There’s an Echo in My Grandmothers’ Names

There’s an Echo in My Grandmothers’ Names

It’s a picture I look at every day. One that sits on my bedroom dresser, reminding me that my job as a mother is not unique, and that if generations before me did, I too can get through any challenges I face today. Sometimes, I even think, ‘Perhaps these women are cheering me on.’

Who are they? They are my great grandmothers. Many greats, in fact.

But before we go there, let’s start here.

This is me with my mom, Kathleen, in January.


Yes. She’s beautiful. In all ways.

Now, here is the photo – of the mothers we share – posed in 1924.


The little girl is my mother’s mother – Elaine.

Diagonal to the upward right is her mother – Gretchen (my namesake).

The woman standing to the left, wearing glasses, is Gretchen’s mother – Ruth.

Seated, with Elaine on her lap, is Ruth’s mother – Sarah.

Seated on the far right is our matriarch, Sarah’s mother – Nancy.

Is a 5-generation photo like this one rare? Absolutely.

Is it notable that these women would want to document themselves for a future generation? I don’t think so.

I think that if every family’s women could have, they would have.

In fact, if we look closely enough, we find that they did.

In small, almost imperceptible ways, each one of our mothers – the immediate ones and the ones of long ago – have passed along a bit of themselves to each one of us.

My grandmothers each have stories, of course. But there’s not enough room for them here. So, consider with me for a moment, the role of names.

In Biblical times, lineage and names were very important. A name’s meaning was an indication of to whom a person belonged, their character, and calling. Today, the same can be true.

We do not live our lives in a vacuum. The same God who created us and our parents knows our every thought. Wouldn’t it make sense that His hand was in the choosing of our names?

In her book, Becoming Myself, Stasi Eldredge asks,

“Do you know what your given name means? It’s a good idea to find out. And if you don’t like the meaning you initially discover, press in to find out more about it. Ask God to reveal to you why he named you what he did.” (p. 222)

So let’s look my grandmothers’ names:

Nancy means grace.

Sarah means princess.

Ruth means companion or friend, and vision of beauty.

Gretchen is a derivative of Margaret, meaning pearl.

Elaine is a variant of Helen, meaning shining light.

Kathleen means pure.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that each name’s attributes are idealistic and intended to encourage its bearer to aim high.

And isn’t that God’s calling? For us to become like Him? With His support? To ultimately come home to Him?

I am descended from these women – born of each one of them. If I string my grandmothers’ names together – as a lineage banner over me of God’s love – I get a message that looks something like this:

I give you My Grace, dear Princess. Walk with me, be my constant Companion and my Friend, for I long to be yours and you are a Vision of Beauty, like a Pearl surrounded by ugliness. I have made you to be a Shining Light, a sign of my Pure and eternal Love. 

Sound strange?

Check out this echo in Song of Songs where the Groom (God) speaks to the Bride (Us):

You are all-beautiful, my beloved,

and there is no blemish in you.

Come from Lebanon, my bride…

how much more delightful is your love than wine…

You are an enclosed garden…a fountain sealed….

a well of water flowing fresh from Lebanon. 

– Song of Songs 4:7, 8, 10, 12, 15

This Mother’s Day, I looked back at my grandmothers with gratitude for the life and the love they extended to me down through the ages by virtue of their perseverance and hope. The names they gave their children are not only evidence of the desires of their hearts, but also of God’s heart.

Consider your name. Consider your family’s names, and how they whisper to you of Love.

The women in the photo I look at every day are more than just my grandmothers – they are examples of how I know that He loves me.

Holy Moments – Day 11 – Let Go, Again

This month isn’t going the way I’d planned. Yes – it’s been fantastically surprising in some ways…We’re up to 115 women in the Bible Study I love so much and wrote about here just days ago!…But on other fronts, I personally have felt – encumbered. And I have been strenuously trying to not become impatient with the state of things, but it’s hard. Because the truth of the matter is, it’s not things that are weighing me down, it’s my expectations about them. I’ll explain.

More than two weeks ago, for the second time in the 13 years since we’ve lived in this house, the racks on my side of the master closest literally fell off the walls, leaving gaping holes and a mess of clothing, shoes, and purses all over the floor. We decided it was time for a complete re-do, and ordered a new ‘closet system’ – to be installed tomorrow. We’ll be glad we did the appropriate planning when it’s finished but meantime, we’ve been stepping over piles upon piles, and right now, I’m sick of looking at the stuff. I’m now thinking that one single pair of jeans, shoes, and a t-shirt sounds like a ‘good enough’ wardrobe. And my own attitude is getting on my nerves.

Secondly, in the last week of September, I decided to move my blog to a new host and to overhaul its design entirely (I was blind to how hard this would be), while also challenging myself to write every day for the month of October. My husband – the voice of reason – gently reminded me that blog pieces can be short. Very short. But did I listen? No. Instead, I jotted down a list of stories I want to tell, each requiring at least an hour of writing time, and this month? Well, let’s just say I didn’t take a good look at my calendar before I announced, “Challenge Accepted.”

Am I impatient to have things fall into line – Clothes re-hung? Blog posts spaced perfectly? Photos just-so? All of life’s wrinkles removed?

You bet.

But should I expect them to be done immediately?

We all say, “No way!” and yet, I know I’m not the only one who is banging her head against the wall day after day, trying to put square pegs into round holes on a schedule that’s partially dictated by the incessant needs of three school-aged kids.

This is what happens when I let the flesh lead. When I let the desires of my ego, brain, and self-centered drive for perfection and order (as if I could make ‘perfect’ happen!) take over my days.  I end up in a state of misery. And it’s rather pathetic actually, because I have caviar problems for sure, and no one but me cares about the disarray I’m staring at day after day. Or so I think.

Last Thursday, I was entering Safeway to pick up orange juice and bread when I saw my friend’s name pop up on my phone. It was a notice that she had commented on my blog. I knew I couldn’t read what she’d said until I got home (another glitch since the transition), but I felt a wave of relief just seeing her name – as if we were in fellowship right there. I thought about her as I bought my items, and then I realized I could use the Starbucks card she’d given me in Safeway to take a break and sit for a moment. I can’t recall the last time I sat still to enjoy something so delicious. That White Chocolate Mocha was heaven sent.

On Thursday, in a tiny way, God stepped in to remind me that He sees it all. The messes. The frustrations. The way I’ve held it in. The way I’ve taken it out – on myself.  And that savored gift of coffee from a friend was His way of telling me – ‘You’re holding on a little too tight, Gretchen.  Come, follow me. Again.’

Feeling refreshed, I took a walk and a photo of this rose. And I realized it was time to relinquish my expectations for this month. My plan was not His plan, and His plan is the better one for me. 


If I write, I write for His glory. If my house is tidy, it’s for the benefit of my family and their well-being, and that goal is best achieved while I’m seeing my role as wife, mother, and homemaker in its proper perspective, as my blessed vocation.

My obsessions with trivial concerns rob me of joy and the life He came to give me. I thank God for His reminders, and for the people He’s placed in my path, to show me that the journey is meant to include moments of care and tenderness to self.