When I was young my grandma called it, “going home.” We would pile books and our pillows into the backseat and watch cities and farms go by on our nine hour drive from Georgia to the small-town in Indiana where my grandparents grew up. I visited cousins and went from house to house in this foreign world where doors were left unlocked because everyone was related or knew each other.
As my mom, sister, aunt and I embarked on the journey – my first time in eight years since my grandma’s death – I couldn’t help but feel a part of me was going home. I never lived there and didn’t have many ties left except a few aunts, uncles and cousins. But as cornfields made way to coal mines, I realized this place was a kind of home to me.
This Midwest small-town held all of the stories that shaped the life of my family. As a child I played down by the creek but was oblivious to the living history all around me. On this particular homecoming, I started to listen.
I watched my great uncle, now in his nineties, smile the same smile I saw as a ten year old child on the face of my granddad. I held back tears as I watched familiar eyes looking back on me, imagining granddad would have looked much like this now.
I listened to his stories of the 13 siblings growing up and fighting, of how my granddad went to World War II to avoid life in the mines. He told us about generations I didn’t know existed that bootlegged during prohibition as we looked through boxes of faded photos.
I also stood beside graves and learned about my great grandmother who married three times and the miscarriage I didn’t know my grandmother had in her first marriage. I heard the tales of divorce, abuse, addiction in my family tree.
I realized there was so much pain I missed looking at my family as a child, hurt and sin under the surface that I never knew.
I also realized there was healing and hope, a God who saw all of the pain and was with my family generations before me.
I looked over as my uncle spoke at my aunt’s Bible where she had left it when we came in the house. Her daily devotional book was open and every single line of that day’s entry was underlined. I wish I could see the things this woman had seen in her nearly ninety years – and the lessons God was still teaching her.
I wish I had paid more attention, known some of these things before – that I had been able to hear from my grandma’s lips what losing two children taught her. As a ten year old, I couldn’t understand stories of war or losing two siblings as a child from my granddad – and now it is too late to ask.
In the weeks following our trip, as I read through the Psalms, I pondered the history of my family and marveled at the God who had been with us and delivered us from more than I ever realized before. New meaning sprang forth from the words of Psalm 135.13: “Your name, Lord, endures forever, your renown, Lord, through all generations.”
I read over and over as the Israelites recalled what God had done for them through the generations, telling the stories again of the bondage the Lord had freed them from.
Telling of God’s wondrous deeds, including the stories of their failures and how God delivered them, restored them – this is the foundation of the story of our faith. This is the meaning of the festivals and rituals still celebrated today.
In the Passover, we recall God’s deliverance from Egypt. In the Lord’s Supper we remember all that Christ’s blood has washed away in our lives.
It isn’t just my family that was broken and restored, sinful and set free. All of our family trees are full of hurt, brokenness and sin. We need to learn of these things, remember them frequently.
How else will we know how much God has delivered us from?
In what better way can we share with the next generation the goodness of God than through the stories of how far He has brought us?
God tells us to impress His commandments upon our children, to talk about when we lie down and when we get up (Deuteronomy 6). As we talk about His law, we must also talk about how incapable we are of keeping it and why we needed a perfect sacrifice to cover all our sin.
My children may never meet my grandparents, or walk banks of the Wabash River “back home.” But I will make sure to tell them the stories of generations past and the God who saw each tear that fell in my the long history of our family.
I won’t gloss over the mistakes but make sure they know what hope and healing Jesus has brought.
One day when we are all truly Home, I will listen to all the stories I missed. I will see the whole tapestry of the family history I am a part of and how God has weaved redemption through each and every thread.