By Rick McCollum
I was the first grandchild on my mother’s side of the family. My grandparents were Blanche and Woodrow. I called them Nanny and Papa. I may have given them those nicknames as I started uttering words, calling out to Nanny and Papa at an early age. Nanny and Papa were God-fearing people. They were hard working, textile employees. Nanny had to retire early because of her arthritis. It crippled her ability to work in the mill. She sold Avon and was able to use her hands well enough to write, taking orders door-to- door. Papa worked the early shift and came home just in time to see some of the soap operas on TV with Nanny.
Papa loved to follow sports. He was a softball player and he followed college and pro sports on the radio. Papa cooked most of the food and made the sweetest tea on the planet. He drank his tea from an old Miracle Whip jar, full of blocked ice. He loved fish, especially fried fish eggs. I didn’t really like them, but I thought it was cool to eat them because he did and because I thought it made me more of a man. Nanny baked the best pound cake around.
They were a kind couple. They went to church on Sunday and found time to have big Sunday lunches for their adult children and grandkids. Nanny and Papa’s house was the place where all of us cousins would play football games after Sunday lunch or play in the dirt in the summer. Nanny and Papa provided a haven away from many things, including our own parents. Nanny and Papa would let us get away with a few things that we would be punished for at home such as eating too much candy or bringing in too much dirt on our shoes. I loved Nanny and Papa.
Nanny and Papa enjoyed hearing me sing. My sister and I were both songbirds and they thought that was great. They would come hear us sing at community events and at church. They loved all their grandkids. While they were God-fearing people and church attenders, they were missing something.
They had never become members of the church they had long attended. In their minds, they never were good enough to be Christians. They saw their flaws more than they saw their faith.
Papa loved to use his hands to work outside and doing a little carpentry work. Sometimes he would make extra money helping someone paint a house or some home repair. He volunteered time at the church, helping with little odd projects.
As a teenager, I became more involved at my church and shared with Nanny and Papa about my faith. I never did it to try to convert them, I just did it because I wanted them to know more about my own faith in God. I would give them gifts at Christmas or on their birthday that pointed to God. I gave them a framed painting depicting Jesus as a carpenter and a set of audio cassette tapes of scripture. One day, I saw that Nanny posted a certificate on the wall. It was a certificate that she had read the Bible through in one year. She was proud of that.
Nanny and Papa never proclaimed to be Christians. But, from time to time they would say things like, “If I ever become a Christian, you will have had a lot to do with it.” I prayed that they would. Many years later, when I was married, I got a call from my mom who simply said, “Nanny got saved.” A few weeks after that, another call came. “Papa got saved.” While I trust I was able to be used as a pointer to Christ, it was their own personal faith and God reaching out and pulling them to Himself that saved them. They were later baptized in the river along with several others from their church.
What held Nanny and Papa back for so long in deciding to live for Christ is that they saw their flaws more than they saw their faith. First Corinthians 6:9-11 takes issue with that. All of us have flaws. None of us are worthy. We are only made worthy by Jesus Christ. It is by His grace that we are saved, not of ourselves.
Right before Papa died, I visited him in a rehabilitation facility. He had suffered from a stroke, and I had a few moments alone with him. I began to sing “Amazing Grace.” He joined in with the biggest smile on his face and a tear running down his cheek. Nanny and Papa are now in heaven. I look forward to seeing them again.
Rick McCollum has served as the Minister of Music and Worship at Spring Valley Baptist Church, Columbia, SC, since 1995. In addition to a comprehensive Music and Creative Arts Ministry, he director of the Valley Voices, one of the largest senior adult choirs in South Carolina.