Anna Kate Shurley: Lizzie Whitten, Steward of Life

This week, my family and I will travel from Mississippi to North Carolina, where we will meet my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and niece for our annual week at the beach. As always, I can hardly wait for my toes to hit the sands of North Topsail Beach and my ears to hear the waves crashing on its shores (there are no crashing waves on the Gulf Coast beaches where I live).

This year will have a different feel from all the others, because we will be short one family member. My maternal grandmother, Lizzie Whitten (Granny Mae), who accompanied us on every beach trip, passed away in March.

Four Generations
Four Generations

I will miss her this year. I will miss seeing the collection of shells she accumulated on the deck after each of her morning walks on the beach. I will miss seeing her in the rocking chair on the porch, rocking her great-grandbabies into their afternoon naps.

I will miss Granny Mae this year, but I will also celebrate her, and will make the most of this precious week. This is, after all, what she would want. My grandmother was a steward of every moment of life—one of the best stewards I have ever known.

Granny Mae was a good steward of creation. The daughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, she knew that land was important. She respected it and took care of it. She loved tending plants; she loved planting gardens of vegetables and flowers. She loved making her yard sparkle—and it always did.

She loved God’s creation, and she loved human creations as well: she appreciated fine art; she loved music; she loved books. Her home was full of pretty things, including crystal, china, glassware, and countless treasures from countless trips to antique shops.

Granny Mae was a good steward of creation and of its creatures. She took meticulous care of all of the little human creatures who were in her life over the years. Each of her five grandchildren have memories of being slathered with Johnson’s baby cream (a now-discontinued product that had to be a mixture of Crisco and baby powder) after each bath we took during week-long visits to her home. We never had dry skin—at least not on her watch.

She took care of our bodies, and she also took care of her own. In terms of health, the gene pool was not particularly kind to her and she knew she had to take good care of herself. She walked several miles a day at her local gym and watched her diet closely. She worked hard for every breath she took, and never had much patience with people who were not as eager to be healthy as she was.

Granny Mae was a good steward of community. Wherever she was, wherever she lived, she did her part to make her community stronger. She approached relationships with intentionality, tending to friendships as lovingly as she tended her gardens.

Granny Mae was a good steward of her faith. She read her Open Windows devotional and her Bible every evening before going to bed. Participation in a faith community was part of the rhythm of her life. She sang in the choir. She went to Sunday school. She went on trips with the senior adult group. She visited people in hospitals and nursing homes. Above all, she trusted and leaned on God always, even in the most difficult moments of her life—of which there were many.

My grandmother was a good and faithful steward of all aspects of life. She knew that every part of life, down to each and every breath, is a gift from God, loaned to us to be lived and used for God’s glory and the strengthening of God’s kingdom. Her life was an offering lived in gratitude and with gusto. I am stronger and better because of her life and witness, and am honored to be her granddaughter.

Maybe this year at the beach, I will pry myself out of bed at least once for an early-morning walk, just as my grandmother did for so many years. There’s nothing like another sunrise. My Granny Mae taught me that.

Anna Kate and son oliver

Rev. Dr. Anna Kate Shurley has been a youth minister, campus minister, and hospital chaplain. She currently serves a congregation of two (her children, Virginia and Oliver) in Gulfport, Mississippi, where she lives with them and her husband, Will.


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