What I found in the ‘begats’

When I was a kid and we’d get stuck in the begats in the Bible, I’d find my attention wandering and sometimes I’d wonder why they even bothered to keep track of who was born to whom.  But lately I’ve been wandering there myself.

Mom, me and my granny (~1967)

Mom, me and my granny

On a whim a few weeks ago I checked out Ancestry.com.  When I found out it was a monthly subscription kind of thing, I decided to spend a month plowing through and finding everything I could, with the tightwad plan to unsubscribe as soon as I got done.  Except– hah– it turns out ‘done’ takes longer than you think when you’re doing genealogy.  One rabbit trail uncovers three more leads, and each of those uncovers a few more.  And far be it from me to leave a stone unturned.

I started with my own family, most of whom were fairly easy to track for five generations or so.  But beyond that, around the late 1800’s, is when most of my clan came from Germany, Norway and Sweden, some of them straight through Ellis Island.  There’s where the tracking starts to get hard.  Names and dates get muddled. Similar confusion seemed to happen around that era when I tracked down John’s family tree, many of whom came from Germany, Ireland and Belgium.

 

Luggage on Ellis IslandIt’s easy to imagine how exhausted mothers standing in long lines at Ellis Island with cranky children might not quibble with the guy behind the desk who’s just spelled their name wrong or transposed the numbers in someone’s birth date. Half of them are afraid they’ll get sent back to where they came. Some of them might not have read well enough to correct anyone’s spelling anyway.

Ancestry.com is great about giving lots of hints, and you can make guesses about who begat whom.  But certainty seems to go out the window after a few generations.  It doesn’t help that both sides of the family share a dizzying array of ancestors named Anna Marie, Sophie, Mary, Elizabeth, and John– very funny to me, especially since I have a husband named John, a brother named Jonathan, and sisters named Anna Marie and Sophie Elizabeth.

John Meistrell

John Meistrell with wife Elizabeth, daughter Mary and granddaughter Angelina

 

For awhile I honestly wondered if the Anna Maria Wessling on my side of the family might actually be the same person as the Anna Maria Wessing on John’s side– both from Prussia, both born in the same decade.  Except John’s relative was baptized in the Catholic church and mine in the Lutheran.  Ah.  Nevermind.

But one branch of John’s family- through his paternal grandmother– is much less confusing. They’ve been in America literally from the beginning. One hosted George Washington in his home. Later that same home was part of the underground railroad. Others fought in the Revolution. One ancestor helped scope out the Plymouth colony the year before the actual colonists arrived. (Yes, really.) Others were some of the first settlers born in the new country, their parents literally having arrived on the Mayflower. Wow.

Back in England they were born in castles and fought alongside kings of England, and married other people from other castles.  I’ve got a whole list of castles that Erika and Jared might want to visit when their European travel sends them toward Great Britain.  Fascinating sounding names like Raby Castle, Leicester Castle, Wolveton House and Ravensworth Castle. I’ve never in my life really been interested in seeing Great Britain, but John has always loved castles, and this obsessive little hunt has me thinking it might be fun to see some of these places too.  Someday, maybe.

It’s not all grand and exciting though, even in castle-land. Judging by John’s relatives, people back then were lucky to make it to age 50. Adulthood began young too.  In timeline after timeline girls were married at 12, 13, or 14.  Some were even as young as 10 years old, though the ones that young made me hope the birthdates listed were wrong. Who could stand to marry a daughter off at age 10?  My heart breaks.  They were still babies.

And then speaking of babies.  so many mothers died of childbirth. Many babies didn’t live past the age of two. One girl married at 12 and was widowed at 18, at which time she was already a mother of two.  So very sad.

And then there were the life-changes immigrants must have experienced moving to the New World. One ancestor living in the Plymouth Colony married 5 times in 10 years, with husband after husband dying off, leaving her with an ever-growing number of children to feed.

One young guy was born in a castle in Ireland, immigrated to America, and ended up working at the train station in Chicago where he held the ignoble title of alternate snow shoveler. He wasn’t even the main snow shoveler.  He was the alternate. Hopefully he was born with a lot of spunk and was able to withstand that dramatic change in circumstances with fortitude.  Or who knows– maybe he shoveled snow at the castle in Ireland too?

