John’s grandma died yesterday. She was 95 and managed to live like she never passed 50. I didn’t know her in the way a grandchild knows her grandma. We don’t share many memories together and our conversations, though sweet have always been brief. Yet, her faith and her hands have shaped someone who has become the most important person to me. Apart from his mom, John’s grandma was the most influential woman in his childhood. She lived with him for his first 12 years of life and raised him and his siblings. She disciplined him, loved him, and prayed for him.
I owe a great deal to Fanny Gialdo, a woman from Trinidad who had faith that burned ferociously. The ferocity of her faith did not leave people scathed and wounded however, but rather drew people towards her… towards Christ, with warmth and wisdom. She had her faults, like all of us. I don’t know them in particular so I have the happy job of remembering how her example changed me in profound and beautiful ways.
I met her on our wedding day. She wore a lovely blue dress, comfortable white shoes, and a warm smile. She was the one who made John break down in tears that day. Not his blushing bride, mind you. Looking as radiant as a thousand freaking suns while vowing her undyng devotion to him. (I am totally over it, by the way.)
There was a bet going among the groomsmen concerning when John would cry because (bless him) he’s a crier. I thought for sure he would break down at the vows. He was a little shaky but there were no tears. Enter: grandma. There we were in the recieving line right after being pronounced Mr. & Mrs. – I saw John stoop down as her tiny, strong arms looped around his shoulders, speaking of her love and affection for him. He straightened up with a shining grin and tears streaming down his face. “Way to go, grandma!” I thought. It is only appropriate that a woman so deeply nestled in the heart of my new husband would open the floodgates. No hard feelings, Fanny. Nothing but love.
A little over a year into marriage, I saw her over Christmas. These are where some of my most favorite moments with her were unwrapped and tucked into my memory.
One day, I saw her sitting on the front porch, hands folded in her lap, looking out at the road. I was a little intimidated by her, I’ll admit. John told me stories of her voice carrying with it a thousand daggers when he would get in trouble as a boy. She was a sweet woman, but not to be messed with. I approached her and commented on the weather because that’s what you do when you come into the presence of someone you want to be like, but you also want to be cool about it so they like you back. I’m certain she would have laughed if she knew my palms were kind of sweaty. Once we talked about the weather I just jumped right in with, “If you could give me any marriage advice, what would it be?” (I’m so good at transitions.)
She continued to look out at the road and while I can’t remember her exact words, here was the gist: “Forgive. Let it go. Know when to hold your tongue and keep your peace.” It sent all these red-hot flags flying in my brain, “I WILL SPEAK MY MIND SO HELP ME! I hope you tell JOHN to know when to hold his tongue too because he’s not perfect!” Instead I smiled and nodded and (God help me) dismissed her notions as maybe a bit dated or old-fashioned. Full disclosure: As it turns out, her advice comes straight from a heart that actually understands the gospel of Jesus so if you need me I’ll be eating crow until… forever.
The next morning, I walked into the kitchen and saw her at the small breakfast table, hands raised, face lifted, and thanksgiving spilling from her lips like the sun spilling across the kitchen floor. When she instructed me to “hold your tongue and keep your peace” she was most certainly not referring to my prayer life! Fanny did not hold her tongue when she was giving thanks to God. She had a relationship with Jesus that I could almost see emanating from her. She loved Jesus. Unapologetically.
She kept company with her Savior in such a peculiar and compelling way. As if he was there, eating breakfast with her – wrapped in all of the intimacy and familiarity we feel when sitting with a close friend and sharing a cup of coffee. Yet she was worshipping him. He was familiar to her and holy to her. She revered him and she trusted him like a bosom buddy. The two were inseparable. It was awkward for me because I sort of felt like I had stumbled into a moment that was supposed to be just between her and Jesus. But Fanny did not bend to her surroundings or the people around her, she bent her knees and her will only to Jesus. So if her praying out loud made you uncomfortable that certainly wasn’t her intention but she certainly wasn’t about to stop. Political correctness be damned, Christ be exalted.
