A Blue Rosary

I have a beautiful blue glass rosary hanging from my bed. If you know me, you might find this odd, since my Catholic background consists of some dearly loved relatives, several years of Christmas mass, and numerous viewings of Sister Act (1 and 2). I’ve never actually prayed the rosary, although for someone with a chronically scattered mind, the idea of something to give structure and direction to my prayer time is very appealing. The rosary is there not for my daily prayers, but as a reminder of God’s faithfulness. When I see it, it reminds me that every unexpected twist in my life is part of His plan and is leading me closer to Him.

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You see, this particular rosary belonged to my grandma. It was a gift I found for her on a visit to the Vatican while backpacking through Europe after college. At the time, it symbolized everything that was beautiful about our relationship. It was a reminder of travel, a love of which she had encouraged in me all my life. It was a symbol of the faith that is universal in all those who love and seek the Lord, that her protestant granddaughter would give her something so meaningful to her own way of worship. It represented the endless discussions we’d had over the years about who God is and how we relate to Him. We didn’t always agree, but we always spoke with love and respect. Now it means even more to me.

This week marks the second anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. A grandmother who taught me so much: how to knit and quilt, how to play cards, how to shop like a pro, how to love unconditionally, how to find humor and joy in everything, and how to be strong when life is crushing you. One of the last things she said to me when I visited her in the final weeks of her life was, “Don’t forget me.” How could I? Not a week goes by that I don’t miss her, that I don’t wish I could call and tell her some exciting news or ask her advice about something. I wish I could hear her tell me her stories again. I think she would be proud of me, raising my sons to love God, people, and learning; working to improve health and community care, especially for moms and children; and keeping up with my writing. There are 1,001 things that make me think of her nearly every day. The Murano glass rosary by my bed is just one of them. She is far from forgotten.

One of the things I remember best about my grandma is her love of storytelling. She loved a good story, whether it was a book, a movie, or her own history. I was privileged to hear her relate the joys and struggles of her life many times, so richly that at times I felt like I had  been with her in New York City in the 1950’s as she completed nurses’ training, or smelling spring tulips in Holland on her trip of a lifetime to Europe. As I look back on her story, I see the theme of God’s faithfulness. I see the countless ways He provided for her, prepared her for the storms, and showered her with blessings.

My grandmother was certainly not perfect, but she was blessed with a number of excellent character traits. Among them were courage, compassion, and common sense, all of which served her well in her life: in a career of over 30 years as an ER nurse, as she faced the loss of her beloved husband after just a few years of marriage, in her walk for several years as a single mother to three small children, and in her final battle with cancer. She loved fiercely, and she fought tirelessly for those she loved.

God also blessed her with an outstanding network of friends and family that surrounded and supported her throughout her life. She had parents that encouraged and inspired her, and helped her get back on her feet after becoming a young widow. Her eight younger siblings loved and respected her all her days. She remained close friends with several women who had gone to nursing school with her to the very end of her life. She found love and partnership again with the man I always loved as my grandfather. Her children and grandchildren loved and admired her. Many others were there at key points in her life to care for her, encourage her, and walk with her. At her memorial service, everyone who was able brought or sent in the Christmas stockings she had knitted for generations of family and friends. They were hung on the wall, and stretched the full length of the ballroom. It was a visual testimony to how many lives she touched and was touched by.

Not only was my grandmother blessed with a strong character and support network, she was blessed with many moments of God’s goodness and joy. She experienced success in her own career as an RN, and saw all of her children graduate from college and become successful in their own fields. She saw plays and musicals on Broadway. Her travels took her across the country and across the world. She glowed at the wedding of her eldest grandchild, and several years later she bounced her first great-grandchild on her knee and sang the same songs and rhymes to him that she had sung to his mother 30 years before. For a woman who valued family above all, it was a sweet gift. In the final month of her life, she was able to visit the ocean one last time with many of her siblings, where she laid in the sunshine, reading a book and listening to the waves. It was a little preview of heaven for her. Even in her last conscious day, she was blessed with the knowledge that when her life on earth ceased, her eternal life with her Heavenly Father would begin, and she would be reunited with loved ones who had made the journey before her.

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Grandma and me on my wedding day

Grandma didn’t have financial wealth to pass down to her children and grandchildren, but we each inherited great treasure from her legacy. And me, I was given back the rosary that had come from Italy 10 years before and been beside her bed ever since. Now it is beside my bed to remind me not only of the exceptional woman who had loved me all my life, but also of the God who had loved her all her life. No matter where her journey took her, no matter how close or distant she felt to the Lord, He was there. I take great comfort in knowing that I have the same God shepherding me as I encounter the trials of my own life.

Whose legacy inspires you? 

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Giving Thanks

Hello, my turkey and cranberry eating friends!

I don’t really get into the Thankful Thursdays or 30 Days of Thanks. But, in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday, I thought I would do a couple of posts on things that I am particularly thankful for.

One thing I am very thankful for is family. And not just in the 2nd grade, “my-teacher-made-me-put-something-on-my-turkey” kind of family. Real family, with all its many faces and foibles. I am thankful for:

Parents. For parents who cared for me and raised me to strive to be all that God has created me to be, and who still support and encourage me. And for in-laws who raised my husband and accepted me into their family with love.

Grandparents. I am thankful for the unique roles my grandparents have filled in my life, for the grandpa who took me fishing and taught me why you wear long pants when weed-whacking, for the grandma who made road trips fun and taught me to knit, for the grandmother who inspired my love of books, beauty, and the color red, and for the grandfather who encouraged me to be anything I wanted to be and never let a visit or conversation end without being sure I knew he loved me and was proud of me.

Siblings. Growing up as an only child, I think I may appreciate brothers and sisters more than many who grew up in a house full of other kids. I am exceedingly thankful for my brothers- and sisters-in-law who have accepted me as one of their own, and become dear friends, as loved as any natural-born siblings could be.

Aunts and Uncles. I’ve been blessed to have parents who both came from big families, and I have a wealth of aunts and uncles. They have cared for me, taught me, spoiled me, and advised me in every area of life. And without them, I would not have:

Cousins. Cousins are a strange bunch. You often start out close as children, grow apart during adolescence, and then rediscover your friendship in adulthood. Cousins may be very similar to you, or completely different, but no matter what, they are your people. Like siblings, they share your stories, your traditions, your past, and they know all the embarrassing stories, so you have to keep them close, if only for self preservation.

Nieces and Nephews.  I have absolute proof of love at first sight since meeting my new niece and nephew this past week. I am also thankful for the opportunity to get a little taste of having a newborn before I have children of my own.

The Others: Whether you come from a large family or a small one, whether you live down the road or across the country from them, if you are blessed you will find those rare and precious people who, though they have no genetic connection to you become a real and true part of your family. I am thankful to have been blessed with these special others who round out my family.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving, and make sure to take time to appreciate and enjoy the special people in your life!