Arranged Marriage: The was picture my grandmother took and gave to the matchmaker, who then sent it to my grandfather in Japan. He chose her and never met her until their marriage was already in the process. Japan ruled over Taiwan for more than 50 years, so Japanese language and culture were heavily instilled.
Two weeks ago, I got a text from my dad saying that my grandmother in Taiwan had just passed away. They woke up in the morning to find that she had peacefully passed on in her sleep. She was 93.
Some of my friends have asked me, “Were you guys close?” And I would answer, “Sorta. It’s complicated.” Even though I’ve only been with my grandmother a couple times my entire life, I still grieved heavily with her passing. She wasn’t one to fit the stereotype of normal grandmothers: She wasn’t around during the holidays. We never made food together in the kitchen. We weren’t even the type to grab dim sum on the weekends. Still, she always had a very special place in my heart because she was the first Christian in my family.
Being the only ones to immigrate to America, my siblings and I grew up not really knowing the relatives we had in Taiwan. Because of this, we relied purely on the stories and narratives that our parents would tell us. Our grandmother was always portrayed as a guiding light and moral compass amidst a group of harsh unbelievers. In comparison to our lives in the U.S., living in Taiwan seemed like a nightmare. If I were to delve into every detail of every incident, you would think I were lying. The craziest Korean drama pales in comparison to the horrors my family has faced. Mysterious murders, decades of affairs, illegitimate children, and disputes over the family inheritance are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Lee family of Tai-Chung, Taiwan. In spite of all this, my grandmother continued to persevere for Christ and live a life separate from her circumstances.
I could go on to tell you about how she braved through the bombings of World War II on her bike in order to pick up food rations for family. Or how she single-handedly taught herself to read and write Japanese in order to get a job at the local government office. I could even tell you about how she redesigned and ran one of the largest shoe companies in Taiwan. But I won’t.
In time, all our life experiences will merely be great stories, quickly fading into the past. All our trophies and accomplishments will turn to dust. Our bodies will fail us and we will return into the earth. But as Paul so accurately states in Acts 20, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus.” Scripture reminds us that everything we do ought to be for the heavenly kingdom only.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Upon examining my grandmother’s life, I realize that she had indeed lived a “life worthy of the calling.” Not only had she been constantly pursuing the Lord, but her life was one that reflected a true woman of God.
- A Woman of Prayer
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”
My grandmother was someone who was truly troubled in spirit. She faced decades of physical and mental abuse from her husband who beat her and treated her worse than trash. He not only cheated on her multiple times, but also had three illegitimate children with the same woman. Just like all the other women he slept with, the mistress left him, forcing him to take all the children. My grandmother not only found the compassion to take them into her family, but chose to raise them as her own . Instead of cursing and swearing at God, she cried out to Him in prayer, pouring herself before the Lord and asking Him to grant salvation upon her unbelieving family. Constant prayer is how she made it through all those years; learning the true meaning of presenting everything to the Lord. She lived this life not on her own strength or understanding, but acknowledged how God remains Sovereign over all things and continually works for our good.
It would take more than 40 years of prayer before my grandfather would profess Christ, yet she continually prayed for him all those years.
2. A Woman of Evangelism
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
How my grandmother came to Christ was a complete act of grace. Back in her forties, my aunt and my cousin were involved in a serious car incident which left them in life-threatening comas. Realizing that she was completely helpless, she promised to give herself to whatever religion would respond to her. She tried everything, but at the end of the day, only the one true omnipotent God answered her plea. She was true to her word. She began going to church and eventually converted to Christianity. But being the first Christian in a traditional Taiwanese family was not an easy thing. It was heavily looked down upon and considered weak. She was persecuted within her own family and had to go to church in secrecy. Over the next few years she would secretly take her children, and eventually her grandchildren, to church when my grandfather was not looking. Some of them would give their lives to Christ. Some wouldn’t. Regardless, she continued to faithfully minister to them, knowing that their souls were at stake. But imagine how painful it must have been, seeing a granddaughter who used to go with her church now selling her body for money! Or a grandson who walked her to church now being part of the Taiwanese mafia. Still, she would continue to share of God’s love and his goodness to her children, earnestly hoping that they would also give their lives to Christ.
3. A Woman who loved the Church
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
My grandfather hated Christians. He hated the Bible, the church, and anything that had to do with Christianity. My grandmother would have to make her trips to church a secret. When she donated money for the church offering, it would have to come secretly from her own funds. Trips to church on Sundays were taboo and having a Bible in the house was completely unthinkable. Eventually, when he found out that my grandmother was secretly going to church, he would beat her into submission. During the periods of her life when she was unable to go to church, she would serve the church by purchasing pianos for the churches in Taiwan. In total, she bought around 20 pianos for 20 different churches in the Tai-Chung area of Taiwan. She loved the church and the people of the church with her whole heart. If she wasn’t there, she was thinking of them. If she was with them, she was thinking about how she could serve them. When I visited with family in 2008, she could barely walk and had to be in a wheelchair at all times. But that didn’t matter. She would have her caretaker wheelchair her to church if that was what it took to get to church. There was no excuse that was big enough to prevent her from visiting the body of Christ.
4. A Woman of Joy from the Word
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth. In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
Sometimes we forget how blessed we are to be able to access a Bible, and read it wherever and whenever we want. In America, we are so spoiled with the freedom of religion that we often forget how it is like in other countries. When my grandmother read the Bible, it was in the middle of the night when no one else could see her. She would light a small candle and cling onto every word of every page. She would highlight, circle, and underline so much that the pages would almost tear. Even when her eyes gave way, she would squint to make out the words, reminding herself of the timeless truths in God’s Word. If my grandfather woke up and caught her reading, he would not only beat her, but would take the Bible, rip the pages out, and throw them into the toilet. After receiving such treatment, my grandmother would slowly climb back to the toilet, fish out the remaining pages, dry them, and tape them back into her Bible. When I was 10, I remember seeing her Bible when she visited my family in the U.S. It was the most torn up, rugged Bible I had ever seen. Still, she brought it with her everywhere and held it close to her heart.
5. A Woman with a Heavenly Perspective
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
The way my grandmother talked about her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was as if He was an old friend that she was looking forward to seeing again. Towards the end of her life, she receive a number of strokes that left her with heavy memory loss and the inability to eat or speak much anymore. But though her words and thoughts failed her, she could still recall all the faint lyrics of the hymns she used to sing. The lyrics to one of her favorite songs were “Abba Father, Oh Abba Father! My heart cries out to you! I plead you to come close to me and give my spirit rest. My heart longs to see your glorious face. Let your love surround me. Abba Father, Oh Abba Father! I will wait at your feet.”
Though death is bittersweet, I remain in full assurance that my grandmother is now with her heavenly Father in heaven, free from sickness and any earthly bindings, singing the glories of her Savior and his steadfast love and mercy.
From left to right: My grandmother and my mother in our trip to Taiwan in 2008