Little Old Ladies

A friend of mine many years ago traveled to the old Soviet Union.  It was during the Cold War; the threat of nuclear annihilation hovered over the earth like a shroud.  Communism had stolen the breath of freedom from the lungs of millions. Travel in that oppressed and oppressive land was severely restricted, so my friend’s journey included only those sites that were approved by the authorities.

He returned after a two-week trip, and we met at a coffee shop to discuss his findings and his reflections.  We chatted for an hour or so, and as we were concluding I asked, “One more question, Mike.  Did you see any churches over there.”

He scoffed, his normal response to any reference to religion, and he replied, “Russ, all those buildings with their stately spires and ornate sanctuaries are now museums.  Only shadows of what they once tried to represent. The only people I saw worshiping in those cold cathedrals were little old ladies.” And we said Goodbye to each other and parted ways. I didn’t realize at the time that I would never see him again.

As I was driving out of that rain-drenched parking lot, those three short words came surging back into my mind: “little old ladies.” And I started recalling the historical accounts of how the “babushkas” in Russia had been the ones to care for the needs of the home front during World War II, when all the fighting men and women had joined the battle against the Nazi war machine.  Millions of these elderly women became the only surviving family member after the slaughter had decimated an entire generation.  The hell of that conflict had taken 20 million Soviet citizens, a number that overwhelms the senses in its horrific magnitude.

Then my mind turned to other “little old ladies” in my life who had loved and nurtured me, and prayed for me, and guided me on my journey. My quest to find something that always seemed just beyond my grasp.  I reminisced and saw the Bibles of my grandmother and mother, always frayed and tattered from frequent and devoted use.  The sacred pages were always marked by notes in the margins and underlines beneath the verses.  Often I would see cryptic stains on the pages, and I learned much later that these were tracks of tears shed by Grandma and Mom as they prayed for wayward loved ones, including me. Sometimes especially me.

As I continued  homeward bound along the freeway, pondering these memories, questions surfaced.  “Where would I be, had it not been for those godly and gracious women? Where would any of us be without the gentle yet often corrective influence of those saints?  Who have been the babushkas in my life…and the history of our nation.  Or any nation?”

Even now, many years later, these thoughts return.  I just discovered one of the Bibles my mother used during her long and lovely sojourn on earth.  And it struck me that any good I’ve done and anything I’ve managed to accomplish is due in large measure to the “little old ladies” who God placed along my path.  All the way back to the beginning.

I’m guessing the same is true for each one of us.