My beloved grandmother just died. Well, technically, if you want to try to put a label on the relationship, Ginny is my ex-step-grandmother. We have never been related by blood. We haven’t been related by marriage for over 20 years. However, in the family of my heart she is and always will be “Grandmother.” She is beloved to me, and my grief over her death is real and deep. The bonds of love are not defined or confined by blood or law. The Saints of our lives are the people who show us what God’s love looks like, and Ginny was that to me.
Grandmother Ginny always accepted and loved me as a member of the family, a true grandchild in the extended family into which my mother and I married. Like any family, this step-family of mine has had its arguments over the years, deep-seated and old conflicts and hurts. But they are, nonetheless, a loving family, and they embraced me whole-heartedly into their circle of love, with Ginny leading the way in her gracious strength and resolve. At family gatherings, I never felt like a step-relative as I joined the boisterous gang of cousins over whom Ginny reigned, extending her gracious, nurturing love. The depth of her love for her family was unfathomable, and there was plenty of room for me. Yes, this inclusion into the family did also entail being “included” in the arguments, the hard parts, too. But through all that, it meant being loved just for … well, just for nothing except the mere fact of my existence. Un-conditional.
It is from Grandmother Ginny that I learned what un-conditional love looks like concretely, for real. In addition to bloodlines, the harsh lines of religion, politics, and ideology divided Ginny from me, and later the jagged edges of divorce could very easily have done so. Yet Ginny’s love crossed the loaded and charged minefields that lay between us, and remained faithful. We talk about God’s un-conditional love for us in Church, and as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to emulate that love toward all human beings. Lamentably, we are often clueless as to what that might actually mean, what it might actually be like. Our human love is rarely, if ever, a bottomless wellspring. Our love is stunted by the hard and jagged edges of real, messy relationships. Love often perishes in the minefields of life. But in Grandmother Ginny’s constant love for her wayward ex-step-granddaughter, a small drop from God’s gushing fountain of un-conditional love has landed on me, like rain in the parched desert.
It is not easy to love and be loved this way. The concrete, flesh-and-blood reality of un-conditional love requires commitment and real work for us humans. It doesn't look like we like to think it should, confined to the saccharine-sweet realm of convenient warm fuzzies and shallow, painless happiness. It is not simpering and weak, a fragile and lovely little butterfly, but something formidable, with strength, sharp teeth and a grip. More like a Bull-Mastiff. I have felt love’s firm, disciplined grip, full of grace and defying all reason. And I can testify, brothers and sisters, that the glorious rewards of unconditional love are indescribable, beyond our imagining. This Love is what God has made us for and destined us for.