers lowered the vault with her body in it (and she would want it to be known that she insisted on the cheapest casket we could get, which was a $445 pine box because she wanted her money going to the things that would endure!). Through that ceremony, the truth of the Scriptures was set forth regarding life, death, and resurrection, so that the faith of those present might be strengthened that day, the same faith that dwelt first in their grandmother Lois.
The new generation, like Timothy of old, must also be reminded that this faith is not merely to dwell in us; it must go out from us. In our various callings in life, we must all be reminded
to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:6-7).