Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone! Don’t forget to ask questions and tell stories around the dinner table with family this season!
Tag Archives: our-story
Most of us have known the fun of an Easter egg hunt. Perhaps when we were children, some older family member made finding the eggs difficult by hiding them in the most unlikely (or most obvious) of places. And if we were especially lucky, the eggs might have had little treasures like candy, trinkets or money hidden inside them. That made finding them even more exciting!
But what if I told you there’s another kind of treasure hunt that can make the heart thump even more if we find something particularly special? The name of a previously unknown ancestor, for instance. They could be ordinary folks who tried to live the best way they knew how, or they may have had some kind of importance in history. Perhaps they lived near a site when a famous event took place.
Whoever my ancestors were and whatever they did, it never ceases to excite me when I find new names to add to my family tree. It gives me a pleasant thrill, even if I have no more information than their names. Because our family trees get bigger and bigger the farther back they go, it can be overwhelming at times. But then, I don’t think I’d want to reach a complete dead end on every branch and twig because the discovery is what is the most fun. One can find out so much about their own personal background through doing this. To think that if only one of these people had neglected to come together with their partner would mean that we wouldn’t be here right now… It makes one humble and grateful.
Personally, I am content with just researching direct ancestors, with an occasional research foray into their siblings if they were particularly interesting. I’m not so much into researching all the lines in my extended family from several hundred years ago. But I know there are many family researchers who enjoy digging this deeply. They are the ones who find even more deeply hidden Easter eggs!
Searching your past family history requires time, effort, and patience. But so much is available at the reach of the internet nowadays, that you basically don’t even have to get off the couch to hunt for them. Personal heritage can be much more satisfying than a dozen or so of plastic eggs.
What are some exciting discoveries you’ve made while delving into your family past?
Sometimes, journaling can be like doing the dishes. You know it needs done. You know you’ll regret it and get overwhelmed if you don’t, but… you just don’t wanna. So you put it off. And before you know it a few months have gone by, but it’s not like anything really super exciting happened, so you’re getting away with it, right? You’ll wait until some big moment in life arrives and then you’ll journal, you promise yourself. Except that when that time happens, you’re so swamped with the details of life that it’s nearly impossible to chronicle your internal state of affairs. Eventually, you give up. And your life is passing without your inner thoughts, feelings, observations, hopes, dreams, decisions, the life-changing events, and the little moments that really make up the reality of life being set down to last.
The Bible tells us:
It’s a sobering thought, but true nonetheless. We don’t really know what tomorrow will bring. It seems to be that most of life is lived in the ordinary, slow, waiting mode, and then BOOM! the dramatic, life-changing events happen all of a sudden. Not just the scary, traumatizing stuff of life, but also the good, happy things full of love and joy.
Who will capture our lives to set down to be remembered if we don’t? Most of us don’t have biographers or will write a published autobiography. It’s up to us to record things so they didn’t happen in vain. Why does this matter so much? It matters for those coming after us (relatives or even non-relatives who maybe never knew us) because they can learn or identify from our lives. It’s like a snapshot of what people in our day and generation thought about the world going on around us. It also matters to us because someday we will hopefully be able to look back and see how far we’ve grown and matured. Or for us to remember things better. It gives a sense that our lives do matter.
Remembering the importance of journaling can help motivate us to ‘do those journaling dishes’ even when we don’t feel like it. I get in this slump lots of times. In fact, right now I’m going through a phase where I find it hard to do anything I should do and easy to do everything I shouldn’t! But I find it helpful to keep journaling by setting aside one day a week and making it a priority. First, I write about landmark events. Who had a baby? Who’s running for president? Then, I write about what stood out to me during the course of the last week. Maybe an argument I had with someone, or an achievement I earned. If nothing comes to my mind for either of these prompts, I come up with some sort of opinion or thought I’ve been holding in my mind lately. What are my favorite colors currently and why? What annoys me about certain people? I don’t just write about the flowery things of life. I try to be real.
Here’s a tip: It’s much, much easier to journal when you don’t have a boatload of important things to write about. Slowly processing through the last seven days can become more of a contemplative activity than a chore. And if something big happens (like someone ending up in the hospital), seven days are hard enough to document without having to play catch-up first.
What are some ways that you overcome procrastination in journaling?
Recently I’ve been working on a project in my spare time in which I scour Pinterest for photographs of people that I would “cast” in my fantasy film of the Bible. Doing so causes me to really sit down and study bible characters in a whole new way. I’ve come to admire people in the Bible that I hadn’t liked before, or dislike people that I’d thought I did. As I’ve been going along through Genesis and beyond, I’ve also become more consciously aware of which character is descended from whom. This helps me put them in perspective, see where each person is coming from. What people named their children in the Bible is very telling as to their spiritual walk at the time, and it’s interesting to see if they “lived up” to their name.
We see genealogical records over and over throughout the Scriptures. Many of us might be familiar with the recorded lineage of Jesus Christ (see Matt. 1) in which we see one of the fulfilled prophecies that Jesus was of the correct family descent to be the Messiah. But many other individuals’ genealogy is recorded as well. We often see people introduced to us multiple times as being the son of so-and-so. Joshua son of Nun. Joab son of Zeruiah. Abijah daughter of Zechariah. Other genealogies are more complex, such as the lineage of the Koathites in 1 Chronicles 33-47 or the sons of Esau in Genesis 36:10-29. Maybe these histories would bore some, but I find them fascinating. Their exotic sounding names are not just titles—they were real people who raised future generations, for good or ill.
