July 4th is the perfect day to celebrate our freedom. All over this great nation of ours, families and friends are gathering to celebrate the freedom that has been afforded to us by the brave men and women who came before us. People from every walk of life gather today and enjoy being able to share their lives with each other and to share their truth. When we think about freedom, we think about being free from tyranny and strife. We think about being free to say what is on our minds and to worship in the way we choose. However, there is a different type of freedom that we all too often forget and one that is not as evident in our lives as it really should be. That is the freedom to live our lives in the absence of judgment. When we live our lives with an air of judgment, we cannot fully enjoy all the other freedoms that we have in this life. When we live our lives without acceptance of others and ourselves, we truly cannot be free.
July 4th has always been a big holiday for my family. For years, we would gather at my grandparent’s lake house and celebrate the holiday by swimming, skiing, canoeing, and eating BBQ. Each year, as July 4th approaches, I am reminded of my grandma. I am reminded of the work she put into each holiday and how, at times, close to 75 people ascended on her and the hospitality she showed to all of those people over all of those years.
Thinking about my grandma is something I do every single day, but in the past few days, I have felt her presence so strongly that, at times, I actively look for her. Her presence is so strong that I think that I can surely see her. Every time I think of my grandma, different memories emerge and different stories are told, but the story that has been ever present in my mind over these last few weeks is one that I am not sure my grandma told many people. She told the story to me over and over again, and it was not until after she was gone that the significance of that story began to take hold of my spirit.
My grandma was raised in a very strict, religious home. She was born into a family that believed that Christians should follow certain rules. Her family believed that women should not cut their hair, wear make-up, or wear pants or short-sleeved shirts. From the time my grandma was old enough to form an opinion, she fought against these rules. These rules were important to the people whom my grandma loved, but for her they did not seem necessary. I guess one could say that my grandma was a rebel. I laugh to myself when I think about my grandma being a rebel, but as I think about it further, I realize that she actually was.
All of you have come to know my grandma through the many stories and miracles that I have shared on this blog, but one thing I want to make clear is that my grandma did not live a perfect life. She was flawed, and she made choices that were wrong for her and hurt others as well as herself. She, like all of us, had to find her own path in life, and many times she found herself looking in the wrong places, and she found herself in situations that were less than desirable. I do not tell you this to place a stain on my grandma’s memory or to discredit all that God did for her. I tell you this to show you that despite our faults and bad decisions, freedom and acceptance can be found.
By the early 1960s, my grandma was on her third marriage. She was married to the man that she had fallen in love with as a young girl, but through the course of time, had been separated from. My grandma marrying my grandpa Norman was a miracle, one that she told over and over again, but to many people, including some in her family, my grandma was living in sin. She and Norman were married, but to them, because she was divorced, she was, well frankly, going to hell.
My grandma spent many years avoiding church. She believed that most churches would not accept her so she avoided the whole thing. However, she thought it was important to send her girls to church. My aunt and mom went to church each Sunday, but my grandma stayed home. My aunt and mom begged my grandma to go to church with them, and finally she relented and went. She said the first service she attended was nice and she enjoyed it a lot, so she decided that she would go back the next Sunday. This time, when the preacher stood to give his sermon, something very different happened. As my grandma was sitting there listening to the preacher talk, he suddenly stopped and pointed at her and said, “If you want to be a part of this church, you need to go home, pack your bags, and leave that man you are living with and then come back here and throw yourself on the alter and then we might let you be a part of our church.” As you can imagine my grandma was mortified. She was hurt, she was embarrassed, and she vowed that day to never go back to church.
When she relayed the story to some members of her family, they agreed with the preacher and, in fact, one said, “Ruth, I wouldn’t give you a nickel for your soul.” This further intensified my grandma’s disdain for church. Every time my grandma told me this story, she would say, “People thought I was going to hell for loving Norman. I could never understand that. I had no choice but to love him. I was married to him and if loving him meant I was going to hell, well, I guess I was going to hell.” My grandma had no choice. She had to live her life with Norman. She loved him, and she was going to continue loving him and being married to him despite what her family or a church thought.
As many of you know, my grandma did eventually return to church. She found a church that accepted her for whom she was. She told me when she realized that she could have a relationship with God in spite of all she had done in her life and whom she loved, she felt a renewed sense of freedom, and she was never again chained by the lies of unworthiness.
Fast forward nearly forty years later when a young man was sitting at my grandma’s table filled with fear and doubt because he had to share his truth with his favorite person on this planet. He was scared that she would not love him anymore, he was afraid that she would reject him, and he was afraid that she would be disappointed in him. As I sat there at that table and the words, “Grandma, I am gay” came out of my mouth, I wanted to stuff them back in, but it was too late. They had been spoken, and there was no going back. My grandma sat there for a minute and then smiled through her tears and said, “You know, grandma was raised to believe that being gay was wrong. However, I do not have all the answers. I do not know what God really thinks, but I will tell you this, I may not understand how you have to live your life, but I know that I love you and grandma will never turn her back on you. No matter what you do in life, I will always accept you and I will always love you. I will not turn my back on you and neither will God.” And with those words, my grandma and I began a new journey together, one that was laced with truth and one that was full of acceptance and ferocious protection.
That relationship continued until the day she drew her last breath and that scared young man who thought his grandma would reject him when she heard his truth was the only person on this planet who was holding her hand and was in her presence when God came to take her to heaven because, you see, I could not turn my back on her. Talk about a miracle!
I am not certain that my grandma ever drew the comparison between our two lives. I honestly do not think I did until after she was in heaven. We both were judged and rejected because of whom we loved. We both knew what it felt like not to belong because of whom we were and that bond is one of the reasons why we were so close. I was talking about all of this to Jeff the other day and then I started thinking about my grandma’s funeral and began to laugh. My grandma’s funeral was attended by people from every walk of life. I mean every walk of life. Every different type of life was represented in that audience. When I realized that, I said, “Only my grandma!”
You see, she touched every person she met. She showed love and acceptance to every person she encountered, even when she did not understand his life or even agree with it. She knew what it felt like to be rejected, and she never wanted to make someone feel that rejection. That Sunday morning in the 1960s did more for my grandma than I think she really knew. That embarrassment and rejection helped her become a less judgmental and more accepting person. Without that one day in her life, all of the stories I tell could have been much different. So you see, my grandma was right, God can make good come out of every bad situation we face. Nothing new is born without pain, and a new life was born in that church for my grandma. Yes, it caused her pain in the moment, but the new understanding that was born that day produced the fruits of love and acceptance that are still being felt two years after she left this earth.
So the next time you are tempted to stand in judgment of someone or to reject them because you to not understand the way they live or because you do not agree with their choices, I want you to stop and think about a time in your life when you were rejected or cast out and remember how that made you feel and then do what my grandma always said we should do, “Show love”. When we can all show more love and acceptance and less judgment, we will all be freer to live our lives. There will be more freedom in our hearts and it will grow, and there will be more freedom in the hearts and minds of everyone we come into contact with. So, let freedom ring and let peace envelop this nation and this world, because as we all know, PEACE MATTERS!