“Go out on a limb.” That’s what the sign read outside the small Mennonite church in Beemer, Nebraska. Population 600. I pulled into the church parking lot after driving more than 350 miles from Minnesota, eight hours spent in the rental car due to the snowy roads and multiple phone conversations with different friends to keep me alert and awake on the road.
The advertisement on the church marquee wasn’t meant for me. It wasn’t even meant for the funeral taking place in that church that Tuesday morning. The pastor was advertising Sunday’s upcoming sermon on Zaccheaus, the tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus (Luke 19). But the words couldn’t have been more fitting.
You see, eight years earlier, the widow of a farmer had been sitting in the screen porch of her early 20th-century home when she decided to go out on a limb. Gloria Sharp had been a faithful viewer of the morning newscast that I anchored for NBC news in Omaha. That night, an announcement was made on the evening news that I had given birth to my first child, Erin. It was October 15th and was also Gloria’s 75th birthday.During my maternity leave, Gloria sent me a letter at the TV station to explain that she was delighted to share the same birthday with my daughter.
At first, I was apprehensive to begin a relationship with a stranger. Some of my colleagues, other TV personalities at the station had shared stories about stalkers so I felt I had reason to be cautious. But her letter was so dear and lovely– I could tell by her handwriting that much thought and love had gone into her words. What struck me the most was the end of her letter when she wrote a prayer for my infant daughter.
Because I was so touched, I replied to her letter. Honestly, I thought that was all I would hear from this sweet woman. But, her letters continued and she shared how she didn’t have any “wee” grandchildren, and she asked if she could share in the joy of our daughter. I’d often respond back with notes about being a new mom and include pictures of Erin. And a pen pal relationship began.
It wasn’t until Erin was 18 months old that we took a trip to visit her in her old farm house two hours outside of Omaha. That first meeting was so special. In her porch room laid all of our letters and photos of Erin. Erin took to Gloria right away, climbing up on her lap without hesitation. We encouraged her to sing, “Jesus Loves Me” and a few other children’s songs. One of Gloria’s following letters said, “our visit meant the world to her.”
The visits continued and we started to celebrate Erin and Gloria’s birthdays together. When Erin was old enough, she also started writing letters to Gloria.
When I really sit back and think about this woman, devoted and committed to pray for us, I’m blown away by this gift. And as I watch Erin grow, I often wonder how this woman’s commitment to prayer for our family has and will make a difference in Erin’s life.
In late 2010, we moved back to our home state of Minnesota. Due to Gloria’s health and shaky hands that prevented her good penmanship, her letters stopped. But we still talked often on the phone.
This past October, Erin called Gloria and sang “Happy Birthday” and “Skinna Marinky Dinky Dink” on the phone. During that phone conversation, Gloria shared with me that she wasn’t feeling very well anymore. She explained she had a difficult time eating and was using an oxygen tank to help her breathe.
Just a few weeks later, the next phone call was not from Gloria, but from her son to say that Gloria had gone home to meet the Lord. When I walked into the church for her funeral, on a table in the foyer was a picture of Gloria and Erin in a frame along with some of our letters. I learned during my conversations with her family that day the extent of how our family had filled a hole in Gloria’s life. She was a new widow when Erin was born. She had a love of stories and adventure, despite her simple life in a small town as a farmer’s wife. (As a news reporter, I was never short of stories!) She also had an amazing love for children and for music (a love of Erin’s as well). She had even written children’s piano and song book for her church that was presented to us as a token for the impact Erin had on her life. That song book is now a treasure we have in our home. Person after person thanked me for loving Gloria, telling me how she always had a beaming smile on her face when Gloria talked about Erin.
I am now the mother of three girls. I hope this story encourages confidence for you to take bold steps, to go out on a limb and follow God’s leading and to love strangers with a love of Christ.
About Andrea: Andrea is a sweet spirited friend of mine from college. My funniest memory with her is a brief visit after college where we took my oldest (then a toddler) to the Omaha Zoo and got stuck in the giraffe encounter building during a tornado warning! Here’s what Andrea wrote about herself: My family and I live in Minnesota. I no longer work in TV news as I am busy raising three girls (ages 8, 4 and 2). I frequently read the Pruning Princesses blog and am very thankful for Laura’s wisdom to help in my parenting journey as a mother of three daughters!