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She seemed ancient, but she was only as old as I am now (mid-40s). She wore her hair in gray ringlets, was fond of muumuus, was into knitting, crafting, and quilting. She collected pigs.

Granny took me to church in a sporty-looking Pontiac Firebird when I was four years old, an Assembly of God church the color of wood and honey, where the pastor stood in a remote and lofty place near a yellow cross.

In the parking lot of that church she told me that I needed to ask Jesus to come into my heart. I assured her that I would do so before bed that night.

I don’t remember praying the prayer. I only remember that I did it, and that, as a result, my nightmares stopped.

Granny was the strong, steady presence in our family. She was the glue. If anything was wrong, we would call her. If anything happened, we would pile into the car and go to her house and sit around the table and talk about it.

She was the church secretary; she sang harmony; she believed that the rapture was imminent; she was ready to go at any time.

No matter what she did, God was in her thoughts and in her words. She would be knitting a slipper, or painting a unicorn on a sweatshirt, and she would sigh and say something like, “I really need to go get into the Word” or “I’m standing on the Word for such-and-such.”

She prayed for everyone: her unbelieving husband, her wayward children, their wayward spouses and children, their jobs, their healing, even their pets. She prayed for me once when I had a fever, and I felt the fever break. She prayed for my sister’s guinea pig when he took a dive off the bathroom counter.

I never saw her falter, never saw her fearful or weak for almost my entire childhood.

When she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in her mid-fifties, she told me on the phone, “I’m standing the Word, which says ‘by His stripes I am healed.’”

 I was a teenager by then. We went to a nondenominational, charismatic church, an offshoot of the Assembly of God congregation. There, they prayed for Grandma’s healing. They claimed it. They even prophesied it: “You will not die, but live.”

I prayed for her too, but my prayers were full of doubt, not faith.


After I graduated high school, I went away for a year for missionary training with YWAM, and Granny, still undergoing chemo treatments, would send me church bulletins, letters, notes, and news from home. She had lost her hair; she wore little handkerchiefs and hats with partial wigs.

Near the end of my first phase of training, I got word from my mom that Granny had taken a turn for the worse.

At Christmas, she was sitting in the blue recliner near the window, on strong pain medication. She could barely speak. She could not feed herself. My mom and all the aunts, uncles, and cousins were there, feeding her, placing gifts in her lap.

“They’ll be in your house soon anyway,” she said of the gifts, the only intelligible thing I remember her saying.

When we left, my mom, my sister, and I went for a long drive in the country. It was wintry and desolate. We drove past a lone gas station in a small town near ours and over the railroad tracks and down a long road and another one and finally returned home.

I was full of heavy thoughts and fears. Foremost in my mind was a feeling that we—Granny’s family and spiritual community—and perhaps, in some way, Christendom as a whole—had failed her. We had failed to have the kind of faith that would heal her.

Alternatively—lurking somewhere beneath all this—was a fear that perhaps Granny wasn’t the good, saintly person I thought she was. Perhaps she was, beneath the facade, sinful and problematic in a way that no one knew.

Now, I didn’t think she was an adulteress, or an idolater, or a liar, or anything else in those long lists of vices in the New Testament.

But I feared something underneath it all, some nameless, vague thing:

I feared that she, and I, and all of us, had somehow missed God.

I feared that the devil had won.

Later that day, in the quiet, gray afternoon, sitting on the carpeted floor in my mom’s house, I opened up the Bible and began to flip through it. I turned to the Psalms, as I often did when I was struggling, and my eyes fell upon this verse:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

The verse seemed out of place. It was a verse about death, right in the middle of a Psalm about deliverance —about answered prayers—about walking “in the land of the living.”

It was a moment of silence, perhaps an acknowledgment that those who have slipped away–for whatever reason—are seen by God.

Meditating on this verse, I began to have peace. We hadn’t sinned unpardonably. The devil hadn’t won.

