My precious friend, Terri, challenged me. She has challenged me before, but I have failed to rise to those challenges. This suggestion, however, has not gotten lost in the endless stacks and shuffles of paper and books that line every horizontal surface in my house. No. This one stayed.
Terri sent me a message.
Do it. Do it. She said. And she sent me the link explaining what she wanted me to do.
This blog post is part of Michelle DeRusha’s #MyFaithHeroine contest, in connection with the release of the book 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.
Michelle DeRusha asked us to blog about our faith heroines. To recount the women in our lives who helped to solidify our faith, who added to the water in our faith bucket and who unknowingly caused us to reach deeper and want to know our Almighty God.
Truthfully I would put Terri near the very top of my faith heroine list. I considered just reposting my tribute to her, but I know she would fuss at me and encourage me to do something different. Out of respect for her and our decades of friendship I will be true to her suggestion. But she needs to understand it was a hard choice to not include her (I guess I just have. If you want to know about her read Quarter of a Century).
Two Heroines of Faith
I should have known. God lays groundwork long before it is needed. He builds foundations long before you need to stand on them.
This assignment is to share about my heroines of faith. Immediately two particular women come to mind. As I look back into my childhood and college years I realize I should have understood what God was doing, but I was too young both times. The first time I was chronologically too young. I am not sure I have actual memories of the events or if I simply hold onto others’ stories. The second time I was chronologically old enough, but spiritually I was still very much of a newborn.
Mamaw Mandy. That’s what I called her. My maternal great-grandmother. My earliest positive memories revolve around her. She was old before I was born, so by the time I have recollections of her she seemed quite ancient to me.
Mamaw Mandy was a frail and tiny woman. Her long gray wisp of a braid wound in small knot at the back of her head. Her fingers were completely crippled by rheumatoid arthritis; they opened only wide enough for her to clasp them around the handles of her metal walker. My only personal memories of her come as snippets: her bedroom where she spent almost all of her time, the couch where she would allow me to stand behind her and brush out her long hair. I was a boisterous and talkative child (surprise anyone?), but she indulged me. I cringe because I know with hindsight I didn’t treat her with the respect she deserved. Even now it bothers me. But she loved me anyway.
What was the evidence of that love?
She prayed for me.
I know about these prayers not because I heard them, but because of my grandmother and mother’s accounts. Over the years they shared recollections of Mamaw’s prayers too many times to count.
The stories always follow the same telling: as a child I played outside in my grandmother’s front yard. Mamaw Mandy’s windows and front door opened onto a porch overlooking a wide, tree-lined front yard. I played alone. I was an only child, and the trees were my playmates.
During these childhood recesses Mamaw Mandy would hear me playing outside and rise from her bed, pull her walker to her, wrap her gnarled fingers around the handles and then shuffle to the front door. She stood—a bent sentinel—watching and craning her head to follow me in my imaginative play. In the physical realm this woman seemed weak and far too frail to cause any ripples in the cosmos, but I know now she did. She rippled her great-granddaughter’s world because while she stood at that front door she prayed for me.
I don’t know what she asked. I don’t know what she pleaded over me. I don’t know any of the words. The words were not preserved for me in my awareness. Mamaw Mandy’s prayers, however, were and are not limited or bound by time or space. Whatever she prayed as she stood guard at that door hovers over me today. Those prayers still rise before the throne room of the Almighty. They continue to add to the volume and rise of golden-bowl incense before the Father.
I believe her prayers assisted the course and path of my life.
Long, long before I understood prayer or prayer warriors my great-grandmother prayed for me. She warred for me. I believe those prayers are now a part of my spiritual armor—those words she spoke on my behalf before the Father are now links in the chain mail I don and wear in my daily life.
Perhaps her prayers were merely sentences sent up to heaven. Maybe, they were a few words spoken a couple of times. Whispers. Neither affects the outcome. Truly I am writing these words now partly because of her prayers then.
Fast forward fourteen years.
My sophomore year of college I enrolled in a required class titled Music Appreciation. It was a strange and peculiar music I was asked to appreciate. My Bluegrass DNA had never experienced this wordless and complicated genre. During that semester I realized the crazy strains of music that accompanied Tom chasing Jerry or Bugs Bunny rubbing Elmer Fudd’s head were actually great scores composed by Mozart and Beethoven and others. But as the semester lengthened I realized I was not enrolled in this class simply to learn to appreciate the geniuses of the classical music world.
