“I don't feel no ways tired, I've come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy, I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me.” James Cleveland
Today, I officially launch the blog portion of my website, I Am Free Agent. In my blog posts, I will be writing about various aspects of the lives of black women living in the Americas. The women I write about, for the most part, will be women I have never met whom I understand to be free agents, compelled by their faith. A free agent, as I define it, is one who finds freedom within themselves to creatively resist the restraints that society has placed upon them.
I have said in the preceding paragraph that I will normally write about women whom I have never met. Today, however, is the exception to my new norm. Today, I am going to write about my grandmother, Agnes Riddle Crumley. My grandmother died on the morning of July 26, 2016 (yesterday) peacefully in her sleep, which is the same way she lived. I am still learning from her. While I will usually rely on black feminist or womanist theories and theologies to stake my claims in my blog posts, today I will simply do the work of remembering.
Grandma Agnes wore lots of hats in our family. First and foremost, she was an unbelievable mother. She seemed to always know how to love and challenge her children. She knew how to spoil and how to teach them the value of hard work. They never had much money but she knew how to cook three filling meals a day so no one was ever hungry. She molded my father, James, whom she always called Ricky, into a wise, hardworking, and ethical man who is a constant role model to me. Grandma Agnes was a wise and loving grandmother. She cared for us when our parents could not. She always told us the truth. Even though she was one of the hardest working women I have ever met, she has driven home for me in my adult years that I must take times for rest, that family comes first, that home is the place where I will be loved best and most fully. Grandma Agnes was also a parental figure to her great grandchildren. She was a beloved sister and aunt and friend.
Grandma Agnes had a fierce love for her family and for God and I believe that those loves kept her. The truth as I see it is that the world did not always love my grandmother the way she deserved to be loved. Her life was never easy. But I never remember a time when my grandmother was negative. She loved to travel, she loved watching the generations of children she knew grow to adulthood, she loved her church, she loved good food. One year ago when I graduated from Yale Divinity School and was ordained to Christian ministry, my cousins travelled with my grandmother from South Carolina to Connecticut so that she could attend both events. And she arrived, right on time, dressed very respectably and wearing a hat. The only complaint she had concerning her travels was that the plane ride had been far too short.
Although there are still a fair number of people who question a woman’s call to ministry and even insist that women cannot be called, my grandmother never questioned my call. When I went to Divinity School, she dreamt about me spending time with God’s Word and it gave her comfort. She enjoyed watching my sermons and hearing about my work. She proudly sat with my cousins and my parents in the front row at my ordination, excited that her granddaughter was working for Jesus. I remember her light and her joy, she didn’t doubt me, she was proud of me. That weekend, we took her first selfie together. I was grateful for her presence on what was the most important day of my adult life so far.
The last time I saw Grandma Agnes was about three weeks ago in her hospital room. Many of our family members had gathered there to see her and to spend time with her. From her hospital bed, she was holding court as only she could. She teased her great grandson about his weight, she scolded my mother for working too hard, she rolled her eyes about healthy hospital food and explained what she would prefer to be eating, she talked to me about my job prospects, she gabbed sarcastically on the phone with her friend, my adopted grandmother, about the length of my hair and whether or not it was mine. In the midst of all of the excitement, my mother asked her if she was tired. She looked at my mother and told her, “No. You don’t ever get tired running for Jesus.”
Not all of us believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation like Grandma Agnes did. I don’t tell this anecdote about my grandmother with the purpose of eliciting conversion experiences. I simply share it as a challenge to those of us who are still running this race called life. All of us are running for something or someone, and each of us needs saving. We are still running. And I wonder who or what each of us is running for.
Running can be tiring at times. But Grandma Agnes was never tired so perhaps the lesson of her life for those of us who often feel weary or weighed down or lonely or afraid is to stop running for ourselves, to stop running alone, to stop running simply for the sake of running. Perhaps Grandma Agnes would say that you would not be so tired if you would find a purpose for your running. So I say to you, run this race for your family, run it for your friends, run it for the needs of your community, run it for a community of faith you love, run it for generations of children yet to be born, run it for endangered plants and animals, run it for the people living on less than a dollar a day. Run with a purpose and don’t stop running until you reach your goals. And to Grandma Agnes I say, you have run your race with courage and integrity. You have said that you are not at all tired. But you have run a great race and I pray that you have found perfect rest in the loving arms of our Creator.