In December my Grandmother passed away, a month shy of her ninety-fifth birthday. On her birthday weekend in January, her entire family—joined by many friends—gathered to celebrate her life. At the memorial service, the eldest of the nineteen great grandchildren, Linnea Peterson, who I’m also proud to claim as my daughter, offered a tribute to her Great Grandmother. This is what she said:
As the oldest of the great-grandchildren, I felt called to give a tribute to Great-Grandma Swanee from a great-grandchild’s perspective. I’m going to structure what I say around a hymn that I’ve learned and come to love at Tverberg reunions, one that I think Great-Grandma particularly embodied. It’s called Borning Cry. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s is a hymn about a life lived in God’s word and promise, from the perspective of an onlooker. The onlooker is God, but it took me several years of singing the hymn to realize that. Before I figured that out, I often imagined the onlooker as a parent, a grandparent, some sort of older relative. With Great-Grandma’s deep investment in all of our lives of faith, she fit the image I had of this onlooker. Let me show you how.
The hymn begins,
I was there to hear your borning cry
I’ll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized
To see your life unfold.
My sister and I were fortunate enough to be born in reunion years, so we were both baptized at Tverberg reunions. While I don’t remember either of our baptisms, I’m sure Great-Grandma did rejoice to see us so tangibly join both of the families she cared so much about: God’s family, and the Tverbergs.
The hymn continues,
I was there when you were but a child.
For those of us older great-grandchildren, and especially those of us who grew up in Minnesota, Great-Grandma was very present during our childhoods. There were many family birthday parties, where she looked on and dispensed bits of wisdom. There were dinners at Old Country Buffet, where she always asked for a table of six, even though there were only five of us after Great-Grandpa passed away. We visited her at the condominium, which had a pool; and then in Arizona, which I vaguely remember for its cacti, grapefruit, and Southwestern decor; and then at Lyngblomsten, where we got to see her hardanger and stuffed mockey and play Triominos together. Of course, as I child, I also fixated on the sweet mint candies that Great-Grandma always had in a glass dish on the table, but she could distract me from those with her stories of her world travel and life in Madagascar.
The next verse begins,
When you heard the wonder of the Word/I was there to cheer you on.
Great-Grandma cared very much about our lives in faith. She attended baptisms, first communions, and confirmations for three generations of her descendents, nurturing us all in faith, and I’m sure her influence informed many of us younger Thompsons and made us better at helping each other grow in faith as well. Great-Grandma’s faith was strong, inspiring, and a constant part of her life. She constantly referenced God in a way that I, as a resident of the much more secular twenty-first century, was not accustomed to, and in doing so showed me just how big faith could be. As the daughter of missionaries, the wife of a pastor, and the mother of three more pastors, she believed in her Lord Jesus Christ with all her heart and encouraged all of us to do the same.
With her trust in Christ Jesus, Great-Grandma was confident in her salvation. When I visited her in the hospital after her stroke, I was reminded of the ending of the hymn:
When the evening gently closes in
And you shut your weary eyes,
I’ll be there as I have always been
With just one more surprise.
And I’m sure God was.