Celebrate Seniors · Cherish our Elders · Faith Formation · God's Love · Uncategorized

Just As I Am

photo courtesy of Pexels

It was circa late 1970’s.  I was lying on the multi-colored shag carpet in my parents’ living room in Bloomington, Minnesota, with my head propped up on a giant floor pillow and  my eyes glued to the TV.   My beloved grandma was over at our house, too, which she often was.  To me, whenever she was there it was a special occasion even if it was just an ordinary day.  But this day, like so many others,  really was special.  We were tuned in to the “Billy Graham Crusade.”

Even at my young age, I had come to really look up to the Reverend Billy Graham.  I was introduced to the teachings of Christianity as a little one, taken to church and attended Bloomington Lutheran elementary school all the way up until eighth grade.  I accepted Jesus into my heart in Kindergarten.  I became so certain of the Truth of God’s Word at age five or six that I was determined to become a mini-evangelist in my own right, telling other kids I met in my neighborhood about God’s son Jesus, and how He loved each and every one of us!  And Billy Graham was the Evangelist par excellence! So when he came on the tube, this was serious!  He spoke the Truth.

Usually when these crusades were on TV, mom, grandma and I would gather in our living room and tune in for the entire broadcast. We would hear everything from the sermon, the music- including the low baritone voice of George Beverly Shea singing some familiar spirituals up until the final “altar call” where the reverend would invite folks to come forward, meaning they were making a declaration that they needed Jesus.  Every sermon, without fail, would come to a close as the melody of “Just As I Am” began to play and he would instruct, “Those of you in the back.  Begin making your way down front.  The buses will wait on you.”   As I watched and listened to that booming and persuasive, yet sincere voice fill our home, I would often glance back at grandma.  She would nod her head in agreement to so many of his statements.  For a girl so close to her grandma, this made a huge impression.

Grandma had faith.  She didn’t always go to church.  Although at times, when my mom was little, she would walk with her to a neighboring one.  Grandpa was raised in a Catholic Church, I believe, but in later years didn’t go.  He did not object to grandma going to a Protestant Church and taking my mom with her.  I’m so glad he didn’t.  After grandpa died when I was four years old,  grandma would come with us often to the Lutheran Church we belonged to.  One of the things she always used to say was, “You don’t have to be a member of a church to be a Christian.”  And of course that is true.  In my grandma’s case, she lived out her faith simply and quietly everyday.  Something I can say about my parents as well.

Grandma was kind.  Feisty, to be sure, but good and kind as well.  She believed in hard work, the rolling up your sleeves and getting your  hands dirty kind of work.  An avid gardener, she spent hours out in the hot unforgiving summer sun weeding and pruning her beautiful flower gardens.  She never complained, just did what was required of her day in and out as she cared for her home for the many years she outlived her husband.  She loved her family, spoke with her daughter every day even though mom had a family of her own and lots of irons in the fire. They would often talk at 10:30 each night when grandma was watching “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” on TV and rewarding herself with her nightly glass of beer after a hard days work.

I always knew grandma was on my side.  She was my biggest cheerleader.  She loved me and took great delight in watching me twirl my baton or twirl around her living room as she sat in her rocking chair.  She was the only one I was NOT too embarrassed to dance freestyle in front of.  She would choose a record to play in that gigantic console player- often the Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, or Dolly Parton were the choice du jour-and sit back in her rocker watching me go to town making up goofy dance routines.  This  would cause her to clap her hands and squeal with delight.  Usually some fresh, delicious gingerbread or sugar cookies were sure to follow.   I knew she loved me for real.  Unconditionally.  A “Just as I am” kind of love.

Me and grandma

I don’t remember her ever talking in detail or at length about her faith.  I just knew it was there.  One remark she made has stayed with me until this day.  Grandma was over at our house to watch me one time because I was sick and mom had to go somewhere.  I was sitting on our rust-colored built-in sofa that my dad had made.  Just sitting there in my pajamas reading the Bible.  She came up to me, and seeing what I was reading, remarked. “That’s the way to do it, Valerie. (although she would make my name two syllables, more like “Val-ree”. Just another endearing factoid) You just keep right on a-reading that book. Best thing you could ever do.”  I really took that to heart.

And so, watching Billy Graham was special for us.  For me, I couldn’t hear the simple message enough.  God created the world, and it was good.  The first humans, Adam and Eve sinned.  This is why we live in an imperfect, broken world.  But God, who loved us so much and had a plan for our lives,  sent his Son to the earth to die on the cross.   He took away all of our sins, died, was buried and rose again from the dead.  so that we might have eternal life.  I could never tire of hearing that God loved even me. Me! Broken and mistake-prone that I am, that we all are.  Hearing on those nights that God saved me- while sitting with mom and grandma, two faithful Christ-followers who reinforced the importance of the message-  put a fire in my little eight year old pot belly, to TELL EVERYONE about this GOOD NEWS.  And that is what I set out to do.

