Grandma Bindel went to be with Jesus Monday, and we honored her all week with lots of food, visiting, and Nickel Knock. Ten years ago, when I was in the Capital City Writes teacher program, I wrote about Grandma’s ministry. I sent the article to Aunt Patty, and she remember it when planning the services. I revised the numbers and they printed the history to hand out at the wake. Here it is:
Sleeping bags cover the living room floor. Half-eaten bags of Doritos and toppled soda cans litter the room. It’s a typical teen slumber party complete with Jesus pillows.
Jesus pillows may not be all the rage in your neck of the woods — you’ve probably never even heard of such a thing — unless you were touched by the blessed hands of Grandma Bindel.
Grandmother of 33, great-grandmother of 59, and mother of eleven, Irene Bindel called the Jesus pillows her ministry. What started 30 years ago as a loving gift to cheer the hearts of four of her grandchildren in a time of sorrow turned into a ministry that touched thousands.
After the death of their mother, her oldest daughter, four of Irene’s grandchildren were leaving their Oklahoma home to move to Wichita Falls, their mother’s hometown, to live with different family members.
The four children, then ages 4 to 13, were coming to their new homes to be adopted by different aunts, uncles, and close family friends. Grandma Bindel knew these kids would need extra love, first losing their mother, then being separated from their siblings, and she wanted them to have something waiting just for them in their new homes – something that would remind them that above all else, Jesus loves them.
She pulled out the sewing machine and made each of them a small pillow. Then, carefully, she stitched on the front, in large letters, Jesus loves John. One for each of them – Jesus loves David; Jesus loves Michael; Jesus loves Elizabeth. They cherished the pillows and were proud of them. Of course, the other children in the houses – the cousins turned siblings through adoption, wanted Jesus pillows of their own. Grandma made a Jesus pillow for each of her grandchildren. Soon, the kids’ friends who saw the pillows at sleepovers, campouts, and slumber parties began asking for their own Jesus pillows. Grandma couldn’t say no. And there began her pillow ministry.
She called the pillow-making her ministry because she wanted to bring the love of Jesus to everyone.
“I can’t go knock on doors and talk to people about Jesus,” she said, “but I can make them a pillow. God gave me a sitting down job.”
Over the years, the pillows grew bigger, the designs more intricate, and eventually they were inscribed on both.
Grandma’s pillows would go out when she heard of a birth. The Bindel family alone kept her busy, but she made sure to share Jesus’ love with friends, too.
Everyone loves seeing his or her own name, granddaughter Elizabeth Boatner said, and that makes the pillows extra special.
“When I got my first pillow, I felt so special having it because it had MY name on it, and it said that Jesus loved ME. You see things all the time with ‘Jesus loves you…;’ but this pillow said ‘Jesus loves Elizabeth.’”
Grandma’s process was meticulous. She tracked her to do list in a little black address book, listing the name, age, and gender of the recipient-to-be, along with the person requesting the pillow so she knew how to deliver it.
Grandma held to tradition and didn’t rely on ultrasound technology. Since she customized her pillow colors based on gender, she wouldn’t start a pillow until after a baby was born.
Her pillows bring joy to their owners today, but they served their purpose of being a comfort to the four grandchildren living through the loss of their mother 30 years ago. “My pillow caught a lot of tears,” said John Bindel, my husband.
We can all agree today that Irene Bindel succeeded in making sure we all knew that Jesus loves us.
“You can actually feel Grandma’s whole-hearted love she put into each pillow. Grandma always sealed the tissue paper enclosing the pillow with a sticker that said to ‘Keep Jesus #1,’ to ‘Praise the Lord,’ or to ‘Keep the Angels Around You,’ Stephanie Bindel said. “Her pillows are not only a daily reminder for me to thank God for all of my blessings, but for me to also thank God for the person who made it for me.”
Grandma’s pillow-making ended almost nine years ago, but she made at least 3,000 pillows to share the love of Jesus, reminding the receiver to “Let this pillow always remind you to keep Jesus number one for He will always be loving you.”