Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)
Grandma Lily called me her little Snookie. I never knew what the name meant, but I liked the way it sounded, maybe because it had a sweet sound and the word rhymed with a sweet thing. One of my earliest memories is sitting on Grandma’s lap as she rocked me in her sturdy wooden rocking chair. “Snoo-kie … Snoo-kie,” she chanted as she rocked me back and forth. I felt safe and loved in her arms. Sometimes, she sang to me, always Sunday School songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “This Little Light of Mine.” Many times, I fell asleep in her lap as she sang softly and gently:
“Into my heart,
Into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today, come in to stay.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.”
Grandma and her cousins, Lena and Laura, ran the Sunday School at the old German Methodist Church. They were the second generation of the founding members, their parents, German immigrants who started the church in the 1800s. When I was little, the church had two services, one in English and one in German. There were many old people in the congregation, and it was rich with German tradition. My little friends and I represented the fourth generation of the founding families, and Grandma Lily, Lena and Laura were still supervising the Sunday School when they were well into in their seventies. By then, their teaching methods were anything but modern.
Sunday School was in the banquet hall in the church basement. Rows of chairs faced the front of the room, tiny red wood chairs for the little kids and metal folding chairs for the older ones. An easel was set atop a large mahogany table, and fixed to the easel was a bible story picture that illustrated the lesson for that Sunday. Even then, the pictures looked old. Grandma and Cousin Lena talked about the picture and taught the lesson while the youngest children squirmed in their seats and the older ones tried their best to be polite and not yawn with boredom. We all looked forward to breaking into our age-appropriate groups, taught by young moms, where the lessons were fun. Then, when that was done, we went back to our chairs, and Cousin Laura, who always wore a black dress and a matching wide-brimmed hat, played the out-of-tune upright piano, loudly because she was hard of hearing, and she led us in familiar choruses of Sunday School songs.
Before I understood the concept of Christianity, I wondered how Grandma Lily could be so strong in her faith. Her life had been tough. She and my grandfather lost their second child to a sudden illness. The baby was just 18 months old, and she died on Grandma Lily’s birthday. Not too many years later, Grandpa died suddenly of a heart attack leaving Grandma to raise my dad, who was just nine years old, all by herself. There was little money, and Grandma worked very hard. She was a nurses’ aide at a special school for children who were disabled by polio. Every morning, the children arrived at the school, some on crutches, some in wheelchairs, and a few in iron lungs, and Grandma was always there to greet them and tend to their needs. Oh, how she loved those children! And they loved her back. In fact, a few years ago I wrote an article about Grandma for Reminisce Magazine, and I received letters from several of those children, all grown up now and still remembering how loving Grandma had been toward them when they were sick and small. In those days, it was just fine to sing Christian songs and to say prayers in school, and I learned that my grandma had sung to the children, and she prayed with them. I’m sure that she called them Snookie, too. Grandma believed in the words of Psalm 146:9: “The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.” (NKJV) Grandma’s faith was an inspiration, not only to me, but also to my family and to all the children whom she loved like her own.
Proverbs 22:6 says: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (NIV) I understand now about faith. It sustains us in both the best and the worst of times. Grandma knew it. She clung to her faith, and she lived it and wasn’t afraid to share it. She trained countless children in the ways of the Lord, softly, gently and righteously through simple songs and compassionate acts. Grandma Lily turned little hearts to Christ, and when those little ones grew up, they trained their children using her example.
I am so very grateful to have been her granddaughter — her little Snookie — and even more grateful for the love of God that she set in my heart.
We pray for all the Grandma Lilys in the world. We ask that you bring the little children to them, just as you did to Jesus, and that the children will hear your precious songs and that your wise words will be on their hearts, and that they will be trained to live their lives as unyielding members of the Christian faith. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.