Monday, February 2, 2015

Peevish Pets, Pet Peeves, or What You Will

Every so often when I'm out and about, a thought strikes me and I think, "That really drives me crazy. That's just such a pet peeve of mine." Inevitably, a snarky Facebook-status one-liner pops into my head and I plan to tuck it away until I can get on a computer later and post it. Also inevitably, I stop myself on that train of thought and think, "Man, every time I label something as a pet peeve, I seem to see it pop up even more often."

I've been thinking about it a lot, and I'm come to the conclusion that the phrase "pet peeve" shouldn't be in my vocabulary. For me, I've found that once I use it as a label, I almost feel allowed to be annoyed about it, as if by giving it a name, I've enabled it to make me into a grump. If, however, I fight through that feeling and put it aside without labeling it, I find that I'm much more graciously able to move on from it without making it into a mountain.

I also had more mentally written out in my head about this, but apparently my head has gone visiting and it took my thoughts with it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In Search of Oneself, or "Walking the Ever-Present Tight-Rope Between Extremes"

More and more these days, I see blog posts, comments, and quotes to “be yourself.” If you Google the phrase, you might see that WikiHow even has an article on “How To Be Yourself: 10 Helpful Tips.” A quote frequently made into a fancy picture and posted all over Pinterest is “Life is too short to be anyone but yourself.” Oscar Wilde famously said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” On Facebook, I often see Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
As a pre-teen, I compiled a running list of inspirational quotes that I liked—from “When you were born, the world rejoiced and you cried. Live your life in such a way that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice,” to “Turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.” My thirty-two page Word document full of junior high quotes is notably lacking in “be yourself” lines, however, and I find that to this day, statements to that effect make me feel vaguely uncomfortable. Being a person who doesn’t like feeling uncomfortable without understanding why or analyzing where that feeling is coming from, I’ve spent some small portion of time considering the matter. For me, it all comes down to one underlying issue:
To “be yourself” is often an excuse to not be any better than you are right now.
There are times when the sentiment to “be yourself” is perfectly valid and one that I hope my daughters will understand as they grow older. I don’t want them to do something just because someone else pressures them into it. Is it so bad, however, to emulate another person that you admire? Is it wrong to recognize your own deficiencies, look around, and see someone else who seems to have found a way to conquer that issue? Who are we if not composites of our own nature, the nurture we have received, the grace of God, and the influence of those around us? Charles Colton, an English cleric and writer, once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Flattery or not, my problem with the “be yourself” movement isn’t that it’s wrong to dance to your own beat, nor is it the idea that everyone has something to give to the world. It isn’t that we each are uniquely and fearfully made in the image of God, either. Where I take issue with the movement is when it strays from celebrating God’s creativity in forming us and skips over the line to deceiving ourselves and our friends that there is no need to improve ourselves. That to change or decide to do something out of *our* norm is to betray who we really are. Frankly, I see a lot of things in myself that are, well, myself. Just because they are parts of who I am doesn’t mean that’s who I should be or who I want to be, though. Just because I am naturally introverted doesn’t mean I am meant to live a self-pampering lifestyle where I never push myself out of my box. It means being aware of my limitations, celebrating the unique way God made me, and pushing myself to be better. Whether being better means taking the time I know I need by myself to rejuvenate or looking at a situation and deciding that this is a time while yes, I might be tired, and yes, I might want to go home and curl up with a book by myself to recharge, this time I need to stay and pour myself into this group of people—it takes judgment and wisdom.
As a child and teenager, one of my defining characteristics was a thirst for betterment—an insatiable desire for knowledge. I see it in my oldest daughter now and marvel at the wonder and curiosity she has for the world—yet I know that once, I asked those same questions. Once, I pushed myself beyond what was required of me to learn more about the world around me. It’s why I studied Arabic on my own from the time I was 10 until I 15, and why I took a class when I was 15 to learn more. It’s why I read book after book after book about Martin Luther, King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and more. It’s why I spent a summer trying to learn American Sign Language when I was eleven. It’s why I begged my Mom to let me fit eight sciences into six years of junior high and high school, and it’s why I spent a year doing Rosetta Stone Chinese as a twelve year old. It’s why I pushed myself to journal even when I disliked putting the time into writing or pushing past the discomfort in my wrist from all the penmanship—I wanted to write about where I was at so that someday, I could look back and not forget where I had come from.
