The Lord Is My Shepherd
Hands tell a story. I know mine do, gnarled and scarred by a lifetime of fighting my way through this world. My grandmother’s hands told a story too; a soft and gentle story and at the same time a story of pain and sorrow and the kind of strength that only comes from taking up a cross and following Jesus.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” was as much of the Bible as she was able to make me set to memory the first summer I stayed with her. As hard as she tried and as determined as she was that I would learn all the curly lettered verses she underlined, I was equally determined not to. Being younger and stronger and hard headed, in the end I only ever learned the first five words. She loved me anyway, and went right on trying to get those curly lettered verses into me that summer and the next summer and every summer I went to stay with her.
I remember climbing those wooden steps my grandpa built. With my suitcase in hand, the smell of roses and azaleas swirling about in the warm summer sun, I would wave goodbye to my mom and dad. I sometimes wish I had breathed a little more of all that in. But I was a kid.
My grandma’s hands washed me and dressed me as a baby. I saw pictures. She kept memories of all that in a book that we would look at every summer, sitting on the front porch, watching the sun fall asleep and the moon awaken. Those hands fed me too. I saw pictures. And in the summers I stayed with her, they made me cheese toast in the morning, tomato sandwiches for lunch, and stew beef and rice for supper. I remember.
My grandfather, he was there too; but somehow, I remember my grandmother the most when it comes to pictures, cheese toast, the Bible and going to church. Every summer, she took me: Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday night prayer meetings, at least one revival, and all of the Vacation Bible Schools she could find.
Her hands held mine as we climbed the church steps, helping me up when I was small and she was the strong one and knew the way. In the end, it was my hands that held hers. It was my turn to be strong, even though I didn’t know the way; not like she did, up those steps under the steepled roof and into the warm light swirling through stained glass.
She got old too fast, I remember thinking those Sunday mornings as the rising sun was already beginning to set for her. She got old too fast and in part on my account.
She worried over me, and she prayed over me, and she cried over me and she never missed a chance to come see me when I was in prison. When she could find someone to bring her, she would be there. She never gave up on me, even when I gave up on myself. The Lord hadn’t given up on me either and she said so more than once; always asking me if I was reading the Bible she gave me for my birthday. I lied.
That was so long ago and only yesterday, sitting in the shade of a willow tree under the watchful eyes of a trustee. Hand in hand we would talk about the good times we had and those that were coming, but not too fast. Ten years is a long time.
She held my hands that last day too, watching out the window at birds gathered in the feeder I hung on the rusted nail by her rest home window.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” she managed to say using her last bit of strength to squeeze my hand with all of her might.
Eyes closed, I picked up from where she left off; the words she had worked so hard to pour into my heart, now pouring out.
She squeezed my hand a final time, her eyes closed and smiling, a single tear of joy making its way across her face.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
This is a work of fiction dedicated to my grandmothers and to all grandmothers who never give up on us.