4 Lessons From My 91 Year Old Grandmothers

Eva Irene Scholls Diel Harguess and Bertie Virgina Nickels Leslie – May 2015

One of my favorite road trips starts at my driveway and loops down through the wheat fields and back roads of northern Oklahoma to the homes of my two grandmothers. They each celebrated their 91st birthday in June.

These two women have been a constant in my life for five decades. I don’t take for granted the rarity of this gift and count every minute I’m able to spend in their company as pure joy. Our times together have begun to feel like holy ground.

Bertie Virginia and Eva Irene were both born in 1925, exactly one week apart. They each have always been called by their middle names. They grew up in the depression among families that worked farms and drove trains. They both knew God early and worshiped him every week on pews packed with people singing a capella. They had various jobs but considered raising families and being “faithful members of the church” their true calling. Dedicated wives to husbands who could be contrary, they never considered leaving. Murder might have been an option, but divorce never was.

But for all these similarities, they couldn’t be more different. Their personalities, worldviews, and giftings have offered me the widest range of examples to follow.

Saying goodbye is getting harder each time. The long road home gives me time to savor what these humble, beautiful women continue to give and I don’t mean the usual one or twelve “knick knacks.” It’s the scrappy, hard-earned wisdom resulting from nine decades of life that I value most.

A few weeks ago I was able to make a quick round of visits. The ninth decade hasn’t been easy for either of them. So many changes have been forced upon them by health, finances and the tyrant called time. But they still teach me something new during every visit. Here are four lessons from the most recent trip that I don’t want to forget:

Give away your stuff – This has been modeled in the giving and the clinging. Open handed generosity has served one much better than the other. I learn from both and am thankful.

Greater dependency requires greater humility – Both women are learning what it means to be cared for after a lifetime of caring for others. I’m watching this process carefully, as well as learning from the sons and daughters who are doing the care giving. It can be a backward blessing. The gift of sanctification follows us to the very end.

Tell your stories – My love of story was genetically passed down. Irene and Gin have always loved telling and listening to stories, mainly around the kitchen table. I’ve watched their stories bring pleasure and set anchors and never age. So many stories have stuck around, even when the storyteller can’t remember what they ate for breakfast.

God IS good, all the time – The faith my grandmothers have carried in their own unique ways, has not disappointed them. Through heartbreak and loss, through much and through little, God’s presence was and continues to be an abiding fact of life for them both. A legacy such as this is the most valuable inheritance a person could hope to leave.

In this election week when wise words and actions will be scarce, the resilient and persevering wisdom of my grandmothers may be the best we could hope for.


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