College changed this for a few years. Between sickness, marriage, children, work, and full-time studies with lots of reading, my desire to push myself beyond what was required went out the window. Any reading outside of school was nonexistent. The thought of extra language studies was a joke. Reading for pleasure became reading sub-par fluffy books that were finished in less than two hours. Only now, a year out from finishing my degree (four and a half years after I started), am I finding my interest in the world returning. Only now have I really begun to look around and study ways to live better again, to work better, to be better. Now I am reading again, searching again, digging in again to see what parts of who I am I like and what parts I need to change.
In the past, I have seen something on Facebook or the web in general and have not followed through on it simply because I did not think of it first. (Yes, I am ashamed to admit it.) At other points, I have felt pressured to do something simply because a truly inspirational blog made it sound wonderful and that’s what everyone else is doing. Is either extreme right? No. Choosing to follow an idea that demands I “be myself” at the cost of not improving myself is not a movement I want to be part of. Similarly, I don’t want to go to the opposite extreme and feel judged or less than worthy because I have not done something in one area as well as another person did or because I went my own way in a certain area. I want to—I need to—find and walk the line between the two, where I celebrate how God made me (quirks and all) yet where I am open to learning from those around me. I want to change for the sake of improvement rather than pressure or the sake of change itself. I want to be honest enough with myself and others that I can admit I do not have it all together and that there is a lot to learn from those who are or have been in similar situations. (Sometimes, there’s even something to be learned from someone who’s never been in any situation remotely like what I might be going through—now that is humbling.)
This is where I see Ecclesiastes coming in*. Today, the world is all about expressing yourself. Being yourself. Loving yourself and who you are. In moderation and with understanding, these are wonderful ideals. Being yourself is not where it ends, though. It is not the whole story. Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. No one remembers former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” Is it not the height of arrogance and conceit to imagine I can do it myself without incorporating things I think are laudable from those around me? Are we not to learn from those who have gone before us? Should we not learn from those around us and gain from their successes and failures? How can one person possibly expect to think of every good idea? Who are we if not composites?
Today’s world tells us our significance comes in how well we stand out, in how true we are to ourselves. That begs the question—how true to yourself do you want to be? Should you be “true to yourself” if your self is a selfish, unkind person?  Where should your sense of significance be coming from? From a misplaced idea that seeing a good thing and incorporating it into who you are is denying yourself? Or from an equally faulty assumption that you have to be like everyone else to have value?
I am Melanie. I am a third-culture kid who grew up in three countries. I am the product of dozens of cultures and centuries of history. I am twenty-four years old. I am the wife of the man I never dared dream about but always hoped for regardless. I am a mother to two living, beautiful, and wonderfully curious girls and the mother to two infants who died before birth. I am a certified teacher but a lifelong learner. I am the child who followed elderly people in Europe pretending they were the grandparents I rarely got to see, and the mother who now revels in the time my children have with their own four grandparents. I am the girl who studied nine languages, only ever spoke three well, and now feels like I can’t articulate myself well in any. I am the introvert with a heart for hospitality but who struggles with sharing myself with others. I am the girl who has to push herself to think critically because I find myself so easily intimidated by others more smart than I—it’s so much easier to simply tell someone, “Well, I haven’t thought about it much” than to take the time to think about an issue, explain my thoughts to someone, put myself out there, and then deal with any hurt or frustration if they have better thoughts on the subject than I or can articulate themselves better. I am a sinner saved by grace and a woman seeking Christ.
I am “myself.”  I hope that in being myself—in being the woman God uniquely crafted—I come to incorporate the urgency to better myself as part of who I am. I hope that I am never content with who I am, but at the same time can rest in whose I am. I pray that I will not lose sight of the need to better myself (whether in knowledge, patience, graciousness, kindness, compassion, intelligence, courage, or anything else) while realizing that God can use me as I am. I am not perfect and I never will be perfect. In the end, though, what is important?

1.       That I am willing to be used by God no matter what.
2.       That I accept what I cannot change.
3.       That I prioritize what I can change because I cannot change it all at once.
4.       That I push myself to grow in those areas, and
5.       Through it all, that I celebrate the way God made me and the unique ways He can use me.

