I wish I had taken the chance to learn more about my parents’ parents. In many ways, they shaped the woman that I am today. Growing up, I didn’t appreciate the moments I got to have with my grandmother and grandfather. After losing my grandfather, I wish that I had not taken those moments for granted.

When I was in middle school, I used to catch the bus from my grandmother’s house. Her kitchen table is where I learned life lessons about arrogance and humility, shame and confidence, compassion and strength. When we’re young, we don’t realize all the things that our grandparents teach us. My grandmother taught me a lesson at her kitchen table when I was a kid. I didn’t actually learn the lesson until I was an adult.

My grandmother is the type of woman who calls from her front porch, “Y’all come back now, hear?” She spat proverbs along with chewing tobacco and would give me castor oil when I was sick. She grew up poor. The sort of poor for he sort of poor that for which regular poverty was on the horizon. It is sobering to know that people survive that kind of lack.

My grandmother was a young teenager when she got married, younger than the 16 or 17 most people think of when they think rural, southern America. My grandfather was several years older. Their marriage was harder than most. My grandfather wasn’t always the man I knew him to be, and I can imagine that living with a man who was larger than life must’ve been difficult for my grandmother, who is barely five feet tall. Difficult in ways that I can scarcely believe. 

As a mother to 13 children, 11 of whom survived infancy, her kids experienced something that she never did: school. We often forget that, only until recently, public education was a privilege rather than the norm. 

My paternal grandparents never made it past grade school, and even that was sporadic. Still, they remain two of the wisest people I have had the blessing to know. My grandfather was clever, intuitive, a critical thinker, and a problem solver. My grandmother is wise, discerning, witty, and understands people in a way that can never be taught, which brings me back to her kitchen table. 

No one, except my grandmother, actually ate at that table while I was growing up. It’s where she watched the news and weeknight game shows like Wheel of Fortune. It’s where we sat and talked about the mundane parts of being a middle schooler. Middle school was a rough time for me, and the Lord used those moments at my grandmother’s kitchen table to clip shame away from me. 

That kitchen table is also where my grandmother learned how to read.

One day, my grandmother called me into the kitchen with no explanation. I thought she was going to ask me to do something like grabbing the remote even though it was sitting right in front of her. 

“Can you help me with this,” she said with no hesitation, tilting a sheet of paper towards me. She had a pencil in her hand and books and papers spread out in front of her. 

I have never been one to experience a loss of words, but as I stood at my grandmother’s kitchen table holding a worksheet with vocabulary words and practice sentences, I was struck speechless. I finally gathered my wits and whispered, “See Jane’s dog.”

Sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car that night, I stared out at the window and asked myself how I could cry when my grandmother hadn’t. After hearing this woman who had lived more life than I could fathom explain to me that she had not gotten the chance to go to school like I did, to really learn how to read and enjoy books as I did, I was struck with the reality that the imagination that I lived in to escape my problems, fueled by words and authors and poets, was a privilege. Shame slammed into me and set up shop in the middle of my chest. There was a hero right in front of me and not in books or poems or movies but a woman who sat at her kitchen table and gave me castor oil when I was sick.

When I was in seminary, I used to sit at my kitchen table to do my Greek homework. It was my second attempt at Greek 1 as a student in the ThM program at Dallas Theological Seminary and my first experience with academic failure. I never had to try at school. Classrooms were where I felt the most confident, but there I sat, frustrated and afraid, with textbooks and worksheets in front of me. 

Looking down at my hands—which are like my grandmother’s—I found something inside of me I didn’t know was there. The fear, shame, doubt, and insecurity that are growing in me for most of my life suddenly grew out, and the Lord cut it away with a single memory.

I remembered my grandmother standing in front of her Sunday school class teaching through scripture with her Bible and a dictionary, emboldened with confidence in the faithful, loving character of God. The same God whose story in scripture came alive in the story of her life. The story of a woman who persevered through poverty, marginalization, abuse, and the embarrassment of asking her eleven-year-old granddaughter to help her learn how to read. A story made beautiful by the endearing faithfulness and everlasting hope of knowing Jesus. 

I sat in a church pew and listened to my grandmother teach a Sunday school class, Bible in hand, and cried.

My grandmother learning to read at her kitchen table got me through five years of seminary at my kitchen table. When I call my grandmother, she always says to me, before she hangs up, “I’m so glad you called. Grandma loves you.”

I love you too.