When my husband John and I really grow up, I hope we’re like our maternal grandparents.
On his side, MeMe and PawPaw shared 65 years of life and marriage together– raising four children in Louisville, Kentucky – who all went on to meaningfully serve Christ and kin in academia, business, and missions. MeMe and PawPaw stayed put in Louisville, while their kids came and went – pursuing study and work in New Jersey, Boston, Pasadena, Minneapolis, Birmingham, and also Louisville. John was one of the lucky cousins who got to see his MeMe and PawPaw throughout his growing-up years, spending Sunday mornings with them at church, enjoying MeMe’s cooking and conversations with PawPaw.
On my side, WaiGong and WaiPo are still sharing I’m-not-sure-how-many years of life and marriage together – after raising their four children in KaoHsiung, Taiwan. Three out of the four have chosen to study, live, and work here in the United States – and in spite of the ongoing challenges of the immigrant experience – figure out how to thrive. WaiGong and WaiPo spent years helping to raise their children’s children one by one when it came time. They lived with my family in New York for 10 years at least, before moving to our Michigan uncle’s home, then to our Los Angeles uncle’s home. They liked Southern California the best, appreciating how warm it was, how many Chinese supermarkets were accessible by bus, and how many other Chinese friends they could reach out to in their neighborhoods.
This has been a springtime with our grandparents for John and I. PawPaw passed on in early January, old and full of years, as Scripture likes to say – and MeMe followed about a month later, no doubt aware – even with a mind changed by Alzheimer’s – that her life partner and best friend had gone first to be with the Lord. Their memorial services were some of the most amazing ever, because they had left behind an incredible legacy of strong faith, close families, and purposeful love. When John and I go, Lord willing, some time from now, I hope we depart having carried forth that legacy.
But before we do, I hope we live with the joy and bravery that my grandparents showed us a few weeks ago. WaiGong and WaiPo are 94 and 91, as of the end of April. Their daily lives are marked by early rising, quiet times with the Lord, small group Bible studies and prayer meetings, and heartfelt efforts to share faith in Jesus with friends in their retirement community! WaiPo still cooks all their meals from scratch, and she is still a wonderful cook!
Given their age, though, when my younger sister proposed the bold birthday gift of taking them to a Lakers game, John (and others) were quite convinced this was not a good idea. “Tina, they’re in their 90s! You went to a high school pep rally recently and felt overwhelmed – and you’re only 30!” But my sister knew WaiGong loved watching the Lakers and this was as much a part of their lives as all the rest. So she bought the tickets and told the family we were going.
The day before, we got an email from our aunt, expressing some uncertainty on our grandparents’ part about going to the game. It would be at least an hour’s drive away. WaiPo wasn’t feeling in tip-top shape this week. WaiGong was unwilling to go if WaiPo wasn’t feeling well. Wouldn’t we all be more comfortable watching from home on the big-screen TV, with dinner just an arm’s length away? We could probably see better that way than if we were there in person, right?
My sister took a deep breath and confessed, “Not with these tickets…”
And so, somehow, over the course of the day – we prayed, they rested, and when the time came – off we went to the Staples Center! Somewhat miraculously, driving westbound on a Friday night from Pomona to downtown LA took only one hour – and John, taking public transportation from LAX, arrived at the Staples Center exactly when we did – making it really easy to find each other and park the car. We were able to get approval from our security guards for the snacks we brought for them (and for me, being pregnant!) – navigate the crowds – to ultimately find our seats and settle in for a great game.
My 91-year-old WaiPo surprised me by knowing the names of the players. She had watched many a game in these recent years of marriage to WaiGong! WaiGong mentioned something in the car ride about “world peace” that I missed… and though I had no clue how world peace could possibly be related to the LA Lakers, I soon discovered the connection:). Their seats were about four rows from courtside, diagonally behind Jack Nicholson, who wore his characteristic pink shades. When we watched the game on TV the following day, we kept looking to see whether we could spot WaiGong’s pale yellow sweater in the crowd (we could!). It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience – and I was so proud of everyone and so thankful to God for how it all came together!!
Yes, before it’s time for John and I to depart, this is how I want to live. Willing to bravely go where people invite me to go – even when I’m quite old and full of years. Willing to sit quietly beside my husband and watch a million basketball games I might not naturally have much interest in. Willing to let my favorite granddaughter buy me tickets to something I don’t feel a need to participate in personally – and then fully enjoy every bit of it. On the way over, I said, “WaiPo, we can leave early tonight, just so you know. We don’t have to stay to the end if you get tired.” I will never forget her response: “But Tina, the end’s the best part! We can’t leave before we know whether the Lakers have won.”
Tina Teng-Henson has been blessed to learn + grow alongside so many different people, in so many places: Long Island, NY — Harvard College + the South End of Boston — Nairobi, Kenya and Lanzhou, China. She is presently enjoying her studies at Fuller‘s Northern California campus and her ministry as an outreach pastor at Recreate Church in San Jose.