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Everyday Spirituality

Shepherding Grandmothers

My maternal grandma was ever in a polyester dress, beige semi-transparent nylon leggings, and sensible-heeled shoes. Grandma was intelligent, kind, patient, and worried. She wanted everyone to feel loved and be loved.

When growing up, we only saw her and Grandpa once or twice a year. They lived three thousand miles away in New York State.

One summer before I entered the sixth grade, Denise and I spent six weeks with Grandma and Grandpa in New York. Denise and I played together and visited relatives nearby. Mom’s brother, Uncle Jim and his wife, Aunt Dorothy had five boys. On their family dairy, they milked cows twice a day, 365 days a year.

Grandma loved those boys. She loved everything about them. I knew that same love applied to us grandkids in Washington.

After they graduated high school, two of the boys were selected to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It happened to be when I was attending college in Fort Collins. A couple of times during college, Grandma would visit us in Colorado. She’d fly into the Denver airport and make her way to the Air Force Academy.

I drove from Fort Collins to meet her and my cousins. She treated us to dinner at a restaurant. One weekend, Grandma said to me, “Cheryl honey, let’s go to a church service together at the Cadet Chapel with the boys. The service will be different than the #212 services we go to.”

Grandma explained to me that the boys were raised in the #4,611 church, “And their church is good, too,” she added.

Grandma sparked in me an awareness of genuine compassion and bravery. Grandma was born Ella Christensen, on June 6, 1905, in Denmark. At the age of seven years, she and her brothers took a boat to Ellis Island. She became a United States citizen and married Tom Sheppard in 1927. She outlived two World Wars, the Depression, and four of her five children. She learned to travel in airplanes, use modernized appliances, and she spent hours praying. Her God was her staple and she was an angel to me.

I never knew my paternal grandparents, who died young. But, when I met my future husband, I met Edna Shepard, my husband’s maternal grandma.

Edna was from the high plains of Central Oregon; her petite five-foot stature was eclipsed by her mighty wisdom and practicality. A widow for thirty years, this woman had a confidence I could not resist. Whether she knew it or not, she taught me not to delude myself into acting as if anything in this physical world is final or complete.

One night before bedtime, she and I talked alone. “Cheryl, you are in the prime of your life right now. It goes by fast, faster than I can tell you. There are things in this world that you will think are important; they aren’t. I’ve boiled life down to one thing: hate no one. I hate no one now and know peace.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself here, so will end this chapter by quoting a Psalm as a tribute to my grandmas whose last names were Sheppard and Shepard.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”—Psalm 23

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