Photo by Pam Ecrement
None of us do life in a vacuum. There are people, relationships, and connections that begin to shape who we will become from the moment we are born. It’s certainly the family we are born into but even those who touch us in the moments in the hospital after our arrival give us a little sense of our new world outside of the safe place inside our mother. But it will be a few seasons until our tendency to be egocentric begins to diminish. Perhaps it won’t happen until early adulthood or even beyond for some.
It wasn’t always that way. There was a time 75+ years ago when people tended to need to accept responsibility and leadership earlier when we were more of an agrarian culture in less industrialized areas. When that shifted there were pluses but we also lost something. Men of my dad’s era (born in 1910) were used to working long hours beside their parents to provide for what was needed and became good stewards of those things as well. They also lived in multigenerational homes and communities so they reaped the benefits of those generations above them as they often spent more time with them than they did with just peers.
In the transitions of my life along the way I was blessed to have relationships from several seasons above me as well as peers. Later there were some younger than I. Those all enriched my life. Along the way, how they lived their lives, managed their responsibilities, and modeled relationships were an invaluable gift. I recall them now with great respect and affection as I did even when I was much younger and their investment in me made no sense. Their age and wisdom saw things I missed until I approached their ages.
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I recall so well my sophomore high school English teacher. She was one of a group of what would be called “old maid teachers” who recognized my family life exposed me to a limited scope of many things. She knew then I liked to write and she encouraged and believed in me. She and several other older unmarried teachers knew I loved music and musical theater and had no chance to experience it so they sometimes invited me to join them at a local summer theater for their productions. What a gift they were to a farm girl whose insecurities were quick to result in her never risking something for herself in almost any area.
Being a young bride of a Marine Corps officer wasn’t easy. There were more than a few wives whose husbands were the same rank, but also senior officers’ wives to show us how to cope with the challenges of being a military spouse (especially during their deployments). One of them became a very special person for me. When my husband got orders to a lengthy overseas duty coinciding with our first pregnancy, she called me and said she knew her husband would soon receive similar orders and she would be returning to the county I would be living in then and connect with me. And not many months later she did.
This woman had five children and had been through so much more than I and she invited me to her home often where she treated me as though I were an equal. She also blessed me with her exceptional gifting as a pianist and it would be she who would point us to the best piano teacher in the area when the baby I was carrying was a young boy wanting to learn to play the piano. When her husband retired and they lived just 2 hours away, we would go to visit and later walked beside them when her husband developed cancer that ultimately took his life. It was she who exposed us to the significance of the bar mitzvah of one of her grandsons. We would also travel to Arlington National Cemetery for her husband’s burial with full military honors. When she joined him there some years later, it was a significant loss of one of the older women of my life.
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She was not the only one. Another precious gentle hearted Mennonite woman encouraged me in more ways than I could count over her “friendship tea” at her kitchen table where she shared her faith and loved me when I was not nearly as mature as I should have been. It was she whom I visited when she was in a senior living facility after her husband died and visited her just a few weeks before she died. She spoke then of so many things I wanted to remember but the most significant were those she spoke when I asked her what she was sensing from the Lord as she neared the end and she said, “I won’t be disappointed.” I was blessed to be able to share a few words about her at her funeral and I miss her still.
I began to have younger women in my life by my mid-fifties so the tapestry of different seasons became a rich part of my life I still cherish. What has been hard for me is to now have only two women in my life who are older than I. How did I become the older woman to most others? When did that happen as I was busy living life?
Little by little all along the way I was learning that relationships were the key and it shaped many of my choices and values along the way.
“At its core, life is not about things, it is about relationships. It is the hands that we go on holding in our hearts at the end that define the kind of life we have led. Our relationships determine the quality of life as we have known it. They show us the face of God on Earth. They are, too, what batter our hearts into feelings of life.”Joan Chittister
Little wonder when you look at the places the Lord led me to work and serve that relationships were the passion of my heart. They were not to be collected like trophies but rather to be seen as gifts to care for, grow with, learn from, and develop as a better human being.
The position I wrote about on a church staff even had “relationship development” in the title I was given.
How easy we forget!! God set that model for us when He created us and wanted a relationship with us. It was always about that and it is what I think He wants us to understand and then be more like Him.
Photo by Pam Ecrement