If, somehow, we had failed, God would not fail her.


She died five days later. She was only 58 years old. I inherited her New American Standard Bible in its blue-flowered cloth cover. It was completely stuffed with sermon notes, church bulletins, and mementoes from different places and events. It was all highlighted and marked up and written in.

In the months that followed, I searched that Bible and its marginalia and perused my grandmother’s sermon notes. I had turned 19 the day after her death, and I was a brooding, troubled Christian who spent her days in spiritual anguish. I earnestly hoped that the secrets of Grandma’s faith and life would be opened to me, via her Bible, that I would discover some fountain of profundity that would help me find the abundant life and joy that she talked about, that she lived, even in her afflictions.

But I was disappointed.

What I found in Grandma’s Bible were the thoughts of someone completely alien to myself. Someone who evidently never struggled with the kinds of things I struggled with. Someone who never seemed to question anything, to wrestle with anything. Someone who wrote “PTL!!” and “Halleujah!!” and “I claim this in Jesus’ name!” over and over in the margins of her Bible.

I still loved her like crazy. But I guessed that a person like her could never have understood the complicated adult I was becoming.


Years later, on the fifteenth anniversary of her death, I was in the throes of a deep depression. For the first time in my life, I’d begun to have suicidal thoughts.

Therapy sessions, self-help books, medication, talks with friends, prayer: nothing seemed to touch the thing that was plaguing me. For every helpful, hopeful thought on the side of life, there was a corresponding weightier, more compelling, more believable thought on the side of death.

As an act of desperation, I drove to the cemetery where my grandmother was buried, about 30 minutes from where I lived, with one thought in my mind:

What would Granny think about the things I am struggling with? What would she say to me?

Almost immediately, I knew what she would say, and I could hear her voice saying it:

You need to get into the Word and claim God’s promises for yourself.

Though I’d rejected this kind of advice through the years as too glib and simplistic, it struck me with a particular force and significance as I turned into the cemetery, driving slowly, looking for her grave marker.

Look up! she seemed to be saying.

There was no judgment—only love and exhortation—in her tone.

I saw how my meditations had been dark—how I had been ruminating, obsessing over a certain bleak-looking aspect of my life—how I’d gotten stuck, spinning my wheels, digging myself deeper and deeper into the mire. I’d spent so much time analyzing the mud, that I couldn’t see the sky—couldn’t see hope, or faith, or possibility.

The cemetery was a large, sprawling one, and I didn’t remember exactly where she was buried. I drove around and around and back and forth on the gravel roads, and as I did so, lines from the hymn “Higher Ground” played over and over in my mind:

“My heart has no desire to stay

Where doubts arise and fears dismay;

Though some may dwell where these abound,

My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.”

Finally, I gave up. I couldn’t find her grave.

But it didn’t matter; I’d found her.

I turned around and drove home. My depressive episode had ended. Like someone coming out of a long illness, a sense of relief and renewed wellbeing filled me. 


It was six or seven years later when I learned that Granny’d had a past.

She hadn’t always been the best mom, the best wife, the best Christian.

She hadn’t been a Christian at all, really, for much of her life.

But around the age of 40 (also my age at the time of this revelation), she’d gone to church, had found the Lord, had turned her life around. By the time she died 18 years later, she was remembered, grieved, and celebrated by her husband, children, grandchildren, and friends as a loving, saintly woman, the heart of her family, the glue that held us all together.

Oddly enough, at 40, this gave me some hope for myself.

I had some things in my past I wished I could forget.

I was also a new mom, and I desperately wanted to be a good one.

If she could change so dramatically, maybe I could too. 


I understand now that Granny was involved in the Word of Faith movement, that she followed certain teachers I cannot endorse. Over the years, I’ve grappled with—analyzed–forgiven–and left behind the aspects of my spiritual formation that were not expedient, helpful, or—according to my judgment and reading of scripture–theologically sound.

But I have come to remember, again, that the reason I have faith at all is because of my Granny’s faith.