No. Of course not. The Lord almost always has a double-fold purpose for all things. And this class certainly was no exception.
The professor of the class was Margaret Therkelsen. She was an arresting and handsome woman, long-limbed and large boned. Assuredly she was the tallest woman I had ever encountered, at least 6’0.
I was mesmerized by her grace. Certainly I was taken by her physical grace which belied her stature, but far more by her powerful spiritual grace. Each morning I attended her class with anticipation, an eagerness and a hunger. She would walk in, come to the front of the class and open her small leather New Testament and thumb through the tissue paper pages until she found the passage she wanted. The book was so worn that it draped over her hand, and somehow I knew that the state of her small Bible was the result of use not abuse.
Then she taught from that little book. Dr. Therkelsen taught with an authority that stunned me. Never in my life had I heard a woman speak with such spiritual authority about such deep things in Scripture.
She taught about prayer that semester. I remember very little about the composers and the language of music, but I do remember learning the language of prayer.
It seemed as if she were a translator who unfolded, at least for me, the mysteries and power of prayer.
I ate her words. Surely this is the only metaphorical language I can use to accommodate how much the Spirit used her to teach me. I remember taking notes furiously (how I wish I had those now). I sighed each time she closed her tattered and threadbare New Testament. I didn’t want the teaching to end. I wanted more. But then she bowed her head to do exactly what she had been teaching. Suddenly the teaching became flesh.
While sitting in that room, though spiritually immature, I knew God was unfolding to me my purpose and calling. Certainly then I could not articulate this truth, but the fiber of me knew it. The Spirit in me bore witness and affirmation to it.
Years before this Music Appreciation class the Father used my frail Mamaw Mandy’s prayers to begin the unshakeable foundation in my life. Dr. Therkelsen built on that foundation.
Years passed before I understood that power in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with physical strength or the lack of it. Mamaw Mandy was a frail and ailing elderly woman; Margaret Therkelsen was robust and strong. The power of prayer has nothing to do with education or the lack of it. Mamaw Mandy completed the fourth grade and Dr. Therkelsen earned a Ph.D. in Music and a M.A. in psychology.
Each woman wielded a power not from their own strength but from the Spirit of God and his calling on their lives.
These two women dispelled a traditional teaching I had absorbed as a child and teen. Indirectly I was taught women were secondary in the kingdom of God, that we could never stand and hold the place of friendship with God as men did.
Mamaw Mandy and Dr. Therkelsen taught me God hears the prayers of women, of his daughters.
And answers them. Empowers them. Friends them.
These two women taught me where the battles are fought and won.
These women are two of my faith heroines.
When I read Hebrews 11 I know that the ending of that passage is not the completion of Faith’s Hall of Fame—no, it was only the beginning of it. For me Mamaw Mandy and Dr. Therkelsen are added—
By faith they prayed…
And I have been forever changed.
Father, oh how I praise you. How I thank you for what you do when we are unaware. How grateful I am for these two women and their presence and influence in and on my life. I thank you for placing them where and when you did. I thank you that when no one else seemed to be watching out for a little four year girl this grandmother stood guard. Thank you for putting watchmen on the porches and on the thresholds of doors. Certainly, Father, you put Mamaw at the threshold of me—praying for me. For my protection, for my safety. For my growth. For my salvation.
And Father, how I thank you for Dr. Therkelsen. Oh, that you have helped me to hold her Spirit led teaching in my mind and spirit’s eye. Father, how you used her to mold me, to set me free of so much spiritual bondage and confinement. How you used her to instill in me a deep love and appreciation for your Word. Through example you used her to show me the power and intimacy of prayer. Father, thank you that your words bring life. And decades after they are spoken they are still giving life. The prayers and words of these two women are still molding and shaping my responses to you. Father, thank you. Thank you for supplying all our needs according to your riches. Thank you that my supply included these two women. Thank you. Praise you. Oh, that you would receive all the glory for the works these women have accomplished. In the sweet name of Jesus’. Amen and amen.