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Grandmother said, “I believe in you”

Updated: June 10, 2013 2:05PM

I would have been lost had I not found a friend, though it seemed the unlikeliest of friends — my grandmother.

Florence G. Hagler, she was years my elder, gray, “sanctified,” and also a woman. I was young and “knew it all,” not interested in church and, of course, I was a man.

I would have preferred to have as a mentor my natural father, or some man who had endeared himself to me, who had decided to become my mentor and friend. I wished for one of my uncles. But they didn’t. And my father never showed up. Then he was dead.

As a young man, I was once angry and deeply bitter with the world, angry with my mother and father and even with God. As a teenager, I often wondered why God had allowed me to be born into my situation — poor, black, pressured, mistreated, stressed — even as a little boy — about grown-up problems.

I didn’t want to hear anyone, didn’t want to conform to rules, didn’t want to share the hurt I was feeling inside. I decided instead to cry alone at night, until I finally decided I wasn’t going to cry anymore, just be bitter and act like I didn’t care about anything anymore.

That kind of bitterness can turn to rage and rage can destroy all of those around you and ultimately your own life. But Grandmother showed me a more excellent way.

Over time, in conversations, I came to trust her, to develop a relationship beyond grandson and grandmother — as friends. That was possible because I realized that of all the people in the world, Grandmother accepted me for who I was and loved me purely just because. Just because.

I later learned the term “agape,” which is the love of God, unconditional and all encompassing, pure, whole and true. That was her love.

As a man now, I often reflect on my grandmother’s love. And even though she went on to be with the Lord early one January morning 11 years ago, I still feel her love. It is ever with me, ever speaking, ever pulling for me, ever smiling and saying, “I believe in you, John Wesley.”

Grandmother called me a “great man” when I was just a boy. She used to get excited when I signed my name “attorney at law.” Her eyes danced whenever I had won some new award in school.

When I cried, she cried. When I testified in church, sometimes barely able to speak, she stood across the way, lifting her hands and exhorting me to “hold to God’s unchanging hand.”

She spoke life into me, and eventually her love helped begin the mending of hurts of childhood and young adulthood.

Of all the people who have ever and who will ever love me in this world, my grandmother’s love will always be most special because of the love I saw in her eyes for me, a love that made me feel whole.

One of the hard lessons I learned in life is that we have to accept who God sends us. That sometimes what we need does not come from those who ought to give it, or from those from whom we might expect it. Sometimes it comes from unsuspecting, even unlikely people. Yet, it is sufficient for a lifetime.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I can still hear Grandmother’s wisdom above the buzz of her sewing machine, still feel the warmth of her faith and wise counsel as she pounds the dough for a peach cobbler, even after all these years.

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