Big Mama seemed an ironic title, given that I was as tall as she was when I was nine, but this tiny lady had a large personality and even larger faith. They had grown with all the tragedies and triumphs of having 13 kids. In her hospital bed, though, I couldn’t see that. She looked shrunken against the crisp white sheets, and smelled like an old lady, with hints of medicine and too-sweet perfume. I didn’t know my great-grandmother well, but I knew that something special was about to happen.
My dad, his voice tight with emotion, spoke to my little sister and me about the importance of a blessing. He told us of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, of Elijah and Elisha, and though I didn’t quite grasp it, it was clear that this was a big deal to him. He saw at as the promise of God to be with us and to fulfill His plan in us.
Big Mama reached over to my sister and me, laid hands on us and began to pray. As her hand pressed my forehead, I felt God’s fingerprints on my soul. She spoke (prophesied?) of blessings throughout our lives, most of all that we would know God. My dad told us that her blessing would be over us all the days of our lives, and I believed. It has been true.
Yesterday, it was my grandmother, Mema, saying a blessing over my four kidlets. In my childhood memories, her voice always stands out. I hear kindness and firmness combined, and the deep understanding and acceptance that was always a part of her. Her singing voice was pleasant but not remarkable, and she was never loud (I can’t recall her raising her voice, or ever needing to–she spoke with such authority that you knew you needed to pay attention), yet any time I remember the Scripture choruses of my childhood, they come out in her voice.
When Mema prays, things happen. When my dad fell off a roof as a child and was presumed dead, she prayed and he was fine. When Papa’s thumb was cut off, she grabbed the end and stuck it back on and prayed, and he was healed (the family joke was that she stuck it on a little crooked, but his nerves worked perfectly). When my dad broke his leg as a young boy while my grandparents were out of town, she prayed that he would be healed. The doctor took x-rays the next day and was astounded–they showed that the leg had been clearly broken, but the bone was perfectly knit back together. My aunties were unvaccinated, but when chicken pox and measles swept through the schools, they remained untouched. She is probably the only person in the world who could tell me that she was praying for someone who had died to come back to life, and I would expect an immediate resurrection. And now she was praying life over my children.
All four kidlets formed a circle around her, the older two listening intently, the middle one wriggling, snuggling and occasionally practicing ballet moves, and the toddler grabbing my arm and insistently telling us to get up. In the loving, strong voice that echos in my memories of Scripture songs, my grandma laid hands on my children and blessed them. All of her love for them, all of her faith, kindness, generosity and wisdom came through her words and she spoke the blessing of the Lord over the kidlets. Ancient words from Aaron of the Lord blessing and keeping them and making His face to shine on them wove together with prayers from Gospels and the apostles and the cries of her own heart for her family.
Mema told the kidlets of the time before she ever knew God–abandoned by her father, eventually raised by her own grandparents who were atheists. One day, she stood on a bridge, gazing at the water below. At that moment when she felt most alone and despairing, God spoke to her and told her He was with her. She clung to that, and eventually came to know Him. Her eyes held theirs as she testified that the promises of God were true, and that He would never leave them nor forsake them.
I know that there is no magic formula. Simply because their great grandmother laid hands on them and prayed isn’t a guarantee of anything. Sometimes in the US we seem to equate blessings with happiness. From what I understand of the Bible, that isn’t what they are about, at all. The blessings in Genesis were not of the rainbow-farting-unicorn-happily-ever-after variety, but they all showed the faithfulness of God.
Neither of the wise ladies who prayed asked that our lives would be happy or easy. All they asked was that we would know God, and that He would be with us. After all, beyond that, what more is there? I have seen God’s presence with them, and with me, and that is the blessing. I am confident that my children will see Him, too. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous great-grandmother avails much.