My Protector Wore a Hat to Church

I woke up smiling today. Oh, how I wish I could have gone back to sleep so I could spend more time with her. The dream was so real. I was my age now, but she was still the age I remember her when I was 20. My Nana was with me again for another glorious dream sequence and I cannot stop thinking about her as I tighten the laces on my running shoes and pull my hat down over my ears just a bit more. I have a feeling my run today – although quite cold as I step into the Colorado dawn – is going to be more therapeutic than most.

I run almost every day and genuinely look forward to the early mornings and the quiet miles. Some days the run elicits tough revelations and dredges up some hard memories. But, even on those days, the run usually ends with a sense of solace because I’ve learned that I never run alone. I feel God’s grace all around me – in the swaying grasses, the cold wind, the sun’s rays, the glistening ripples on the lake. I start out some days with extreme anxiety, but return enshrouded in greater peace. That has to mean something.

My training run today isn’t supposed to be fast – just a bit longer for a Thursday. And I’m lucky because although it’s cold, it’s not snowy or icy and the sun is already starting to inch up above the horizon. The sky is perfectly clear and I can feel the rays already caressing my cheeks. That’s how my Nana used to kiss me. She would gently hold my face, press hers against mine and slowly shift until her lips kissed the apple of my cheek bone. Her touch was life-giving.

It’s at that moment that I promise myself that I will buy a hat in her honor.

It’s at that moment that I promise myself that I will buy a hat in her honor.

The filmstrip of my mind clicks through the dream sequence as if the movie is all taking place on a foggy morning. It’s a bit out of focus, but it’s not really the images that I need to remember – it’s the feeling of comfort that I always had in my Nana’s presence. From what I can discern, we apparently have a date to go house-hunting. I meet her and sigh because she looks exactly the way I remember. She is wearing a skirt, a matching cardigan sweater, and her handbag and shoes coordinate perfectly. And, she’s wearing a fedora.

That’s one of the many things I always adored about my Nana – she was her own person in character and clothing and that’s what made her so unique. I open the car door for her and tell her that I love her hat. She smiles, kisses my cheek, and hands me a hat just like hers. Remembering that part of the dream makes me smile and the tears begin to close my throat.

It’s at that moment on the run that I promise myself, and the spirit of my Nana running beside me, that I will buy a hat in her honor.

More and more memories about my Nana have been surfacing lately – and those memories have started raising questions that I never really knew I had. While I have beautiful memories of being with my Nana, at her house, learning how to sew and draw and cook and say grace, there are a lot of memories that seem almost odd and unexplainable.

Why, at five years old, did I often go to bed in my own bed only to awaken at her house? Why was she always the one to sit beside me at dinner – out of all the grandchildren – and help me eat my dinner? Why is it that she’s the only person who I can remember ever brushing my hair, washing my face and hands, and mending my torn pants?

Why did it seem as if my Nana was always there – whenever I needed her – and even when I didn’t even know I needed her?

Why was my Nana the one who helped me with my school projects, took me to the DMV for my driver’s test, asked me to travel with her, and always took me – the only one of my siblings – to church?

Being at church with my Nana is one of the most vivid memories I have and it’s even more clear in my mind’s eye as I run along the quiet trail this morning.  I remember attending the services at the Presbyterian Church in her town of Red Bank, but what I recall was not that Nana was a devout Christian who knew all her prayers and could sing all the hymns. What I remember to this day, on this run, was that she exuded love – love of the purest kind.  Her love flowed from her soul without effort and without expectations. She was unconditional in her gift of loving.

It’s taken me years to put into words what this woman truly meant to me – and what she still means to me. I always knew that without her devotion, her patience, her kindness, and her grace, I wouldn’t be here to write this down. Yes, I knew her love was special, but I never truly understood the depths of it.  As I stride along and gaze out onto the snowcapped mountains in the distance, I can now put it into words: My Nana’s love was otherworldly. She was the human embodiment of God’s grace.  She was my protector who wore a hat to church. And I thank God for her on every single run.

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