My family spent the past weekend enjoying the great outdoors at Camp Swatara in Bethel, PA. We had a lot of fun boating, biking, swimming, and hiking. The weather was wonderful, except for Sunday night when the heavens opened up. Thankfully we had rented a small cabin this year instead of tenting! We sat out on the porch of our cabin watching the rain, when we noticed that the family across the road from us was in a bit of trouble. A few of them were waiting out the storm underneath one of those “EZ Up” canopies that are so popular these days. The canopy was really starting to sag underneath the weight of the rainwater. A few of the family members made a dash for dry ground, but a couple stayed put, including a lady that was undoubtedly the family matriarch.
It was pretty evident that the grandmother wouldn’t (or couldn’t) make the dash. As the two groups of family members (one on a cabin porch, the other under the canopy) discussed what to do, one the younger members under the canopy yelled out “I don’t care, I’m not leaving Grandma!” With that, a group of men rushed out from under the porch roof and stood in the rain, pushing the water off of the canopy so it wouldn’t collapse.
You always take care of Grandma! Witnessing the girl’s conviction regarding her (great?) grandmother reminded me of my own great-grandmother, Mabel Aukamp.
My great-grandparents had an unbelievably close relationship. In fact, when my brother and I were younger we called both of them “Pappygrandma,” because we never saw one without the other. Pap Aukamp passed away when I was 13 (it will be 25 years in September…still feels like it was last week), and soon after that Granny moved in with my grandparents so someone would be able to take care of her when it was needed. As the years passed by her needs increased, and by the time I was in high school I had begun to escort her from her Sunday school class to a pew in the sanctuary for the worship service. By my senior year in high school I started sitting with her through the service as well.
The thing I’ll always remember about those times is that every week Granny was genuinely surprised that I would do that for her. She would often ask “Scotty, are you here for me?” when I’d come into her class, as if I could possibly be there for anyone else. When I started sitting with her she’d ask “Are you sitting with me today, Scotty?” I’d always gently answer “Yes.” (Brief aside – Granny Aukamp and my Grandma Zieber are the only two people on earth who could/can call me Scotty. I hate the nickname, but you don’t correct grandmas!)
Those moments before the worship service began were always times that Granny and I would talk. I would update her on what was happening in my life, and she would do the same. Granny missed Pap terribly, and from time to time she would lament that all she really wanted was to rejoin him in heaven. Granny’s health eventually declined to the point that the pastor served her communion in her pew one week. It really upset her that she couldn’t go up to the alter rail and receive the bread and the cup. I told her that it was fine and that no one would even notice. She simply replied, “Scotty, sometimes I wonder why God keeps me here.” She looked crestfallen, and it broke my heart. Searching for some sort of response, all I could come up with is the truth – “Granny, it’s because He knows that we need you here….I need you here.”
Granny had spent the vast majority of her life taking care of the family, and the last few years of her life the family got an opportunity to return the favor. Exodus 20:12 famously says “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” For some reason when we read this verse we often think that this commandment is for young children. They should obey their parents until they become adults themselves. The reality is that we should honor our father and mother our entire life, and taking care of them as they get older is just one of the ways we can do that.
So there we were, sitting in the pew, neither of us knowing what to say next. Finally Granny turned to me and quietly said, “Scott, take care of the others like you take care of me.” I put my arm around her, gave a gentle hug and replied “I will Granny.”