Reinhold Niebuhr says it far more eloquently:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
Which should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish
The one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it;
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

* I am not a learned scholar and I often find myself mistaken. I hope anything I say is taken to the scripture and held up against it to test my words against Scripture's veracity.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hostile Territory

When I became pregnant with our oldest child a month after getting married at the beginning of my junior year of college, I had to fight for her life. Not physically, but verbally. I had to fight for her right to life, for recognition of the beauty her new life was. Surprisingly, some of her biggest critics were students and professors at my small Christian school. From snide comments about a “rush wedding” (I would hardly call a wedding planned a year in advance “rushed”) to questions asking me “Just how many days pregnant are you, anyway? And how many days have you been married?” I began dreading people finding out about my pregnancy.
I recall one professor late in my pregnancy asking me when my due date was. When I told him, he looked at me and told me about a young couple he knew who had gotten pregnant immediately following their wedding day. Their baby was born a month early with a normal birth weight, and everyone wondered if the couple had lied about the actual due date to cover up their sin. He then lowered his glasses, looked me straight in the eye, and, raising one eyebrow, told me that he hoped our baby didn’t show up early because “you know what everyone is going to think!”
I became a bit of a scandal on campus, with those not knowing me assuming I was pregnant and not married (“*gasp* Did you hear we have a pregnant class president?!” “Really?! Why hasn’t the administration kicked her out?!”—true conversation overheard) and those marginally knowing me wondering a) had I gotten pregnant before we got married and b) why was I throwing my life and career away by having a baby so soon after marriage—and still in school?!
The focus on the potential negative aspects of my pregnancy came as a shock to me. For one thing, I was at a conservative Christian college where children are purportedly celebrated. Secondly, even if the timing wasn’t ideal, why was there so much focus and insinuation rather than support or encouragement?
The negativity from students and professors didn’t stop with my pregnancy, however, or with believers. Soon after giving birth, hormones amuck and me struggling to figure out the world of caring for a child, I would venture out in public and be stopped by all manner of people. Strangers would comment on how beautiful she was and then warn me, “Enjoy it now—it won’t last and soon you’ll be wishing she was a newborn again!” or “You think it’s hard now—just wait until it really gets hard.” When she started talking and I posted about it on Facebook, rather than excited comments, I received ones saying, “Just wait a little bit longer and you’ll be wishing she would STOP talking” and “Trust me—it won’t be long and you won’t be quite so excited!!”
As a mom in the middle of the night, sleep-deprived, baby tugging at me and husband sleeping across the room, I recall sobbing as I remembered several old-time mothers who told me to “Cherish every moment. Before you know it, your baby is grown up and out of the house and you are left all alone.” Yikes! Already highly emotional and wrapping my exhausted mind around the fact that I had a child, I was picturing her going away to college…getting married…having children…and then me standing there at her gravesite. I know that some of those moms were trying to be helpful and encourage me to not let other things get in the way over prioritizing my children, but the strenuous nature in which they told me their own stories and emphasized how fast life goes and how much regret you have later only served to deepen my post-partum despair and guilt.
Since that point I have had another live child (now a healthy almost-two-year-old) and two miscarriages at 5 weeks and a baby boy at 16 weeks.  I have grown hesitant to post things on Facebook and think critically about every general status I post regarding my children, wondering warily, “Is there someone who is going to tell me, “Just wait until….”? (I can’t even count the number of people who have told me some variant of, “Just wait until they’re teenagers and then you’ll wish they had never been born.”)
 Similarly, there is a mommies’ group that I am a part of where I have grown careful about what I post. Many moms post funny stories from their day, but the few times I have or the many times I have read another mom’s post, rather than fellow mothers commenting with laughter or funny tie-ins of their own, many post unsolicited advice or tell you that “You know you don’t really have to do _________ that way.” Where is the encouragement? The camaraderie? The rejoicing with those who rejoice? Why all this judgment and negativity?
Rachel Jankovic succinctly states, "Everywhere you go, people want to talk about your children. Why you shouldn’t have had them, how you could have prevented them, and why they would never do what you have done. They want to make sure you know that you won’t be smiling anymore when they are teenagers. All this at the grocery store, in line, while your children listen."
I understand the secular world taking issue with my children. I understand that I come from a different place in how I view the gift of my girls. I don’t understand believers’ negativity, and I don’t understand believers’ discouragement towards other mothers. Yes, sometimes your experiences can help another mother. Sometimes you need to share the ugly details. Life isn’t all picnics and dessert. But I can see very few situations where it is okay to throw out your own “Just wait until…” that detracts from a new mother’s delight in her children. Celebrate with her, rejoice with her. Encourage her. Very possibly yours might be the only outside source of encouragement she receives all day.
This author, in an article well-worth the read, summarizes my thoughts marvelously—much more succinctly and prettily than I could possibly. She includes quotes from several other women—my favourite being from Rachel Jankovic: “Christian mothers carry their children in hostile territory. When you are in public with them, you are standing with, and defending, the objects of cultural dislike. You are publicly testifying that you value what God values, and that you refuse to value what the world values. You stand with the defenseless and in front of the needy. You represent everything that our culture hates, because you represent laying down your life for another—and laying down your life for another represents the gospel.”