Gosh I want to be like her.
The final memory I have of Fanny during that visit still makes me cry. We were all gathered, a bunch of family, in one of the large rooms in the house. People were sporadically sharing about what was going on in their lives when someone asked John about seminary. At this point we were about halfway through that journey. John answered honestly – seminary was hard. One of the most exhausting and draining seasons of John’s life. Fanny could sense it in his answer and responded to it with singing. Because, of course.
It started sort of soft and low, then grew stronger and louder. Fanny stopped all surrounding conversation, ushering everybody into a thick silence and we listened as this woman’s love swept over her grandson. Her john-boy. John and I’s tears poured out as our ears opened up all the way down to our hearts and one promise found it’s way in: God will take care of you.
“Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.
God will take care of you,
Through every day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.
All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.
No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you.”
She ignored the squirming in the seats and the darting eyes that didn’t know what to do with this old woman filling up the room with notes that may not have found the right place but words that certainly did. She was about doing God’s work and she never asked for your permission to do it. Again – never from an aggressive posture but in a surrendered and obedient one.
She finished up and the room exploded in “Amens” and “Thank you Jesus” and I sat, her words covering me like a warm blanket, assured that God will take care of me.
Our paths would cross a handful of times after that. She “met” our darling Samuel thanks to the wonders of the internet. Oh! How she smiled and laughed as she said his name and told him how beautiful he was. I told him over and over, ‘That’s great-grandma Fanny, buddy! She helped raise your daddy and boy do we love her A LOT!’ He smiled and reached for the computer screen as she leaned in so close to the camera I thought she might fall right on through and land in our laps! (if only!) Many times I have talked with Fanny over the phone. Many times her words, steeped in a rich Trinidadian accent, wouldn’t be fully understood by me (essentially the most un-accented person on the planet. thank you, central Virginia) but her meaning would come ringing loud and clear: “I love you. God bless you. God bless your child. I pray for you, take care.”
I will miss your prayers, Fanny. Your impromptu worship and your frank wisdom have left in it’s wake a legacy of faithfulness, service and joy. You changed this world. You did it gracefully, amidst adversity and trials I know nothing about. You did it imperfectly, with your own baggage and prejudices that tripped you up along your journey. I will never fully know, this side of heaven just how much your prayers changed the course of my life by changing the course of my husband’s. Thank you. Thank you for showing me that following Jesus means loving people even when it’s weird or (especially when) unreciprocated. Thank you for all of the times you approached the God of the universe and laid John, me and Samuel at His feet. Asking for His love, His wisdom and His protection over us. We are left to grieve you, but we look forward to seeing you again.
I picture you now at a breakfast table with Jesus. Talking as friends, learning more about Him than you could have ever imagined. You are happy, whole, vibrant… and home.
Well, let’s be honest. I’ve never been a consistent blogger since I began this endeavor over 5 years ago. BUT! From now on I will shamelessly abuse the “new mom” card and my son will absorb all the blame for his mother’s lack of discipline. I carried him around for 9 months, birthed him, etc etc.. so this is a small favor on his part.
Life as a new mom is now just life as I know it. On a personal level I feel like my emotions have been tossed in a blender on an almost hourly basis. This has improved (thankfully!) but the first two weeks I was certain I couldn’t look at my child without tearing up and swallowing a lump in my throat to keep from uncontrollable sobbing. Which would still happen anyway. On several occasions John would come home and find me sniveling all over our precious son while he slept next to me. He stopped asking, “What’s wrong?” and just patiently listened to me tell him how much I love our son or how undeserved a gift he is or thinking of all the children in the world who don’t have anyone who feels this way about them or whatever thought left me in such shambles.
I’ve encountered new physical limits in myself during this period too. Before Samuel entered the picture, I was utterly convinced that I would not be able to function like a normal human being on less than 8 hours of sleep. I was dumbfounded when I thought of how other moms had done it — little to no sleep at night? What the? NO. That can’t happen.
