Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wednesday Wonder - Esther A. Gilbreath, aka Grandma

Grandma was raised in Glory, Minnesota, and on this date eight years ago she was raised up for eternity in GLORY.
Undoubtedly named after the Biblical Queen of Persia, Grandma inherited quite a legacy. And she left a legacy of her own in four children, ten grandchildren, and twelve (so far) great grandchildren, one of whom is her namesake.
I just started Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham Jr., and in the first chapter he writes the phrase "multigenerational faith" about twelve times. He introduces he and his wife by saying, "Ours is a picture of systemic multigenerational dysfunction." And then a few pages later Voddie writes, "I am a father with a desire to see his family characterized by multigenerational faithfulness."
A beautiful passion.
One that Grandma shared, and the rippled effects are felt in my own home.
We didn't talk on the phone regularly, but Grandma would call me every now and then during my Baylor years to tell me "I pray for you every day, little Tonya."
She continued that trend with all the grandkids, and didn't seem scared or discouraged when a family member strayed from the Lord. She loved each of us deeply and simply expected God to get our attention and pull us to Him in His time.
Grandma was the typical American grandma - at least typical to me. Southern Baptist to the core, she knew her Bible well. I remember her surprise when as a young adult I wasn't familiar with Isaiah 40. "Oh Tonya, it's the most wonderful passage: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles..."
I hastily went home and memorized the majestic verses.
Grandma was "fluffy" enough for a child to snuggle up her lap and feel safe. I recall a perpetual aroma in her kitchen of freshly baked pies or AMAZING homemade Sweedish bread ("Caca bread" is what she called it, but unfortunately that doesn't translate so well in South Texas).
When I share about God's work in my life, I always start by saying that my "story" didn't start in 1972, but instead generations ago, as far as I know, on both sides of my family. Without having read the entirety of Voddie's book, the message is critical and necessary, as it is a marvelous thing to be raised in the shadow of one's parents, grandparents and ancestors' faith. I claim Psalm 16:6 with gratitude: "The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me."
One of the first times Corbin met Grandma was at a Gilbreath family reunion. Newly engaged, we joined about forty aunts, uncles, and cousins at a hotel in San Antonio. At the end of the colorful weekend, everyone crowded onto a small covered porch bidding hugs and good-byes, promising to see each other soon. My brother Trey seized an opportune moment as Corbin hugged Grandma to walk past them and goose Grandma's rear. Grandma's gasp silenced the crowd, and Trey exclaimed, "Corbin!" Grandma looked at my future (deer in headlights!) husband with smiling, piercing eyes and said, "Corbin, I knew that was you!"
Corbin was either too embarrassed or simply didn't have the heart to reveal the true prankster, but before he managed to escape to the safety of our car, my spirited Granny (dad's mom) walked past Corbin and whispered, "You're gonna have all the old ladies walking past you now."
An example of Grandma's resourcefulness and practicality is the Christmas Grandpa cut the top of his head in his carpentry shop. After showing the wound to Grandma, he spent the rest of the Christmas holiday with a thick maxi-pad bandage attached to the top of his head. I was in junior high at the time and could have died from embarrassment. (If you're following these posts with any regularity, you're figuring out there's a pattern with my family and creative solutions with Christmas-time injuries....)
I could go on and on with comedic and precious memories. My dad could also insert some amusing stories regarding the whole Bush/Gore presidential race in 2000, but I'll leave him to comment on that if he chooses...
As her health began to fail, Grandma prayed that she would just "fall asleep and wake up in the arms of Jesus." And she did. Two days after Branson's first birthday, Grandma closed her eyes and went to be with her Lord. She died at home in her own bed, and it was a beautiful example to all of us not only of a life well lived, but of a graceful, hopeful passing.
I wrote and read the following poem at Grandma's lovely memorial service:

Dear Grandma,
I see Him holding you gently now
Cradling you in His arms
Stroking your forehead tenderly
As He has been all along.

You're in the strong arms of Jesus
He took you in your sleep
Just as you'd requested of Him
A very special promise to keep.

I see Him holding you gently now
Whispering in your ear
He's so excited for you to see
Your crown and home He's prepared.

You're in the strong arms of Jesus
He holds you so proud, so dear
Calling 'round so many family and frinds
"Come and look - Esther's here!"

What a sweet reunion as
An old friend kisses your cheek
Loved ones giving you "welcome home" hugs
And look there - could it be?

Grandpa ready with his wide, shy grin
He's been so patient to wait
And now that he's got you, he's not letting go
Oh - how you've missed that embrace!

Nothing could be sweeter
Than to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
Your whole life you looked forward to this time
To be in His temple evermore.

And are in the strong arms of Jesus
It's with praise and thanksgiving we know
That God's love you planted in us
Will continue to multiply and grow.!

We miss you, Grandma, and are forever indebted to your life and love for Jesus. We honor and remember you today especially... and until we see you again, Corbin is anxiously awaiting your hot-out-of-the-oven rhubarb pie!

** Look for my Wednesday Wonder posts (most weeks!) - please forgive the cheesy name - as I highlight inspiring friends and people in my life... enjoy! **