A Woman of Noble Character

Proverbs 31: 30-31

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Honour her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about family, and what it means to belong. In February this year my husband, children and I have returned home to South Africa from Scotland to spend time with my extended family. I am always struck by how being in amongst my people brings me a sense of belonging, of unconditional love, of being filled.

At the head of this family is a godly matriarch we call gran. On this family holiday I was reflecting on the way seasons change, and generations shift. I remember many beach holidays where my gran would feed as many as 16 of us who were staying in her house. Carefully laid out smoked glass bowls, filled military style with fruit salad and then custard, my gran’s uniform: her apron. She was assisted by the next generation: my mom and her sisters, but she was the driving force behind it all. Day after day, meal after meal, she would stand behind the kitchen counter and dispense food to hungry family members waiting at the table. As a child, I didn’t give much thought to how the food got prepared and made it to my plate. Today as a mother myself, I am very aware of all the work that goes into planning, shopping, preparing and serving food to little people. There is something powerful in the repetition of these rituals, and in the way they shift and change. We come into this world being cared for, and then we become the one who cares, and then we need to allow ourselves to be cared for by those we have poured our love into.
These days, the roles have changed, and we have changed places. These days she is sitting at the dining room table and I am in the kitchen with my aunts peppering her with questions as I attempt to prepare family recipes that she has mastered over decades, and I am still learning. I know she feels the loss of all that she was able to do, and now has to let the rest of us do for her. Given half a chance she will take a knife in her hands, now gnarled with painful arthritis, and start preparing fruit at the dining table, or scoop crumbs in her vicinity into a tidy pile. Throughout her life, her driving force has been serving her family, and today that continues, it just looks a little different.

These times together are precious to me, and I do not take them for granted. They are also bitter sweet. There is an ache in the space between my gran and I, a missing link. We share a deep loss: her daughter, and my mother. Somehow, when we are together, that loss is both more keenly felt and lessened. This year it will be 15 years.

My gran is 96 years old, and though physically frail, her mind is still fierce. The year before last, she read through the bible from cover to cover, and she has a voracious appetite for learning. You will not find her without a book nearby- this time it’s CS Lewis. As I sat next to her the other day I noticed a piece of paper, carefully stored in a plastic envelope in the basket of her walker. I asked her what it was and she told me it was her prayer list. There, in her neat and careful writing were lists and lists of her family members, friends, people who have worked for her over the years, even close friends of mine who she has got to know. Most days she prays through this list. She said to me, “There is not a lot I can do these days, but as I sit here what I can do is pray.”

Maybe God designed it this way on purpose, as age forces us to slow, it brings a stillness where spiritual battles are fought. It brings me a lot of comfort and peace knowing that the battles I fight out in the world, are not fought alone. My gran is praying an army around me.

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