We all stood in a lopsided circle-of-sorts and belted out “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow”, also known as the Mennonite anthem, or by it’s number in the old hymnbook, #606. It’s the sort of hymn that soars and climbs and doesn’t trace back upon itself. It’s the sort where the parts shine, the deep bases rumble the floor and the sopranos caress the rafters, and the altos and the tenors fill and expand the space between with silken harmonies. And this family knows how to sing.
It was the bi-annual Weaver family get-together weekend, my husband’s mother’s side of the family. And here’s just where the peculiar begins…they are all ardent followers of Christ. All of them. Not just nominal Christmas and Easter Christians, not Christian-because-my-parents-baptized-me Christians, but people who love, serve, and have a day-to-day relationship with the living God. A whole family of them.
What a rarity.
When the roaring hymn ended, someone spoke into that trembling goose-bumpish silence, “Thank you Lester and Helen.” They would be Dustin’s grandparents, singularly beautiful people who birthed the seven children who birthed the rest of those standing shoulder-to-shoulder in that lodge’s great room.
I am no family historian, but I do know some things about Lester and Helen. Lester was one of the first Mennonite pastors to minister in a black congregation. Many tried to dissuade him. It just wasn’t done. Pastors weren’t paid in those days, so he worked full-time and ministered in the evenings and weekends, and it’s said that Helen never complained or begrudged the workload. They were humble, devoted, and lived sacrificially. Clearly their children saw that faith wasn’t an outward form to act, but an inward reality to nurture.
These were people who cared about the right things. I remember feeling sorry for them when I’d see pictures of their home later in life, a single-wide trailer. For some reason I had this deep, ugly prejudice that people who lived in trailers had somehow failed at life. I don’t like to admit that, but there it is. But who could but smile when they looked not at the trailer, but at the gorgeous flowers Lester had planted all around it, and him there in the photo smiling proudly?
When they died, there wasn’t much to give to their children, because they’d given themselves away all their lives. They lived open-handedly and gratefully. They were rich in love and generous with it.
We stood in that circle, the descendants and the married-ins, and acknowledged the weight of lives lived well. How far the ripples go out from holy lives lived in our presence or our memories.
It begs the question: what will be the heritage we leave for our children, and our children’s children? What will they see that we valued most? What will they glean about God by our relationships with Him and others? Do we live sacrificially? Do we live humbly? Are we getting the right things right?
Have our hearts been captured by other loves; work, financial gain, busyness, entertainment, comfort, food? What do we hold tightly to, what is in our hands clenched tight, the things we won’t give up in order to live open-handedly towards God and our neighbors? If God invited us to serve him in a third world country, what would we be afraid of losing? Our home? Our independence? Our savings? Our safety? Our comfortable couch, familiar snacks, and cable tv?
These are weak loves.
And strong idols.
If we at all desire to leave for our children a heritage of faith, we would do well to consider how those who’ve impacted our lives most lived. Sacrificially, humbly, and holy.