Monday, November 12, 2012


Grief. When I think of the last three months, that is the overwhelming thought in my mind. Unending, ever-new, constant, raw grief. It started in August when we lost our third child, Eden Desi Goggans. We won’t know until heaven whether Eden was a boy or girl, but we found the meaning of the names—“delight longed for”— fitting.

Since that point, we have lost three grandmothers between the two of us. Just this past week, my 6 month old in-utero nephew went to meet his cousin Eden. Like Eden, Judah Avishai Christofi—meaning “One who praises God” and “Gift of my Father”— never drew breath outside of the womb, but he already made his niche in the hearts of his family. 

Some days I feel like I am barely holding my head above the dark and quickly-whirling waters of heartache.  The pain of losing a child—both physically and emotionally—and in quick succession three women who have loved us so well, followed by the unexpected death of a nephew has left me reeling. How to process? How to grieve? I am trying to walk the fine line between wallowing in sorrow and pushing the pain away without dealing with it. I do not want to give grief its own life, but nor do I want to ignore the pain that these deaths have caused—only to let the hurt fester below the surface, unattended. 

I’ve felt the tension that Ecclesiastes mentions—a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.  From some people I have felt pushed to not be sad. After all, as a believer, I have a hope to see these fellow believers again in heaven. Death is not to be feared, for Christ conquered death to give us eternal life through Him. How can a truly Godly girl be deeply sad over the death of a mother in Christ? Yet I am sad. I’m not ready to laugh or dance. I’m not ready to move past the tears and the mourning. 

On the other hand, though, I do hold onto the knowledge that they are in a better place, and that I will see them again. How then do I reconcile the grief I feel over losing them and allow myself time to mourn while recognizing that there is hope in Christ for life after death?
Tonight, driving home from Andrew’s grandmother’s funeral in West Virginia, I was thinking about these last weeks and how bombarded by constant loss I’ve felt. In my mind, I was going back and forth over how to move on from here—how to grieve well, and where do I go now? How do these deaths affect and change me for the future? My chest tightened and my throat tensed and I could feel the backslide of grief from this weekend threatening to overtake me as I drove. Before it could, though, the phrase, “His mercies are new every morning” popped into my head. 

Turning the thought over in my mind, I realized how true that is—even in, and perhaps especially in, the face of these last weeks. When we looked at things this summer, we decided we just couldn’t afford a trip up north to see extended family this fall. Somehow—I’m still not sure how—we have managed six 16 hour+ trips in the time since that decision—each trip to either say goodbye to someone or go to their funeral. When I look at how little sleep Andrew and I have gotten this fall and how constantly it seems we have been bombarded by new sorrow, unexpected trips, the need to push to finish school, and fitting work in around it all, I am amazed at how our relationship has not suffered, but has rather flourished. Looking at the fact that we live with family (or, in Andrew’s case, in-laws) in a tiny three-bedroom apartment, and considering how much has been going on, it blows my mind how easy it has been to just be. To sit in silence and know that we are one. To love and be loved. To talk. To cry together. To stay united in parenting our children. I think how easily this could be a hellish experience for a marriage—inlaws, miscarriage, loss. Yet it has brought us closer together, and for that I am so thankful. 

I am thankful for this time of being with my family. For their help in watching the kids as we work and finish school, for their shouldering some of our grief in mourning loved ones. For weeping with us.

I am thankful for the way, when our car died and threatened to turn our life upside down, friends generously stepped in and shared their car with us. 

I am thankful for mercy of having kids who travel well. We’ve certainly covered enough miles in the last few weeks, and it is only now that they are starting to struggle with the time in the car. It could have been so much worse. 

I am thankful for having such a wonderful support team of good friends here in Cary—friends who regularly lift us up in prayer and who have been by us throughout this whole saga of grief. 

I am thankful for the mercy of seeing extended family come together in unity and love, mourning together for the loss of a dear family member. I’m thankful to be a part of such wonderful families. 

I’m thankful that Meredith, our formerly stranger-shy and fussy little baby, has transformed into a happy, laughing, mischievous and mostly out-going toddler just in time to meet dozens of family members for weeks on end. 

