Faithful Living: Lessons from my grandma

By Joan Bay Klope

I began to have an idea of my life, not as the slow shaping of achievement to fit my preconceived purposes, but as the gradual discovery and growth of purpose which I did not know.

— Joanna Field

Funny thing about treasured possessions: some can be acquired at great cost and easily impress those around us. Other treasures possess no marketable value but teach quiet, eternal lessons with life-transforming potential.

One of my greatest treasures is a series of photos showing my paternal grandmother working in her garden. Located on the south side of her modest home in Ripley, Okla., the photos capture her systematically moving from one row to the next, the edge of her hoe sunk into the port silt loam —Oklahoma’s highly productive soil — to top off weeds.

The series of photos show her working at various ages, which reminds me that her consistent hoeing remained a lifelong endeavor. In a couple of shots there is a family member working beside her; in most she works independently. All she wears a simple house dress or pair of capris, Keds tennis shoes, white ankle socks, and a cap to shield her face from the blazing sun as it heated the distinctive reddish-brown soil that nourishes the Oklahoma prairie.

It would be easy to move into a discussion about the essential need to weed on a regular basis. That story has already been told. I believe the most important lesson comes from shots of her sitting on an upturned bucket, to rest and reflect for a few moments. I see her shouldering her hoe and gazing beyond her garden to a nearby field where she pastured Charolais cows.

I see deep, gentle, and quiet contemplation going on.

I know for a fact that some of her thoughts turned to the characters featured on the daytime soap, “As the World Turns.” She was a lifelong viewer and moments after each show she’d grab the phone and discuss the trials of Dr. Bob Hughes with the neighbor ladies.

It’s what you do when you are elderly, your family members have scattered across the U.S., and you never learned to drive. You phone a friend.

I also know that gardens take planning and strategizing. What kind of pole beans might fit over there? Maybe a new peanut plant would be nice. And perhaps some additional onion sets, planted now, would winter nicely in the walk-in cellar and be enjoyed when the garden lay frozen and dormant.

There is a lot of thinking that can occur when you are not distracted by incoming instant messages and email; iTunes downloads and 24-hour cable TV. A whole lot of life can be processed when you invite quiet, private thoughts to take you in new directions. And when you open your heart and mind to God, who offers love and purpose for your life.

Alone for a number of years following the death of her spouse, my grandmother sat out in that garden more often than not to process the events of her life. She’d think about what the preacher said the Sunday before. She’d consider a new idea introduced in her Sunday school lesson. She’d learn from a letter that a grandchild was sick so she’d pray. If she worried about an upcoming conversation or the trials faced by her family members, she’d rehearse what she wanted to say and offer advice out loud without feeling silly.

And she’d listen to the wind move the prairie grasses. She understood God was near — to hear the promptings of her heart and guide her way.

Years of quiet work and contemplation allowed for the kind of general discovery that doesn’t come from advanced education, world travel, a high profile career, an Xbox 360, an invitation to a company cocktail party, or a new flat-screened TV. Sarah Bay found contentment and soulful happiness out there in her garden because she discovered a way to process the events of her life and find companionship and value from her loving God.

She learned how to receive.

Do you hate folding the laundry? Hand washing your crystal? Commuting? Walking on the treadmill? Working at a job you resent? Believing other people live more glamorous lives than you do? Schedule some consistent, uninterrupted time this week to be quiet and ask God to communicate with you. Push aside preconceived notions, expectations, judgments, frustrations, and exhaustion. Pose a question, air a concern, lavish a praise, recount a treasured memory, rehearse an important conversation, and send your thoughts to God as you work. A connectedness, clearer understanding, emotional refreshment — even a new sense of resolution — can be yours if you quiet down and receive.

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