And then Samuel arrived and VOILA! Up at all hours of the night, surviving on 4 hours combined of sleep that was acquired between about 2,038 nighttime feedings/fussy periods (also – I’ve earned the right to exaggerate when it comes to what happens in the night. If I say he wailed like the last samurai hollering his final battle cry for FOREVER… it happened. End of story.)
Weirdly enough, the NOT working out has been pretty taxing on me too. Yesterday John and I toured our local YMCA (healthy living with built-in childcare for the WIN!) and when I saw the empty group exercise rooms I felt the niggling desire to just straight up bust a MOVE across the floor. Everyone say a prayer for my Zumba teacher — she has no idea what’s about to walk into her classroom in a few weeks. Anyways — not being able to lift a certain amount or being able to run or dance has been eating away at me and I am looking forward to the day where I can get back out there and reclaim my strength and endurance.
In addition to pushing myself harder than I thought possible in terms of physical strain, I have also learned how desperately I need other people to not lose my mind. Not just for the newborn stage of life either. I’m an extrovert who occasionally enjoys alone time but for the most part I need people. And I’m not just talking about needing people to bring food and change diapers and rock babies (though that has been SUCH a blessing). I need conversation and insight and relationship and laughing til I cry and words prayed over and for and from me. When John went back to work during Samuel’s second week here and my mom hopped on a plane and headed back to the East Coast, I knew I needed reinforcements like WHOA. I sent a SOS email and my people answered. I’m here to tell you, I have the best people. From giving me iced mochas or a chance to leave the house or take a shower or sneak in an afternoon nap or flying from VA just to spend a long weekend with me — they have been my lifeline. You know what they say, “It takes a village to raise a child and keep his mother from pulling all of her hair out while talking to the lamps.” Or something like that.
Now that Samuel is here and I can’t imagine my world without him, all of the craziness of the 24 hour labor experience seems to grow dimmer (a blessed side effect of passing time, thank you Lord) but I know it’s changed me permanently. Not just the scar on my abdomen but the new, deep place I entered with the Lord while I stared at bright lights overhead in a bustling operating room with my best friend sitting next to me, tears in his eyes but a sweet resolve to be strong for me when I needed him. It was there that I realized the shield of faith was made for scary places. It became a refuge and a fortress. I hid beneath the promises of Psalm 23, my exhausted mind only able to hold onto those first familiar five words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” That’s all I could remember and that’s all I needed.
Being a new mom has provided so many opportunities for me to experience the real presence of the Holy Spirit. My time spent in the Word has been woefully nonexistent while my prayer life has taken off like a rocket (usually between the hours of 1a – 5am). A sweet friend told me that my prayer life is “the heartbeat of motherhood” and I’ve seen that so much! I can’t even begin to imagine what it will look like as Samuel grows older (preschool? flu season? potty training? first crushes? prom night? OMG COLLEGE… MARRIAGE…IT’S TOO MUCH).
Overall, we have survived on the generosity and company of other people. I am slowly growing more confident in my role as a mom. I’m taking the time to celebrate little victories — like pumping enough milk for other people to feed Samuel, getting a 2 hour workday in, and any time I get to hang out with John is always a WIN. Thank you to everyone who has shown care or given encouragement to us during this time of life. It’s unlike anything we’ve experienced and we’re happily growing accustomed to this new normal as a family of three.
Before marrying my husband I thought of myself as a fairly neat and organized person. Sure, I left the occasional pile but it was always neatly stacked and I tried to place them in inconspicuous, out-of-the-way places. Yes, my room got dirty just like any other kid growing up but when I cleaned it I would usually find great joy in re-organizing or situating my stuff.
Then I married John. I entered into a holy union with a man more fastidious than I thought possible. A man who would load the dishes in the dishwasher “just so” and wipe down the counters and sink as if we were planning on eating off of them later. Everything, right down to his bedtime routine, was purposeful, predictable, and tidy. As you can imagine, my pile-making routine wasn’t going to cut it with Mr. Flosses-each-night.
