A Legacy of Grace


Eight years ago, my grandmother passed away – just five days before Christmas. That week was one of the most emotional weeks in my entire life. I’m pretty sure I cried 50% of the tears I’ve ever cried then. A week and a half later, on New Year’s Day, I woke up with this urge to write. It wasn’t like I had a choice, I had to write this story. Mom-Mom was like a force of nature – she affected those around her in a way they would never forget. She showed love and grace to all she came in contact with, and it was a great example for us grandkids. Someone recently asked me about the post I did that day and I found it buried in an old blog. I read it again myself that night and I swear it was like someone else wrote it. And confession – I sat there and bawled all over again. She was a great woman and will always be missed. But I think we can all agree – she sure left a legacy of grace.

Originally posted 1/1/2013 on A Step Beyond

Five days before Christmas a very great lady finished her race and walked into the arms of Jesus.  She was surrounded by her husband of 60+ years and her nine children.  PopPop held her hand and said “I Love You” and she answered him back “I Love You, Too” shortly before she passed away.  This woman, Grace Heilman, left behind a husband, nine children and their spouses, 59 grandchildren and assorted significant others, and 32 great-grandchildren (with two more on the way).  Family, friends, relatives, and acquaintances all came to pay their respects – most of whom mentioned what a great lady she was.  And they were all right.  But the amazing thing?  I don’t think any of us fully comprehend just what an “Amazing Grace” she was.  Speaking of “Amazing Grace”, it really was her favorite song.  PopPop reminded me how one of her favorite lyrics was “When we’ve been there thousand years….we’ve only just begun”.  It’s true, I remember her telling us about it and saying “Can you just imagine?  10,000 years and it’s just like one day!”  Well MomMom, you don’t have to imagine it anymore – you’re living it!

Because MomMom just didn’t leave people behind – she left memories,  lessons, and love behind.  I don’t think one of us grandchildren ever got away from seeing her without a great big hug and a “do you want some ice cream and pretzels?”  She loved us all – and even though our family grew in exponential fashion, she didn’t change.  Her love multiplied right along with the rest of us.  And we are a crazy, awesome, energetic bunch – but she never said a bad word about any of us.  She may have corrected us and tried to help us through things, but I personally never remember anything bad she ever said about me.  Unless you count the time when she said she liked hugging me and my brother best because “we were just like big pillows!”  haha – but what can I say – she was right!

Over the last few weeks a lot of our family has been reminiscing about MomMom and all the wonderful things she did or said, or all of the funny things that happened.  One of my favorite stories is the one PopPop tells about how he knew MomMom was “the one” for him.  They were young and at a church picnic playing softball.  It must have been summertime because they were all in their bathing suits.  MomMom bent over to field a ball and PopPop said she was wearing a red suit so it looked like a big red heart when she bent over. And he was hooked!  I remember when Lynn and Ryan got engaged and I went over to MomMom and PopPops with them when they broke the good news.  PopPop told us that story then and had us all laughing.  MomMom just looked at him with that big smile she always had for him and said “Oh, Niss….”.  There are varying reports of the actual truth to that story – but we like to think its true just the same.  Because we can all see it happening 😉

Momma reminded so many of us of something during the funeral – MomMom had 59 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren and she said all of them were grand!  MomMom was like that – she thought the world of each and every one of us and loved us like we were the only ones in the world.

In the midst of all this reminiscing and over a few talks with my mom, I began to realize that MomMom fulfilled some of the scripture she loved so much.  There is a lot of talk about being “good Christian women” and “becoming a P31 (proverbs 31 woman)” in our churches, but there are not a lot of real, live, existing examples for us to follow.  But, not to worry, we found one.  MomMom.  Grace Heilman was a real P31 and I would like to show you how.

Proverbs 31: 10-11
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.  The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
Ok, visit PopPop.  Ask him if he thinks MomMom was worth more than rubies.  If she was rare and priceless.  He will vehemently state she was worth more than any of the riches in the world.  Then ask him if he trusted her.  Not only with taking care of his family and house and finances, but with everything.  And fidelity   She would never have even dreamed of cheating on him – their love was true and lasting.  Just ask him.  See what he says.  Ask any one of the aunts and uncles for that matter.  They’ll tell you.  And for those of you who cannot ask – take it from a hopeless romantic grandchild – he loved her above anything else and she loved him right back to overflowing.

Verse 12
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
My notes in my Bible says this is for all seasons of life – and no one can deny she did this.  She served PopPop all through their marriage with love and commitment.   She cooked, cleaned, did 845,687 loads of laundry and took care of the family.  She nursed them when they were sick, helped them through childbirth and raising their kids.  And for the last five years, MomMom was the main caretaker of PopPop.  Due to his health, PopPop was house bound and needed lots of care.  Six or some months ago, he suffered a nasty fall and was flat on his back for about five months.  Although her kids told her to slow down, she selflessly took care of PopPop – even to where it wore her out.  She definitely did him good all the days of her life.

