Sunday, May 18, 2014

Becoming a Woman of Excellence

Nonna Cina. She was my gentle grandmother from Italy. A lady of simple elegance with a wealth of wisdom and heart-felt compassion. I could only hope to one day be as loving, as gracious as Nonna.

It is assumed that some women are just born with an innate goodness. I thought Nonna was like that. But, Scripture teaches all people are born sinners (Romans 3:23). Nonna wasn't born good. Nobody is. And, I didn't know this at the time, but Nonna became a woman of excellence through trusting the Lord in her struggles and hardships.

Nonna didn't waste words. She said those things that stick with you through the years. And, her gifts were the same. Knowing I liked to draw, she once gave me some old pictures from a dated calendar. Each had a picture of a child and a little saying to go along with it. I was a teenager at the time, but I held onto them through the years. 

It's amazing, but I believe each child from those pictures is a beautiful reflection of my own children's personalities and the things I hope for them. Nonna never got to meet any of my children, but in a way, the pictures were a blessing for them from her. I have the four of them framed in my children's room. To remind them of the truth. To remind myself.

The year 1998 was one of those pivotal times in my life. It was the year my Nonna died.

I was twenty. Billy and I loved going over to Grandpa and Nonna’s house for dinner on Sundays. 

Nonna served us spaghetti smothered in authentic Italian marinara sauce, followed by steaming hot cups of espresso. Grandpa Ernie, a baker, served us cake topped with whipped cream frosting for dessert. Billy liked to put some of his frosting in the espresso to cool it, making it bittersweet. 

Not only did Grandpa and Nonna feed our stomachs, they also fed our souls. They encouraged us to follow Jesus and to love others the way that He loved us.

Then Nonna developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. After some tests were done, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. The diagnosis didn’t seem to make any sense. She never smoked, ate home-grown vegetables, and had an overall healthy lifestyle. 

She went to the hospital for more tests and a prognosis.  It turned out that the lung cancer was terminal, and she only had a few weeks to live.

As I was visiting her at the hospital, I noticed a book lying next to her bed. The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.

“You can have it,” she said, handing it to me. 

Another gift. "Thank you." 

Soft grey curls framed the eyes of someone who was filled with peace. She had no fear of death. She was fully confident that her Savior would take care of her.

It was hard seeing Nonna fade away. Nothing medically could be done for her. Each Sunday, she went to church and wheeled her oxygen tank down the aisle to her pew, until she no longer had the strength. 

While confined to her bed, my dad came to visit her and played his guitar while singing her favorite hymns.  

Six weeks after her diagnosis, she was gone.

As I read through The Hiding Place, I felt comforted.  How could a story about suffering in a concentration camp help me?  

It was because God was there. 

He showed up and took care of Corrie and her sister Betsy in miraculous ways. And He has done the same for me.

Years later, after having a child born with a condition incompatible with life, I picked it up and read it again. I sensed once again how God is faithful amidst great suffering. 

When it seems all hope is lost, God is there to lift us up.  

He empowers us to forgive those who have hurt us and helps us to reach out to them with His love.


After Nonna died, Grandpa Ernie went through all of her things and came across her journal.

“I thought you might like to read this,” he said and handed it to me.  It was small and had a rainbow printed on the front. 

Nonna gave gifts even after she went to be with the Lord. What a legacy.

Reading the journal from cover to cover, I got to know my Nonna’s great love for Jesus.  On one page, she wrote the old adage, 

The heart would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears.” 

I now know what she meant.  Though I have shed many tears in my grief, the light of God’s love has been pouring into my broken heart. Like a prism, the love of Christ transformed my tears, filling me with a rainbow of hope.

If I ever hope to become a woman of excellence like Nonna, then there is one place that I need to be. 

At the feet of Jesus.

I know that's where she is right now.   

Lord God, is it possible that Your Word will enter all of my heart, all of my soul, and all of my mind?  You are my Great Comforter.  You give to me rest and peace.  I love you Lord, O Jesus, my Savior.  To You, I pray for holiness, and humility, to fill me with Your innocence and goodness.  To those who are obedient, Your grace is sufficient. –Nonna Cina