Over the years, the “evangelism” took the form of ministering to elderly folks in care centers as a chaplain.  I bet my grandma would clap her hands, nod, and squeal with delight if she could see that I went into ministry.   In my messages to the residents of each center, I proclaim the same basic message that they never grow tired of hearing.  He loves them just as they are.  He loves me, just as I am.

And now, after all these years (grandma passed away in 1986) grandma gets to finally meet the Reverend Billy Graham in person.  I hope she tells him how we loved to watch him on TV, and how inspiring he was for us.

Just as I am, without one plea
But that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bid’st me come to thee,
Oh lamb of God, I come! I come! (Verse 1)

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O lamb of God, I come, I come! (Verse 2)

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O lamb of God, I come, I come! (Verse 5)

Just as I Am
Charlotte Elliot, 1835
John 1:29; 6:37

Rest in Peace Reverend Billy Graham
November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018

And, one last thing, reader: He (God) loves you, too.  And it’s that “just as you are” kind of love.  

Grandma with one of her prize-winning rag rugs made with hand-dyed strips of cloths.  Notice the big old stereo behind her.
Stories for the Young At Heart


He only stood five inches tall.  Barely.  But, oh he was a looker!  Freckles on his face, bright black eyes,  his tan fur combed just so.   The little girl  could barely wait to get this little guy out of the cellophane covered box.   She had already ripped the wrapping paper off in one fell swoop, it being her birthday and all.  As soon as she saw this little guy, and he saw her…theirs was a love story for the ages.  He looked at her, she looked at him.  Through the cellophane she could see he was sucking his thumb.  So tiny, so innocent, she thought.  Suddenly his thumb came out of his mouth and  then  the shout she wasn’t expecting, “HEY! GET ME OUTTA HERE!”

Quickly she opened the box.  Her parents and brother all looked at one another with quizzical expressions.   They were not expecting this pint-sized polar bear to talk.  But they didn’t want to question it.  For sometimes things happened that couldn’t be explained.

“Hi there, little buddy!”  “Well finally someone got me OUTTA THERE!” The little girl felt sorry for him.  She seemed to know, instinctively what he had been through, first being made at the factory, then getting boxed up and made to wait on the shelf at the store.  “Well, little guy, you’re home now.  And I’m going to take really good care of you.  I already love you so.” “Good to hear.  What have you got for EATS around here?” With that, he ran into the kitchen.  The little girl’s mom thought they should call him Frederick, and everyone was agreeable, although it quickly got shortened to “Freddy.” Freddy made their house his home.  As the days went by, the two became dear to one another.  Wherever she went, he went.  Wherever he went, she went.  The two were inseparable!

Whenever the family went out for dinner, Freddy went along.  He even got his own wardrobe, and the little girl would dress him in little pants and t-shirts to go out on the town with them.  The only trouble was, as he got comfortable with his new family, he started to act up a little bit.  For instance, at the Lemon Basket Restaurant, he would run around on the table and try to kick people and mess up the table settings as he giggled.  Or he would shout out “fire! fire! Everyone out!”  He was quite a menace, sometimes. The little girl tried to get him to behave, but he was so disagreeable, she soon wondered if she could continue to bring him with her or not when they went out in public.


One day, as she was organizing his clothes and fixing his bed, she called him over.  “Freddy , I need to talk to you if I could.” He crawled over to her.  “What have I done now?”  “Oh Freddy, why have you been so naughty lately, and out of sorts? Don’t you want to live with us anymore? ”  Freddy rubbed his eyes as he started to cry.  “I’m sorry I’m naughty.  Please don’t take me back to the store.  I promise I will try to be better.  Just don’t get rid of me.”

The little girl was taken aback.  “Get rid of you?  Why would I ever get rid of you? I love you.  I only brought this up so we can work on this together.  The day you became mine, I vowed to always take care of you.  This doesn’t change just because you misbehaved sometimes.  I will always love you.  Let’s just start fresh, you and me.”  “Oh wow! You mean it? I’m yours forever?” And with that, Freddy jumped up into his tiny wooden bed and snuggled in under the covers.  “Nope.  You’re coming with me.  This small bed is just for naps.  At night-time, you can cover up next to me in my bed.  That way I can be sure to keep my eye on you.”


So the two of them, Freddy and the little girl, snuggled into bed for the night.  She was tucked in by her mom and dad, right after their nightly ritual of saying , “Night. Love you. See you in the morning.” And Freddy felt pretty special right up there in the big kid bed.   “Well, since I’m stickin’ around here, can I get a brother?”  “Go to sleep Freddy!” And such was the beginning of their lifelong friendship.

There is much more to the story about the little girl and the tiny talking bear.  Because this is my story.  I’m the little girl.