Saturday, October 19, 2013

Remembering Grandma Ding Dong

It has been about a year now since my grandma passed away. Here is the message I gave at her funeral.
I am pretty sure that anyone here who is not connected to the family wonders how this sweet elderly lady got the nickname of “Grandma Ding Dong”. Apparently I am the sole source of the name. The story goes that when I was just a toddler, we would go visit grandma and one of the cool features of her house was that she had a crazy collection of clocks. And at the top of the hour you would be fully entertained as all these clocks would go off. As a young child, this provided an endless cycle of 59 minutes of building expectation and then a climactic explosion of sounds for at least a minute. I must have loved this so much that the very things attached to grandma’s walls became for me the sole way of identifying her. Thus came the nick name “Grandma Ding Dong”.

 As I grew up with my brother and sister, we would continually make trips down to Cincinnati to visit Grandma Ding Dong. With every visit, Grandma was sure to make sure we would experience Cincinnati. We would order LaRosa’s pizza. Then she would take us out to dinner at Montgomery Inn. Now this was typically a very big treat more so than now. The reason being was because my grandfather was good friends with Ted Gregory and was instrumental in giving Mr. Gregory his first loan to start his very own restaurant. With that history in mind, the Gregory’s never forgot about that relationship so whenever Grandma would take us to one of the now world famous restaurants, we would get the red carpet treatment. No waiting in lines, we would be seated immediately and have drinks and appetizers brought out to our table, and the feasting would begin. We were always impressed with her connections especially with Montgomery Inn. And I even still remember the times that Grandma would take us to King’s Island back in the days when Paramount owned it. Unlike my dad, grandma was never too old to hit the roller coasters with us. I remember being amazed that she actually went on the Beast with me when it first came out.

 Over the years though, grandma struggled with some addictions. These addictions took their toll on her as alcohol would bring out a dark side to her that often would lead to damaged relationships. As grandchildren we might have caught glimpses of this by seeing the pain and frustration in was taking on our parents. But if there is one thing that can be said about the women on my mom’s side of the family, it’s that no matter how they lived their lives, they seemed to defy all rules of health and logic and still live forever. My great-grandma lived well into her 90’s with a diet of fried chicken and ice cream. She lived in a 3rd floor apartment and continued to work at a movie theatre that used to be over by Kenwood Mall up till the time that she passed away. Grandma Ding Dong, at times in her life, smoked like a chimney, drank like a sailor, and had the temper and biting sarcasm of Marine sergeant.

 But once again, defying all logic, Grandma took the old adage of “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and just turned that one completely upside down, because in her later years in life, she had a dramatic softening of the heart. I attribute this to the faith of our entire family and the fact that God is always in pursuit of us. We worship a God that does not ever give up on us no matter what. I know from working in ministry that there are times where you just want to wash your hands of some people and convince yourself that you tried to help as much as you could, but it is a hopeless cause. Luckily, we worship a God whose love is relentless and never, ever gives up on anyone no matter what. What we have seen in the life of Grandma is that God came into her life and restored her life, rebuilt a community of love and affection around her, and helped her let go of the things that held her in bondage.

 One of the final victories in her life was during the time that my dad was diagnosed with a brain aneurism. He had to go through a very complicated surgery that he very well may not have survived. Grandma told me after the successful surgery and recovery that she made a deal with God. If God would be willing to allow dad to make it through this surgery, she would be willing to give up smoking for Him. And wouldn’t you know it, she did just that. She dropped that most difficult habit that held onto her for decades like it was nothing.

 Grandma Ding Dong will be missed. But we know because of our faith, that it is only a temporary departure. One day we will all be reunited and brought into the kingdom of God. Jesus came to restore all things back to the way they were meant to be. He continually transformed people’s lives by taking away whatever was considered “unclean” in their lives and bringing them back into community with others. And he continues to do that today through the power of God’s Spirit.

 So if there is one thing you can take away from today’s memorial service it is this: God loves you, from the moment you were conceived, His love has been pursuing you, and he is calling you into a relationship of healing, restoration and wholeness. He has been calling you and me into a relationship the way it always was meant to be. You can fight it. You can ignore it. You can deny it. But the reality is that He never gives up on us. And when we finally come to terms with that and accept that, then we discover what it means to be in a right relationship with God and with others. And it is then, that we realize that we would never want it any other way.

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