She was a quiet woman – but communication can be quite effective even without words! She cooked over wood stoves in Africa, survived snakes falling from thatched roofs (of her home!), and taught women while her own children played in the red dust. When they moved to town, she taught a children’s class each Friday where all the neighborhood kids were invited. Her creativity and thoughtfulness were readily apparent – in the flannelgraph she would carefully select and use to teach a Bible class, in the lovely pictures she would paint, in the clothes she would frugally sew for her family.
She cooked – homemade cookies and biscuits, roasts and soups. She knew how to use her food well – not wasting but always full of love and flavor. She was a writer even on the mission field, contributing to a column about how to be a better Bible class teacher, penning reports and letters, writing outlines for her classes and seminars for women, children and teen girls. She even wrote two books about her life in Africa. She opened her home (in all the many places she lived) to anyone who needed it – for dinner, for a cup of tea, overnight, or long term. She had a gentle alto voice that seemed somehow to fit her personality, harmonizing with those around her in spirit and in music alike. She had a way of listening and loving that made you feel special, whether you were an adult or a child.
And I loved the way she held my hand, her fingers soft and gentle, worn with love.
Her name was Donna Mitchell. She was my grandmother. And she went home when I was 12. In many ways, I mourn her now, as an adult, more than I did as a child. With my two small children, knee deep in laundry and ministry, teaching and caring for my family, I long to talk with her – to ask her how she dealt with dad’s shenanigans, how she managed as an introvert on the mission field, how she filled up the bucket, how she taught. I can’t talk with her – not over cups of tea in a living room. I can’t hold her hand physically, at least this side of heaven. I can’t feel her petite frame reaching around, smaller in stature but giant in spiritual strength, wrapping her arms and her love – God’s love – about me.
But I have, as Paul says, “the books and the parchments.” Outlines of lessons she taught. Copies of articles she wrote. The two books she wrote describing her life. Pictures of her, smiling and poised but also laughing aloud, hugging her husband, kneeling to bandage a child, teaching.
I know her through my dad. Through their shared quiet nature and gentle understanding and intuition of people. Through their shared talent for writing clearly, beautifully and lovingly. Through their shared love of gardening. Through the way they nourished those around them, growing God’s people.
I know her through my two aunts, through the way they open their homes and their arms like she did. Through the way they share pieces of her that they live every day – recipes, flowers from her garden, habits they learned, things she used to say.
And though pieces do not make up a person, they give us a poignant reminder. If we genuinely love God, if we live our lives in daily sacrifice, we, too, can be like Abel, like my grandma, like my dad and leave the most important part behind – faith in God:
who through his faith, though he died, he still speaks (Hebrews 11:4)
Someday, I wonder if my own children will feel this way about my daddy. They will hold in their hands the pieces of his life – the stories of a gentle, quiet man, the monument of sermon notes and Bible classes, the books written, the photographs that captured precious moments of love and joy, evidence of a life well lived. Joyous, faithful, and faith given, passed to the next generation and the generation after that.
Because they weren’t just beautiful people – they were people who deeply, sacrificially, whole heartedly loved the Lord – and passed that faith to the next generation.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
What will we pass on to our children?