On a Tuesday evening, FaceTime was beckoning for me to answer. My mom and sister were out to visit with my great-grandmother, who had been ill, and I hurriedly swiped right for the opportunity to visit. Rather than experiencing the wave of relief I was expecting, a lump lodged in my throat and tears immediately crept out the corners of my eyes–she was not doing well. With great effort, we exchanged smiles and giggles (tears streaming all the while).

I had the privilege of knowing my Great-Grandma Lillie for twenty-eight of her ninety-seven years on this earth. It is a gift that not many have: to know the generations before them deeply. I could fill pages with memories of time spent with her, but that is not what I want to share right now. 

In her recent passing, I encountered God’s presence like never before. Forgive the morbid question, but I am curious to know if some may be familiar with this experience: have you ever had the opportunity to sit with someone who is near death? If you have, perhaps some of what I share will feel familiar. If you have not, may I attempt to share with you the tender nearness of heaven in a moment that is weighted with our earthly grief.

On Wednesday afternoon, we made the 6.5-hour round trip to visit Grandma for the last time—five generations represented in one room. There was a peace about the air as we walked in, peace palpable in the hallways, but the peace inside her room was unlike any other I have encountered. It was tangibly soft, gentle, and quiet. In all her years, I had never seen my great-grandmother so deeply at peace. We hugged her and kissed her and held her close. She could no longer be with us in the same way we were with her, but just her presence was powerful. I borrowed words from Every Moment Holy, Volume II: A Liturgy for the Final Hours. Together, we approached the throne, she growing ever nearer to it. The peace was even more tangible than before. 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.”

John 14:27

The tears that came following our visit were of a different variety than those that streamed on Tuesday night. Grief now married to this inexplicable peace. The presence of God, who is light and life and light, met the hopelessness and heaviness of losing a loved one.

On the drive home, the glow of twilight met the clouds, and the lightning within them provided a majestic display. I sat quietly lifting my grandma to the Lord, asking for his presence to be with her, his gentleness to guide her into a warm welcome for her heart’s true home, and as I was professing my confidence in him, the clouds parted in such a way to reveal a figure of light kneeling, arms reaching down toward the earth. I held my breath at this visual answer to my prayer—God tending to Grandma in ways that the rest of us could not as she finished the last leg of her race toward heaven. She was nearing the finish line, and she would not cross it alone. 

The next morning, we received the call that our Lillie Jane had passed. We will no longer have the privilege of living in a world with her, but the hope of our hearts is that we will one day be reunited. Until then, we continue in the legacy of her faith and dedication to the Lord, accessing the peace and presence of God and offering it unto others until He welcomes us into our heart’s true home.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul
It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Peyton Marple

Peyton is a part of our Christ’s Church family and serves as Director of Events at our Impact ministry partner, Ozark Christian College.

Far-right is Peyton’s Great-Grandma, Lillie. Center is Peyton, pictured here with her husband, Austin.

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