It seems fitting to break my six month leave of blogging by talking about my sweet Grandma who, at the time I’m writing this, has spent eight glorious days with Jesus. Though, knowing her, she would rather me talk about my missions trip over talking about her, because that’s just the way she was: always diverting the conversation away from herself and back onto you. I can’t express to you how strange it is that she is gone. Over the past few years, I’ve dealt with a lot of friends and distant family passing on, but nothing has hurt as much as this. But, though there is a tremendous amount of grief that is weighing on my heart, there is a sense of peace at the same time.
I do have to talk about my Romania trip a little bit after all. I had known the Sunday night of our trip (Sunday morning Kansas City time) that both Grandma Wolff and my Great Grandmother weren’t doing well. At our team meeting that night, I asked for prayer for both of these wonderful ladies to be out of pain and peace for my Dad, who was the only son and grandson in town to deal with it all. As I prayed to myself as I lulled off to sleep, I prayed not only for their pain to be relieved, but also that no one would die while I was out of the country.
I felt very selfish praying like this, but this had been my biggest fear before leaving on my trip. A week before we left, our team had it’s final meeting to practice and get all the last minute details. Up until 10:30am that day, I had felt great! I was so excited to travel and see God work. I had had no worries about anything up until that point. But an hour and a half into the meeting while we were sitting in small groups, a spirit of fear that I had never experienced before washed over me. One of the adult leaders was sharing her testimony, and part of it was that her father had died when she was 13 years old. I began to have horrible thoughts about something bad happening to my dad while I was gone, and my thoughts then shifted to thinking about Grandma dying while I was away. After the meeting, I went home and sobbed; I had never been that scared.
Over the next few days, I talked to God and ultimately gave my fear over to Him: if something happened while I was gone, there was nothing I could do about it. God has His own timing. A week after my panicked episode, I had my graduation party, where many friends and family, including Grandma and Grandpa, came to stop by and congratulate me. As I laid in my bunk in Romania, I thought about how I week before, I had hugged her and taken a photo with her. She was gonna be fine; we’d had scares before. I finally drifted off the sleep, still praying for pain to be relieved, but to please Lord, let me see my Grandma again.
The next morning, the fear that had been crippling to me came true. I woke up to hear one of my team leaders talking quietly to my sweet friend Avery, and I knew something was wrong. When the leader left, I sat up, trying to decide whether to call my mom or just get the news there. I ended up going with the second. I asked my sweet friend Avery, “Who’s gone?” She climbed up to my bunk and told me the news. She held me and together, we cried. Looking back on this moment, Avery reflected a lot of what Grandma’s life’s work was all about. Grandma was the sort of person who hurt with her friends and was there for people in need. In dark times, she was a light to those who needed it.
Calling my parents was hard, because I realized that the first part of my fear had come true. My dad was the one at home helping my Grandpa deal with the passing of his mother. He was hurting deeply, more deeply than I could imagine. After hanging up the phone, the only thing I wanted to do was go home, but I was an ocean away and wasn’t heading home for three more days. Thankfully, Grandma’s loving spirit was reflected in my teammates yet again. As we fellow shipped together, friends were there to cheer me up and distract me from the many negative emotions I was feeling. Romania is a beautiful place, and I knew that Grandma would be mad if I let her ruin my last few days enjoying God’s beautiful creation.
Looking back on the fear that I felt before the trip, I know that the fear wasn’t from God, but I do believe that God used that episode to prepare my heart to let go. A lot of our human experience is about letting go. In fact, Jesus said to be able to follow Him, you are to sell everything, take up your cross and follow His lead. Death for those who know God is wonderful; it’s us left on Earth that deal with the bad part of death. We’re the ones who have to live on while our loved one is living a pain and sadness free eternity. It’s bittersweet: we are left with a hole that can’t be filled by anyone else, but we can find peace in knowing that they are enjoying the presence of Jesus.
