A Profile in Strength & Courage

A few weeks ago, my mom wrote on Facebook,

Thinking of my grandmother lately and realizing that she set some pretty good examples for me when I was young. I find myself … praying that I can live with the dignity and strength that she exemplified.

My great-grandmother died 4 years before I was born so I had no personal knowledge of the dignity and strength that my mom remembers, but my time researching my family’s history had enlightened me to a certain extent. Then earlier this week, I met up with some of my mom’s cousins from her father’s side of the family, who had also started researching that branch of the family tree. As we shared our (mostly their) information, stories, and findings, I thought back to what my mom had posted and realized again how strong of a woman my great-grandmother must have been.

A picture of my great-grandparents and 5 of their 9 children taken c. 1921.

Consider:

  • She spent the first 20+ years of her life basically living as a serf in an area of Austria-Hungary that is now in present-day Ukraine.
  • In her early 20s, she left everything and everyone she had ever known to join her sister in America for a chance at a better life. She never saw the rest of her family, or her homeland, again.
  • She never learned to read or write.
  • Her oldest child was born with cataracts and eventually lost her eyesight.
  • Her second child died just 5 hours after she was born.
  • Her youngest child was stricken with polio.
  • Her husband died 3 days before her birthday and 10 days before their 50th wedding anniversary.
  • She then lost all 3 of her sons within the next 16 years, at the ages of 46, 47, and 51.

And I’m sure that these only scratch the surface and that there were even more secret and smaller struggles that she endured throughout her lifetime.

It’s a testimony to her character that my mom’s childhood memories of her grandmother are ones of dignity and strength. It also shows that sometimes the lessons others learn from us aren’t the ones we set out to teach. My great-grandmother taught her grandchildren how to make homemade pierogies and other Ukrainian dishes. I doubt she purposefully set out to teach them how to persevere through life with strength and dignity. Yet my mom remembers the former lesson much more clearly than the latter. (In fact, I’m not sure I would want to eat any pierogies my mom tried to make from scratch. haha)

I’m also reminded of Hebrews 12:1, where, after listing Scripture’s great examples of faith in the previous chapter, the author writes, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The lives of the saints call us to persevere in faith as well. Their example is a testimony and witness to what is possible when we push through difficulties and trials to remain faithful and to trust in God’s power and promises. To a lesser extent, I feel like my great-grandmother’s life calls me to something similar. What she went through and the fact that she persevered through it all stands as a testimony that it is possible to live through difficulties and make it through to the other side. The magnitude of her trials also reminds me that my difficulties aren’t all that bad in comparison so I shouldn’t spend my time in self-pity.

What examples and life-lessons have you found in your family’s history?

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