For as long as I can remember, going to my grandparents house was synonymous with being around Jesus. They prayed at meal times like most families, but they also prayed whenever something was needing prayer. They prayed during a nightly family devotional (and I mean... every. single. night. without fail). They prayed whenever they just wanted to talk to Jesus.
Don't get me wrong- we weren't sitting around all day in Christian meditation… my grandparents were both hard workers down in the Valley of Texas on their citrus farm. Theyknew the value of sweat, and when we went down to visit, our weeks were flavored with both a bunch of fun, a little bit of farming, and a lot of Jesus.
Now, my grandfather was a southern baptist preacher. A good sort- the kind that'll try to snatch your soul outta' hell on a Sunday morning and work alongside ya all week long. And they say that behind every good man you find anamazing woman. And that woman is my Mamaw, Dora Maye Todd.
She was born in Grand Saline, Texas in 1922 (yep… she just had her 90th birthday!), grew up, went off to Baylor and married my grandfather when she was almost 21.And then they gallivanted all over Texas… with Papaw becoming a pastor at a few different churches and Mamaw supporting him in the ministry of a Pastor's wife.
Lately Mamaw has been speaking a lot about family. She told me a few weeks ago when I asked her what's most important in life… "Faith and Family".
And then she proceeded to talk at length, in a particularly lucid moment for a 90 year old woman, about how family is the thing that makes you into who you are, and aside from Heaven, it is the most important thing in your life. She then related the heart breaking story of how she accepted Christ. I've heard it so many times, and each time it rocks me to the core. I've taken this account that includes all of the details from her book My Legacy and My Memoirs.
The week before my ninth birthday, our parents let my sister Johnnie Allene and me sit together by ourselves in church. Johnnie Allene was now five years old. She was a very precocious child who loved music and had begun kindergarten activities under Aunt Maude and Mama's tutorage. She was proving she was big enough to sit by me. As the service was coming to a close, she stepped beside me during the invitation hymn and asked me to go to the front and join the church with her. I grabbed her hand and held her back, saying to myself that she didn't understand. But in reality, I knew if she went then I, too, had to go trust Jesus for myself and make it known to everyone that I wanted Him to be in charge of my life.
The next week Daddy was to take the band to Myrtle Springs for the summer entertainment program they were having by the pool. Parents would be taking their cars loaded with band members. Mama had been ill with a back ache and was debating whether we should go with the band. Johnnie Allene and I had no question in our minds! We wanted to go. Finally Mama decided she would go with us. We grabbed our swim suits and were ready to go! We took a couple of the band members. Daddy wanted us to wait until after the band finished playing,then he would go swimming with us. We began begging him to let us go as soon aswe got there. Finally Mama said she would sit beside the pool watching us. Daddy agreed we could go. That was a real treat for there was no swimming pool in Grand Saline.
Having just celebrated my ninth birthday a day or so earlier, I felt I deserved the privilege of going into the intermediate pool for older and taller children. I cautioned Johnnie Allene to stay in the kiddie part of the pool, and I moved into a bit deeper water and began playing with the children there. Soon Johnnie Allene came toward me, and I warned her to go back, but I did not go with her and continued playing. Soon Mama called me to come where she was sitting. She had been visiting with some teachers whom she had not seen in years. All she wanted from me was to know where Johnnie Allene was? I pointed to the spot where I had seen her last as she ventured into deeper water. The alarm was given and everyone began looking for her. A very kind lady went with me to put on my clothes. She purposefully kept me in the dressing room while they dragged the pool and finally sent for a "pullmotor" with the hopes they could resuscitate my little sister. Nothing did any good.
I had failed to keep my promise to watch her. I returned home under a cloud of sorrow and conviction of sin. If I had been the one to drown, I knew that I was not saved; I was lost! I kept remembering holding Johnnie Allene so she couldn't go publicly trust Christ. I cannot begin to tell you all I thought and felt. Throngs of people came to offer their sympathy. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and my Grandmother Luce came to stand beside us. Two cousins stayed with me a month to help me through one of life's darkest times. No one knew the load of guilt I carried, yet I never turned to my folks nor did I seem to know how to share my problem with the Lord for I knew I needed his Salvation and comfort.
Gradually, I got used to the idea that Johnnie Allene was living in Heaven, but I would not accept that it was forever. When I felt very alone, I would pretend she was playing with her playmates at the neighbors, but I could not get away from my guilt.
Some months later during a revival, my Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Edith Dixon, saw my hurt and my need. One Sunday when my friends were trusting Jesus, Mrs. Dixon put her arm around me and asked me if I didn't want to trust Jesus myself? I answered, "I'll have to go ask Mama." I moved out to go to Mama who was in the next section, but as I moved out, I realized this was to be my decision, and I turned to go forward to confess Christ as my Savior. As I turned toward the front to make my decision known, it seemed a load was lifted, and I felt Satan leaving as Christ's love covered me. This experience changed my life, and although Satan continues to seize each opportunity to attach at my weakest spot, "I know in whom I have believed and am grateful no person can pluck me away from Christ and His protecting love."I asked her, "How does a young girl move past such devastation?" Her answer: Christ. and family.
Over and over throughout the years, I have seen her live her belief that these two things would hold her life together. And she has been amazing at marrying the two things together: her family was led to follow Christ in all of its decisions, and her devotion to Christ led her to love and cherish her family above all else.
And just a few days ago, even as she sat in her room fighting off an infection, she followed this up with a sweet message to my mother and my aunt as they were visiting her…
"Take care of each other. Because when you are taking care of each other you are taking care of me."Sounds a bit like Christ, doesn't it?