Verse 13
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. 
MomMom loved to take us to pick berries and peaches and such.  I know she took a lot of us various different places and I remember she took Tammy and I blueberry picking and maybe even strawberry picking.  Berries, peaches, cherries, tomatoes ..she picked them all!  As for her hands, only Jesus knows exactly how many meals they prepared, clothes they folded, tears they dried and hands they clasped.  MomMom’s hands were full of life – literally.  She acted as midwife for almost all of us grandchildren, some of the great-grandchildren, and helped out countless other women give birth.  If the lines in her hands could only speak I’m sure we would be astounded by the things the “right hand hid from the left”

Verse 14
She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. 
MomMom was a very generous woman and had a heart for those in need.  She made meals for those who were sick or grieving  helped out at various events, and even used to go grocery shopping for a neighbor who didn’t always appreciate her.  She catered to a lot of peoples’ needs and was often the hands and feet of Jesus to those who needed it.

Verse 15
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
With a big family, it is almost necessary to rise before the sunrise and start preparing for the day.  I remember being at the house on 70th avenue in the big kitchen and watching MomMom rinse out the boys’ lunchboxes and line them up for the next day.  Momma said that when she was working, she would come home at the end of the day with the rest of the working kids at that time, and PopPop, and MomMom would always have supper ready and waiting for them.

Verse 16 
She considereth a field, and buyeth it, with the fruit of her hand she planteth a vineyard.
MomMom always had some sort of a garden growing with vegetables of all sorts.  She planted flowers and and had a lot of plants in her house.  She loved to help things grow.  She passed that along to some of her children as well.  Momma loves to grow things and has lots of plants everywhere.  I know Uncle Dean has a lot as well.  The others may have some and I just don’t remember – sorry guys 🙂

Verse 17
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengthened her arms.
I’m not sure MomMom ever out-lifted Hulk Hogan or anything, but she was always trying to “lose 10 lbs or so” and did some walking.  But I think this verse it a little deeper and is speaking about spiritual strength.  MomMom loved many of the Psalms but one of her favorites was Psalm 121.  Here is where she found her strength….
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.   Psalm 121: 1-2
Verse 18
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
I’m not sure how it was in the early years, but MomMom was up late a lot that I can remember.  She loved when people would come to visit (and often told us how long it had been since our last one 😉 and stayed up late talking to us or with PopPop when they were alone.  She also would read her Bible every night and every morning.  Again, MomMom, you’re slaying me here but I promise to do better.

Verse 19
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
MomMom always had a sewing machine for as long as I can remember.  She made lots of clothes and helped many people make their own as well – including some wedding dresses.  She also taught my momma to sew.  Mom made lots of our clothes growing up and some of her own as well.  She made a beautiful peach dress for the cruise her and Dad went on, as well as a gorgeous red one for Tammy’s wedding.  Mom also used her sewing prowess to open up her own business – Grace Irene Window Fashions!  (and yes, mom is named after MomMom.  They are both Grace Irene.)
Verse 20
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
MomMom and PopPop were always taking care of people.  Whether by showing up and helping someone move, letting people live with them because they had to move, making meals and all sorts of things like that.  They also gave to a lot of charities.  Where do you think the stuffed bear and stuffed buffalo on the living room table came from?  The Indian Youth Association!  I really don’t think we’ll really ever know just how many people they helped through various means, money or otherwise.  It really doesn’t matter.  But what does matter is that we pay it forward.  That we use their example and do good to others.  For personal glory?  Nope.  Because Jesus said to help the poor and the needy and that He loved them just as much as the richest man in the world.  MomMom and PopPop both would tell you that all day long.  So honor them and God and give to those in need.  For HIS glory, not yours.
Verse 21
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
I’m not sure how she did it, but I’m sure she came up with interesting ways to make sure all the kids were clothed well, even in the cold weather.

Verse 22
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Do you guys remember MomMom’s long purple winter coat and big purple hat she used to wear to church? They were beautiful!  She really did love purple – and I think that’s why Momma loves it too.  They both wear it well.

Verse 23
Her husband is known in the gates, where he sitteth among the elders of the land.
Whether in business or in the church, PopPop was well known and held many positions of authority.  He worked very hard to provide for MomMom and the rest of the family.  However, I often wondered why this verse is in the virtuous woman passage, but I think I figured it out people!  You know what they say, “Behind every great man is a great woman”!  On a serious note, I did find one of my notes where it says this verse is about how she understands the calling on her life and on that of her husband – and she acts accordingly.  MomMom sure did that.
Verse 24
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it: and delivereth girdles to the merchant.
MomMom sure did make a lot of fine things, but knowing her, she would have given them away instead of selling them.  And I’m pretty sure she didn’t deliver any girdles to the merchant – unless she was taking them back!
Verse 25
Strength and honor are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
Character is what makes a person who he or she is.  Let’s not forget her example to us – she did wear strength   I never thought of MomMom as weak.  Even the last few weeks when she was confined to a bed, she didn’t seem weak.  Oh she sure looked weak, but then she would look up and begin to speak and the strength of her years and her faith were behind it.  She was a tiny little thing when she passed away – but with a giant heart that never faded away.   And honor?  Her whole life was an honor – to God.  And that is something we should all strive for.  It would be honoring her and her life example if we did.