I hurt right now. I ache and miss and remember and hurt some more. I might not be ready to dance, but I can see God’s mercies to us in the family we have, the friends we’re surrounded with, the prayer warriors who cry to God for us as we weep, and the ever-better road Andrew and I traverse as a couple. Life is rocky and full of hurt, but God is with us. He is faithful, He is loving, and He is merciful. We mourn for our children, but each of us--my sister and her husband, Andrew and I-- gave our unborn child back to God, trusting in God’s love, mercy, justice, and knowledge. We rest assured that our God is a God of justice and love and that before Eden and Judah were formed, God knew them. He knit them together in our wombs, and He knew them. For our grandmothers, I mourn, but I look to the future when I will see them again in Glory. I weep, but I am thankful for their lives. I grieve, but I have hope.

In the end, “He has shown [me], O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of [me]? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [my] God.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I got back tonight (1 am, really) from a memorial service in Tennessee. Coming on the heels of my Mom-Mom Craver’s funeral last weekend, it felt especially poignant in celebrating the life of a woman who was my own grandmother overseas. Both women—Mom-Mom Craver (Thelma) and Joan Britton—were more important to me than I can possibly say, and with both, I’m still mourning the hole they’ve left behind them in my life while celebrating the lives they led while they were alive. As late as it is, and as exhausting as the last three weeks have been, I find that I have too much on my mind about these two women to get to sleep quite yet. Few but my own siblings who knew and loved both women will probably understand and appreciate this post, but I find I cannot go to bed without writing out and thinking back over some of the ways these two women have made the world a better place.
Mom-Mom was my Mom’s mom, my grandmother who came to Bonaire for each of us kids’ birth. She went grocery shopping in her bathing suit and pushed me on my swing. She listened to me as I learned to read and corrected my letters with red pen. She scolded me for chewing with my mouth open and hugged and kissed me every time she saw me.
The very first time I saw Joan Britton, we had just moved to Slovakia. I was nine, and grieving the loss of all my “family” of aunts, uncles, and friends from Bonaire. She and her husband introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. “B,” but immediately followed that up with an offer to call them Aunt Joan and Uncle Skip. At the time, I remember feeling a bit resentful and not at all ready to call some strangers by those beloved titles. It wasn’t long, however, before I started calling them something else in my own head: Grandma B and Grandpa B. In what seemed like no time at all, they had made themselves a niche in my heart and soon became dear friends and confidantes. They were there for me during a very difficult transition in country, culture, language, and friendships, meeting us to take us to a new church and helping us learn the public transportation system in a new city. They had us over to their flat, gave us good food, and spent afternoons playing card games such as “golf” with five lonely children.
Mom-Mom invited each one of us Hill kids over to her house every furlough for a special sleepover, one at a time. On my turns, I would go to her house and watch in the kitchen, later on helping out as I got older. We’d eat a good dinner together, and she’d always make sure to have some flaky biscuits and her homemade strawberry jelly waiting for me to munch on. After dinner and dishes, we’d sit around and talk for awhile about anything—life on Bonaire, life in Slovakia, how furlough was going, hurts and pains with siblings, laughter and jokes with siblings, school, and more. Mom-Mom had one or two boys she kept an eye on and teased me about every furlough, laughing when I’d blush and calling me “Mrs. S------.” She made me feel important and directed the entire evening around what I wanted. In a family of seven rushing around in the busyness of churches and meetings, it meant a lot to be singled out and have undivided and caring attention.
Grandma B did the same: she saw a little girl struggling to understand what was going on around her, struggling to live and love and make a new place for herself in a strange world. I remember seeing my friends in my local village school with their grandparents, and I remember following some of them around pretending they were my grandparents. Family has always been important to me, and while we’ve had aunts and uncles in every country we’ve lived in, grandparents were another thing. I missed my grandparents, wishing they could visit or even live nearby. The Brittons helped fill that void, stepping in and love my siblings and me so thoroughly that we couldn’t help but feel at home with them. On our second year in Slovakia, our families moved into the same building—we had the upper two floors and a basement, while they had an apartment on the main floor.
Christmases were a beautiful thing— a blending of love from all of our grandparents. Mom-Mom and Pop-pop would call us to talk to each one of us individually, despite the extravagantly expensive phone costs they’d incur by calling overseas. We’d get together all through the season to watch Christmas movies with the Brittons, Grandpa B making fudge and popcorn and us Hill kids making Christmas cookies. Mom-mom would send us our Christmas presents and the excitement would be full throttle—my most memorable gift from them being a beautiful wood standing jewelry box with a place for necklaces to hang and drawers for rings and earrings. I still use it to this day, some ten plus years after I received it. Grandma B would bring her knitting up to our home and knit as she talked or watched the movie.
