Billy Graham is quoted as saying, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” As I begin this section of Lasting Legacies, it seems only appropriate to write about the woman who surprisingly shaped my entire family through her character and faith. Why was it a surprise? Because she is not “in” our family (although we have 100% adopted her through the Court of Our Hearts). First, it’s important to know where this amazing woman came from.
Miss Elizabeth was born in 1921 in the United States. She was eventually diagnosed with a seizure disorder and began to live with her grandparents (close to her parent’s house). She recalls a childhood full of joy such as: getting yelled at for trying on her aunt’s high heels, baking cakes with her mother, jumping rope with the neighborhood girls and pushing her “doll carriage around the cook stove.” However, a few years later, her mother passed away and her father remarried. Due to the social context of those days, it was not “acceptable” to have a child with a disability. It created a burden on the family that was not as warmly supported as we see in today’s society. As a result, Miss Elizabeth’s family chose to send her to live in an institution. At this time, there were no empty beds in the local institutions, so she was housed in the “House of Correction (jail).” One would think this might be upsetting, yet Miss Elizabeth has fond memories of this adventure in life due to being able to “have church” and “have parties for Christmas and birthdays.” Sooner or later, a spot in an institution opened up and she went to live there for the majority of her young adult years and the middle years. (During this process, Miss Elizabeth was also given the label “MR,” more commonly known today as cognitively impaired.)
It was in that institution that our family met Miss Elizabeth. My mother was an employee there and through visits, we kids, began to get to know her. She was a feisty, older woman who walked around sharing her opinion about everything and being sure to not miss one detail that was taking place around her. At the age of 79, Miss Elizabeth moved into our family’s home. These first few years were jam-packed of new explorations. We took her to her first movie, carnival, beach trip, camping adventure, traveling to nearby states, mall visits and so much more! It brought us such joy to watch her interact in these new settings and to see her beaming smile. Yet, even during that time, I do not believe that any of us truly realized the impact this woman was making on our family. Yes, we opened our doors to her and treated her warmly as a guest in our home; however, somewhere throughout this journey, Miss Elizabeth took over our hearts. Our family has strong personalities and that can always be a challenge. We enjoy being “right” and we will go on a debate for hours to prove our point. We have the typical family annoyances that take place and we can be known to be fairly stubborn with one another. Due to being a pretty typical family, there were times throughout the years when we would be on each other nerves, and perhaps be in the “we are not talking right now” stage. It was during these moments that Miss Elizabeth became the Queen of Our Hearts. She used her wit and sass to speak into our lives and build her home in our hearts. She’s now been a part of our family – the glue of our family – for 16 years and these are pieces of the legacy that she has created:
- Never stop praying – For as long as I can remember, Miss Elizabeth has been a prayer warrior. She prays for those who ask, those who don’t ask and those whom she’ll never even meet. She believes in the power of prayer and she’s not shy about letting everyone know it! While my mother was away on a mission’s trip, Miss Elizabeth was saying grace over our meal. She thanked God for the food and then added, “And help mom (her term for my mother) and those little kids she’s helping to care for.” Such a tender and loving heart. Although she medically has a “low IQ,” her prayers are proof that we can speak from our hearts.
- We all need humor – This lasting legacy is one of the quickest people with comeback lines that I’ve ever met! We often joke with her about not flirting with other men. Upon hearing this, she often responds in a teasing way, “Well…that’s okay,” as she tries to sneak another wave at the gentleman (while looking back at us out of the corner of her eye with a smirk across her face – and the men ALWAYS smile and wave back at her). Another example ties into the fact that she is 95-years-old and at that age, one is likely to pass gas pretty often. If this happens in the middle of her hassling you, she’ll state, “Well, there, take that!” and then crack up laughing at herself. I cannot count the number of times Miss Elizabeth has broken the tension in the room, or the pain one is feeling, by allowing humor to heal the situation.
- Unconditional love and forgiveness – Miss Elizabeth often reminds our family that there are such things as unconditional love and forgiveness here on Earth. She models this in her daily interactions with others. If someone upsets her, she will quickly forgive you (often with a sweet kiss on your hand) and then remind you of how much she loves you. Her ability to genuinely forgive someone is a trait I wish I allowed myself to more readily access in my own life. It’s inspiring and humbling.
- Joy is often found in the small things – This lady doesn’t take anything for granted in life. As one helps her to stand up from her chair, she will easily burst into a dancing jig and she’s so contagious that you join right in and enjoy the moment together. During a trip to Niagara Falls in Canada, we decided to have dinner in the Skylon Tower. As we sat down, Miss Elizabeth looked out the beautiful windows and stated, “I didn’t know we were going to Heaven” (her impression from seeing that we were surrounded by clouds). Then as we prayed, she included, “And thank you God for letting us eat lunch with you today.” Pure joy; this is what she showed us as we simply had a meal in a new location. As you gazed in her eyes, you could see that she was taking in each minute of this experience and enjoying it to the fullest extent possible. If only we could all live out our days in that manner, we’d feel such joy and peace.
- Love and wisdom can be shared without words – Have you ever been in the same room as someone and you could feel vibes from them? Miss Elizabeth is the type of person who can make others feel loved and you can sense how wise of a woman she truly is from simply being near her. She does not have to speak sophisticated words, nor prove her love… it just is. When you look at her, you can see a soul that is loving towards anyone and any creature. One can also look into her eyes and see that her circumstances do not dictate how she lives, nor do they determine the wisdom in life that she carries.
- Speaking one’s mind isn’t necessarily a bad thing – Something else that someone will quickly learn from Miss Elizabeth is that she is straight-forward and will always speak her mind. Some people might consider the lack of a filter a bad thing; however, I would argue that deep inside, most people admire it and appreciate the truth that they encounter. This lasting legacy will share with you exactly what is on her mind; yet, she does it in such a way that you cannot be offended (at least not for very long) because there’s such raw honesty in her statements and she expresses them in a way that you know she means no ill by it. This lesson from her has taught us that speaking your mind can help yourself, and others, to grow in a positive way.
I could write for days about Miss Elizabeth and the numerous lessons that she has taught us; however, it’s getting late and I’m sure you have other things you would like to get done today. So, I’ll stop here even though the legacy this woman has created could fill tens of thousands of more pages, but at least by now you understand how this captivating woman has become the Queen of Our Hearts. I’m interested in hearing about someone whose legacy has made an impact on you. What have you learned from him/her? Tell us all about it in the comments’ section below.
Ahmeli… that I always carry with me the lessons that Miss Elizabeth has taught us and that I will pass them on to my children.
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