By Laura McKillip Wood
My grandmother grew up in a remote location somewhere in the wilds of Kentucky. The oldest of 10 children, she helped raise her brothers and sisters. As a young woman she made the monumental decision to move north to get a job, and she left the hills for Indiana. There she met and married my grandfather and proceeded to bring many family members north to start a new life in a place with more opportunities. She did this while holding down a full-time job and raising four children.
A Practical Faith
My grandmother had a very practical faith. She didn’t exactly show a lot of emotion in her worship. However, every Sunday she and my grandfather went to the church they helped start, and they raised their children and their grandchildren to do the same.
They also served in the church. My grandmother was a whiz in the kitchen and headed up the cooking of just about every special dinner the church served. She used her talents and abilities to their fullest to build up the body of Christ, and people in the church relied on her for that. The wife of one of our preachers once summed up my grandmother’s faith well. She recalled that Grandma told her, “I figure I can pray while I wash the dishes as well as I can in church.” She marveled at my grandma’s simple faith. I knew that was how Grandma lived every day.
A Missionary Example
During my 12th summer, my grandparents prepared for and experienced the biggest service project of their lives. They made the trip across the Atlantic to Haus Edelweiss in Austria, where church leaders train with TCM International Institute.
At that time, many of the church leaders staying at Haus Edelweiss came from countries that were “behind the Iron Curtain” in the Communist countries governed by the Soviet Union. I remember imagining a giant curtain made of iron, dividing Eastern Europe from the West, and I thought that on the eastern part the sky was dark and all of the buildings were gray. My childish imagination believed that the people trudged around, sullen and sad because they did not have freedom and were not allowed to worship God in any way. I felt proud that my grandparents were going to help people learn about God and a little nervous that they might be in danger while they were gone.
When my grandparents returned, they told us about their experiences at Haus Edelweiss. My grandfather worked in the gardens and did odd jobs around the house. Being a quiet person, his stories were less animated than my grandmother’s. She told how she cooked meals for all of the men and women staying in the house and how she and the other cooks, many of whom did not speak any English, tried to communicate. It sounded like they had fun because she laughed about their misunderstandings and difficulties. She also did housework, making beds and cleaning.
In their spare time my grandparents and the missionaries who lived there travelled a little bit. I sat on the edge of my seat when she told us that they even smuggled Bibles behind the dreaded Iron Curtain! My 12-year-old mind held visions of them sneaking behind an actual curtain, watching over their shoulders for secret police. But she cleared it up for me when she said that they drove across the borders into Romania and other Communist Eastern European countries, carrying the Bibles in their suitcases and hoping that the border patrols did not decide to open those particular ones.
She told of eating in homes with people in these countries and how they kissed her and thanked her for the Bibles that she and my grandfather and the others from Haus Edelweiss brought them. She showed my family and me pictures of the people she met, and surprisingly they did not look sad at all. I looked at their faces and imagined what it would be like to meet them one day.
I doubt that my grandmother knew that her stories of serving and meeting people from Eastern Europe affected me the way they did. I was old enough to know that the trip held some elements of danger—just enough to make a good story—but also old enough to know that she and my grandfather had given up their summer to do hard, physical work on the mission field. They did no preaching or worship leading or evangelizing, but they did work that enabled the professors to teach and the students to learn. Not only that, they provided Bibles and Christian literature for people who had no access to those things.
Sometimes I’m surprised at how life follows patterns and seems to repeat itself. Years later, more than a decade to be exact, I followed my grandmother’s example and lived in a country that had once been behind that Iron Curtain. Like my grandmother, I did not do a job that involved evangelism or preaching, but I did do a job that enabled others to do so: I taught missionary children in Ukraine.
A Complete Commitment
My grandmother’s mission trip did influence me, but maybe even more influential was her example of complete commitment. She committed herself to her family 100 percent, and from what I saw she never waivered in that commitment. She gave a home to each sibling and even her parents at times over the years, but she also took in other family members. Anyone who needed a place to stay knew that my grandparents welcomed them. My cousins and I all lived there from time to time in high school and college, and she and my grandfather cared for an elderly cousin of my grandpa’s for months after he had heart surgery. My grandma knew that he had no one to care for him and willingly took him and his serious medical condition into her home.
As many grandparents do, mine gave us things. Grandma routinely sent leftovers home with us to give my mom a break from cooking. She and my grandpa sometimes “loaned” my parents money with the instruction that their repayment would be to do the same for their own children someday.
A Second Mom
My grandma also cared for my sister and me every day during the summer while my mom worked. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I heard plenty of debate in churches and mainstream society about how working moms affected children. I always felt mystified about what could be bad about my mom working because I loved spending every summer day with my grandma! What could have been more perfect than that? She was a second mother to my sister and me.
I learned a lot about mothering from my grandmother. Although she raised my mother, my grandmother had a very different approach to parenting. My mother is a kindhearted woman who is very loving and sweet. My grandmother, on the other hand, was a strong-willed woman who was more likely to tell us to stand up and brush ourselves off and try again. From my mother I received comfort and kisses, and from my grandmother I received a backbone of steel, a commitment to do the right thing, no matter what, and a drive to keep going strong.
A Marriage Role Model
My grandparents’ marriage provided a refuge for me when my own parents’ marriage dissolved. I remember hearing my grandparents argue once in a great while, but I never remember doubting their love and commitment to one another. As an adult, when my grandfather was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and my grandmother’s health was failing, I visited them with my children. I walked into their living room and saw my grandparents sitting side by side on the couch, holding hands. They loved each other to the very last day.
I know that my grandmother was not perfect, but her commitment to God and her love for her family motivated her throughout her life. She passed that commitment on to me, and I hope to pass it on to my own children as well. She would never have said that she led an extraordinary life of faith, but I watched her example often, and I marvel at how much it influences me, even today!
Laura McKillip Wood is a freelance writer in Papillion, Nebraska (www.lauramckillipwood.com).