It’s obvious the Bible holds genealogy as important, and not just to prove the lineage of the Messiah. I believe knowing one’s genealogy is important for us as well. When we look out over our family tree, we begin to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around us. We’re just a leaf on the oak or a needle on the pine. Trunks and tree boughs had to grow before us. We start out as twigs and can produce so much more in this life if we so choose and are willing to be used by God. Our story is just a part of the entire story going on since the world began. It’s humbling.
It also can create a feeling of belonging. In our tree analogy, we’re not just an acorn that came from nowhere. Some people don’t have the opportunity to find out where they came from, and when I imagine what that must be like I get a cold sense of loneliness. One can still be their own person regardless, but I think there’s still an emptiness present when one doesn’t know their heritage.
Heritage can be both a blessing and a curse. Some would rather not know their background. But it’s important to realize that knowing family history, even if it is not very positive, does not doom an individual’s future because we are free to make our own choices. It’s the old adage about history being learned lest it be repeated. Is there a certain negative pattern that seems to be a characteristic theme going on generation after generation in your family? Knowing is key to understanding how these actions affect you today. Knowing is also key to breaking the pattern of negativity. In Genesis 34, we read of the account of Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi. In a mad fit of rage, they massacred a whole city while the inhabitants were incapacitated. Their father was so mad at them that he disinherited them from being the next of his sons in line to receive the blessing of family leadership (Gen. 49:5-7). Their actions had consequences that did affect future generations for all time. However, their descendants didn’t have to let that affect their choices. It seems Simeon’s line didn’t make much of a particular positive name for themselves throughout the rest of the Bible, but Levi’s tribe did. The two most prominent of this family are Moses, whom the Lord spoke to as a friend would, and Aaron, from whom Israel’s priests were descended. In fact, when Moses discovered that many Israelites had worshipped a golden calf in his absence, he put forth an order than anyone for the Lord should come to him. All the Levites rallied to him.
It’s also important to note that having a good family reputation doesn’t guarantee us the same fate. Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, was chosen and blessed by God. But some of his sons apparently thought they had a corner on the spiritual market because of their descent. In Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu grew careless and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord. Things didn’t end too well for them. Scripture informs us they had no offspring to carry on their name.
No one is perfect, but not all genealogy is depressing. There are also heroes in the family that have come before us that we can look at their legacy and claim for our own heritage. I may not agree with everything my ancestors believed spiritually, but I admire their faith in the midst of fiery persecution. I admire the perseverance an ancestor of mine must have had to suffer through the misery of Valley Forge. They might have been only farmers, pioneers, or even wigmakers, but the story of their character has been related through the ages.
The important thing is what did our ancestors make of themselves, and what can we learn from them?
If you journal, do you ever envision someone reading what your write someday? It’s sort of a humbling thought. It can make one more conscious of the fact that what we choose to do today could influence another tomorrow.
Let’s take the published diaries of famous people that we may enjoy reading about. The Diary of Anne Frank; The Selected Journals of L. M. Montgomery; Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh… (Sorry to list only female writers here: I try to write what I know.) What is it about reading someone else’s diary that interests us so much? I think in large part it is because we feel a connection to someone else. They may have lived in a different place at a totally different time, but we still can identify with universal human emotions. In Ecclesiastes we read, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Somehow, we don’t feel quite as alone when we connect with someone who has felt similarly at one time or another. We are drawn out of our isolation, out of our selves, and are exposed to new ideas and ways of looking at things.
I’m currently watching the riveting docudrama The Great War Diary,– reenactments based on real life diaries and letters of people who lived through the first modern war in history. A diary can be a snapshot in time. We get to see what a person thought or felt during a specific event. Some diaries may mention world news, others may not. Regardless, reading about how others managed through the times in which they lived can help us find strength and inspiration for our lives today. People can learn from others from both the good and the bad.
There is something quite different about reading someone’s journal as opposed to fiction. It’s not a contrived plot. The person writing a particular entry had no idea what would occur the next day. Maybe we know the ending, as unfortunately most do when reading about Anne Frank. But they didn’t, and had a choice to do the best they could with what they had at a given time. Not all things are wrapped up with a bow at the end of the story. Sometimes we see realistic periods of time where seemingly nothing happens, or maybe the entries are blank. The feelings described were real and were felt by real people, like us. In that way, we can identify and maybe be comforted by the fact that we’re not the only ones.
So, what responsibility have we when we set to journal our journeys through life? I think being honest is the most important things we can be when pouring out ourselves, even to the pages of a book. Nobody’s perfect and in our journals– whatever else our lives may pressure us to be—we can be safe to reveal that and hopefully process through it. In so doing, we pave a way for readers who may come after us. What else are we here for than to be a light to others?
Keeping a journal of our thoughts and feelings is also a way to not let it all be in vain. When I feel sad or happy, I don’t want those emotions to be for nothing. So I will sometimes sit down and write it all out. Then it is recorded—not lost, and I feel as though it has not been wasted.
Perhaps all this may sound scary to some. Those who felt inhibited about being vulnerable before now may feel doubly so. “That’s what I was afraid of! I’m terrified someone may read my journals one day!” I know a couple of family members who pitched their older diaries because they were embarrassed. If this is the only way one can feel better about keeping a diary, then I suppose this could be an option as opposed to living in so much dread someone may find it that it keeps you from writing at all. But I urge careful consideration before destroying all your precious thoughts. They really can be an invaluable aid for future generations, whether you think so or not.
In a digital age where text, email, posts, and twitter are thoughtlessly punched out and type quickly vanishes, a journal can be an even more precious gift for ourselves and those who come after. A journal’s voice keeps on speaking long after the writer is gone.