Today’s post is a copy of the first paper I wrote for college, a personal essay for my writing class. I write about the impact of a life lived with faithfulness. A week or two ago I thought I would share it this week, not knowing that in the meantime my other grandma, maternal grandma Amanda would go to be with Jesus. Today I would like to honor the lives of my two grandmothers, Anna and Amanda.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a dream of someday living overseas as a missionary. As a young girl, I was mesmerized by the stories told by missionaries visiting our church. I was fascinated with what seemed like an exotic life in places much different than my own little world; these people and places and their stories made my world seem small and insignificant and so incredibly ordinary and boring. As much as I loved when we had missionaries at our church, I loved even more when actual foreigners stepped across the threshold, bringing with them their own language, customs, dress and culture. If they spoke through an interpreter, I would listen closely to see if I could pick out words, hoping to make connections when the translation was given. Their stories were full of miraculous faith and hope, light shining in the darkest places on earth. Of course, now I know what we were hearing were the successes and the stories of healing and life and light, while the stories of heartbreak, sorrow and sacrifice were more or less left unspoken. Nonetheless, I had visions of working in slums and orphanages, of learning new languages and understanding different cultures. I wanted to care for people more than anything in the world; I envisioned pouring my life into the lives of others.
Recently I came across a photograph in which my paternal grandmother is holding me when I was about a year old. In many ways, my grandmother’s life was exactly opposite of what I imagined for my own life. She married my grandfather when they were both in their early twenties, spent her life on the farm raising her family, tilling the soil and milking cows. My grandparents were not people of means, making do with what they had and even sharing with those who had less than they did. My grandmother was a woman who knew grief and heartache, losing two daughters much too early, one to leukemia at age 9 and another to avoidable birth-related complications at 18 days. While she never spoke much about those days, when she did her mother heart still ached and her eyes welled with tears even after 60 years, although she held no bitterness against those responsible for the death of her daughter; she was only grateful that things were much different now and mothers did not have to go through what she had gone through. My grandmother was the one who nursed my father through the dreaded childhood disease of polio and it is understood that it was her care that protected him from the crippling effects that many other polio victims took with them for the rest of their lives.
My grandmother knew all the best home remedies for any kind of malady that might come along. I don’t know how often she told me that an aspirin and one and only one sip of coffee would help an upset stomach. She made all kinds of concoctions for sore throats and coughs. She was constantly fussing over anyone who displayed any hint of being feeling poorly and wanted nothing more than to get them feeling better. She would care for the sick seemingly without fatigue.
She displayed faithfulness in the little things, doing everything as well as she could, being satisfied with a job well done. She took time to enjoy life, taking pride in her rose bushes, trimming, digging and fertilizing to produce the most beautiful blooms imaginable. She loved nature and always kept bird feeders outside the window so she could watch the birds, keeping a list of which birds showed up when.
The faith and intentionality with which she lived her life and her attention to detail was evident in every interaction with her, and it was those things that most stayed with the people who knew and loved her. We lived next door to my grandparents and when we needed an egg or brown sugar for cookies we were mixing, I would run across to borrow it. I skipped across the road knowing the door was open and welcoming, and while she collected the items I was after she would make small talk about my day. It was never just about the eggs or brown sugar; it was about connecting with someone she loved. Many times she would exclaim that the wind was chilly today and did I not wear a scarf? She would rummage around in her drawer, coming up with a scratchy black scarf that she would tie around my head, smoothing it down, the weight of her fingers and the sound of her voice leaving an indelible impression on me.
If for some reason I needed a ride to church she would stop by the mailbox and I would run out to hop in her car for the 3 minute ride to church which often became more like a 10 minute ride. Every curve and hill was an adventure, holding delight and mystery; she drove slowly, carefully, savoring every moment of the journey, pointing out the bird sitting on the fence post or commenting on the freshly cut hay drying in the sun. If it was summer, the windows were rolled down, the sweet scent of the hay wafting through the breeze and the sound of the tires “swooshing” as we rode along. Her Bible would rest on the seat between us and I knew that she would hold that precious Word with reverence and respect, caressing the pages as she rustled through the passages during the service.
The way my grandmother invested time, energy and interest in my life was the way she did it for each and every person she met. She was especially interested in the lives of her children and grandchildren, and in later years her great-children as well. My grandmother would make special note of anything that would be of interest to those who regularly stopped by her house, pointing out a pertinent article in the paper to the one she knew was interested in such things, and when I would stop in for a few minutes with my daughters she usually had a funny story to share with them. All of these small interactions don’t seem to be of great significance when taken individually, but over time they added up to making a huge impact on the lives of each person my grandmother knew.
Ironically, the very things I loved and admired in the life of my grandmother are the very things I spent much of my life trying to avoid. I liked these qualities in her, but I had dreams of doing more, of being more. It felt like spending my life doing ordinary and mundane things would not give me a chance to make a significant impact in the world. I hoped to make a splash, and raising a large family and tending the family farm did not seem like the way to achieve that. The idea of spending my life doing the same things over and over, day after day, held little appeal to me. I longed for adventure and variety, something new and exciting around the corner more often than not. It turns out that in my running from this kind of life and in my disdain for the ordinary and the mundane, not only did I not become more, I truly believe I became less because of it. I had missed the beauty, the sacredness and the faithfulness and discipline of the mundane. I had missed much of my actual life. While I was waiting for life to happen, it was already happening and I had almost missed it. I didn’t realize that what I had right here, right now, was the most important thing; the very lesson that my grandmother lived out every day of her life. I learned that the very things that I most certainly did not want to end up doing in my own life were the very things that most profoundly shaped my life and who I became.
I understand now that my grandmother’s example of being faithful in the here and now with what she had been given, with whom she was, and where she was, is a powerful example of making an impact in ways bigger than I ever imagined. Many of her children and grandchildren are or have been directly or indirectly involved in some kind of ministry or mission work. In that sense, her life has had a global impact, even though she herself was never a missionary in a foreign country. Her influence has had a far-reaching effect, both in the lives of her family and in the lives that her family members have touched. Her legacy is disproportionately larger than she was; her legacy will live on for decades because of her influence on the lives of her family.
My grandmother lived a life of beautiful serenity, taking the hard things with the good and making the best of it. I believe she came to this place of serenity by choosing a life of surrender, sacrifice and service. She also chose to embrace the grief, the heartache and the disappointments of life, finding God in the midst of them, rather than fighting the pain and cultivating the tangled root of bitterness. She learned, and modeled, the truth that grace is always greater than the struggle, the tears only watering the tender shoots of faith. She embraced a life of quiet obscurity, pouring out her life for those around her, and in that pouring out, not only did those under her care flourish, her own life grew and flourished. She showed me that what we do with our greatest disappointments can be the catalyst for the greatest growth in our lives, making the best of what we’ve been given and trusting that even that has a purpose we may not see.
While my dream of becoming a missionary overseas and working in orphanages and slums does not seem likely to happen any time soon, I have come to understand that I don’t have to do those things to make a significant impact in the world. I need only be faithful where I am, to who is in front of me, with what I’ve been given. It is in the ordinary that we find beauty and meaning, if only we look for it. I have come to see the value of surrender, sacrifice and service. I have many opportunities to pour out my life in caring for others, right here, where I am, right now. Sometimes the most significant, the most radical life we can live is the one we have been given today. I want to live the life I have been given faithfully, even if it means living one of total obscurity and anonymity. I want those in my care to flourish and grow, and hopefully, through that process, I can become more of who I was meant to be.
My grandma Anna and me in 1973.