Water Tower Place was still a novelty when my mother and one of her friends drove from Detroit to Chicago to visit me. My flat mate and I happily dragged my mom and her friend to our favorite haunts—Marshall Field’s, Gino’s East, Stuart Brent Bookstore on Michigan Avenue (the crown jewel of Chicago bookstores, IMHO) and Garrett’s Popcorn. The personalized tour ended at Water Tower Place.
By that time, my mom was tired and assured us that she would be just fine sitting on the bench at the bottom of the escalators in the busy entrance to Water Tower Place. We waved to her as we rode the escalator up to the shops. Hours later, as we rode the escalator down, I noticed a woman who looked awfully like my mother talking to a couple of people like they were old friends. That couldn’t be my mom. She didn’t know a soul in the city.
“This is my daughter,” my mom exclaimed as soon as she saw me, and then introduced me to the other women by name, telling me where they each lived and a little bit of their stories. As we left with our goodwill ambassador in tow, the security guard called out, “Bye now, Grace, you come back and visit us anytime.”
Mom knew no strangers. In her later years, she relocated to Jefferson City, Missouri, to be closer to my middle sister and her family. She moved into an apartment building and in time knew no strangers. We went to visit her. After we had been there for just a few minutes, there was a knock on the door from an older single lady.
Grace opens the door. Zona, the lady who lived downstairs, brought my mother her house plants to nurse them back to health. In she comes. She hugs us and tells us how much she loves Mom. Zona drinks my mom's coffee over Bible verses, angel food cake, summer fruits.
Knock knock. Grace opens the door. Bill, the handyman with tattoos on his arms and a handlebar mustache, comes to happily repair her shower head. While she waits for him to finish, she makes his lunch.
Knock, knock, knock, knock. Rosie lived across the hall. Grace opens the door. Later she explains to us that Rosie "wasn't quite right, but she's okay." Rosie felt free to knock on Mom's door at any time of the day or night. Mom was always there to listen to her fears or dreams or imaginations. Rosie left always feeling loved.
The young family in the building next door adopted Mom into their family because they lived far away from their family.
The other day ago, Debbie, a childhood friend from my childhood church, posted on Facebook how Paul in Romans 16:1-16 listed name by name many people who touched his life. She decided to do the same. The first name she listed? Grace Lustig, my mother; the second name was another Grace.
These two Graces called themselves, "Abundant Grace" and "Amazing Grace." My mother claimed Abundant Grace because of a few extra pounds she had over Amazing Grace.
In some ways it really didn't matter. Both Graces exhibited abundance and amazing grace to rowdy children, to a newly arrived mother from Russia and to a formidable Mrs. Mac (whose name also made Debbie's post and would also make my list if I wrote one).
My oldest sister who lives inside the beltway of the District of Colombia is very much like my mom. She has a knack for collecting people from down the street, in the suburbs and on Capitol Hill—strangers, really, until they enter her home (which is also where her Brethren assembly meets). There, they break bread together—either her homemade bread over a meal or in remembrance of the One, who had nowhere to lay his head.
It’s in the remembrance of Jesus and his blood spilled and body broken that strangers and aliens become fellow citizens with saints and members of God’s household. It’s grace that helps us see strangers and aliens as potential family members. It's grace to remember that we, too, were aliens, who needed the same invitation extended to us when we were far off. And it's grace that will bring us home again.
We all could use with a visit from grace these days. Abundant and amazing.