What I learned from Nannie

It has been a year since we lost her. A year. My heart still can’t wrap itself around her absence. I made my home with my husband and 4 children far away from her tree canopied street and lakefront house. It has been decades since I could hop on my bike and make my way to her doorstep. So, it is easy for me to forget sometimes. I will think of a recipe I need, or advice I want, or a story to tell and literally I forget. I will reach for the phone or the pen and then the wave of realization will hit again. She is gone. So I go to my special, secret “Nannie Drawer” and pullout her handkerchief and the last words I have and sit with her. I have a half full bottle of her perfume, her nightgown, the dress she wore to my parents wedding. I have that.

Maybe there has never been another human on the planet that I have loved more. Is that terrible to say? It is honest. Never. Her fingerprint is so heavy on my life that my mom has always said, “You and your Nannie…” We like white shirts, we like soup, we can host a party in our sleep, we need the ocean. We share a name. Me and my Nannie. So the lessons I have learned from her are both in my DNA and in my memories.


One of the lessons she tried to teach me while she was here I am just now finding my way to. Ready? It is important. FUN! In my tumultuous twenties, when my marriage felt impossible and home had been ripped out from under my feet, I thought, “she doesn’t understand.” In my early thirties when the babies came fast and furious and I couldn’t find my way to the shower or the joy I thought, “She doesn’t know.” When I really found Jesus for myself, when I was desperate to know that I was known and loved and held, I became VERY spiritual. The world around me was swirling with all the “fun” that could be consumed in a bottle and a bar late at night and I turned as far away from it as I could. I immersed myself in Bible Studies and scripture memory and following ALL the rules! You wouldn’t catch me in the middle of any fun! No way! And I thought, “What is she talking about?”

Now, as I round the corner of a new decade, slipping into 40, standing on her precious shoulders I think, “Yes! This is it!” Fun! Maybe I have found my way here because my marriage, though still a work in progress, has been powerfully redeemed. Maybe it is because I have not grown a human, nor sustained one with my own body for a few years and I can breathe. Maybe because I have found my way a bit to the contentment, to the peace, and to the shower more than once a week. Maybe because I have settled in to my own skin, and life, and role, and community, and stopped worshiping the god of my own agenda or expectations. I have found the fun!

What is this fun? Well, I will tell you what it is not. It is not (for me) crafty, silly games, crazy mommy “fun.” Nor is it loud bars and beers fun. It is deep and abiding and real. I am currently reading a breathtaking book on the Psalms of Assent called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene H. Peterson. In the chapter entitled simply “Joy” he writes, “One of the delightful discoveries along the way of Christian discipleship is how much enjoyment there is, how much laughter you hear, how much sheer fun you find.” Yep. There it is. He goes on to say, “We cannot make ourselves joyful. Joy cannot be commanded, purchased or arranged. But there is something we can do. We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab.” Fun, joy really, is a decision.

The huge entertainment industry in our culture is a flashing sign of the depleting joy in our country. Think about it. Who spends more money on fun than Americans in 2016? How many hours a week are we consuming entertainment from our couches, from stadiums and arenas, from tracks and concert halls, from screens and even from churches? And yet, what do we find? Depression running rampant at earlier and earlier ages, anemic relationships, crippling debt, and insatiable hunger.

So what did my 86 year old Nannie know that we don’t? She knew how to have a “luncheon” like nobody’s business. And she had them, all of the time. She learned how to play “bridge” and though she complained and told stories on all of her “old friends” she never missed a game. She knew how to write letters and try new things. She knew how to serve and make us all feel loved. She knew how to grow beautiful things and cook delicious meals and laugh. She had “happy hour” every evening. She knew to never take herself too seriously and she recognized and relished her gifts. Maybe no one has ever had more fun in a life than my Nannie had. Not the kind of fun that wealth and ease bring but the kind that put sunspots on your skin and laugh lines around your eyes and risks your heart.

So, Nannie, I understand now. It really is all about joy, Jesus, family, and service. And if we are doing all of that right won’t there be fun? After all, who will want my witness if it is all rules, and difficulties, and “Sourpuss faces” (her words). Surround yourself with friends! Fun friends! While a conversation on the theology of Christian community is lovely, an afternoon around the pool or an evening rocking on the porch together is so much better! Have a glass of sherry. Host a party. Host a lot of parties. Make fun of yourself. Write a letter, plant a bulb, try a new recipe, and laugh. I learned Fun from my Nannie and I am forever grateful.


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