A Giant In My Life

Annie Lou Henry
May 23, 1898 – November 9, 1980

Annie Lou Henry

Twenty-eight years ago today—five months after we began at Bethlehem—my father’s mother died down in Georgia. For a couple of years she had been having small strokes that kept her more and more confined to her home and then her bed.

During one visit, I sat with her and learned a lesson that helped prepare me for ministry and my own life.

This woman was my grandmother, who had always been part of my life. Though college-educated, she had survived the depression by scratching a living from the Georgia red clay, alongside her husband and children. She outlived her husband (Walter Raleigh Henry, Sr.) by 30 years. She buried one child and raised nine others. She now had so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren that she and God were probably the only ones who knew the number without lengthy calculation.

She had known God’s faithfulness through many kinds of heartbreak and pain and struggle. It was obvious to everyone who knew her that she trusted him for every breath of her life.

One time, one of her daughters told me that Grandmother prayed every day by name for each of her children, their spouses, and their children and grandchildren. Knowing her, I believed that. Aunt Rachel told me that Grandmother had sensed from God an assurance that all of the descendants she knew would be with her in heaven some day. Time will tell whether that is true, but the story is a strong testimony to her faith in God and her closeness to him.

Now this giant in my life—this shrunken 91-year-old giant—lay in bed and wondered if she were really a Christian.  Surely, she thought, if my faith were true and strong, God wouldn’t have let me come to this—too sick and weak to get out of bed. Maybe, she thought, my whole life has been a lie.

I was aghast. How could she say such things? I hardly knew what to say, but I assured her that her life told me a different story. I tried to point her back to the God she had always told me about, the God in her favorite passage of Scripture—the passage all of us grandchildren had memorized whether or not we wanted to, because we heard it so often from Grandmother:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of  the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

Here is the lesson I learned that day. Though Satan is never stronger than Jesus, he may seem stronger when we become weaker. When we are weak and sick and old, we may be the most vulnerable of any other time in our lives. And considering that our enemy is wily as a serpent waiting for an opportune moment to strike, perhaps the saints who have remained the strongest throughout life face the greatest temptation when finally they are weak. 

I write about Grandmother today for 3 reasons:

  1. Every one of us is older than we used to be, and as more time passes, we will probably become weaker. We need to be on guard against the sneaky lies of our enemy.
  2. We know or will know someone who needs encouragement when life closes in and he or she loses sight of the God who has been known well and trusted deeply until now.
  3. As someone we love draws closer to death, we must never give up praying that God preserve faith strong to the end.

And I—now a grandmother myself—urge you to hide this assurance in your heart:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”