“In every age and in every country we find many “perfect” women (cf. Prov 31:10) who, despite persecution, difficulties and discrimination, have shared in the Church’s mission…the witness and the achievements of Christian women have had a significant impact on the life of the Church as well as of society…Holy women are an incarnation of the feminine ideal; they are also a model for all Christians” –Mulieris Dignitatem, paragraph 27.
“Holy women are an incarnation of the feminine ideal.” How beautiful! “They are also a model for all Christians.” How true. This is something I know, something I learned by example, and what a beautiful example I had…
Today is June 17, and I am thinking back, in awe, in loving admiration, and in joy at the Christian woman who inspired me throughout my life–my grandmother who would have been 99 this Friday.
If you have read my books, you know my grandmother. She is the feisty Lily in The Devil’s Fortune, Courtney’s grandmother who showed no fear, harbored no ill will, had abundant love (and food) for all, and faced every day with the knowledge that God would get her through whatever came her way.
Mary Lilian Gibson was born on June 19, 1921, on the shores of White’s Neck Creek in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. The oldest of three girls, she was the daughter of a boat builder. She spent her childhood crossing the creek in a boat to go to school, tending gardens with her family to supply their winter food, learning to cook from her mother and learning to be loving and generous to all from her father.
At a local carnival, Lil met Buck Morgan, and they married in March of 1940 and moved into the house Buck built for her on a little piece of land given to them by Buck’s parents. They had four children–two boys and two girls, around whom their lives revolved. They were active in their small community, the local Optimist Club, Little League, and 4-H. But nowhere was my grandmother more active than at Sacred Heart Church. Gram helped in the school cafeteria, volunteered at church dinners, decorated the altars with her sisters-in-law, cooked meals for the priests, along with my granddad ran the weekly bingo, and so much more.
My absolute favorite memories from childhood are the many weeks I spent at Grandma and Granddad’s house. We fished, we crabbed, we cut tobacco, we shopped, we picked blackberries, tended the cows, and hung clothes on the line (something I still do and look forward to every day because of Gram). A scene from The Devil’s Fortune was reminiscent of those days:
Courtney’s phone sounded before nine in the morning as she and Lily were hanging the wash on the line. Her grandmother had already showered, dressed, washed clothes, dusted the house, and made breakfast. Courtney felt guilty that she had slept until 8:00.
That was my grandmother. And sometimes, after we finished hanging clothes, we headed up to the church to take flowers, set up for some event, or deliver food to the rectory. More often, we made the rounds, as Gram would say, visiting one relative or neighbor after another. I’m sure that I never realized the significance of those visits until just now. They weren’t social calls. They were a calling.
We always went first to see my great-grandfather who lived well into his eighties, still building boats and causing a ruckus. Gram’s mother died when I was just five after twenty years of being incapacitated by a stroke. Gram and her youngest sister, Mary Alice, were Great-Grandma’s nursemaids, feeding, dressing, bathing, and caring for her every single day of those twenty years. Though I was very young when she passed, I vividly remember standing beside the tub, handing Gram a washcloth and watching her so beautifully and tenderly bathe her mother. Gram continued to care for her father and then for her youngest sister who had spent her entire life caring for her parents.
Once we left Gram’s childhood home, we stopped to see Gram’s dearest friend, Rita, and her cousins, Mary Helen and Hemmy. We stopped at Aunt Sissie’s Store, still a Bushwood icon, to check in on the rest of the family. Then our visits continued. I watched my grandmother prepare meals for families who lost a loved one, give clothes to those in need (despite the fact that my grandparents had nothing extra to give themselves), nurse the sick and aged, comfort those who were in pain, and drive friends and relatives to doctor’s appointments and to the grocery store and to Mass.
What I most remember watching my grandmother do was pray. Every morning, she prayed. Every evening, she prayed. When she heard the alarm of an ambulance or fire truck, she prayed. When someone was sick or hurt, she prayed novenas for them, one after another, day after day. She never missed her nightly Rosary.
When I married and moved to the Eastern Shore, three hours away from Gram, I called her every morning without fail. Often, she would tell me that she had just finished praying the Rosary or a novena for me or my children. She knew Mary as her mother as intimately as she knew the mother she cared for all those years. I suspect that their conversations were rarely one-sided.
When I lost my grandmother, I wasn’t sure how the world could continue spinning. What would happen to those who relied on her? What would happen to all those people for whom she prayed? What would happen to me without my rock? I remember hearing the news just before I drove to school to volunteer at some event. I cried almost the entire thirty minute drive, begging God and our Blessed Mother to take care of Gram the way she had so lovingly and unselfishly taken care of so many others. A few miles from the school, I dried my eyes and tried to pull myself together. In order to calm myself, I turned on the radio. What I heard gave me the reassurance I needed. The voice of grandmother’s favorite singer, Vince Gill, filled the car with a message I knew was meant for me. Gram was resting high on the mountain, her work on earth was done, and she was with Mary, the Father, and His Son.
Yes, we cried the day she left us. Indeed we gathered around her grave to grieve, but we knew that Gram was at peace. Over the years since her passing, I have come to learn a great many things about Gram, not just things she did but the legacy she imparted on all of us. I know that a great deal of the faith I have today is because of the witness she gave. Most of the prayer books I take to Adoration belonged to her. She taught me so much about what it truly means to be a Christian.
Last week, I quoted John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
The very next thing Jesus said was, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
I don’t know of any truer disciple than my Gram. She loved everyone the way Jesus did–unselfishly, sacrificially, and heroically. And she left no doubt as to her faith and belief. She embodied the motto of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
I know that if I am but half the Christian she was, I will fulfill my destiny in the eyes of God.
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019).