My heroine of the faith is my Swedish grandmother, Mor Mor (Mother’s Mother), Mildred Sandquist Martin (1913-2012). This blog post is part of Michelle DeRusha’s #MyFaithHeroine contest, in connection with the release of the book 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. Find out how to participate here.
She taught me how to scrub clean with old toothbrushes the grimy places of farmhouse windowsills and doors whose crisscross panes carried dirt, manure and the sweat of five kids running back and forth between indoor play, feeding calves, milking cows and hayloft frolicking.
She also taught me how to pray without pretense or pause.
Her lessons span as wide as work thoroughly done or not at all and a God whose eye is on the sparrow and bids us ‘come’. One of her favorite phrases from her own mother was ‘you have to be a little crazy to stay sane.’ Her life sprinkled across mine is a lot like yeast that works through dough and gives rise to the kingdom of God.
She birthed eleven children whose raising began in the height of the Great Depression. Need was a gift that brought forth great inventions. So she sewed and taught her daughters the same. Her sons learned how to cook and each child knew that a morsel of bread should never be eaten without profound gratitude.
Her eleven children would rise to call her blessed and her husband too. So would forty-four grandchildren through six decades. And many of the hundred and more great grandchildren would learn at her knee or at those of who she gave herself for their bending.
She never knew a stranger and that meant their stories too. Her mind could recall the details of neighbors far into her 99 years. I saw her hold the hands of each friend brought to our Martin family Thanksgiving gatherings and look into eyes to read the lips that translated into souls who God loved and died that they might live. What early-life hearing loss stole was given back manifold in the still quiet of a spirit that never ceased to know the voice of Heaven.
Her passions ran toward conservative politics and teachers of the inerrant Word of God who stood for what is right. As the daughter of Swedish immigrants she had little patience for those who did not respect the sacrifice of God and man so that we could be free. Her loyalty was fierce and at times her opinions harsh when one she loved was wronged. But in-between and all around were moments of praise for a Savior who was as close as each nurse who cared for her. So she spoke with glinting eyes and firm grip of the God who receives us in our bent and crippled and lost and broken.
She would have given her life for any of her children. And knew the hope of Heaven when her strapping nine pound baby boy died of starvation for the milk she gave that could not reach his tender little tummy. Then at 89 years old she would touch the brow of her sixty year-old daughter, my mother, body eaten away by cancer and wish so very much she could take her place.
When news of her dying reached me slow on the other side of the ocean in a small panzio in Keszthely, Hungary, I offered up thanks for her life with a humble vow. I would write her name in my story as a true follower of Jesus. I would move towards the ceaseless praying that graced her frail hugs with hot and holy intercession. I would never forget that behind each pair of eyes there is a story and to learn to listen with soul ears. I would remember that faith means nothing if it doesn’t find the dark hidden corners too easy to neglect for the skimping busy. And I would learn to live like Jesus’ heart is mirrored in every aching tear of a lost world that is crying out for those who will slow long enough to hold a hand, speak a word of hope and offer a prayer for the story yet to be written.