Verse 26
She openeth her mouth with wisdom: and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
Almost everything MomMom said had a lesson behind it, whether she was telling a story, passing along news, or just teaching us something.  She never spoke evil of anyone and always searched for the good in others.  In this she slays me – I am so glad for her example of this because I fail miserably at it and I’m glad to have known someone who actually did it. And did it well.  Maybe she can be one of my angels and help me hold my tongue 😉
Verse 27
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Cooking, cleaning, scrubbing  loving, nurturing  blessing;  there were many ways she took care of her household.  She was always doing something – even if she was sitting down.  She was exercising her thumbs!!

Verse 28
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Just from the pure fact that all nine of them were surrounding her when she went to heaven, not to mention all the lovely things they did or said about her, all of her children do call her blessed. And PopPop?  He knows it more than anyone else and will praise her to anyone and everyone.

Verse 29
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou exceedeth them all.
You know what’s funny?  I can almost picture Jesus saying these words to MomMom when He took her into heaven.  And do I believe He personally came to get her Himself?  Absolutely.  Without a doubt.  He was welcoming one of His most virtuous daughters into His home.  I’m bawling here just imagining it, but I truly believe this.  She was Grace.  She was grace.  Personified.
Verse 30
Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
Favor is the opinion of man and beauty will fade, but her countenance shined from within.  Her heart shined before others and it shone as beauty.  The secret to her virtue was that she feared God, she really did.  He provided the increase from there.  She did all things to honor God – no matter what earthly person she was actually doing it for.  And she shall indeed be praised for that.

Verse 31
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates. 
I think Solomon was talking about earthly fruits and the gates of the city in this verse and its true that MomMom did receive earthly praise for the works of her hands.  But I can only imagine the rejoicing in heaven for one such as she who came through the gates.  That she was proclaimed for her works and that she received a load of rewards at the Bema seat.

Grace Irene Richardson Heilman sure did leave a legacy of grace.  Not just in actual Graces – because there are a lot of people named after her (Grace Irene (mom), Jaclyn Grace, Kathleen Grace, Graceanne and some others I’m not entirely sure of) – but in love.  MomMom did a great many works in her life and they were all to honor the Lord.  Not to get her into heaven, because her faith and acceptance of Jesus did that, but to honor her God and to help those that she loved.

During the last few weeks of her life, MomMom needed a lot of care.  Many of her children pitched in and served her, slept over, fed her and took care of her needs – basic and otherwise.  Every time she asked someone to do something, she said “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”.  She didn’t want to be a burden and she was so used to taking care of things herself, so she felt terrible asking others for help.  But, it wasn’t a chore to them – it was a pleasure.  Melanie and I went to visit MomMom and PopPop one night in early December.  We had a nice little visit with both of them and although she couldn’t talk much, she asked about us and our lives and how we were doing.  She apologized for not getting us snack and wanted to know if we “wanted crackers and cheese or something”.  We were amazed!  This woman who could barely turn over by herself wanted to get us snack.  She truly had a servants heart.

One of the nights my mom slept over she was reading MomMom her Bible.  She was reading John 14 to her as she thought it was something she would like to hear.  She hadn’t made it through too much of “In my father’s house are many mansions” John 14: 2a before MomMom stopped her and asked her to read Psalm 23.  As mom started reading The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalms 23:1, it was like MomMom couldn’t wait for her to get to the end.  Mom was a little surprised until she realized what she was waiting for.  MomMom wanted to hear the last verse.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. Psalms 23:6. Mom said MomMom could barely speak but she kept repeating that line: “and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever”.  When Uncle Mart and Uncle Wayne came up, she repeated the same thing to them: “and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever”.  You know why?  Because she knew exactly where she was going.  To heaven.  To see her Saviour.

Her legacy is also a challenge – for those of us who have been loved and touched by her and her kindness in some way, we are left with the task of “taking up the mantle”.  Of continuing her work and glorifying God in it.  MomMom gave us a lot of love and a lot of examples of how to really become a Proverbs 31 woman.  She probably never even realized she was one.  She just did it.  She lived her life loving her God, her husband, her family and her fellow man.  So, her daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, and others – let’s do this.  Let’s take her example and attempt to live a life pleasing to God as a Proverbs 31 woman.  Not because the church says so.  Not to gain a husband (in some of our cases) and not for personal glory.  But because it would glorify our father and we can all become virtuous daughters.  And in doing so we would not just be honoring God – we would be lengthening her legacy.  A Legacy of Grace.