My Nanny taught me much about life and faith – and I recognize it more today than ever before. When I became heavily involved in a conservative, evangelical, Pentecostal church at age 21, she promptly told me, “Donna, you will ALWAYS be a Catholic, no matter where you go to church. You were baptized Catholic, and if I have anything to do with it, when you die you will be buried Catholic.” Yes, my grandmother, my Nanny, was fiery – but incredibly generous – some of my family would say, to a fault. Though, we all benefited from her goodness – even if (okay, when) we took advantage of that goodness from time to time.
Making some less-than-stellar choices as a young adult, (like getting married one month after high school graduation) as an escape, Nanny instinctively knew our bank accounts wouldn’t be flowing freely with sufficient cash to make life work very well. Groceries arrived regularly – so did dinners at her house. Grandpa kept a well-stocked separate room, that was actually like a mini-mart – being a child of the depression, he was a diligent sale shopper, and we reaped the benefits. Whenever there was need, we were invited to shop – even before we said anything Grandpa would tell us to head out to the storeroom and grab what we needed.
In my quest to be holy as God is holy, I tried to do it all right. I mean, I did after all have to fit into my persona as Little Miss Goodie Two Shoes – even if it was a big fat lie. I was taught many rules in my church, what I should and should not do, what all good Christians pursuing truth should be about – especially being sure to tell others about Jesus – the Savior of the world. (Except I was a great big failure at that one – it just never felt very kind – and it was just words – what did it mean anyway?) There was also emphasis on the heathen (!) in other countries, who needed to know how to correctly live a Christian life. (Another !) Nanny, hearing my words, (because words have always been my constant friend/enemy), would often repeat some version of this: “Donna, do you see the need right here in the United States? I don’t see the point of sending money away, or spending so much time on something so far away when there is so much need here.” (Now, all my missionary friends, it’s okay, I support you, and your beautiful work of compassion – this was my fiery Nanny, apparently living out her own calling, but sometimes missing others!)
Today, while unpacking more items from our year-ago move, I discovered a round plaque that seemed very kitschy and cheesy stating HOME: Where each lives for the other and all live for God. I mean really, what does it even mean? (See, I do ask that question a lot!) I’ve tried to toss this before, the style, honestly, it’s really just not me. But it hung in Nanny’s house for as long as I can remember – so it’s a point of emotional connection; a memory-marker. And so it sits on the table before me, wondering if it will be tossed out.
I’ve gotten quite used to unpacking my beliefs over the past decade or so, about things I’ve held tightly, but no longer believe as truths. I’ve learned there are shades of grey – akin to those paint cards with graduated, slight differences in perspective. (No fear folks, my faith in the God of the universe is still intact – I just hold it differently, with a generous grace, attempting to live into my own callings more clearly, chucking fear at every waking.)
So when I read this plaque today, I started to consider what it might mean – digging deeply to stifle the early conversion default template about what was right and what was wrong. Nanny reflected the heart of God for her family – she was all about generosity, both relational and resource. That, I suddenly realized was living for one another – and, perhaps more to the point here, living for God. Nanny’s beliefs weren’t only in her head – she lived them out. She wasn’t a saint, that is, unless saints also had a less-than-perfect side – and I suspect there is truth there. The hopeful take-away in these rambling thoughts this cool but sunny October day, is that while we are all less-than-perfect, and even in the midst of that, we can affect others lives for good – and I suspect that is what it means to live for God.
Interesting how my life work would ultimately reflect Nanny’s ethos of caring locally. Having been at Choices Mt. Shasta for nearly twenty years, learning (and relearning) what it means to truly care well, wrestling through beliefs about the shoulds of life perspectives, and ultimately landing on the reality that it is the simple, consistent and caring presence of one human face and heart to another that makes the difference – right here in our little communities.
And I’m still not sure what to do with the plaque. Maybe I could revive it with some fresh paint? A fresh expression of an old foundational understanding about life and the ways in which it’s not about the rules – it’s about the simple presence of caring that connects people to something greater than themselves – the Creator of the Universe. The Creator is for us – and we can communicate this best in the ways we love others. (Which is why my FaceBook religious view says Love God, Love Others.)
Jim Henderson reminds me of this in his latest book Saving Casper: “The spiritual life is the discovery of the self God meant us to be so that who we are can be God’s gift to the rest of the world.” Thank you Nanny for inspiring and building a legacy for good – for God, in the simple ways of life you modeled for me. I heard, I felt, I knew goodness, safety and hope because of your care.
(So I realize I haven’t let you in on much of Grandpa’s very loving and influential role in my life – like how he’d roll his eyes with a smile when I’d put ice cubes in my red wine. Yes, people, I wasn’t always the classy wine drinker I am today. Another time. This is about all I’ve got today.)
And, to answer your most certain question, these days I’ve settled comfortably into embracing a hybrid of Lutheran (ELCA) and Anglican (Episcopal) expression of my faith – and I’m thinking Nanny would somehow find that a suitable compromise.
Cheers and goodness to you – may you discover a few deeply held memories that inspire life forward.