It was handcrafts that served as another link between my natural grandmother and my heart grandmother—Mom-Mom Craver crocheted and Grandma B knitted. Allison had taught me to crochet as far back as when I was five and still on Bonaire, but somehow nothing I made ever remotely resembled what it was supposed to. Likewise with knitting, an American high school exchange student taught me what she knew, but my knitting somehow looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book—completely to my chagrin. I decided one year that I wanted to knit a hat for Stephen for Christmas, but had no idea how to go about it. I approached Grandma B, and the next thing I knew was I was invited down to their flat for some knitting time. She had a bunch of yarn that I was able to choose from (which was beyond exciting) and brought out a pattern book where I chose my hat style from. I can still remember sitting on her living room couch, her on my right, with one knitting needle nestled in my lap and the other perpendicular to it high in the air. My stitches were slow and painstaking, and at first I didn’t have the eye to see the differences that the varying stitches made. Every time I lost my place in my pattern, I’d have to count all my stitches for that row and then resume from there. It was Grandma B who periodically looked over my work and told me that I’d made purl stitches where the stitches were supposed to be knit, or knit stitches where I needed to purl them. She taught me the value of good work—of undoing what you’ve done wrong to fix it so you don’t have an uglier problem later on. A few times we had to undo so much work that I had to fight down tears and discouragement, but each time she praised my work and perseverance and set me to knitting aright again.
With Mom-mom my interest came a year or two later. We were sitting together on her couch as I watched cartoons and she crocheted. I remember watching her and admiring her work out loud, saying how I wished I could do that. Without further ado, she got up, announced we were going shopping, and took me to the store to buy $78 worth of pretty yarn. When we got back home, she showed me how many stitches to cast on and then left me to my work while she went to the table and carefully wrote out her pattern. As I finished each stage, she gave me instructions on the next. Miraculously, my work was, for once, even. No unintended addition of stitches, no dropped stitches. We frequently had to unravel and more than once I felt ready to give up, but the prospect of embarking on my first real crocheting project and making Mom-Mom proud outweighed any disappointment with how slowly I was working. It took me several years of working away at my blanket, but I finally finished it. It covers a single bed from floor to floor and drapes over it beautifully. I’ve made blankets since then, spending a lot of time and money making calluses from the yarn, but this is the one blanket I’ve not been able to give away. I look at it and see a grandmother’s gift of love, patience, knowledge, time, and money, while I made every stitch in the blanket, it was her hands that guided me and her belief in me that kept me at it. She gave me a pattern that is distinctly hers, and as I make each new blanket to give to someone special to me, a part of her is woven into it, giving even after she herself is gone.
To finish Stevie’s hat in secret, Grandma B invited me to knit in her flat rather than risk knitting in my home and him happening upon it. This was the start of a special relationship with them where I fully felt not just one of the Hill kids, but special in my own right and having a unique relationship with her. Coming down and knitting on her couch when she was around soon became an invitation to come down any time I wanted, whether or not they were there, and knit on the couch. It wasn’t long before I became the go-to person for taking care of Grandpa B’s African violets when they went on trips. I had my own little key to their door—the only person that I knew of. Again, in a family of seven, it made a huge difference to have an adult offer me a place where I could come and either enjoy one-on-one time with a grown-up, or have some private space to myself in an empty apartment. Some of my best thinking that year was done on their couch, musing quietly to myself as I painstakingly knit each stitch. The sense of accomplishment I felt  when I finished the hat was beyond anything I could remember feeling pride in before. This was my first completed project that I was proud of. I’d made something with my own hands and not only was it recognizable, it was cute. And yet it wasn’t just the gift of knowledge and time that makes me recall this time so fondly—it was the sense of self-worth I gained from it. The knowledge that adults besides just my parents cared for me, and grown-ups who weren’t family who loved me as much as if I were their family. It was the sense of pride in myself for being responsible enough to take care of their plants. It was remembering my Mom’s words that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching—so no matter how much I wanted to snoop around in their house, checking out what a grown-up’s house was like and glorying in being the only one home, I very carefully minded my own business and felt downright proud about my resistance to curiosity! Even that little step of acting in their house when I was alone as I would if they were there has come back to me since, reminding me of the importance of trust, responsibility, and integrity.
