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She wasn’t a CEO — or a political leader. She never made a six-figure paycheck or secured a patent. But if you measure success by the joy you’ve obtained, the people you’ve loved and the children and grandchildren you’ve helped raise, she was the most successful woman I’ve ever met.

These are are just a few of the life lessons I learned from my Grandma, Carole Allen:

1. Never criticize other people. I never once in my entire life heard my grandma criticize another human being. She never uttered a word of gossip or negativity — at least not in front of me. She always found the one good, sweet thing in others — even the most upsetting or irritating people. There was always hope in her words for them, grace in her voice. It’s my goal to one day be the person who never criticizes someone else and always finds the good in them too.

2. Every cause needs a person. I was around 10 years old and on the news was the story of a woman named Julia “Butterfly” who had been living in a tree for 30+ days to prevent it from being chopped down. I made a comment about how it was stupid or something like that. My grandma said, “Well, everybody has something they are passionate about it — every cause needs people.” Though Julia “Butterfly” wasn’t doing what I thought she should be spending her time doing, she was living out what she was passionate about and fighting for what she believed in. We should respect that in others.

3.  Invest in strangers. My Grandma worked in one of the offices at Indiana University, where I also went to school, just after 9/11. After that awful day, many Middle Eastern students faced discrimination. Days after the attacks, a student of Middle Eastern descent (unfortunately, I don’t know what country), came into the office looking rather downtrodden. Instead of just pulling up his class file, Grandma stopped and looked at him with 100% genuine care and said, “I’ll bet you’ve been having a hard time, lately” and she told him she was sorry for that. She just stopped in the middle of her job and loved a stranger with this comment. I’ll never forget it and how she might have affected this young man’s life.

4. Welcome the lonely. One of the brightest memories of my childhood at Grandma’s house was a houseful of college students she brought over after church on Sundays. So many students came from so far to go to school and many didn’t have families nearby. Grandma made it her mission to give those kids a place to eat and feel at home. She didn’t have a big house or nice things — but she brought them over and we ate on TV trays and her grandkids probably bugged them to no end. But she was there for them, like the mother they needed while away from home.

5. Listen, don’t judge. I’m convinced a murderer could have confessed to my Grandma and she would have listened to them with total grace if they were remorseful. No matter what people were going through, Grandma listened wholeheartedly and gave graceful feedback. She didn’t necessarily know what to say but her words were kind, comforting and thoughtful. She would never judge anyone for something they’d done or said. She was truly emulating Jesus in everything she did.

6. Delight in people. If Grandma ran into you at the store unexpectedly, her eyes would light up with excitement and she would make you think she’d run into the Queen of England. She truly delighted in those people in her life. She made you feel like you were the most important person in the world and if she asked how you were doing, she meant it. She meant for you to tell her what was going on and she meant it when she said she would pray for you. Every single time I called her, she would proclaim, “Ericka!” like she was so excited I had called, so honored to get a call from her, her first born granddaughter. She would drop anything to talk with me and tell me to call anytime — and mean it.

7. Value time with your family. Whenever I was home visiting, Grandma would have gladly spent every minute hanging out with me. If my sisters and I and the grandkids were at my parents house, Grandma wanted to be there for all of it. She didn’t want to miss a minute of life with the people she loved most. She didn’t just say it, she meant it — like she wanted the boring moments, the hard moments, she wanted every second of life with her people and now we are all so thankful for even the briefest of those.

8. Find the joy no matter what. Since she started battling cancer years ago, things were tough for my Grandma health-wise. I’ve written numerous times before that she could have easily lost her life to cancer in the 80s — before so many wonderful times were had with her. To this day, I thank God for sparing her life for another nearly 30 years. She found joy in each day, in each morning and each moment, even on the hard days, she was positive. I never heard her complain about the cancer and even in the really hard moments, hearing that a grandchild was coming to visit or a phone call from daughter could make her day 100x better. She never let anything keep her down.

9. Sleep when you’re dead. My Dad tells a great story from just a few months before Grandma left us. He needed to head up to Indianapolis from Bloomington one day and called up my Grandma to see if she wanted to ride with him. She was very sick and Dad knew she probably didn’t have long left. When he called, she said she was very tired and not feeling well and probably wouldn’t go. He says she called back a few minutes later, insistent that she go, saying she’d changed her mind and yes, she was going to go. It was as if she realized in that moment that life is too short to pass up these opportunities. She didn’t want to lay around the house feeling sorry for herself — she wanted to go on this ride with my Dad. So she did and as luck would have it, the truck broke down and they were stuck at a gas station waiting for a ride. But, you know what happened there? Life — life as it wouldn’t have happened if she were at home on her couch.

10. Kids are the best. For years and years, even until months before she fell very sick, Grandma taught the 2s and 3s kids Sunday school class. She just loved little ones and spent days at a time taking care of my nephew and niece. She was happy to just take over and play with them for hours, make millions of memories in their short little lives, delight in their innocent, little hearts. She knew how to love adults as equally as she knew how to love children. I don’t know how she got to be so incredible but I will live by her example my entire life.

I’m quite sure there are dozens more life lessons that people could add to this list. Anyone that knew my Grandma would have so many nice things to say about her. I saw a quote recently that said:

“Live in such a way that if someone said something negative about you, no one would believe them.”

That pretty much defines that way she lived. She wasn’t perfect but she was the most perfect person I’ve ever met — and the most successful, according to nearly any person on their death bed. Perhaps we need to redefine what “success” is in this life, as thousands of wonderful memories and life full of love and joy surely fulfills this word far more than Ph.D’s, published books, any amount of money or job title.

We love her and miss her every day, and we can hardly believe she’s gone. The other day, I was listening to this old Michael W. Smith song called “Kentucky Rose” about a man who dies (short version…) but the point is, at the end of the song, there’s this line:

“Why he’s gone, God only knows — maybe for the company of his Kentucky Rose.”

That came on and the tears came. God gave us SO much more time with Grandma than He had too. Perhaps, He was just ready for the company of his Carole Lynn.


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