From Germany, With Love

January 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm (Attitudes, Vignettes) (, , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

from-germanyHer name is Heidi.

She was born near the Rhine, in crumbling Germany. As a young woman, she met and married an American soldier during the occupation after World War II and left her land and her people to follow her husband to the States. That was in 1968. Over forty years ago.

She was bundled in an earth-tone sweater, sporting a knit stocking cap and well-worn sweat-pants when I first laid eyes on her. Dust and muck surrounded her, but she glowed like a new bride. There in the tight quarters of an Arkansas trailer home, early in the morning, with dirty dishes on the table and little boys’ toys on the floor, she glowed with a joy that warmed me deep inside my too-big coveralls.

My younger brother, Josiah and I, have been handling the morning milking for a neighbor. His foreign-exchange wife has been back in Russia for several months trying to iron out the paperwork to become an American citizen, leaving him to manage his school-teaching job with college classes and caring for two little boys and a farm. Amid the chaos and stress of his life stepped his mother, Heidi. To help keep the family afloat while his wife is gone.

The first day I walked into the house and met Heidi, I read Jesus in her eyes. In fact, I could hardly see past Jesus, to actually evaluate her features—simple and honest, well-worn with smiling creases around her eyes and mouth. Her smile flashed like the morning sunshine. Her eyes sparkled with warmth behind her glasses as she filled a bucket with warm soapy water and sent me on my way up the hill to the milking shed. Maxine and Moo-Moo grumbled along behind me, nearly stepping on my mudboots.

Back in the house as we filtered the milk and Josiah tampered with an out-of-order lawn mower, Heidi began to ask about my family and tell about hers. She spoke of the Lord with the same familiarity as she spoke of her husband (whom she missed terribly while away from him every week). She shared how she’d worked with mentally handicapped folks. “They are so precious,” she added, her ready smile lighting her face.

For several weeks now I’ve seen Heidi every weekday, first thing in the morning. I grumble my way into my faded, blue coveralls and rubber mud boots and snag the keys to the pick-up. Milking cuts into my morning—half an hour first thing, gone, just like that. But as soon as I walk through that trailer-home doorway my grumbling melts away as Heidi appears, smiling, welcoming and thanking me in her slightly choppy English. As if I were doing some great thing, when it is she who is sacrificing her entire week to help her son and family. And every day she bids me good-bye and Got bless and tells me she loves me.

And she means it. She’s the most straight-forward, honest person I’ve ever met. She can tell us bluntly what she does and doesn’t like, while softening it with her kind smile and a few words. “I don’t mean to be pushy, but here’s why…”

I think, were I to really step back and cast a critical eye over this aging German woman, I’d describe a plain, grey-haired woman, worn by life and love and work. When I think of Heidi, I smile and think “beautiful!”

Decked out in my floppy felt hat, dirty coveralls and smelly mudboots, I’m hardly the picture of fashion. Dressed in her worn sweater and faded pants, peering at me from behind her glasses, she’s little better. Neither of us cares. And again the Lord has reinforced to me His perception of beauty. I don’t want to be eternally youthful—stunning and flawless. Someday I hope I too will be an aging woman, worn by life and love and work, with smile creases around my mouth and eyes, with roughened hands and graying hair from giving myself for others. And I hope that when that day comes, I will be the kind of woman who radiates the love and joy of Jesus. Someday, I want to be like Heidi.

For now, I’ll take joy in milking that smelly cow.

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