On our special nights at Mom-Mom and Pop-pop’s house, part of tradition was that I’d get to pick out any movie I wanted to watch. Pop-pop used to tape TV movies a lot, and they had what seemed like a huge collection of movies to choose from. Often I fell back on an old favorite: The Chipmunk Adventure. Pop-pop would groan every time I or one of my siblings would choose it (especially when we would choose the same movie in succession as one after the other of us would spend our night at their house and we’d all want to watch it), but he’d sit down and watch at least the first part of it with Mom-Mom and I. Then he would go off to his room and Mom-Mom, normally an early to bed person, would stay up “late” watching it with me. She would frequently have pretzels and homemade ice cream on hand, and sometimes even some homemade cherry cake made by my Aunt Debbie. Other times I would ask Mom-Mom for a movie recommendation. It was at her suggestion that I watched “Brigadoon,” “The Music Man,” “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” and so much more. We’d snuggle together on the couch or lie on our bellies on the floor, chins in our hands as we watched together. She never complained about my movie choice, but always acted like it was the happiest thing in the world to be watching a movie with me.
After the movie finished, Mom-Mom would tuck me into bed in my favourite room of the house—the blue room. Sometimes she would sleep next to me, sometimes I would have the whole double bed to myself. Both were fun and novel experiences. Either way, she would always be up before me in the morning and when I would finally get up, she’d want to know what I wanted for breakfast. Every time, my choice was the same: crepes. She’s sigh, smile, and get to work making them. I remember one time that Allison and Heather spent the night with me and the three of us chose her crepes for breakfast. Somehow as we were sitting around her table waiting our turns for the next finished crepe, it became a bit of an unstated contest. Allison ate… Heather ate…and I ate. And ate. And ate. Mom-Mom finished one recipe of crepes and Heather and I were still hungry. She finished the second recipe and I was still hungry. What did she do? She went back and mixed up a third batch of crepe batter and made me more crepes yet. Mom-Mom’s crepes weren’t for the faint of heart, either, but were perfect circles that hung over the edges of our large plates on every side. At final count, Allison had three, Heather had seven, and I had twenty-three crepes.
With both women, I learned so much about right and wrong, how to love and be loved. I remember wandering through the Christmas Market in Bratislava with Grandma B, listening to local school children sing “White Christmas” from the stage. I remember playing for hours in the woods behind Mom-Mom’s house, helping her as she would walk out to her garden at the border of the yard and woods to take care of her flowers. I remember learning Dutch Blitz with the Brittons with Allison and Heather. I remember lying to Mom-Mom and her disappointment in me shaming me and making me promise to myself I would never lie to her again. I remember the night the Lesondaks got iced in after the Ivanka Christmas party and ended up coming back to the house we shared with the Brittons. With the eight of them, seven of us, two Brittons, plus several single missionaries staying with the Lesondaks, we had all the space in our two apartments used up by bodies on floors, couches, beds, and just about any other flat surface. The next morning our families pooled resources and shared a breakfast over three floors. The rest of the day we spent playing card games, making snowmen and throwing ice at each other, and eating fudge.
I remember going to the market with Mom-Mom to take my Uncle George’s produce. She would let me pick out a book from her old covered up bookshelf—it’s how I got into the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I’d take my chosen book with me and we’d get into the farm’s pick-up truck, loaded down with produce to sell at the auction. The drive always seemed to take a long time, but I’d alternate between reading and talking. I learned more about my family and heritage on these trips than at any other one point, and loved hearing Mom-Mom tell me about life. Learning about the market and auction was an experience in itself, and I remember feeling both pride and embarrassment as Mom-Mom would proudly introduce me to everyone as her granddaughter. It wasn’t a title I was used to be introduced as, and it made me feel special and loved.
I remember biking up and down Mom-Mom’s drive way and then going on bike rides with her down the lane and back. I remember trying on my Mom’s old dresses and clothes that Mom-Mom kept. Hearing stories of Mom’s dates and college life and imaging myself quite grown up in the dresses was a favorite activity. I remember coloring at Mom-Mom’s table and the drawing immediately going up on her fridge, proudly displayed for any and all to see. She didn’t just hang it up, though—she asked about it. Every detail, every piece of my drawing was important to her.
I remember hearing all about the Brittons' kids and meeting them at different points throughout the years. I remember alternately feeling jealous that THEY were the Brittons' kids and excited to meet these people who obviously meant so much to Grandma and Grandpa B. I remember how easily they fit into our Christmas routines of movies, popcorn, and fudge, and how easy it was to see the bond shared between them.
