You always knew that grandma was waiting for you. She’d be sitting in her chair, crocheting an afghan for a new baby or a high school graduate. Or maybe she’d be scanning the newspaper, reading a book, or preparing a meal. She’d have a jar of cookies on the counter and milk in the fridge. Fresh bread would be sitting in the breadbox. You knew that when she saw you drive up and come in the door, that she’d grace you with the biggest smile and welcome. She’d pull up a chair and ask you to tell her about your day, your week. The details weren’t lost on her and she could make connections with dates and people that showed how much she listened.
My Grandma Charlotte had ten children. She spent her days doing laundry, preparing meals that would be devoured by kids and the farm hands, and helping maintain life on the farm outside of Harris, Iowa. In the middle of the daily chores, she’d find time to teach piano lessons to her kids, help them with their homework, and even played the organ at her church.
As her kids grew and had their own babies, she became grandma to dozens and dozens of grandchildren and later great-grandchildren. She loved each and every one with a care and attention that made each of us feel special. If you lived close by, she would come to each piano recital, band and choir concert. She’d send birthday cards to every single one of us, with a little money to tuck away and a special, thoughtful note. Amazingly, she could remember everyone’s age and birthdate—around one hundred in her family! I remember her once saying that when she couldn’t fall asleep or got up too early, she would lie in bed, praying for each child and recite their birthdays so that she could stay on top of it. She was thrilled to have someone over for dinner and took joy in her family. There was always extra food for anyone who dropped in.
She was present.
She was others-minded. Taking very little thought of herself so that she could serve others and be present for them. You never got the sense that you were asking too much or that she felt burdened. She lived simply but gave in grand displays of tangible, responsive love. Never saying anything negative about anyone, she was quick to forgive and move on.
She cared for the work being done across the world. Although she served faithfully and contentedly in her little corner of Iowa, her heart expanded for the nations. Every year she would read through Operation World and loved to read her Bible. She saw her own daughter move with her family to Germany, in a time when communication was done by letters, which my grandma made sure to write every week. She saw grandchildren answer the call to France, Germany, Morocco and then later Asia. And she prayed. She read our newsletters with care. She continued to communicate love across the ocean.
On furlough, I knew grandma would be waiting for me to stop in. When I was away in Asia, I would picture her sitting in her house, praying over her family.
Then one year while I was living in northeast China, I got the email that my grandma had passed on to heaven. When I went to the United States next, she wouldn’t be pulling up a chair to hear how things were going. The woman with the large faith and endless love had gone home. And I cried–for my loss, for my family’s loss. That my kids would never know the feel of her arm around them or see the twinkle in her eye or hear that chuckle. That I was so far away and couldn’t be home for the funeral and the gathering of family.
I dug through photo albums and found a favorite picture of my grandma and me from my wedding. I stuck it on the fridge and as I looked at it, I reached out to touch her. Losing such a part of my past while surrounded by people who didn’t know her was heart breaking. It was an ache and a loss that only those in our line of work overseas can fully understand. We give up a lot to live far away from those who know us. My grandma had been an anchor, steady and present through my whole life.
The past has a way of curling and wrapping its way around our present. It doesn’t really matter if you stayed in a ten-mile radius of where you were born, or you moved across the world to unknown lands. Your past is a part of you. My grandma showed that faith was worked out in her family first, then in the community and then around the world. She embraced the life she had been given and she slowed down enough to notice the details.
As I reflect on my grandma’s life, I’m so thankful for the woman that she was. She lived fully and was always open to what God brought to her. It makes me wonder how I can live and serve in my own corner of the world.
Who comes to mind for you? And I’d love to see a picture of you with them, if you have one!