A true survivor. That’s what I think of when I remember my maternal grandmother. She was a woman who experienced being left behind when, as a young bride, her husband sailed for America for a better life for his family; a tragic mishap in which her firstborn daughter was severely burned as an infant; traveling across the sea to an unknown place with just her scarred daughter at her side; a life of religious persecution as well as long-term personal illness—yet a woman whose devotion to the Lord never wavered.

One of the joys of my life was visiting that little northern Italian village, nestled among olive groves high up in the Apennine Mountains, where my maternal grandparents were born, grew up, and married before emigrating to America. A short lane connects their two families’ farmhouses. In between them stands a small, now empty house of ancient, mellowed stone where my grandparents lived as newlyweds. How full my heart felt as I walked over that threshold! I pictured them as a young couple in the first blush of matrimony, with all their hopes and dreams…before their brave journey (separately) across a wide ocean to a strange land where all was unknown. Within those aged walls, did they speak of their fears as they prepared to leave their homeland, certain they’d never see their parents and siblings again? What kind of courage did that require? What words did they use to comfort and reassure one another? I wondered. I could see, in my mind’s eye, my grandmother stirring a pot of pasta as my grandfather stoked the fire. I could even hear the crackling of the firewood, smell the slight woodsmoke…

But life for my grandmother would be much different than that idyllic picture. Once in America in 1923, she would make her way to the Chicago area, joining her husband and settling in among extended family. A mother of three daughters, life during the Great Depression would be difficult. She would be invited to a prayer meeting in the home of a friend, where she was introduced to a new spiritual reality, a new life she’d never thought possible, through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The joy of the Lord she would know would come at a great price—being continually ostracized by her family of a different faith. Her prayer time would have to be done behind the locked bathroom door, her study of God’s word threatened when her Bible was burned repeatedly, her church attendance in clandestine fashion. A medical mistake meant she would suffer physically, every day, for the rest of her life. Yet—yet—she knew the inexplicable peace of God, and remained faithful to the Lord, a bold witness, a shining example of a godly woman who clung to her faith despite great adversity.

Once a widow, she lived with us until her death when I was 8 years old, tenderly cared for by my mother—another godly woman after her mother’s heart. My memories of my grandmother include hearing her fervent prayers during her daily devotion time—always in Italian, always out loud—and her singing worship choruses in that beautiful language. These images remain with me, along with a few rustic artifacts, which I was delighted to be able to take back to America with me from my visits to that little stone house on the family farm in Italy. Now I treasure and display them in my own home, because they connect me with that place and time and remind me of my rich spiritual heritage. My grandmother’s life inspires me as I endeavor to live in faithfulness to God through the struggles of my life. Amen. May it be so, Lord.

Thank you, Nonna.

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