How to Make a Life



Her absence rings most empty at the breakfast table.

Every morning, my dad starts the coffee maker, drops his raisin bread in the toaster and slowly opens the blinds covering the window over the sink. Squinting through the glass, he takes note of the temperature outside, the amount of bird seed left in each feeder, the slant of sun on the deck.

At various points along his morning choreography, when an observation worth sharing arises, he feels it—the slight hesitation of breath, the parting of lips, the turn of his head to catch her eye. And then, in a suspended moment of remembrance, his heart and mind swirl confusedly, and then settle.

She’s not there.

It’s difficult to abandon sixty years of morning rhythms that are redolent with unforced grace.
When one half of a whole goes missing, every day becomes a step towards restoration. And when wrestling through such holy work, it’s difficult to emerge without a limp.


She was ready with love bursting the day she met that handsome young man in uniform who spoke like a farmer. She walked with an elegance that defied her age. And her words? They dripped honey sweet from her mouth. I am sure, at the end of the day, her voice is what drew him in.

The two of them, they ran away into the night, hands held tight, wishes trailing from their tailpipe, desire flooding like pools of joy. And on the other side of that day, they were One.

Soon, they were three and four and five and six. A little later, a surprise seventh member would fill out the tree. The years, they would stack like so many dishes and several moves would have them settling in different houses, different states, even.

My mom, she would leave behind her beloved South-land and, together, they would walk bravely into new cities whose edges turned sharper and whose winter’s blew colder.

And that is how these two chose to walk into each new day.

Many times, the painful steps that took them away from places good proved to be purposed paths to places rich and replete.


This story? The one that spins me and my siblings into existence and then seamlessly threads us through the wrinkled and worn, yet glorious fabric of our clan? It is the one that we never tire of hearing.

With each telling, with each new detail added or embellished upon, all of our threads pull in a little tighter.

For this is a story of devotion. My parents’ daily decision to walk forward into love set a whole host of wheels spinning. Children and grandchildren and great grandchildren are only the beginning of an ever expanding ripple.

And isn’t this how one consecrates a life? Isn’t it by setting love afire among the everyday, ordinary acts of seeing and touching and being that everything becomes hallowed?

The way my parents gave themselves over to each other, again and again—with each shaky decision, with each new babe in arms, with each joy and heartbreak—became acts of simple yet glorious worship.

This is how a story of devotion becomes indelibly inked across generations.

This is how to make a life.


The catch in my dad’s steps is more pronounced these days—evidence of all that giving over of oneself to another. Evidence of a life of consecration. It makes sense that years of knitting and twisting and weaving would leave an imprint and that walking forward into new forms would require new ways of being.

However, my dad’s life of devotion continues, despite how everything has changed. Because, yes, devotion is active and looks like love with skin on but it is also found in the remembering, in the holding dear.

Although his habit of turning towards his love in order to share a thought or a laugh or a smile is one that he will have to unlearn over time, the desire to do so is still an act of worship.

Love, when kindled and nurtured and cherished, never returns empty. Love only makes that which we hold dear more beautiful.


Image credit: Lisa Risager

Holly Grantham
Holly is a wife, very relaxed homeschooling mom of three boys, snapper of photos, coming of age writer and a soul drowning in grace. After years in Atlanta where she attended college, married the love of her life and lived in an intentional community, she found her way back to her home state of Missouri. She now lives in an antebellum stone house, raises chickens (sometimes) and pretends that she lives in the country.
Holly Grantham

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  1. Beautiful, Holly. Good family makes children wealthy, wealthy in the best of ways

  2. Oh, my, this is glory. Thank you, Holly, for writing this out so very well. And a thank you to your parents for doing life well. Just gorgeous.

  3. Leslie Bray says:

    such beautiful words the paint an intricately delicate picture of love.
    simply beautiful.
    my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family as you relearn.

  4. Cyndy Smothers says:

    Holly – I thought of your dad this morning – it is unusual that I check mail this early but there you were thinking the very same thing I was, but, put into eloquent words. Your dad tells me that what he hates the most is that he will observe something and look for his beloved to tell this interesting tidbit to- and sometimes already in mid sentence he realizes she is not there. If a heart can bleed that is what mine has done after reading your observation of your father and mothers life this morning. Every hair on my arm stood up and I wondered not for the first time (since your mother did nothing lightly) what Bob must have said to convince her to run with him so soon after their meeting. How scandalous for the eloquent young lady I saw pictured in so many black and whites at your home. Yet she knew, she knew that she would follow him anywhere and love him enough to give him children, pinch pennys and yes even leave her home in the south for this midwest chill. My sorrow ran deep this morning but true love conquers all… right! Thank you for this beautiful gift that has made my morning sorrow turn to joy.

