I really enjoyed this article, titled “It’s (Not) Just a Baby” – the author captures how children, baby Jesus, and those who pull us into the unknown and the loss of control are often scary, and life changing. This reflection is based on last week’s reflection for Advent from Matthew, from the Ekklesia Project Blog, and is woven around thoughts on adopting a child (presumably from another background then that of the author). I think it captures the sense of the unknown and the fear of loss of control that children can sometimes bring, as well as the interesting dynamics of biology, race, and identity that different families share. If you’ve ever thought about cross-cultural adoption, or having children, or just how families interact in general, you might also enjoy this.
Last week my great-grandma, Margaret Lundquist, passed away peacefully in her sleep at 101 yrs old. She enjoyed fairly independent and healthy living until age 100 – we just moved her into a nursing home right before her 100th birthday! I am so grateful for her long and amazing life and that she died painlessly at ‘home’ (one of her fears was having to go to a hospital to die).
Margaret was a woman who impacted many others – especially in her family – through her service, compassion, perseverance, and humility. She was the adoptive mother of my mom and aunt from the time that they were 3 and 5 yrs old, when my grandma couldn’t care for them (after her husband left her and their kids). Margaret’s husband then left their family shortly after the girls were adopted, so Margaret ran a turkey farm in rural MN by herself, continued to support her own three (mostly adult) children, and raised two young girls on her own with very limited finances or outside support. She didn’t talk much about her life, struggles, or the substantial pain she witnessed in her life – but remained a reliable, positive, and strong example of a tough, caring woman in the midst of an often tumultuous family.
I just learned some stories from my great-grandmother this past year when we helped move her from her apartment to the nursing home across the street. One night, as we shared ice cream in bed before going to sleep, she told me about her own great-grandmother, Anna, who was apparently a doctor in Czechoslavakia somewhere and was employed by the Czar. I also heard (from my mom), that when Margaret was running the farm alone and raising her adopted granddaughters, she didn’t have a lot of support from the community or the church. But one day the pastor came to visit the farm so my grandma came out on the porch to talk to him. He only asked why she had not been paying for her pew at the church. I can only imagine her embarassment and humility, her sense of being abandoned (again) and shamed. But she didn’t talk about that, ever. My grandma never went to church again. She did leave me her two Bibles – one that was her mother’s, one stocked with notes, letters, article clippings, and marriage and funeral announcements from the last century or so pressed between faded fragile pages. So much life and death recorded on those pages, so many memories.
Times like this are when I pause to wade deeper into family stories and histories, learning who went before me, who supported and wounded my own history. It feels important, even if difficult, to do. In some ways this history has a hold on me – it has shaped my mom, my family, my story, and my inheritance. And in other ways it shows how far I and my generation have moved from the place of suffering and survival that my great-grandma experienced; how far her own sacrifice helped me to move. So I pause to remember and be thankful for this amazing woman who spent over a century walking this earth. I pause to embrace my own story and to mourn for the mistakes that I wasn’t even alive for, but that deeply shaped my history. I pause to remember why we each need community and church and support – and why those most in need or on the margins may remain the most silent or unheard in their pain. And I pause to say thank you to my great-grandma, and to rememerber why I will always proudly be Elizabeth Margaret Mosbo VerHage.