Finding God in Sugar-Covered Strawberries

Finding God Abiding comes out three months from today. To celebrate, I’m sharing a chapter which one of my early reviewers told me she loved–despite initially having NO desire to read it, because of the sappy title. (Pun slightly intended.)

Enjoy . . . and kindly consider pre-ordering your signed, personalized copy, which helps me in a lot of behind-the-scenes ways.

Chapter 21

Love never ends. — I Corinthians 13:8

When I was little, my grandmother taught me how to eat a strawberry: after removing the leaves, spear berry with fork, plunge directly into open sugar bowl, pop in mouth, repeat. (It took me years to realize I shouldn’t eat them that way in public.)

Even without the added sugar, my grandmother brought sweetness to so many of my early memories. As the oldest grandchild, I enjoyed the youngest version of her: the grandmother who zipped around town in a Chevy Vega (hot orange, no less), who was always game for a boardwalk roller coaster, and who kept her kitchen stocked with Pepperidge Farm cookies and strawberries ripe for the bowl.

It wasn’t that she’d never known sorrow. In fact, Gram had seen more than her share. Her baby brother perished in World War II and her only son died in his crib. In her fifties, she lost her mother to breast cancer and her husband to cardiac arrest within six weeks of each other. Yet, somehow, those losses didn’t leave a shadow—at least, not one her grandchildren could see. Even after a broken hip at age seventy rendered her fragile, she remained classy, funny, and generous. (“Now, get something you really want,” she always said when taking someone out to dinner; she didn’t want us ordering pizza instead of prime rib just to save her a few pennies.)

The shadow didn’t appear until she turned eighty, when Alzheimer’s began to wage its insidious campaign against her personality. She suffered its assault for seventeen years, dying at age ninety-seven in my aunt and uncle’s home, where she’d lived since it became clear she could no longer be alone.

Hers was a fate most of us dread, yet what strikes me now is how much good Gram continued to do. During those awful years, Gram’s illness became a hub around which many lives revolved, as relatives rallied to provide company and care. For her funeral service, we selected the First Corinthians reading about love because so many of us had become more patient and kind, less self-interested and record-of-wrong-keeping for having been part of the family during Gram’s final years. She lived those virtues until the Alzheimer’s took her volition, at which point she inspired them. The care that flowed back to her was a return of the tide, a response of love to one who had been so steadfast.

Gram’s impact in her decline was not limited to immediate family. One summer during our shore vacation, she was in a phase where she would read aloud anything put in front of her—from fine literature to toothpaste ads—so my mother had packed a book of daily meditations by one of Gram’s favorite saints, Francis de Sales. I spent many afternoons cross-stitching on the couch while she read those beautiful words (and page numbers, and running headers) in her oddly monotone voice. They sank in.

By the end of the two weeks, I had designed a plan for college students to use that book—and, subsequently, others in the series—in a month-long spirituality program that eventually won a national campus ministry award. Each time we ran the program, I made sure my students knew it had been inspired by my grandmother, Mary Florence Reilly: an octogenarian with Alzheimer’s whom God was still using to sweeten everyday life.

Many of us have a great fear of outliving our “usefulness,” but loving my grandmother taught me to measure life’s goodness differently. Whom do you cherish, just for who they are? Bask in imagining being so cherished yourself.


4 thoughts on “Finding God in Sugar-Covered Strawberries

  1. timlicitra7130 says:

    How moving—I cannot express enough how I needed to read this chapter at this point in my life!
    You have continued in the tradition of your grandmother, planting blessings along the way for everyone.
    God bless you!


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