Back then, I didn't think of Grandpa Bradbury as an artist, but I can see now that he was. He didn't paint or draw or play an instrument. Instead, he filled his home with works of art, sculptures, and fine furniture, and he filled his closet with classic styles—fine wool suits, starched white shirts, and silk ties. Although my mother wasn't as interested in the pursuit of fine things, Grandpa must have passed down his appreciation of art. She was an undeveloped artist—and quite talented. While studying elementary education at Northwestern University, she'd filled countless sketchbooks with her drawings. When I was in high school, I came across those sketchbooks in her closet.
I was utterly surprised. "Mom, I had no idea you could draw!" I said. "These are really good! Why didn't you pursue your art?"
"Oh, honey," she said. "I got married right after college graduation and had your sister nine months later. I didn't have time to pursue my art as a young mom. I was quite happy to set that aside and focus on my family."
And focus she did. She was a remarkable mom to us kids. As I look back on the landscape of my childhood, what stands out about my mom is her constancy. She was consistently home when we were home, which gave us a sense of safety, peace, and order. On school days when my sisters and I walked home for lunch, my mom's smiling face greeted us as we stepped through the door, and a homemade lunch awaited us on the kitchen table.
My parents instilled in us practical skills that we'd need to become successful adults. Dad taught us how to do yard work and sparked our interest in sports, especially tennis. Mom encouraged us to babysit so we could earn our own money. She taught us how to change sheets on a bed, sort the laundry, and properly clean a house.
My favorite lesson was learning how to grocery shop with a well-planned list. I would ride my bike to the store and buy everything Mom needed. It may not sound like much, but when I was a kid, it made me feel so capable. I learned I could succeed at things I'd never done before. My mom's confidence in me gave me confidence in myself.
It's my mom I thank for the solid spiritual grounding I received as a child. When I was four, she became a Christian after reading Billy Graham's book Peace with God. She understood God's love for her in a powerful way, and it shaped the rest of her life. She read to us from the Bible and explained each passage in a way kids could understand. She read all seven of C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia books aloud at bedtime and explained the spiritual meaning behind the stories. Mom was so enthusiastic about her faith that it was contagious. She was (and still is) intentional, dedicated, and strong. Dad, too, followed Christ, and faith became the undergirding of our home.
Because of my parents' spiritual influence and example, I began a relationship with God myself. For as long as I can remember, I felt loved by him. I made my commitment to Christ official during a fourth-grade Sunday school class. The teacher asked if anyone would like to make a commitment that day, and I said I did. I felt close to him and didn't see any reason to put it off.
"I decided to follow Jesus and became a Christian today," I told my mom after church.
She hugged me. "That's a decision you'll never regret," she said. And she was right.
When I was eighteen, Mom developed cervical dystonia, an incurable disease that causes her debilitating pain in the neck and upper body. The pain kept her from doing many of the things she loved to do, and I watched as she fought to make adjustments to her new reality. This became the whole family's struggle as well—particularly my dad's. He felt responsible not only to provide for his family but to research and pursue medical care for my mother, make sure we kids had what we needed, and adapt to a life with serious limitations. My mom's illness changed her life—and all our lives—in a quantum way.
Gradually, Mom accepted her illness and the pain it caused, along with the call she felt God had given her in this new season: to pray for those God brought to her mind. This is a call she has faithfully pursued for the past forty-five years, and I'm grateful my mother's prayers have blanketed our family—and many other families—for four generations. I want my legacy to be like my parents'—with Christ as its foundation, living in a way that demonstrates a love for Jesus.
A PATH FORWARD
When I graduated from high school, I headed to college in Oklahoma. My grandpa had very specific ideas about how I should present myself at college, so he took me shopping and purchased my college wardrobe. Once again, his taste was impeccable. I can't imagine what I might have looked like as an incoming freshman, left to my own fashion devices, but Grandpa Bradbury made sure I projected a look that was classic, elegant, and a little modern. I might have been nervous about how hard college might be, but my wardrobe gave me a little boost of confidence.