Today is All Saints Day. Last year I began a new tradition for me. I would look back through the years and take notice of those who influenced me in my walk with Christ. This year I want to honor a dear saint of God who had a powerful influence upon me - my grandmother, Lorena McIlwain. Every time I go back home to visit the church of my childhood the pastor, Brother Lester Pope, always mentions her and speaks of her faithfulness to support the church when he was a young pastor.
My grandmother was not perfect. She is pictured here with my grandfather, Bentley McIlwain, as their 55th wedding anniversary celebration. She had moments of grumbling and complaining, so much so that grandpa would leave the house and set up a cooking pit outside to cook the evening meal.He wanted to get away from her fussing. We had lots of laughs about those times. She loved to talk and could talk too much at times. However, life was NEVER boring when you were in her presence. She never met a stranger.
Grandma was a person of strong faith. She was faithful to the things of God. She was a pioneer in the holiness movement when that brand of Christianity came into Choctaw County, Alabama in the 1930s. She and my grandpa lived on the Tombigbee River near a place called Lenoir's Landing during the rise the holiness movement. Some of the pioneering holiness preachers such as Comer Breland would swim the river and spend the night with them at their home. She told me about the old brush arbor meetings. Brush arbors were made with tree limbs propped up on a frame to provide a shelter when there wasn't a church building available to have a worship service.
I lived across the road from her as a young child and teenager. I would sit with her by the huge picture window and listen to her talk and tell me about the one room schoolhouse she attended and the games she played in school. They played a game called Cat Ball. They took string and wrapped it around a cork and played various catch games with it. She loved adding numbers, but didn't like algegra very much.
I would bring gospel records over to play on her stereo console. I remember her singing alto harmony on such classics as Where Shall I Be? She faithfully read her Sunday School lesson and studied her Bible. I remember now with tears in my eyes as she me about the night her younger half brother, Doc Lewis, got saved and gave his life to Christ. She said he stayed up all night after that happened reading the gospel of John.
When she was too ill to attend church she emphatically insisted that we take her tithe check to church. She honored God with her money. She was honest about some of her regrets and failures and expressed to me during our summer talks (which was mostly her doing the talking) how she wished she had done some things differently. Her regret was not that of depression or hopelessness. It was honest confession. She had a strong faith in Christ and His saving work upon the Christ on her behalf.
One of my most precious memories took place when I was in my senior year of high school in the Spring of 1985. Our church was in the midst of revival meetings. At the end of one of the evening worship services I had walked to the back of the church. The closing prayer had been prayed and people were visiting with each other as they prepared to leave the sanctuary. Our pianist, Randy McKee, stopped me and said, "Look, your grandma is getting blessed." I turned around to see her at her usual place on the third row on the right side. She had her hands raised in worship. Tears were streaming down her face. She was caught up in worship and was oblivious to the fact that the worship service was had ended. She contined to worship the Lord for a while.
This attitude was the way she ended her journey here on earth. She was stricken with leukemia and spent time in the hospital getting bone marrow treatments and blood transfusions. She never complained. Many nurses admired her for her ability to withstand a high amount of pain. Ministers would come to the hospital to visit with her and pray with her. Most people who visited with her would always say that they came to cheer her up, but they left the hospital room cheered and encouraged by her upbeat attitude and her heart of worship toward the Lord. When people would go to conclude the visit with a prayer she would, in old fashioned Pentecostal style, pray out loud with them. Her prayers were always filled with shouts of thanksfulness and worship.
I'm thankful for the influence my grandmother had upon me. I think of her often. I miss her, and look foward to being reunited with her in the Kingdom of Christ either in Heaven or when He returns to usher in His glorious rule and reign here on earth.