I remember how devastated I was when the Brittons retired and left Slovakia to move to some state called Tennessee. I remember how, when I moved to the same state several years later by myself, they drove an hour to Dayton to see me, take me out for breakfast, meet and gill Andrew, and give us fudge. I remember them coming to our wedding, and even their unexpected gift of a beautiful wood and metal grille set.
I remember Mom-Mom’s letters, phone calls, and packages as I moved to the states for college. My first year I was so homesick for family and familiar culture, and Mom-Mom wrote or called often, checking up with me and asking after what things I might need. She sent me several boxes throughout the course of the year, packing such necessities as shampoo right on down to luxuries like Kraft macaroni and cheese. She even found out I had discovered jerky and send me some Jack Link’s teriyaki jerky nuggets. Mmmmm! I remember how concerned she was when I got pregnant with Hadassah and was so sick. Hearing her tell me about getting pregnant with Mom immediately after their wedding and how sick she was was a bonding experience I never expected to share with my grandmother, and yet was special in its own right. She was always happy to see photos, and often I’d print out photos just to take them to New Jersey and show her my life.
I remember sitting at the Brittons’ table for hours, just talking and listen. I remember Bible Study in their apartment a few times when ours wasn’t available. I remember going to church with them, listening to Grandma B tell stories about her childhood and Norway, and singing in our van all together on Sunday mornings. I remember Grandma B joking about how she went from one country name to another when she got married—Haaland (Holland) to Britton (Britain). I still have a very old green suitcase that was hers once upon a time. She gave it to me when she left Slovakia, and to this day I keep my knitting stored in it.
I wasn’t able to be there for Grandma B’s passing, but I did get to see Mom-Mom Craver one last time. We made a quick 24-hr jaunt up to New Jersey and back when she moved to hospice care from the hospital, and I am beyond thankful we were able to get there in time. Hadassah had met her great-grandmother several times, but when we brought Meredith up before, Mom-Mom was in the hospital and children were unable to enter. This time, however, with Mom-Mom settled in her hospital bed in her so-familiar living room, Meredith met this woman I have loved my entire life. She was fascinated, reaching down to pat Mom-Mom’s face gently. I had to intervene when Meredith tried to hug and kiss her, though, as for Meredith, that entails a gentle (or not so gentle) head bump. Saying goodbye before we left was one of the hardest things I’ve done, and hearing Mom-Mom rasp out, “I love you” as we left rent my heart. She died not even twenty-four hours later.
I don't feel quite ready to move on from mourning. The Bible talks about a time to mourn and a time to rejoice. I celebrate their lives, but for now, grief over what will never be a longing for what was overshadows the rejoicing. Yet in that grief, I know both women were believers and I can hold fast to seeing them again. 
I remember how both women made me feel loved, cherished, and belonging. Both took the time to spend time with just me, to do things I liked and to listen to my heart. Both women invested in my life in ways I am still realizing, teaching me little lessons along the way and loving me no matter what. I’ve never lost someone close to me before, and losing two grandmothers in such a short amount of time has rocked my world. It’s reminded me again of how little time we have, but what a difference we can make in that time. Even today, as I sat in Grandma B’s memorial service, it struck me how, as much as she “did” a lot for our mission, our church, and the families around her, it wasn’t all her “doing” that makes her so sorely missed. It was her loving. The way she took time and gave it. The way she poured her heart into those around her, not just giving acts of service but truly giving of herself. Mom-Mom as well saw the “small” things she could do that would make a big difference. Things that, to an adult, might not be a big deal, but to a small child and teenager can make all the difference.
At the services for both grandmothers, I was struck by the unity and love present in those left behind. The bond created by those of us who loved each woman is unique, and shows how even in death, they make a difference--drawing together those who shared a love for them, those who were influenced by their lives. The time with my cousins last week was special and beautiful and left me with a renewed sense of wanting to keep in touch and not forget. The time today was cathartic in looking around and seeing so many people who shared my love for a woman who may or may not have been related to all of us, but changed our lives for the better. It also served as a reminder of how very, very important family is-- both blood family and heart family. Growing up between countries and cultures, roots are something I've had little of. Mom-Mom Craver was there throughout all of our furloughs, loving us and teaching us about who we are as Hills and Cravers and where we come from. Grandma B wasn't related to me by blood and didn't know me before I was nine, but she took me in nonetheless and loved me like her own, giving me roots in love and belonging that I desperately needed.
Both women left behind examples I want to emulate—the importance of giving of yourself and loving fully. The difference one adult can make in the life of a child not their own. My life is far richer because of these two women who never met, but influenced me in different and similar ways to be a better woman of God and lover of people. I hope that because of them, I am able to make others’ lives richer.