During our first 2-3 years of marriage, John would sigh heavily when he saw one of my piles and ask me what it was doing there. To which I would look up at him, confused, and say, “It’s just sitting there. I don’t know what else to tell you.” Now he just walks by and looks at a pile and I’m all, “OK. FINE. GEEZ. Would you just TAKE IT EASY?! I’m moving it! I’m moving it!” before throwing it all into a drawer he’ll never open and going back to my business.
We’ve come a long way can’t you tell?
I also learned quickly after getting married that my husband got his cleanliness and organizing prowess from his mom. One of the most generous, fun-loving women I know. She can cook, clean, organize, decorate, garden, host, and more — probably simultaneously while she flosses. It’s amazing. These people leave me speechless. And spotless.
Truth be told, my mother-in-law suuuuper intimidated me. If you made a comprehensive list of everything she is excellent at, it would almost line up verbatim with a list of things I’m just not excellent at. Early on in my new role as daughter-in-law I was terrified of being a disappointment to her. She raised my favorite person, her home is beautiful etc and all I felt I was bringing into the equation was “a great personality” and some mean banana pancakes.
She visited us last week, and something in me clicked about all of this “intimidation” nonsense. It was all coming from me. Never once has my mother-in-law looked at me and said, “I wish you were better at cooking. You’re house isn’t very clean, and don’t get me started on how you load the dishwasher.” She has been nothing but kind and helpful.
As we enjoyed her company last week, I realized that the only reason I was intimidated by her is because I was comparing myself to her. If you want a quick way to ruin any relationship — mix in a drop of comparison. I began to ask God for a genuine sense of appreciation for her and my husband and their cleaning/organizing
impossible standards strengths. I was sick of throwing myself pity parties every time they were better at something than I was. My wounded ego was getting in the way of what could be really enjoyable learning opportunities.
So God, in His faithfulness, is taking me on this new journey of appreciation. It starts with being grateful for the strengths He’s given me — my sense of humor, gift of communication, scrapbooking swagger etc. And now it’s leading me to appreciate the people who used to intimidate me.
Comparison has no where to go in a relationship where two people appreciate each other. It sort of sulks in the corner, muttering empty lies about “being a disappointment” or “she’s so much prettier” or whatever. If you ignore those lies and replace them with the truth that we’re all created in the image of a creative God — differences become things that you celebrate instead of fear.
This is a new thing for me. It’s not rocket science and I’m not the first to figure it out. But just as I’m learning the power of gratitude, I’m teaching myself the discipline of appreciation for people who are strong where I am weak.
Is there a relationship in your life where comparison is hindering you from enjoyable companionship? Let’s walk out this new idea together and make the world a better place — be it through pancakes or organized dishwashers. It all counts.
Dear Grandma Barbara,
For as long as I can remember, sitting in the backseat of the family van or in Dad’s “banana boat” grand marquis, we would take the windy roads back to “the Farm.” As the tires crunched the gravel and the dogs barked we all clamored out of the car to participate in a family greeting that would take at least 5 minutes. We would hug and exclaim, “Good to see you!”, we would scratch behind the dog’s ears, get lost in one of Pop-Pop’s bear hugs ’til we finally found our way up to the porch.
Sometimes you would be standing there at the screen door, eyes laughing, face lighting up and flour on your apron. Most times we would find you in the kitchen, bustling around from fridge to counter to stove to fridge to sink and back to counter.
You always opened your arms to us, inviting us into a warm hug spiced with turkey seasonings and pumpkin pie.
As we played away the afternoons on go-karts (which mysteriously seemed to get smaller with each passing year 😉 ), you would still be bustling and setting places, preparing and taste-testing. We wandered through the acres, exploring creeks and getting leaves stuck in our shoelaces, building up an appetite to end all appetites.
