By Joe LaGuardia
My wife’s grandmother–Granny, as she was known–passed away last month after complications from hip surgery. We went back to Georgia to mourn with the family and begin preparing her condo for sale.
We all had a job to do. Some cleaned, others packed clothing. My children went through her pictures and puzzles.
My wife and I had the long task of going through hundreds of books and prayer journals, all while making a “Goodwill” pile and “keep” pile. We also had to thumb through every book because she commented one time that she stuffed money in her books.
After two days of going through her library, we didn’t find money, but we did find the DNA that made up her prayer life and legacy.
Granny was an avid reader and journal keeper. She read and wrote about current events, sports and automobiles, aging and medicine, art, biblical studies, theology, and spirituality. She wrote extensively in margins of her books, highlighted parts that she found compelling or interesting, and wrote questions–about her faith and theology–on little scraps of paper. She put little bookmark tabs on pages that she found inspiring or transformative (or formative).
She also kept three-ring binders of hand-written prayer journals. There were prayers for every occasion, but mostly intercessory prayers for her family–all of the grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren yet to be born. We found one prayer for the baby that my wife held in her womb for nine months. Granny didn’t know the name or the gender, but she knew that even that little life needed her prayers and intercessions.
When we looked through that library, it was as if we were looking through Granny’s soul. I came across many books that I recognized, some that we both read together through the years as we both had a love of spiritual authors contemporary and ancient. Books, like Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer, to those authored by desert mothers and fathers of the faith, the Celts, or local monks at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit who wrote on centering prayer and lectio divina and the like.
It reminded me of the lengthy conversations Granny and I used to have about theology. One time, back in 2003, I was struggling with my walk with Jesus. I was going through seminary and didn’t have the love for the Lord that I once did. I faced bouts of depression at the time, and–knowing Granny’s spiritual gift of discernment–shared my struggles with her during a trip to Florida, where she lived at the time.
She told me about this Catholic priest and author that really made a profound impact on her: Henri Nouwen. She was reading The Way of the Heart, and she thought it might help me with my spiritual malaise. We took a trip to the bookstore and she graciously bought me a copy.
I read it–a small book, no more than 110 pages or so–about one man’s journey through the arid expanse of the soul, an exploration of the spiritual journey through wilderness and silence that led to sacred solitude and a life of prayer, meaning, and trust in the Lord.
The Way of the Heart changed my life; it inspired me a few years later to focus on spiritual formation for my doctoral dissertation in my work with caregivers. I taught on that book at least three times in the church I had served for over a dozen years. It changed other peoples’ lives too.
The books were one thing, Granny’s notes were another. She had a habit of sticking Post-It notes in her books and journals with names of people from her family for whom she prayed. That, and the pages of prayer journals she kept, mapped out a legacy that Granny built with conviction, purpose, and a sense of divine vocation.
She didn’t pray because it was expected of her; she prayed because that was her life’s calling. If every day counted, to be lived out with utter abandon and sacrifice to the Lord, then every prayer counted as well.
My wife spent a few hours one day leafing through those old prayer journals. In one, she noted that Granny wrote of her prayer life: “Who will pray for my family when I’m gone?” It inspired tears in us, as well as a time of reflection of our own need to pray for our families.
The lesson Granny still teaches is important: It is significant to leave behind the fingerprints of intercessory prayer for others to read. It is a comfort to see that choppy, aged hand-written script in books left behind by a lady who sought the Lord in both scripture and the many books she considered sacred. It is profoundly moving to know that even when we were too busy to see her often because we were getting on in our careers, having babies, and trying to pay bills, she had spent all those days rocking in that old glider in the corner of her bedroom, praying for us in her own silent way.
Its a legacy that inspires, that still draws us towards that longing to be with the Lord as intensely as she had known Him. One that still begs the question: Who will pray now that Granny is gone, and how will God’s Word shape us to become the type of angels–the type of angel she became for us in her 85-year sojourn on this earth?
And if you do end up sticking a stash of cash in a book, make sure someone in your family knows the books to which you refer. It will save your children and grandchildren a heap of time.