31 Days:: Mixed Bag
Day 19: Mixed Bag
At church this weekend the pastor asked us to evaluate what legacy has been passed on to us from our family heritage. He talked about how, even if what was passed down to you was harsh— things like addiction, mental illness, poor health, abuse or divorce, for example— there is still hope for you. You can be the pioneer in your family’s legacy. You can change the trajectory of your family’s lineage. As Isaiah 61 talks about, God can free us from whatever darkness or prison or heartbreak we were subject to— and then we, in turn, can be free to rebuild, restore, and renew whatever was ruined— even if it was “devastated for generations”:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners… They [the former brokenhearted captives] will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” ~Isaiah 61:1,4
This question of heritage got me thinking: what has been passed down to me? And, I imagine like most of you, I realize: it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, I have a handful of negative attitudes and behaviors that were passed along or modeled to me, but overall I have to admit that, after sifting through a lot of my family heritage, I realize that I had a lot of great stuff handed down to me as well. I’ve talked about some of the yucky stuff in previous posts, so I won’t take time for that here. What I want to do today is give you a glimpse into some of the ways in which I have been positively impacted by my extended family.
Over the past year and a half I have been creating “Life Books” for my two grandmothers. I finished my dad’s mom’s book over a year ago and it was basically a collection of photos and stories from my grandma’s life. She is 92 years old, and the purpose of the book was simply to capture as many of her stories as I could before she passes away and all her memories are gone forever. Grandma Nancy is a mother of six, a grandmother of 19, great grandmother of I think 40, and great great grandmother of I think 4. She was born in Brooklyn, New York in the twenties, lived through the Great Depression and World War II, has lived in various places in the U.S., has watched the technology boom in our country, and was happily married for over 55 years to my grandpa, a plumber and a deacon in the Catholic Church. She has led a full life, to be sure. And after observing her my whole life, and then digging deeper into her stories and life for several months while I worked on her Life Book, I realized once and for all: she is one of the most love-filled, gracious, prayerful women I have ever met. Yes, she is flawed too, as we all are, but she truly is such a beautiful human being. She has shown me what a life of prayer and commitment to God and His Word looks like. She has shown me what it’s like to live in sheer enjoyment of one’s spouse over an entire lifetime, even after your spouse passes away. She and my grandpa together showed me what healthy, innocent affection looks like. I am eternally grateful to have had her influence and her prayers throughout my life. It was such a delight to honor her through her Life Book last year.
After I finished Grandma Nancy’s book, I immediately started on my other grandma’s Life Book. When I started Grandma Mc’s, she was 83, super mentally sharp, and in seemingly decent health. I thought I would have time to really dig in and get a ton of stories from her. Unfortunately, she died less than three weeks after she and I started buckling down and really working on the story-gathering process. Since her passing, I have had the honor and delight of gathering stories from her friends and extended family members, looking through thousands of photographs, and reading hundreds of written documents to and from both her and my grandfather. And, living only ten minutes away from her for the past several years, of course I have countless memories of my own to draw from. Throughout this Life Book gathering process I have gotten such a clearer picture of who my grandma and grandpa were and what treasures they passed along to me. They were artistic and physically active, friendly and welcoming, and some of the most faithful, devoted friends I’ve ever seen. They had an uncanny ability to listen well and give their undivided attention to whoever was visiting in their living room with them. But perhaps my favorite characteristic I have seen pouring out of their lives is the seemingly simple gift of a sense of humor. That family loved to laugh together! They loved to play games and listen to music and goof off and tell jokes and tease one another. Humor has been woven through almost every written correspondence I found— I can’t count how many pictures I saw of them tearfully cracking up with each other. I always knew when I went to visit Grandma Mc that I would have her undivided attention, a willing listening ear, some deeply felt opinions on the way the world works, and at least a few good belly laughs while I was there. Oh— and I would be offered a cookie as well! That was just how it worked at her house.
Like most of us, sorting through my past and my family lineage can be a tricky task. Sometimes one might find buried memories or hidden secrets that they never wanted to encounter. That being said, I am so thankful for these gems I found in the mixed bag of heritage that has been passed on to me. Because, as Beth Moore urges in her classic Breaking Free, what’s important is not necessarily what I find, but what I do with what I find. I need to separate the good and the not-so-good and I need to put things where they belong. When I find treasures, like the ones my grandparents gave me, I need to put them up in the trophy case and praise God. And when I find things that aren’t so good, I need to look those square in the eyes, learn from them, take them to a counseling session if necessary, and then promptly escort those attitudes and behaviors out to their proper place: the garbage can.
Thank you, family, for passing along such a vast amount of beauty and courage and goodness and humor and godliness to me. By God’s grace and help and inspiration, I hope to build on what you’ve passed down. And perhaps, if I may, I might even have the honor of standing upon your shoulders and reaching up to greater heights… so that this next generation can stand on my shoulders and, thus, fly even farther than any of us ever dreamed…
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What about you?
What heritage has been passed along to you? How can you emulate the good parts and how can you consciously put aside the not-so-good habits or blatant dysfunctions that you saw or received?
Please feel free to share your journey in the comment section below.