Eventually the words “Dinner’s ready!” would tickle our chilled ears and we’d race back inside to tables that were neatly arranged with lace tablecloths and shiny silverware. We always walked right past the pies as they were laid out neatly by the front door, taunting our tastebuds and daring us to skip the turkey.
As our large family scrunched into the dining room, a few stragglers in the foyer, dad would usually give thanks to God for family and life and health and all the other things we take for granted. I have to say though that when you read straight from the Book of Common Prayer a few years ago, tears filling your words and spilling onto your blouse, I had never felt the presence of God more clearly in that familiar and sacred dining room. Thank you for praying and for believing.
When we were all just a bunch of mop-headed rascals with no spouses or kids in tow, we sat in another room, making your fine crystal goblets sing as our fingers danced on the rims. There may have been a few times when food was tossed around and many a roll was fought over. Sorry for all of those messes.
Even after your grandkids’ shoulders broadened, and their legs lengthened and were eventually filling up your door frames, you rose to the challenge of filling teenage bellies, and finally setting a table for almost twice the number of people as we introduced significant others to “Thanksgiving on the Farm.”
This is the first year we won’t be tucking in a Thanksgiving feast around that familiar dining room together. So I wanted to tell you, thank you. Thank you for all of those feasts and for all of the preparation and for making a place that encouraged togetherness, conversation, and laughter. I don’t think I ever really thanked you enough. Not just for the turkey and pies and place settings, but for your spirit and your warmth that filled up your home.
Thank you for praying and taking care of us. All of us.
I know as the years pass that we will begin new Thanksgiving traditions with our families. We will set new tables with old recipes and invite loved ones into our homes. I just wanted to tell you that I am immeasurably grateful that you were the mastermind behind my childhood Thanksgivings. You have laid in me a foundation of warmth, cheer, hospitality and spunk. Grandma Barbara, you have played a special role in shaping me into the woman I am today and I should have told you this a long time ago.
I love you.
Thank you for everything.
Thank you for Thanksgiving.
“And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” – Luke 12:15 (italics mine)
I came across this verse on the same week I began my Christmas shopping. Not exactly the angle that most advertisers are taking on the holiday season, but it’s one that’s been ringing in my ears as I browse through shelves of toys and dig around the Target dollar spot (because bargains make my world go ’round, y’all).
The ads and commercials and billboards are pulling out all the stops, per the usual: BUY MORE, SAVE MORE! or SPEND MORE, WORRY LESS! <– What?! Can we just stop and think about that slogan for a minute?
Meanwhile, Jesus’ words bounce around my brain, calmly stating the obvious, per the usual: “Your stuff is not your life, Rachel.”
That includes the stuff I give to other people. You know, like, Christmas present stuff.
I’m spending Thanksgiving with my family this year and since I won’t be able to see my nieces around Christmas, I’m passing along their presents to my sister and bro-in-law for safekeeping. Who knows if the presents will make it back to their home unopened or not, but if I become known as the aunt who brings Christmas early, well. I’m OK with that. 😉
Every time I get to see my family I am completely undone in anticipation. I can’t wait to scoop up my nieces and nephews and blow bubbles on their bellies and sing Frozen with them to give their long-suffering parents a break. I’m excited to pester my brother about his beard and listen to my sisters talk about their writing endeavors and eat everything my mom makes (because her work is ALL MAGICAL) and share a cup of coffee with my dad. The list of all the things I’m most excited about have absolutely nothing to do with stuff. For the record, my mom’s cooking doesn’t count as “stuff” because again, IT IS MAGIC.
I know that Jesus is not anti-stuff or anti-gift-giving because as He was walking the earth He appreciated when people gave Him gifts (Mark 14:6) and He encourages those who follow Him to give freely to one another out of love. I also know I worship a God who is generous and delights to give to His children (James 1:17).
So, when Jesus tells me my life is not about my stuff, He isn’t telling me to never buy gifts for my loved ones, He’s warning me of the slippery mindset that tells me I have to prove something through those gifts.
