“In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” Titus 2:7

I never knew Grandma Easley. Due to some family issues, my only interaction was attending her funeral. She had a complicated relationship with her daughter, my mother-in-law. From what I can piece together, her life was a mixture of tragedy and grit. She married an Arkansas sharecropper who spent most of their money on alcohol, leaving her to feed five children bread soaked in milk gravy. After his death, she used the life insurance to buy a freezer, and continued to support her family by share cropping, gardening, and preserving food. By all accounts, she was an incredible baker. Her flaky pie crust was filled with fruit and sumptuous custards. She also covered her banana pudding with a light meringue, elevating a southern classic to a family legend. Shooed out of the kitchen, her daughter never watched her cut the butter into the flour or cook the custard to the right consistency. Upon her death, those recipes were lost along with the techniques and tips she used.

I wish I could ask Grandma Easley some questions. Did her heart break when she buried her first daughter in the Arizona desert? Encouraging her sons to go to college, what were her dreams for her daughters? After losing her husband, how did she find the strength to create a new life for herself and her children? What were her unfulfilled dreams? I do know she was a reader and would love to know if she found healing between the pages of books. By reading about adventures, struggles, and triumphs, did she imagine a different relationship with her daughter? And the biggest question of all, is it possible that even at the end of her life, her perspective and her stories could have healed some deep hurts in my mother-in-law?

These questions will never be answered. My mother-in-law and I had lots of conversations about her relationship with her mother. As she too was dying, she wondered why her mother never taught her how to bake. She wondered why her mother never pushed her to go to college? She wished for a different relationship, one where the bond would have been full of love.

In Titus 2, the Bible stresses the importance of women mentoring other women. Older women should model godliness and good character for younger women. In years past, this mentoring would happen in the home as women were canning, sewing, or baking. Often, these women were accused of gossiping, but historical records tell a different story. A lot of women shared stories about discrimination, racism, and conflict. The women’s suffrage movement was born around kitchen tables while political messages and personal stories were woven into the design of quilts. As daughters learned what type of stitches they needed, they would also learn how to handle difficulties with grace and grit.

About fifteen years ago, I was privileged to be part of a mother/daughter book club. Seven moms and their daughters got together regularly to discuss a book we had read. We shared who we identified with in Little Women. We talked about the importance of caring for others when reading The Little Princess. We recognized in our elders the importance of humor and adventure when reading In Grandma’s Attic. Most discussions were lighthearted, but some dealt with heavy issues like loneliness, selfishness, and justice. At the time, this book club fueled my book nerdiness and fulfilled my need for community. It also created an opportunity for my daughter and I to connect during her emotionally charged tween stage. At the time, I didn’t think about the larger issues we were creating space for, or realize we were opening doors for conversations about difficult and challenging issues. I just knew the tea parties and books connected us as mothers and daughters.

In the latest musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Matilda Wormwood says, “What I really like is reading, It’s like a holiday in your head.” I wholeheartedly share her sentiment, but I think reading is so much more. It opens your world to new countries filled with exotic smells and tastes. It makes you think deeply about another person’s perspectives when faced with tragedy or discrimination. It sometimes challenges your worldview, putting flesh to statistics you read about. And as a Christian, it illuminates truth in some unlikely characters and stories.

At my niece’s birthday party, I met some of her friends. One nine-year-old shared with me some of her favorite books, even adding one to my TBR list. When the moms arrived at the end of the party, we chatted a little bit, and I shared that years ago I had been part of a mother/daughter book club. I shared how this was an opportunity to discuss big ideas, even though I didn’t personally set out to do that. The girls overheard, and immediately jumped on the idea, begging their moms to start one. They sauntered off, deciding on the first book as the mom’s discussed the possibility. I told my sister and the other moms that I can’t wait to hear about the books they are reading, and that, someday, I’ll attend as the honorary guest.

The month of March is designated as Women’s History month. It is a great month to read and learn about different women who, despite roadblocks, have made significant contributions to our world in areas of literature, art, science, history, sports, and politics. As a Christian we can also investigate women who have made significant contributions in spreading the gospel. But not every woman is going to be Marie Curie, Georgia O’Keefe, or Louisa May Alcott. Ordinary women can do extraordinary things simply by investing in future generations, mentoring girls and young women. It can happen by sharing stories through the pages of books and discussing our own stories in the process. It can happen at a kitchen island, baking cookies together. It can happen in a car ride on the way to school. The point is to actively engage in mentoring, choosing to develop or solidify a relationship with intentionality.

My mother-in-law was not mentored by her mother. She never learned the art of baking pie crust and no family recipes were passed down. But she made a different choice for her family’s future generations. She was intentional in her relationship with me and my daughter. She taught my daughter to sew, showed me how to make pecan fingers, and shared with me stories about her childhood and how they impacted her. I learned that though hardship may come early, life can end with a heart full of gratitude and forgiveness. I learned that even as a young teenager, the Bible was so important to her, that she spent her earnings from the chopping cotton to buy each of her siblings a Bible with their names engraved on the front. I saw a woman reach her most difficult trial in life by spending hours on her knees in prayer. Those hours turned her heart from despair to hope.

You never know how mentoring turns out; did you make an impact where you had hoped? Yesterday, I asked Maggie what she really thought of the book club, and to my joy, she felt it was magical and delightful. I agree and I will be forever grateful for that time with my daughter and our friends!

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