Everyone needs a spiritual mother. Sometimes she is your biological mother and sometimes, especially when you're a teenager, she isn't. I was a typical teen who didn't put much credence in my parents' wisdom. And where is a girl to go with her full, angry, confused heart that wants to do right but keeps finding herself off the "straight and narrow" path that she knows deep down she wants to be back on?
To Nan's, that's where.
Nan always made time for me. Our youth group used to have special events at her house because she had a sprawling place. Big rooms, lots of land. But mostly love, love, love!
I say Nan "made" time for me; I don't say she "had" time, because she was far from idle. Not that she was a workaholic; she wasn't. She was a woman devoted to prayer. Her home was neat and tidy, and to my knowledge there was no housekeeper, so she must've kept house herself. But she was never "fussing" about it or drawing attention to it. The focus was always on God and what He was doing in people's lives.
She had been widowed and left with three children when they were teens. Long since graduated from high school, her children had left the nest--her son became a missionary in Ivory Coast-- but Nan always seemed to have people in her home. For a time her daughter returned with her infant son who had something like severe epilepsy. Grand mal seizures many times a day, and toward the end of his 10-month life, seizures several times an hour. Nan shared the night shift taking care of him; his monitor beeped for every breathing stoppage or gagging reflex. At the same time, her mother was bedridden and mute after a stroke. Nan fixed up the sunroom with a bed and comfy furniture and lamps and curtains that she opened every morning to introduce the sunshine to her mother. Her mom's name was Sarah, and above her bed was a plaque that said, "Sarah: Mother of Many Nations." Little did I know that someday my future husband would want to name our daughter Sarah. I pictured our girl being a mother to many children of her own . (I didn't envision then all the lives --"nations" she'd touch as an elementary school teacher.)
If there was no one else in human form at Nan's house for company, there was Jesus. That's one thing that stands out to me more than anything. No doubt about it, Jesus and Nan were close friends. She confided everything in Him over the kitchen table. One time when I was about 18, I drove to her house on a whim (not very thoughtful--just self-focused on my problems) and needed comfort and prayer. I drove to her stately old house which is nestled deep in the woods like a secret mansion. As I got out of my Chevy Chevette, horses neighed in the pasture, a kitty cat rubbed up against my leg, and the smell of boxwood scented the air like familiar cologne. All my senses were heightened and soothed at Nan's.
And then she opened the door. Her smile and open arms and contageous laugh melted me every time.
"Well, look who it is! Zo.Ann.A." She punctuated people's names as if giving them a good, long thought. She hugged me tight and said "Come on in! I was just having a cup of coffee with Jesus. It's just the two of us and I was asking Him what this verse means," she said, taking my hand and leading me to her open Bible on the table. "Darlin,' maybe He brought you here to explain it?" And then she would laugh with infectious joy. It was as if she cracked herself up thinking how great her life was to include impromptu visitors. And the humility! Goodness, why on earth would a 50-something lady be asking a teenager to explain something from the Bible! Now THAT was funny!
Nan didn't waste time on small talk. She got down to the nitty-gritty with ease and grace and amazing quickness. "Tell me what's going on, darlin.' Why did the Lord put it on your heart to come see this old woman in the woods today?" And somehow I let all my defenses down and spilled my proverbial guts. I felt safe and warm. She loved me, my parents, my friends. There was nothing I could say that would make her think less of me OR them. She always gave people the benefit of the doubt while listening to one side of the story. That's wisdom.
She treated her help well. In fact, I didn't even realize they were paid help on her farm. I thought they were young, strong men who found Nan's hospitality as irresistible as I did, and they were simply stopping by to feed the horses, muck the stalls, check the propane tank, cut back the shrubs, or what-have-you.
When I wanted to move back home after my second year away at college, I asked Nan if I could rent the apartment that was annexed to her main living area. (It was formerly the west end of the house where the youth group once made memories.) She gently explained that she didn't rent it out; she reserved it for missionaries on furlough or people who needed a sabbatical in the Lord's work.
Years later my daughter grew up and began visiting a house church when she was going through a spiritual growth spurt, with coinciding questions about her faith. She would go our church on Sundays, but one night a week she visited a house church. And guess who was there? She came home and said, "Mom, I met a woman who knows you from way back when. Do you remember someone named Nan? She is so loving."
That's Nan's legacy. Love. The ultimate legacy, wouldn't you agree?