If I’m not careful, I start to use gifts as a means to make up for all the insecurities I carry around about how not-perfect I am.
“I don’t call home enough during the year so I better buy mom and dad something awesome for Christmas.” “I hardly ever see my nieces and nephews so buying them incredible gifts is the only chance I have to be known as a cool aunt.”
I get tangled up inside about how inadequate and not good enough my gifts are, how they fall short of really communicating how I feel. When really, I’m focusing on all the wrong things.
The truth is, you won’t find great conversations or heartfelt apologies wrapped up and sitting under the Christmas tree this year. No one is going to bottle your children’s laughter and slip it into your stocking or present you with a DVD of all the uneventful Wednesday afternoons you spent cleaning or working or emailing. Yet that’s what your life consists of — unpredictable moments of happiness, seasons of deep pain, and ordinary days made possible by the grace of an extraordinary God.
By all means, buy some fun gifts for your loved ones, wrap them up in neat little packages and place them under the tree. But let’s leave them to be the happy icing on the cake of the really good “stuff” in our lives. Let’s bring all of our insecurities and not-good-enoughness to the table and simply enjoy the company of people who are (praise be to God) just as insecure and not-good-enough.
If we can’t find time to just love and be loved this Holiday season, we’ve completely missed the point of Christmas:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Last night we said goodbye to close friends we’ve walked through life with over the past several years. For John, he was saying goodbye to someone he’s been in community with for 10 years. And that’s hard.
After all the festivities of the goodbye celebration and putting away all the leftovers of their fridge into ours (what are good friends for right?), John and I sat on our patio to soak up the remainder of the unusually cool evening. It’s in moments like these when the pain that’s been throbbing in the back of your heart finally gets the attention it’s been craving. When life grows quiet we naturally find ourselves looking on the inside and assessing how we’re really doing.
We had sent our friends off with absolutely zero question in their minds of how much we loved them and are so thrilled for their new adventure. Our appreciation for them has grown from a place of countless gatherings, many tears as we stood by them during deep and dark waters of grief, and hours of laughter and encouragement. As I was processing this transition with John last night I recognized in me this compulsion to push aside the feelings of pain welling up in my heart and force myself to think of all the ways this move is wonderful and God-honoring etc.
I am a stubborn optimist but sometimes I can’t get out of my own way and just grieve. I struggle to let myself sit in the reality that I can’t pop in for a visit or spontaneously spend a Friday night with them anymore. It hurts to go there, you know? To let yourself think about it.
I’m learning that there really is no reason to be unnecessarily brave when your heart is breaking. Let it break. And over time, watch as it fills up with an appreciation for your life and the people in it that wasn’t there before.
As a Virginia girl falling in love with the Lonestar State, as a sister embracing the role of “crazy aunt Rachel in TX” , as a friend learning to make sporadic emails and phone calls count for something, I am amazed at the resiliency of relationships. All of our hearts are so fragile and yet we willingly enter into each other’s lives because we need each other. All of those ugly cries in the car and quiet streaming tears on the back patio, are proof that you have chosen to invest yourself in something more important than your own happiness. Love is a beautiful, difficult giving away of yourself.
I have become too familiar with the throbbing pulse of “I hate this” in my throat as I enter into each new chapter of sending/ leaving/missing. Yet I have also experienced the balm of genuine friendship, laughed until I cried, held a brand-new human being and carried loved ones in prayer through those chapters. New chapters have always lead me to new loved ones because God is in the business of making sure we share what He has given us. The more of myself I have given away, the more I have experienced the best parts of life.
Last night I scooped up my rambunctious 3-year-old godson for the last time for a long time, planted a big kiss on his cheek and said, “Buddy? Do you know that I love you?” “Yes!” he responded, with joy sparkling in his eyes, “And I love you too!” As I watched him run off to play, I let my heart break. I admitted to myself that this was hard but I realized I didn’t regret one moment I spent loving that little booger or his family.
Love has a funny way of filling us up even as we pour ourselves out.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:7