And I claim her faith—and her wisdom–as my inheritance.

But I have different church preferences. These days, I attend a Presbyterian church: the frozen-est, chosen-est kind you can imagine. With a pipe organ. Not a tambourine anywhere in sight.

A few years ago, in the middle of a difficult situation, I found myself in the Presbyterian pastor’s office—bookshelves lined with R.C. Sproul and old Puritans and etc.– seeking counsel. He advised me, in my fight against anxiety, to write daily affirmations from the scriptures in my journal.

In other words, he told me to get into the Word and claim God’s promises for yourself.

Today, my ESV Bible is all marked up and highlighted, with copious marginalia. It is full of stars, exclamation points, hearts, WOWs and “thank yous.” Someone looking through it might think that my faith is superficial, that it lacks nuance and complexity.

But I know the world of struggle that lay beneath each heart, each star, each exclamation point. 

Maybe one of these days I will get myself a floral Bible cover.  Maybe I will wear muumuus and paint unicorns on sweatshirts.

Most importantly, I hope to teach my children—maybe even my grandchildren—to stand on the Word.

Jessamyn Rains

Jessamyn Rains is a homeschooling mom of four who writes and makes music. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in various publications including Dappled ThingsBearings Online, Spirit Fire Review, and Kosmeo Magazine, which she helps to edit. She lives with her family in Tennessee.


  • Keith Mannes says:

    You shared some very vulnerable and personal things here. I appreciate your honesty. Very tender.

  • Kathy says:

    The Presbyterian Church decided that our small, aging, organ-loving congregation was not viable – we had no vision. They beat us down with so much negativity that we decided, after being a congregation since 1941, to close. BUT we haven’t lost our love for God, our desire to worship him in an organ-filled sanctuary, or our love for each other. We still gather rent free in the same sanctuary (a bargaining chip to our agreeing to close) and we invite retired pastors to rotate on a six-week basis to bring the Message to us. We Zoom our service for those who can’t be with us in person, and we are happier than we have ever been! We know our worth, and it isn’t in our age or our numbers! We are God’s Beloved! All of this to say, I am happy there are Presbyterian congregations who are allowed to go forward without a tambourine in sight! However, if someone walked into our gathering with a tambourine we would welcome them in the name of Jesus. (But they better be able to beat it on 2 and 4!!)

  • Twila Finkelstein says:

    What a beautiful, heart-felt article that lifted my spirits.
    I do hope that when you buy a new bible you will look for one other than ESV where the men who updated used their voice to elevate men at the expense of women.

  • Doug says:

    You had me at “I attend a Presbyterian church: the frozen-est, chosen-est kind you can imagine. With a pipe organ. Not a tambourine anywhere in sight.” I know that church. Seriously, this is a lovely essay. Thank you.

  • Lena says:

    Wonderful article. Full of meaning and insight. Thank you.

  • Nina Tidwell says:

    I am a mother and Grandmother with 8 Grandchildren and 2 on the way. I was touched with tears but I was also overwhelmed with compassion and as a Pastor of 21 years and follower of Jesus for over 45 years, I thought to share about my Faith, very much like your Grandmother. And what the Lord reminded me upon reading your story the complete work at Calvary as prophesied in Isaiah 53, and in verses it reads, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried.” Throughout my exegesis I found that the Hebrew word for griefs is: Choli, which is “sickness” and the word for sorrows is: Makob, meaning “pain” so, the proper translation would read, “Surely our sicknesses He Himself bore and our pains He carried.” The prophecy continues stating in verse 5, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions (sins) He was crushed for our iniquities, the chastening for our well-bing fell upon Him, and by His wounds, we are Healed.” When we think about the sins of humanity, because we have heard over and over (Faith comes by Hearing and Hearing by the Word of God) that Jesus paid the price for our sins, but what we have Not heard over and over is the Word of God regarding Healing, especially in this context of verses, that Jesus Also bore our sicknesses and carried our pains…by His would we ARE Healed. We would never say to anyone “Well It’s Gods will to forgive some of the time, but not all of the time.” Why do we then hear from leaders, “Well it’s God will to heal some of the time but not all of the time.” When God through the Prophet said, “He (Jesus) bore our sicknesses and carried our pains.” Possibly because all to many do not “study” the Word of God as they should, as we should. I have taught this subject many times over the years and Have applied my Faith to these promises and have witnessed Healing, not only for my own body (I have many teachings on my YouTube channel) but for my own children and Grandchildren. Why? Because sickness, disease and death were not in the plan of God. When we look at the Creation of Adam and Eve, created in the Image of God and in His Likeness, we must see that there is No sickness, disease nor death in the Kingdom of Heaven, He has no sickness in Him, therefore He Created mankind both male and female, equal, Healthy and Whole. We do not see sickness nor disease mentioned until after the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Which is why we have the promise of God in Isaiah 53, also in Psalm 107:20, “He sent His Word and Healed them and Delivered them from their Destruction,” John 1:1,2 says, In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, the same was in the beginning with God, Jesus is the “Word made Flesh” verse 14. Again, “He Sent His Word and Healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” “Who forgives All our sins, who Heals All our diseases” Psalm 103:3. In the NT we see that Everyone who came to Jesus in Faith, were Healed. The only people he “could therefore do no mighty work, except heal a few sick” was in His own hometown, and it says that He was astonished at their “unbelief.” Acts 10:38 says, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power (authority in the Greek) who went about doing Good and Healing All that are oppressed of the devil, for God was with Him.” in 1 John 3:8, For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might Destroy the Works of the devil.” We see clearly here that Satan is the oppressor and Jesus Is the Healer. We so not know where others are in their Faith, some have Great Faith like the Centurion who came to Jesus for the Healing of his servant, saying. “Just Say the Word and my servant WILL be Healed.” and it says that Jesus Marveled at this mans Faith, Matthew 8:5-13, (Faith Believes and Speaks 2 Corinthians 4:13, Mark 11:20-26, etc) and then we see the Faith of a woman who had a blood disease for 12 years, and was not getting better, even the Drs could not help her, and the Word says, she “grew worse” then she decided to Speak her Faith, in Mark 5:28-34, “If I just touch the hem of His garment, I Will be Healed, and straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was Healed of that plague.” Then Jesus felt power go out of his body, and looking around said, “who touched Me?…and when He saw her He said, “Daughter YOUR Faith has made you whole, Go in Peace and be whole of thy plague.”
    There is so much more to share, many things to confirm in the Word of God that it is always God’s will to Heal. I will close with this: Death is a thief, and sickness and disease is a precursor to death, that is why Jesus came, to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus tells us in John 10:10, “The theif (Satan, the devil) comes to steal, kill and destroy, BUT I have Come that You might have Life and Life more abundantly. God wants us to Keep our armor on to overcome the strategies and tricks of the devil (Ephesians 6) and tell us to Put on our Armor, and in 1 Peter 5:8, is one of the many ways to do this, “Be sober be alert, for YOUR enemy the devil roams AS a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, WHOM RESIST steadfast in the FAITH, Knowing the same afflictions (sent from the enemy) are accomplished in the brothers and sisters.”
    We Overcome this enemy by Faith, by believing and speaking, always praying and never giving up! Always praying the Word of God (again see Ephesians 6) and know that there will be a time when death, that is our enemy, Will be destroyed, 1 Corinthians 15:26, “The Last Enemy to be Destroyed is Death.”
    I pray as you have read His Word, you are inspired to continue to stand on His Word as you learned from your Grandmother, “Standing on the Word” as you may know is found in Ephesians 6, although worded differently, but the meaning is the same: “Stand therefore having your loins girt about with Truth…” (Thy Word is Truth, John 17:17). Amen.