Yiayia is one of my grandmothers, and she is amazing. All my grandparents are amazing, but here she is getting singled out because of the particular ways that she has encouraged me and grown me in my faith (most of the time probably without realising it!)
Yiayia grew up in a village called Napi, on an island from Lesvos, in a country called Greece. She had a very big family, with lots of brothers and sisters. She can’t rememebr all their names or what order they were born in. This is for two reasons: 1) a few of them died before they were christened so they didn’t get names, and 2) she was sent to Athens when she was between 10 and 12 years old to work as a housemaid for a wealthy family, so she didn’t spend much time with all her siblings while she was growing up. In fact, Yiayia missied out on heaps of wonderful childhood experiences because she was working in a foreign city instead. She also didn’t get to go to school. She taught herself how to read. I can’t even imagine what that kind of a childhood would be like. Yiayia didn’t see her family again until she was an adult. She went back home to say goodbye, because her brother (who had moved to Australia) had a friend who was looking for a wife, and he’d volunteered her. So Yiayia came out from Greece to marry my Papou. Fortunately, my Papou is a nice guy, and they have looked after each other really well during a very long marriage.
When Yiayia got out here she didn’t know any English or anything about Australia. I think at the time Papou was working on farms in Mildura so she moved straight out there to work with him and have kids. Once her kids started growing up, and the family moved to Geelong, Yiayia picked up more English and taught herself to read (again).
So my grandmother has been through some immeasurable hardships, but her example of strength is not the only reason I thank God for her. Mainly Yiayia is the first person who ever told me about God, and I am eternally thankful for that. Yiayia would take me to church fairly often, and even though I had absolutle no idea about what was happening in Greek church, it did mean that a couple of years later when I accidently went to scripture at school, the thought of learning about God wasn’t weird at all. In fact, it made as much sense to go there as to go to any other class, because even back then, Yiayia had showed me that God was normal (this is pretty miraculous in itself, when you consider that this happened in the context of the Greek Orthodox Church…! :P)
The other thing is Yiayia’s prayerful dependence on God to help her when she struggles with life. Right now Yiayia is working out how to function as her own physical health decreases and Papou displays more and worse symptoms of dementia. Sometimes when I visit her, she cries, but she also reminds me that God looks after her and makes her strong, even when she feels worn out and tired. I thank God for her and for the way she trusts in his goodness and his promises to care for us. I hope I keep doing that too as I get older.