Censuses taken in America showed people living together with other families in one house.  (I wonder how big the houses were?)  There were widows living with many children after husbands died young.  There were mortgages on farms, and homes that were worth $1100 owned free and clear.   My mother in law tells the story of her dad’s family, with so many children of so many different ages that (with people going to school and jobs) that the only time they ever remembered being all together was once, for a single photo.

Of course this genealogy adventure gave me only the barest snippet of a view into the lives of all these relatives of ours. It was just a flyover.  But I was left with an overwhelming admiration for those souls who went before us, and a feeling that — whether we live in a castle with servants or a tiny house with two other families– we’re all just doing our best through the struggle to take care of the ones we love.

For all our different circumstances and beliefs and life stories, we’re all so much the same, aren’t we?

Toddler tantrums and baby diapers and feuding relatives and illness and moves and ever-changing life circumstances — those are the things that make life challenging no matter the size of your house.

And the things we long for most as humans don’t change at their core either: happiness and health and freedom and opportunity and unity with the ones we love. And hope for a brighter future.

One opportunity in particular felt very clear in my mind.  Though much in life can be out of our control– where we were born, or who we get for our family, or what joys and heartbreaks we will experience–  we all have a choice as to how to respond to those things.

No matter how restrictive or free our government.  No matter who gets voted into office.  Whether our job in life is to make pizzas or to shovel snow or to mow lawns.  Whether we’re programming computers or helping people have babies or cleaning their teeth or teaching their children, or ‘simply’ raising our own children to be people of honor and character— we get to choose our attitudes and our responses to it all.

The guy shoveling snow at the train station could have been bitter at what he perceived as downward mobility in his life.  Or, shovel in hand, he could have opened doors for struggling mothers, and whistled as he worked, and been a friend to the people around him, then gone home to love his family, secure in the belief that God has his future mapped out.  And it was all good.

Every person has that choice.

The man sitting in the photo above was on John’s side of the family, an ancestor of his maternal grandmother.  In his obituary he was described as ‘kind, considerate, and lively to the end.’ What an inspiration he must have been for those who follow. That’s the kind of person I want to be too, no matter what the future brings. I want to be an encourager. A doer. A life-bringer. Following in the footsteps of ancestors before me.  With the hope that our children will see that in me, and want that spirit of faith and courage for themselves as well.

It’s a wonderful life.

Defiant Joy

RendCollective
In the darkness I’ll dance,
In the shadows I’ll sing,
The joy of the Lord is my strength!

Easter Vacation

We had a lovely escape to the ocean this past week.  Usually we go expecting lots of rain, because that’s how the Oregon beaches are, especially in the springtime.  But this week we had tons of sun mixed in with just a little rain.  It was gorgeous.  We even had a lovely Easter morning rainbow– a perfect reminder of God’s promises of provision and protection and salvation.  The tomb is empty! (more on that here)

EasterRainbow

Our youngest two outside the house.
EmJul

Little Meg enjoying her great-grandma, John’s mom.
GreatGrandma

John’s happy place is definitely the ocean.
HappyPlace
The house where we stayed had wonderful, huge public gathering areas, as well as 7 bedrooms and a theater room that slept 4 more kids.  We had 18-22 people in the house each and every night and were well and truly spoiled.
House
The little ones had fun hunting for Easter eggs on Easter, and on the next day, and the next, and the next.  We may even have left a few eggs there for the next renters to find.
Hunting

My sweet grandbabies came shouting up to the stairs to greet me each time I came out of my room and down the stairs each morning. Talk about feeling like a VIP!
Kiddos

Lidya and Ben clowning around
LidyaBen

John enjoying sweet Meg
MissMeg

Ranger admiring the fish at the aquarium.
Ranger

Wilona showing off her treasure trove of eggs.
Wilona

My parents and John’s mom were able to be there for part of the time, along with a few other members of our extended family, and 9 out of our 10 kids and their families.  It was a great joy and a true highlight of the year.  For a few of the days we had 8 kids in the house ages 4 and under, with half of them being under the age of one.

Little Cousins

Little Cousins

(Yes, it was loud!)  But, oh, the cuteness!  And there were lots of babies to share around.

The first few years that we did a big gathering on the beach like this, I planned the food like crazy.  This year we just made sure there was easy breakfast food for breakfast, and lots of sandwich fixings for lunch, and really only fussed over dinner each evening.  It worked beautifully– I think we hit just the right mix of structure and relaxation.

