Terri Kraus

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Remembering Nonna        
As a fiction author, people often ask me where the inspiration for my stories comes from.  I love to write about women who struggle, who overcome adversity through grace, whose lives are transformed by an encounter with the living God—imperfect people on a journey to being made perfect by Christ, though their circumstances may not change.  The characters in my books, so far, have come from my imagination.  But one day I will write the compelling story of one such person who was very real in my life—my Nonna.

  My maternal grandmother Pierina, celebrating in heaven, has been with Jesus for fifty years this month (on Halloween.)  She was a true survivor—a woman who experienced being left behind when, as a young bride, her husband sailed for America seeking a better life for his family.  After his leaving, she gave birth for the first time, and then endured a tragic mishap in which her beautiful firstborn infant was severely burned.  She travelled across the sea to an unknown place with only her scarred daughter at her side.  In her new home she faced a life of religious persecution, as well as long-term personal illness.  Yet she was a woman whose devotion to the Lord never wavered.

       One of the joys of my life is visiting the little northern Italian village, nestled among olive groves high up in the Apennine Mountains, where my maternal grandparents were born, grew up, and married before emigrating to America.  A short lane connects their two families’ farmhouses. In between them stands a small, vacant vine-clad house of ancient, mellowed stone where my grandparents lived as newlyweds. How full my heart felt as I first walked over that threshold!  I pictured them as a young couple in the first blush of matrimony, with all their hopes and dreams…before their brave, separate journey across a wide ocean to a strange land where all was unknown. Within those aged walls, did they speak of their fears as they prepared to leave their homeland, certain they’d never see their parents again? What kind of courage did that require? What words did they use to comfort and reassure one another? I wondered. I could see, in my mind’s eye, my grandmother stirring a pot of freshly handmade pasta as my grandfather stoked the fire—their last meal together before parting. I could even hear the crackling of the firewood, smell the slight woodsmoke…

  But life for my grandmother would be much different than that idyllic picture. After stepping on American soil at Ellis Island in 1923, she would make her way, pioneer-like, to the Chicago area, joining her husband and settling in among extended family.  A mother of three daughters, life during the Great Depression would be difficult.  She would be invited to a prayer meeting in the home of a friend, where she would be introduced to a new spiritual reality, discovering a life she’d never thought possible, through a dynamic, personal relationship with Christ.  The joy of the Lord she would know would come at a great price: being ostracized by her family of a different faith.  She humbly poured out her love on them and on my unbelieving grandfather, even though her prayer time would have to be done behind the locked bathroom door, her devoted study of God’s word secretly enjoyed in the coal cellar, threatened when her Bible was burned repeatedly, her church attendance in clandestine fashion.  A medical mistake meant she would suffer physically for the rest of her life.  Yet—yet—she knew the inexplicable peace of God, and was a bold witness and shining example of a godly woman who clung to her faith despite great adversity. She shared what little she had, feeding homeless strangers as she told them how much Jesus loved them.
       Years later, after becoming a widow, she lived with my family until her death.  My early childhood memories of Nonna are colored with hearing her fervent prayers for the least and the lost during her daily devotion time—always in Italian, always out loud, now—and her singing worship choruses in that lovely language.  These images remain with me, along with a few rustic artifacts, which I was delighted to bring back with me from my visits to that little stone house on the family farm in Italy.  Now I treasure and display them in my own home, because they connect me with that place and time.  My grandmother’s Italian Bible sits on my desk.  But what I treasure most is my rich spiritual heritage from Nonna, the first Christ-follower in my lineage.  I envision her now, in heaven singing with the angels…

         Come bello camminare/con Gesu, nostro signore...
“How beautiful to walk with Jesus, our Savior…”

       There was much that was not beautiful in Nonna’s life, but her profound joy despite her circumstances continues to inspire me. I have come to realize that, here at my keyboard, she is a part of everything I write.  My desire to tell the redemption story in my books is a fruit of her legacy in me.  Perhaps, because of what she endured, I am more deeply touched by the plight of the countless women across the globe who live in fear and bondage.   Perhaps, by God's grace, as I strive to make known their plight, as I work to expand the feminine voice with my words, Nonna's soft voice, in her small circle of influence, can become louder and larger in me. The strength of her walk lets me know that I can be strong, her courage shows me I can be bold.  How she lived  encourages me to try to live in that same kind of faithfulness to God through the struggles of my life, reflecting the love of Jesus, to give like He gave, to be a woman of the Word even when it’s challenging.  To relentlessly pursue a godliness that will spill over into my writing, telling the beauty of walking with Jesus, even when life is hard.   

100 Most Beautiful Words

A softener.

A spoken or written work in praise of someone.


A person who enjoys fine living, especially food and drink.

A sudden revelation.


“Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.” 

— John Piper

"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."


"Relying on God has to start all over everyday, as if nothing has yet been done."


"Your walk with God does not depend on people, places, things or events." 

—Dr. Henry Brandt

"Humility is perfect quietness of heart, It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble."

— Andrew Murray

Book Review:  Grumble Hallelujah: 
Learning to love your life even when it lets you down

Caryn Rivadeneira (Tyndale House)

From the cover:

"This is not how my life was supposed to be."
If you had told Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira while she was crying on the kitchen floor that she could find a way to praise God in this situation, she wouldn't have believed you.  In fact, she might have thrown something at you.  Looking around at a life that was disappointingly different from what she'd dreamed, she couldn't imagine honestly singing out a hallelujah.  But the it occurred to her that...well, maybe she could grumble one.
      Have you been there?  During life's lowest moments, it is so tempting to blame ourselves, our circumstances, or God.  But what would happen if we turned to God with praise instead, in whatever way we could?  Might he help us find the things in our lives that he made to be loved?
      If you're desperate for hope, relief, and perspective form a friend who understands your struggle, Grumble Hallelujah offers humor, candid stories, and solid scriptural backing that will help you see clearly just how your life is meant to be lived—and loved.

I must confess that I been dismayed at the way authenticity is sometimes lacking in Christian community.  We all know that everyone "has stuff" but somehow we've bought into the message that it's not okay to express ourselves in our struggles, that doing so makes us somehow less spiritual. In this book, the author, with great insight and humor, gets real, and shows us how, within our struggles over disappointment at life's unexpected twists and turns, we can still find a way towards transformation and spiritual growth.  She does this with very practical steps on how to let go of the things that deter us from moving forward.  There are helpful questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter.  I was especially impacted by the chapters on grieving our losses, living satisfied, and letting go of the things that hold you down.  Some important quotes:

"If we can't exhibit the depths of pain, neither can we fully share the heights of our joy."

"More often than not, the junk that holds us back and keeps us stuck is our desire to be in control and our own fear."

"We need to be willing to let go of what's supposed to be and grab hold of what God has in store."

We all live with disappointment, and there are countless treasures to be mined here for wherever you are in the process of "getting real" about it—all backed up by scripture and illuminating stories.  I found this book to be deep, refreshing, hopeful and helpful, and I highly recommend it—both for individuals as well as to work through in a small group.