Grandma (Ruth) Rasmussen turns 90 today! I’m celebrating from across the ocean by reflecting on 9 things she taught me:
- I’m numbering this list because Grandma was a math teacher. I inherited her math abilities – or maybe it was her encouragement and tutoring that contributed to my success. After 6th grade in the US, I was offered to skip up to 8th grade math if I studied 7th grade math over the summer. So Grandma tutored me, both at our house and at hers for a few weeks in Grygla, MN. In any case, I never once questioned whether girls could (or should) be good at math.
- Grandma was also a home economics teacher. She taught me to make beds and iron when she stayed with us in Mwanza. I still like ironing. I also loved cooking with her. I brought college friends up to my grandparents’ for Thanksgiving and we made our traditionally Scandinavian lefse. And of course, it wouldn’t be a family reunion without her donuts. Jesus fed 4000 and another 5000 men in two meals. His life was shorter than Grandma’s, so I suppose he had to pack it in. Grandma has served about 70,000 meals (including many for large crews). After all, Jesus said we’d do greater things than him.
- A licensed preacher, Sunday school teacher and Pentecostal pastor’s wife, Grandma also taught me to love Jesus. As a kid, I read about the disembodied hand writing on the wall in a storybook Bible that Grandma and Grandpa had given me. I had never heard that story in our family devotions. It made me curious about the Bible in a new way. In middle school, Grandma gave me a Daily Bible and promised me a reward when I read through the Bible in a year. I got stuck somewhere in the Pentateuch, but learned to value daily Bible reading. I also admire her devotional habits of early morning prayer for her entire family – mentioning by name all six kids, plus the in-laws and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
- Grandma’s example showed that you go wherever God calls you. She and Grandpa moved many times to pastor various churches. At age 73, she traveled to Tanzania by herself and spent 3 months helping my mom care for baby twins! When I was nine or ten, we traveled together. Grandma had come out to visit us, then help homeschool my cousins. Uncle Nathan and Auntie Karen kept expecting to move back to the US from Tanzania, and I always wanted to visit them in Kigoma one last time. I begged for Grandma to take me along. I remember boarding the six-seater mission plane full of excitement to see my cousins at my favorite beach and have my Grandma all to myself!
- Grandma introduced me to Christian music. She taught me the books of the Bible song. I also associate the songs, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “Blessed Assurance” with Grandma. Perhaps she particularly likes them, we just sang them a lot at family reunions, or her life just reminds me of the calm assurance we have when we take things to the Lord in prayer. What you may not know, however, is that Grandma introduced me to the latest hits from Christian radio! When we moved to the US, Grandma and Grandpa gave me WOW CDs for my birthday or Christmas presents. At the time, I only listened to instrumental music, because I didn’t like the lyrics of pop songs. But with the WOW CDs, I became a normal teenager going into my room with my headphones on. I later realized that the main cultural capital I had in the US was from those CDs socializing me into Christian culture. Since I often sing along songs that are stuck in my head, to this day I often evaluate the music I want to listen to by asking myself, “If I started singing this at Grandma’s house, would I be embarrassed?” It’s almost as good as, “What would Jesus do?”
- Grandma also encouraged me to study. She was extremely studious herself, finishing both high school and college in three years each. When I finished my 31 tests for my British IGCSEs and my dad defended his dissertation, Grandma celebrated our hard-won academic achievements with a turkey dinner, balloons and our favorite pies in the fireside room of their apartment building. Despite having only the retirement of a teacher and a pastor, she and Grandpa also gave money to each grandchild each year for college tuition.
- Grandma taught me the value of giving. Aside from giving time and presents, Grandma and Grandpa also gave money to support our and Uncle Nathan’s family in our missions work with Bible schools in Tanzania. They have been our biggest supporters for years (other than some churches). In addition to financial support, they always told us how proud they were of us being on the mission field, and visited many times to teach in the Bible schools themselves.
- I admire Grandma’s thoughtfulness. Grandma always reminds me of when she took care of me as a baby in the Twin Cities and how I loved oatmeal. To this day when I visit her she will offer to make oatmeal. The summer in Grygla was my golden birthday. Grandma gave me 12 golden presents, which ranged from the special (a pickle fork that belonged to her Grandma) to the bizarre (a dog toy). She thought it was a strange looking stuffed animal dog, but in fact it was a chew toy for a dog.
- Grandma loves to serve. If Grandma were alive with the apostles, she would have certainly been chosen as one of the seven deacons (servants) to oversee the distribution of food to widows. She would have thrived in preparing food for needy people, counting everything to make sure it was fair, and doing it all as the Lord’s work. I suppose she still does exactly that. But I’m glad she’s alive with me!