She had a tone that brooked no arguments.
When Grandmom used it, a smart grandchild knew better than to challenge her authority. Better to back down and bite your tongue than find out what might happen if you didn't! Absence might make the heart grow fonder, but growing up an ocean apart didn't make maneuvering the intricacies of extended family relationships any easier.
One scene from our first furlough is permanently imprinted in my memory. I was paused midway up Grandmom's carpeted stairs, leaning over the wooden bannister. I don't remember what I said, though from her response I know it must have been some kind of homesick lament for Chile or childish complaint about the USA. With no patience for my foolishness, Grandmom retorted: "Don't ever forget that if it weren't for people in this country, you would not even be there!"
My MK heart recoiled in mutual shame and sorrow. I was embarrassed at my selfishness, but grieved that she seemingly could not understand my pain. It would take many years for me to realize that Grandmom did indeed know what it meant for one's heart to be split between two worlds. She experienced it first when her husband was sent to fight in a world war that brought him home a changed man. And then again, when her son was led to serve on a mission field that took three granddaughters far away.
Over time I understood that the rough edges were just a remnant of a different upbringing and a more difficult life. I saw countless evidences of the tenderness that dwelt inside, the one that insisted each grandchild receive equal attention and generosity; that never turned away one more college friend or last-minute visitor needing a place to stay; that patiently and calmly sat beside yet another student driver when parents were unable to carry out that task.
I smile as I picture in my mind's eye a bundled-up Grandmom in patient exasperation the day I locked her keys in the car when she took my best friend and I shopping for a Christmas tree one cold November. Way back in my memory I recall the warmth of her kitchen and the sweet smell of cookie dough that she allowed me to lick off her fingers as a little child. In that same small space we would squeeze around her table and for a homecoming meal she would make my favorite, chicken and dumplings as only Grandmom could prepare.
The most recent memories are bittersweet. Sitting beside her bed in the stillness of waiting, the days and hours before God called her home. After so many years apart, we were given that time together. And I am grateful.
Today I stumbled upon a piece of the past. A handwritten card from eleven years ago, when I was the blessed and tired new mother of 20-month old and a 4-month old daughters. We had just stepped into the great unknown of pre-field ministry (support raising, as it used to be called.) We had no idea how long it would take to reach the mission field (nearly 5 years) and how many valleys we might encounter along the way (adoption loss, miscarriage.)
But just seeing Grandmom's handwriting this morning brought tears to my eyes as I was reminded of one thing we knew we had: her faithful love and support.
There is a beautiful illustration of teamwork called "holding the rope." In missionary life, there are those who go and those who stay. The latter keep hold with their support and their prayers. They keep us anchored, stable and safe ... and in Grandmom's case, loved. She held the rope. I miss her.