One day we took the kiddos to the aquarium, and another day John and I went house hunting.  (We are still trying to decide whether to build on the lot we bought or possibly buy something already built.)  But most of the rest of the days were filled simply with walks on the beach, pinochle and Up The River and other games in the house, and just hanging out, eating snacks and being together.

It was very good.

This afternoon I’m off to the store to reprovision the food in the house here, then (ready or not) tomorrow it’s back to work.  I am also thinking about what I want to do next in the back yard.  I have a few pictures that I hope to show you soon!

 

Love, Unrationed

One thing after another has been thwarting me in the blogging department lately. First, of course, the move. Then it took 2 weeks to get internet at the new place. Plus, before the move one of my laptops stopped charging, and this week, my tiny backup travel ipad-ish thing ALSO stopped charging. Arg. I am currently on hubby’s computer, and just today I broke down and ordered a new laptop, so hopefully when it arrives, my computerish problems will be done, at least for awhile.

I wanted to check in briefly this afternoon to share two things with you.  First up is this awesome youtube video showing how to make blinds into roman shades.  I am totally doing this in my bedroom using room-darkening fabric.  Should be both cute AND awesome for day-sleeping which I do a couple days a week.

Second, I wanted to tell you about Stephanie’s Etsy shop where she creates all sorts of inspirational art.  Awhile back, she wrote to tell me that she used the title of my post Love, Unrationed as the name for her Etsy shop–I was so touched.

LoveUnrationed

If while browing her site, you happen to find a bit of encouragement that you’d like somewhere in your own home, she’s offering a coupon code for you all!  How neat is that?  To receive 40% off, just type GO40OFF into the coupon field when you place an order on her Etsy site.  Happy looking!

Part 6: Talking to strangers

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The plan for Saturday was first to  visit Julianna’s family, and then to do a little investigating to see if we could find anything at all about Emily’s family. Since all we knew about her was the police station where she’d been relinquished, that was a very big question indeed. We’d sent a searcher out a few weeks earlier to that town. He had spoken with a government official who had asked for $200 in exchange for information about the father, who he claimed to know.

Now, in Ethiopia small bribes are not uncommon at all. In fact, police pull drivers over regularly asking for money. But $200 is a very big bribe around here. And Sophie and John and I didn’t like the fact that the only information he had was about the father. Right or wrong, our instinct was that a man might claim to know something in exchange for money,  whereas a woman might be more motivated by the heart. What we were most hoping for was information about Emily’s mom.
So on that Saturday afternoon after leaving Julianna’s joyful family reunion, we were willing and eager to hunt for Emily’s family. But we all, including Emily, understood that the chances of finding good information were slim. Our searcher had been able to get the phone number of the man who claimed to be Emily’s father, which would enable us to talk to him without the government official’s involvement. But our searcher himself was not available that afternoon to talk with the supposed father.
Oh, we didn’t know what to do. But we had to leave Soddo in 36 hours, and we had come such a long way. I couldn’t stand leaving without trying for something at least. We decided to have our trusty driver Dawit call the man, and ask if we could visit him in the village where Emily had been relinquished. So on our way back to Soddo from Julianna’s village Dawit did so.
So there we were in the van, pulled over at the side of the road next to Sophie’s favorite hamburger place in Soddo, listening in on Dawit’s conversation with a stranger who might be Emily’s dad, but probably wasn’t. When asked if we could go to his village, the man said he was actually in Soddo working today, at the bus station. The same bus station that was just a few blocks from our location now. He could meet us there, he said.

At the bus station
A nervous conversation ensued between Sophie and me. We so much wanted to ensure we were getting reliable information for Emily. We didn’t like the idea of meeting this stranger at a bus station—we couldn’t quite even figure out why he was there since supposedly he lived out in the country. But maybe if we talked to him awhile, and everything seemed ok, he could take us to his village to meet more family? We were so uncertain. But what else could we do?
We drove to the bus station and then our driver Dawit called him again to tell him we were there. This time the man told Dawit that he was very close, that he was taking a bajaj to the bus station and would be there very soon. Again we were uncertain. First he’d said he was at the bus station and then he wasn’t. As we waited for him to show up, we realized we didn’t know his name, or anything really about him.
After a few nervous minutes of waiting, a young man appeared at the driver’s window. So young. Sophie and Lidya and I all guessed he was maybe 25. After a quick hi at the window, he appeared to reconsider, and stepped away from the van to use his phone. In seconds Dawit’s phone rang and we all laughed, even the young man. Apparently before talking with us, he had wanted to be sure he was approaching the right people.

