I had the honor of speaking at my Nanny’s Memorial Service. These were my words:
Today we are here to honor and celebrate the precious life of Edith Stephens. I would guess with confidence, though, that many of you just knew her as “Nanny.” That is what she was to me – my sweet Nanny.
My Nanny was my very best friend, confidant, and spiritual mentor. She was fiercely loving, sweet as can be, but also sassy when needed. She had me laughing until the very end and just a few days ago, she reminded me she was a “tough old bird.” That was one of Nanny’s many signature phrases, but it was true. She was STRONG. Nanny had a strength that could only come from God himself. When life threw storms her way, and it did many a time, she ran to Jesus and didn’t back down, choosing to praise Him even when she didn’t understand. She was a woman who knew her reward was Jesus and never lost sight of that. This was true of Nanny until her very last breath. She was the most remarkable lady I’ve ever known and to be loved by her was a blessing I could never deserve but will never stop thanking Jesus for.
Nanny worked hard at a full-time job through much of her life, yet somehow still found time to be a world-class cook and seamstress. She could cook anything – from scratch – but my favorite was her cheese grits and biscuits and gravy and of course her sweet tea that was 95% sugar, 5% tea. We spent many an afternoon covered in flour making biscuits, but I still can’t make them like Nanny. She made the coziest fires and many of my favorite memories with her took place sitting in front of the fire while she was playing with my hair and imparting the wisdom that only she could. Nanny was grace and dignity personified and beautiful inside and out. I always told her pink was her color and she’d smile and roll her eyes at me. I’ll never forget taking her some of my old size 2 jeans that I could no longer fit into for her to wear since she was getting smaller ..she tried them on and they fit perfect. You would have thought she was 16 years old prancing around in these jeans ranting and raving that she was a size 2.These are the things I will always remember. Her laugh, her spunk, her beauty. She told me just the other day to hang onto all of the good memories we had and I told her that I had enough perfect memories to last my lifetime and not a single bad memory to recall. Many of you here probably feel the same way – it was just impossible to leave Nanny’s presence without feeling uplifted and loved.
Nanny loved the Lord and her family more than anything in the world. Her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were her pride and joy. Nanny would do absolutely anything for you and she told me often, “Caroline, all I know is to give of myself.” What a testimony to the servant hearted woman she was. She always had more of herself to give and those of us who received the gift of her are immeasurably blessed. As I mentioned before, she worked hard all of her life to provide an amazing life for her family and retired shortly before I was born. She had more than earned some rest and probably didn’t imagine that at 63 years old she would begin to watch a 6 week old baby from church a few days a week, but because Nanny was Nanny – when my mom, a new young mom at church needed help during the days while she was at work, Nanny gave of herself once again.
I am just one example of many where Nanny’s gift of love changed a life. I’ve never known life without my Nanny by my side or a phone call away. Truly, she was my everything. I remember pretending to be asleep in the afternoon when I knew it may be time to leave so that maybe my parents would just let me stay the night at Nanny’s. It wasn’t that I didn’t have wonderful parents, it was just that being in Nanny’s presence was my favorite place to be. She made every bad day good and every good day better. We shared so many sleepovers, bedtime stories, and delicious breakfasts that over the years turned into heartfelt conversations, shared celebrations, and an even greater bond. Nanny and I never missed a beat and never let 63 years difference between us keep us apart. We shared it all.
I could go on forever about how amazing my Nanny was and I think what is so special is that many of you could too. She was “Nanny” to so many.
This week as I have been grieving, I have also felt such peace and joy. It’s a strange feeling and I have prayed and asked the Lord – how can I be holding such sadness and joy at the same time? My heart is broken and I struggle to grasp how life can be without my Nanny, while simultaneously having a peace in my heart and a joy knowing she is completely healed in Jesus’ arms. God sweetly reminded me that we can hold both of these – sorrow and joy -at the same time. It is exactly what Christ did on the cross for us – bearing the sorrow of all our sins and the physical pain of his death, yet holding the joy of knowing he was carrying out the Father’s will. And I know, without a doubt, that is what Nanny wants today. For us to holdfast to the truth that we have a Savior – the very Jesus she served wholeheartedly and is with now – and for us to know he is our comfort and joy amidst the pain of loss.
I remember very vividly a conversation about this time last year where Nanny was getting more sick and we prayed together and she said, “Lord, if this is what it has to be .. let it be. I thank you and I praise you and if I ever don’t have the words to thank you, give them to me.” That was Nanny…faithful to the end and now praising Jesus in person as she always did here on the earth. I pray the same today for us – Lord, we thank you and praise you for Nanny and her life that blessed us so much. When we begin to doubt that You are good, remind us that you are and that your plans are perfect. This hurts so bad, Jesus…draw near to us in our pain. We know Nanny is more whole than ever with you, right now, Lord and we thank you for her healing. Amen.”