Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Jesus) Luke 6:36 RSV

My grandmother went to church all her life, but she never received God’s grace and mercy. How do I know? She never gave it.

Not once do I ever remember her saying, “Oh, that’s okay. I make mistakes, myself.” Since she lived with us and was my second mother for the first 13 years of my life, I had ample opportunity to receive her mercy. But she never offered it.

My mother and I used to laugh that she reminded us of “Mary Poppins”—not the Disney-fied version, but P. L. Travers’ original–the classic English nanny: strict, stiff, unemotional, with rules for everything.

I rarely heard my grandmother laugh; I never saw her cry. When I’d try to hug her, I’d feel that steel-boned corset she always wore. It was like hugging a barrel. She just wasn’t the hugging type.

She loved us; I know that. But she lashed my mother and me with her unrelenting perfectionism until we were afraid to step out and venture anything new. Though I sang in choirs most of my life, I didn’t attempt a solo for 50 years because I had famously lost my voice in a 5th grade concert and shamed her. Both Mom and I were afraid to try sewing until we were well into adulthood because she snatched our early attempts out of our hands with exasperation and finished them herself.

Only recently have I come to understand that, as hard as she was on us, she was harder on herself.

For my grandmother was living a lie.

Though she presented herself as a proper New England lady with the upbringing to match, she told us next to nothing about her family, leaving us to wonder why.

Only now have I discovered they were actually Polish/Russian immigrants named “Matalevitch,” or “Matylewicz.” (An older brother Americanized it to “Levitch.”) In the 1910 census, she claimed to be native-born, that her maiden name was “Leavitt,” and her parents were born in Massachusetts.

None of that was true. And she never revealed the slightest hint of the truth.

I’m left with a woman who, for reasons I can only guess, hated and feared her identity so much that she locked it away deep inside herself and threw away the key. She gave no mercy to us because she gave none to herself.

You can’t give what you don’t have.

But I, who know I have received God’s grace and mercy, over and over, can extend it backward to that poor, broken soul who was my grandmother.

And forgive her.

LORD: Help us to freely give Your mercy. Amen.

Sent to Bozeman Daily Chronicle for publication, May 6, 2018.