While there have been moments of anger that have come to my mind, they have been followed my moments of thankfulness. The thoughts of “I wish I had talked to her longer; hugged her more; spent just a few more minutes with her” are followed by thoughts of joyful memories that help relieve the heartache. I am thankful for a God who shares in out pain. It’s okay to be angry and sad; Jesus had those emotions too. But I have comfort in the fact that Jesus is also the giver of joy and will lift us up out of our darkest moments. While I will never understand the will of God, I know that He had me where I was and where she was for a specific purpose. I don’t need to know all the details because He’s already got the rest of them figured out (though, there are times I want to know those details, in which cases, God is ever patient with me).
Susan Wolff’s life shaped the lives of my Dad, my Mom, my brother, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, cousins, teachers, thousands of students, church goers, Nebraska Furniture Mart humans, friends from missions trips, and me. It’s not too often that you meet a woman like her. A word that was said a lot at her funeral was “legacy”, which, man, she has a great one. It is the job now of us left here to complete our own races to carry on the Christ like love that Grandma had for others. Knowing Susan Wolff as a Grandma was one of the greatest gifts God could have given to me, and I pray everyday to live a life like hers.
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Until Next Time,
Below, I have added the blurb I shared at her funeral.
How does one begin to describe the life of Susan Wolff? Some called her a friend, a sister, or Mom, but I had the great honor of calling her “Grandma”. In fact, I was the first to call her Grandma. From birth to my college graduation, Grandma was there as a beacon of light that couldn’t be replaced by anyone else. Over the past 18 years, I was influenced by her many talents, her strength, and most importantly, her Godly personality.
Grandma was one of the most giving people you could ever meet. As I was growing up, if I expressed interest in something, she found a way to help me succeed in it. When I decided that I wanted to be a writer, she gave me my first laptop, which I wrote dozens of stories on. She also gave her time, going to see almost all of my musical theatre productions and even taking me to see the Broadway tour of War Horse for my birthday. Between the seven “Wolff Pups”, she made sure to have special moments that we would remember for years to come. If there was a way for her to give, she would do it with a joyful heart.
Photography was one of Grandma’s favorite things. At any family gathering or event, you could bet that she had a camera in her hands. Over the years, I have received many mini digital cameras from her, and it was always a thrill to get to use Grandma’s Big Fancy Camera. The love for photos that Grandma inspired was passed down to her daughter-in-law, my mom Rachel, who in turn passed it along to me. As I study photography in college, I can’t help but remember the times when Grandma handed her camera off to my 13-year-old self to let me start exploring the fun she experienced behind the lens. It’s a joy to capture memories, and Grandma was always good at making sure those moments got caught.
The most important thing that Grandma passed along to me was her Christian heritage. As far back as I can remember, I can hear Grandma singing praises as she drove down the highway or bustled around the kitchen. Man, she loved to sing. I know that she has to have been doing it much longer than I’ve been on this Earth, because my dad, Chad, does the same thing. Every Christmas, she would have all the kids sit down and read the story of Jesus’s birth, and every year without fail, she would say, “And that was only the beginning.” Her passion for mission work inspired me to pursue a life that is a light to others, whether stateside or in Romania. Her love for Jesus was what fueled her strength to battle her sickness and encourage others to live life to the fullest. I’ve yet to find someone who loved Jesus more than Grandma.
There are thousands of other memories that I could share about my Grandma, some including precious stuffed dog Pepper when I was a baby, matching Oreos in the hospital while waiting for my brother to be born, playing Veggie tales games on her school computers, waving at her in the stands as I got ready to graduate, and the many, many Silver Dollar City trips. But nothing is more important than the Godly legacy she has left her on Earth that I and everyone who was touched by her life have the privilege of carrying on. I feel very blessed to be one of the select few that has the gift of calling Susan Wolff their Grandma. I hope to live a life like hers as I grow in my friendship with Christ in the time that God has set out for me. I know for a fact that if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and for that, I am eternally grateful.