Ada L. Williams was born in 1876 and, according to family lore, was related to Betsy Ross, Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island), and family members who owned land in “New Amsterdam” on which the World Trade Center was later built. She lived a long and healthy life, dying at age 97 in 1973.
I knew Ada L. Williams as Great-Grandma, although her more formal title certainly was Great-Grandmother. She was my mother’s grandmother and I loved her dearly, even though we spent only a couple of weeks together each year until her death when I was twenty. Indeed, my heart is still filled with fond memories of summer vacations with her at the shore in Jersey, the ducks on the pond in her backyard in Fair Bank, and the wonderful breakfasts she would fix every single day.
So exactly why did my Great-Grandma Williams make such a difference in my life? Quite simply, she was present in exactly the way I needed as I made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, took my first baby steps of living as a person of faith and wrestled with a call to ministry that, much to my chagrin, would not leave me alone.
All of this may sound rather routine and exactly the sort of thing you might expect to happen. Not so with me. For all intents and purposes, I grew up in an unchurched family. We would attend church sporadically, especially when we moved to a new community, which happened frequently. My parents, although very loving and supportive of my own faith quest, did little to nurture me into faith.
That’s exactly the breach into which my great-grandmother stepped.
This ordinary woman played an extraordinary role in my life during the formative first two-and-a-half years of my Christian journey. Not because she was physically present, but because she kept up a steady stream of correspondence that literally guided me, metaphorically walked alongside me, and sometimes dragged me as I started down the path of a journey I continue still today.
Sadly, I have been unable to locate those letters, of which there were probably 25 in all. So while I cannot remember the specifics, the letters from Great-Grandma remain with me, like many a dream I have had. I may not remember details or fully understand the dream when I awaken, but it is so real that I literally can feel it as it burrows deeply into my soul and lives there, often for years.
What I remember vividly about that correspondence—even if I can’t remember anything specific—is that letter after letter was filled with grace, encouragement, and profound wisdom about God. Ironically, if not surprisingly, I also remember that her letters were utterly transparent about her own struggles, questions, and shortcomings as she struggled to live her Christian faith. Perhaps it was her honesty that made her faith all the more powerful to me. When all is said and done, however, what continues to shape me is that my Great-Grandma loved me enough to invest in me by sharing God’s love, her love, and her heart.
I believe that angels are God’s messengers. And while my great-grandmother was a mentor, guide, and friend, she was more than that. She was an angel God sent to me for exactly the season I needed in exactly the ways I needed. And, when all is said and done, that is exactly what I will cherish—now, and for all eternity.
Bishop Gary E. Mueller was elected an episcopal leader of the United Methodist Church on July 19, 2012, and is assigned to lead the Arkansas Area. Bishop Mueller’s passion is leading spiritual revival that results in vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who then make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.