Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A tribute to grandmothers: the glue and legacy of our families

Second Timothy 2:4-5 "As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well."

My Great (x5) Grandma Lemmen

As I grow older I observe how many traits pass down through generations.  My aunt recently posted stories about my great, great, great, great Grandfather Berend Lemmen, who immigrated with his mother to America in the mid-1800's and set up a homestead in Graafsshap, Michigan, not far from the town of Holland where I was born over 100 years later.  He was known for his hard work and faith in God to get him and his family through tough times.  His mother, my great, great, great, great, great Grandma Fenigje Lemmen, was imprisoned for her faith in Christ.  Perhaps that's the reason why she and her family left Germany to start a new life in America.  When I read stories like these and hear more recent stories passed down by my grandparents, it makes me want to follow in their footsteps. 

Many of us have grandparents that we admire, respect, and love.  It is difficult to say goodbye when the time comes for them to be "absent from the body, but at home with the Lord".  It is even more difficult when they do not know the Lord.  Fortunately, Kris and I know that our grandmothers know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  They have taught God's Word to their children and have exhibited a life of submission to the Lord and His will.  They all have strengths that we admire and oddities that we laugh about.  Often those same idiosyncrasies are present in our own personalities! (Funny how quirky genes are the first ones we notice!).
I am certain my strong will and determination come from my ancestors.  The will to work hard, be independent, and stubborn determination to not be a burden on others (resulting in refusal to accept help) runs deep.  I can see it in my parents, grandparents, and most recently, in my ancestors who until a few weeks ago I didn't even know the names of.  We are fighters!

Psalm 92:14-15 "They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."

Just a few weeks ago my Grandma VanKampen went home to be with the Lord.  She was deeply loved by her family, but I think we could never love her more than she loved us.  Her sacrificial love extended until the last year of her life, where at the age of 90 she would exhaust herself to no end to contribute towards cooking a meal for our family when we came to see her in Michigan.  Memories of stacks upon stacks of gifts lining walls of her cramped, frigid upstairs space, requiring two cars to carry them to the annual family Christmas party remain vivid in my mind.  We asked her how she managed to wrap them all and her answer was "I shop a little at a time and I wrap what I get when I return home".  She started shopping months in advance!  She only slowed down her gift giving the last few years of her life, but still came to our party with her signature, huge smile on her face, and watched us as each household opened an envelope holding a check to spend on our families.
My Grandma VanKampen wasn't just a generous giver of food and gifts.  She was also a very hard worker.  For 20 years, when most women would have retired, she was a nurse aide at a nursing home.  She never stopped being active, serving others by preparing food when needed, and making quilts for the Lady's Aide group in her church to distribute to those in need.  She sewed a quilt for every one of her 42 great-grandchildren and wedding quilts for many of her 19 grandchildren.  Despite crippled hands which held hands with several permanently folded fingers, she still managed to maintain beautiful handwriting to sign every birthday, anniversary and Christmas card we received each year.  I hope to have half the hospitality, generosity, and heart of unselfish service that my Grandma had.

Grandma Breuker is another tough act to follow.  She married my Grandpa young and lived on a chicken farm with him while they raised their 5 children.  She was never happy about the smells and dirtiness that came from farm life, yet made the most of it.  She grew beautiful flowers on their land.  She had a tastefully decorated home which she kept very clean and tidy. She was very thrifty with money and wasted nothing.  I love looking at old pictures of her children because they were always dressed in pristine condition.  How they stayed clean and neat and wrinkle free on a farm I'll never know!  My Grandma is now in her final years.  She struggles to walk, is almost blind, and suffers from several medical conditions.  Her determination to keep going shows her strong will as well.  She still has an uncanny sense of humor and surprises us with her wit whenever we come to visit.  She coaches my Grandpa on how to cook since she can no longer stand in the kitchen to do it herself.  She still has to shop for every new great-grandchild no matter how badly she feels, so they can have "the cutest outfit" as a gift from her.  I love her and hope I can have the willpower, heart for humor, and delight in my family when I grow old.  

I can't fail to mention my grandparent "in laws".  Though I have only known them for about 12  years, they have become a special part of my life.  During this season in our lives, they live locally to our family.

Kris' Gran Dixon presently lives next door to us.  She has always been one to enjoy reading and is still learning and studying in her old age.  It says something about her thirst for knowledge when one sees the stacks of Bible commentaries and numerous C.S. Lewis books on her bookshelf.  When she sees an article she thinks someone in our family would enjoy, she clips it and sends it home with us.  She tells me stories of the days she would make clothing, grow a garden, help her neighbors in need, and care for her two children.  She is understanding, a good listener, and is very patient with her husband whom she cares for.

His Grandmother Mathis is nearing 99 years old and still enjoys life.  After the passing of her husband, she lived alone at home until her mid-90's.  Up until shortly before her move to assisted living, this sweet hostess insisted on making us fried chicken on our visits to see her.  She is spunky, positive, and loves to share with others.  We never expected her to live to the century mark, but she's one tough lady.  She still walks around her facility by herself, participates in activities, and welcomes visitors.  She remains a delightful person to be around and amuses us with her stories! 

In this day in age where value in our western society is placed on one's usefulness and productivity, we are encouraged to push aside the elderly.  They are often criticized as a burden on our medical system, a strain on our resources, and an inconvenience to care for.  God has a reason for every day He has given them on this earth.  He determines the length of their days, not our government, not their insurance, and not a third party.  They should never be cast off and forgotten in order for us to receive benefit as the world wants us to do.  In reality, we are doing ourselves a disservice.  Not only are we missing out on the blessing of enjoying their company and learning from them, we are also missing out on having the opportunity to serve them.  To see someone's grandmother's face light up when a little child enters the room and gives them a hug and kiss, to hear them share stories about their childhood (even though we may have heard that story a dozen times before), to be able to bless them with a delicious meal like they blessed us with so many years before; it is a treasure for us to take part in.  Don't listen to the world's voice saying these precious people have less value or worth.  They are truly worth their weight in gold!

If your grandma is still living and lives close by, hug her today and tell her how much you love and appreciate her.  If she isn't, go to a rest home and hug someone else's grandma.  They need to hear it and know someone thinks they are still amazing.  I am pretty certain you will both be glowing for the rest of the day!

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