Yesterday my mom, affectionately referred to by her grandchildren as “Baba” – the abbreviated Russian word for “grandmother”, turned 70 years old. And you know what she did on her birthday? She showed up at my doorstep with a 9″x13″ cherry cheesecake that she made for ME. On HER birthday.
I should be used to her selfless acts of kindness but I’m not. She continually astounds me with them. Throughout my life, I have never known anyone else to be so completely and genuinely selfless, freely giving of her time, love and resources, and having an unwavering servant attitude toward others. In this regard, she is as close to emulating Christ’s serving heart toward others as I have ever witnessed.
What makes her even that much more amazing is that she is the way she is despite the multiple hardships and challenges she has endured throughout her entire life: born and raised in the poorest of conditions in Soviet Russia during World War II, uprooted with her family to a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany; being separated from her mother who suffered from tuberculosis while in the DP camp, experiencing the death of her 9-month-old brother who died of neglect while in the same camp; being malnourished (along with her 3 sisters) all of the time. At the age of 11, her family was finally able to make the unpleasant passage by boat to the U.S. eventually settling in NJ. Not speaking a word of English she was placed two grades behind her peers. She lived the rest of her youth (and her adult life) in this country of freedom, safety and opportunity yet lived under the oppression of an abusive, alcoholic father and continued to witness the physical sufferings endured by her ill yet hard-working seamstress mother.
A few years after graduating high school she married a fellow Russian who, amazingly, provided for the basic needs of his family as a blue collar worker despite become a raging alcoholic, and she subsequently had three children with him. She was a stay-at-home mom but also took us little ones with her to her part-time house cleaning jobs. When we started school she got a full-time job while always maintaining a meticulously clean house, preparing home-cooked meals every night, doing the shopping, laundry, ironing, sewing, canning, and sharing with the caring for her aging mother all the while constantly nurturing and lavishing love, affection and adoration on her 3 children.
Later in life, she eventually lost her beloved mother, then her father who she also helped cared for in his declining health, and was herself diagnosed with and battled with cancer (with which she victoriously went into remission).
I have never heard her utter a single complaint about her life. Not ever. And she asks for nothing. Yet somehow, she incredulously gives of herself like no other. I cringe, in sharp contrast, in how selfish I am with my time, my love, my resources, how spoiled I am with the easy life I have, and how I pale in comparison to her exemplary performance as wife and mother.
Today, parts of our family are geographically separated so not everyone was able to participate in Baba’s 70th birthday celebration although, no doubt, they were there in spirit. It was a lovely dinner and it was a treat to see Baba get treated on her special day (even though she did bake me a cheesecake). I pray that God blesses her abundantly for the next 70 years and that I may, by His grace, be as selfless, giving, humble, content and amazing as she is. How I love you, Mom!