  5. Beautiful. I’m crying.

  6. How absolutely beautiful … You describe their union so tenderly. Their love. This devotion.

  7. Megan Gahan says:

    I can never find the words to describe your writing Holly. I feel you would do it far better than me anyway. Just know this is perfect. The perfect tribute to your beautiful mom and dad, one that will be cherished by the generations that follow them, and the ones that follow you. It is the most tremendous gift. That first paragraph wrung my heart right out in the best possible way. Love you dearly. Thank you for inviting us into this place with you.

  8. Holly. ..I didn’t cry. I actually made it thru without tears. I think because it made peace in areas of me that have been stirred in ways I haven’t felt before. Off course not. I have never lost a mother. I love you. I am so thankful mom gave you the gift of words. More than that so much love. .

    • Lauren,
      I love you so much. And I am so, so thankful that we have each other to lean on as we fall headlong into all this grief. We fall into pools, yes, but they are ringed with love and joy, despite.

  9. “And isn’t this how one consecrates a life? Isn’t it by setting love afire among the everyday, ordinary acts of seeing and touching and being that everything becomes hallowed?” Wow! yes your parents really knew how to make a life together, Holly. Such a beautiful precious story. xo

    • Oh, Claire, yes, yes they did know how to make a life. I think that what struck me the most in the writing of this piece was how profound the simple way can be. The way of loving with intention, day in and day out. That’s how I want to make my life sing.

  10. It has been so precious to walk through your grief with you. To see how you ache and how you heal. These words are cherished. Thank you for sharing an edge of your family’s garment with us.

    • Michaela, it’s kind of crazy how much the grief informs my writing these days but I know you get that. If I write to figure out what I am thinking then it only makes sense that this writing season would be so seasoned. Thank you for standing, walking, being with me.

  11. Leah Kostamo says:

    Such a lovely tribute to an obviously love-filled woman and therefore love-filled family.

  12. Lisha Epperson says:

    I can feel your fathers heart upon remembering she’s not there. Lately I wake up to a profound feeling of joy that eclipses my heartache…if only for a second. And then I remember. Dear Holly your words point to the grace I hold onto. I think that moment of Joy is God.

    • Oh Lisha,
      I, too, hold onto those eclipses of the heart, fleeting as they may be.They are the flip side of grief and they are gifts beyond measure. Your thoughts that those flashes of joy are God? That comforts me to no end. Thank you.

  13. Kelly Greer says:

    Holly – this is the most beautiful told truth I have read in a long time and the thing that makes my heart beat fast. Are you #7? <3

    • Kelly, thank you. And, yes, I am number 7. And now that I have my little surprise Sam, I understand, in a profound way, how my mother felt about me! Joy, joy, joy.

      • Kelly Greer says:

        Such a blessing that Sam is, and so are you. Thank you Lord for those little surprises that light up our paths and lighten our load when we most need it . <3

  14. Rebecca Graham says:

    “Because, yes, devotion is active and looks like love with skin on but it is also found in the remembering, in the holding dear.” – Holly… I am a wreck today. I needed this.

    • Rebecca,
      The remembering…always…forever.
      My prayer is that your heart would be comforted with the knowledge that you are so very, very loved. And that you are held.
      You are in my heart, friend.

  15. Anne-Marie says:

    Holly, holy ground here. What a tender offering. I love the courage you show with your father, though it hurts to see him in your vivid words. Also, I was reading about major research on the deal makers or breakers in relationships and it all boiled down to this thing – turning towards or turning away in all the little moments when the other tries to connect with a word or gesture. You’ve shown your dad still in that habit of turning toward. Breath taking. And needed!

    • Oh, yes, Anne-Marie, that turning towards. It makes all the difference in the world, no? And when another chooses to turn towards us, our own heart’s most honest response is to lean in. That turning towards and that leaning in? That is how to make a life, for certain.

  16. Bev Murrill says:




    Love, when kindled and nurtured and cherished, never returns empty.


  17. Erin Wilson says:

    (this pretty much took my breath away—the beauty of your Dad and devotion and your perfect descriptions)

  18. Sarah Joslyn Sarah Joslyn says:

    Oh Holly, this wrecks me. This is so beautiful and sweet and sad. I love you, friend. Holding you and your dad in my heart today. xoxo

    • I’m with you, Sarah. Wrecked.
      Holly, knowing your dad and his innate tenderness just makes it that much easier for me to SEE HIM standing at that window and turning toward her, only to remember again. I love him so dearly, friend. Not just because of what you’ve written here, but because of the glories we’ve witnessed together – the birth of your son and the experience of knowing your mom (however briefly, in my case). These are not light things. And I’m so grateful you have shared him (THEM, really, ALL your people) with me.
      This just sings. Beautiful and haunting. A thousand thankyou’s.

      • I am so very grateful that I have had the opportunity to share my parents with you, especially during such monumental life moments. They are incredible people and whatever is good and noble and right in me is because of them. Thank you for your words here. They only confirm what I already know about the people who showed me how to really live.

    • Sarah,
      I have always felt that you were right there, next to my heart, all along the way. Today is no different. Thank you for the ways that you love me. Always.

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