Dawit opened the passenger front door and invited the young man into the van to talk with us. He pulled out the paper and the pictures that our searcher had shared with him.

We had decided before he even got into the van that we would not identify Emily to him unless we came to be reasonably sure that there might be a valid reason to believe he was a relative. And we were so eager to know the truth that thinking back I’m not sure we even introduced ourselves properly but just began asking him questions. What do you know about this baby? Why do you think you are the father? Tell us the story as you know it.

We were wanting to know if his story would match what we knew, and as he spoke, all of our intuition was on high alert, trying to judge if he seemed trustworthy and was telling the truth.  Above all, we wanted our precious girl not to be hurt. You can bet we were praying hard for all the wisdom and guidance that God could give us.

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Joy, joy, joy

I haven’t done a Sunday song in a long time, but when I heard this one the other day, I knew I needed to share it. Enjoy!
Joy, joy, joy

Because He lives

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy He gives
But greater still the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days, because He lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

Saffron Merry

Today we  joyfully welcome a precious new granddaughter, born yesterday, and rejoice in the risen Saviour from Whom all hope comes.

Caroline Ingalls and me

Funny how a character from a book can grab you in childhood and never ever leave you.  I found myself thinking again about the Laura Ingalls books the other day, and wondered what had so captivated me about those books.  First I thought maybe it was Laura.  Definitely there were times in my early life where I felt like I fit awkwardly into my world, which was also a common feeling of Laura’s.

Charles and Caroline Ingalls

But thinking deeper, I realized that it was actually Caroline Ingalls who made the biggest impact on my adult life.  She was always making the best of her circumstances, adding beauty to her home in all sorts of ways, and encouraging her family to learn and to be graceful and courageous in the midst of challenge.

One of the stories that comes back to me often is the way she used carrot juice to color winter-pale butter.  She got the juice by grating a carrot over an old tin pan pierced with nails, and then wrapping the carrot bits in cloth and squeezing the juice out.  She wanted her butter to be pretty even in the winter time.

There are stories of her making over dresses, and telling her girls stories from her childhood, and putting colored ribbons in her girls’ hair, and teaching them to read from the two books that they owned.  She treasured a little china doll that she kept on a pretty shelf, and was dismayed at first by living in the sod house built into a hill on the banks of Plum Creek.  Then, just like always, she squared her shoulders and made the best of it.

The book most memorable to me and my very favorite was ‘The Long Winter”.  Caroline had to call on every skill to help her family through that terrible winter. They ground wheat in a coffee grinder, and burned hay in the wood stove when the firewood was gone, and barely, barely lived through those long cold days.

It was not til adulthood that I understood another, equally powerful strength that Caroline possessed.  She was able to love her husband well, and support and treasure him even as he carried his family hither and yon to all the different places they lived during Laura’s childhood.  Charles was a dreamer, a restless soul, and (I think) not always a good decision-maker.  Very often he asked his family to move right as life was getting easier for Caroline– when the garden was getting productive and the children were enjoying school and the well had been dug and the house was cozy and warm.

How hard it must have been for Caroline to acquiesce to each move gracefully, to trust her husband’s judgement though she knew his decisions often brought her family great challenge.  Of course it was a different time, one where men were expected to lead and women just followed.  And Laura probably omitted some of the hard moments and hard conversations that his decisions sparked.

But what I read in those books, even now as an adult, is strength and grace and a powerfully honoring way about her.  I think it was she who helped him be the best man that he could be.

In my mind, she’s the real heroine in the Laura Ingalls books, possessing both skills that I’ve worked to cultivate and others that I don’t remotely yet have a grasp on.  I’m glad to have had such a strong woman to inhabit my mind, both in my childhood and even now that I’m all grown up.

What about you?  Do characters in childhood books still live in your mind?

 

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Sunday music

I haven’t done Sunday music on my blog for awhile, but I had to share this song by I am They that I heard at the Rock and Worship Roadshow this weekend.

The Roadshow still has a few West Coast dates if you want to hear some great music from I Am They and many others.

When you’re suffering

Suffering

I’ve been thinking lately about the hard in life, how it lambasts you sometimes amid a stretch of tranquil days, surprising you with that ‘oh, it’s you again’ familiar misery.  How lying in the dark some nights the heart aches so hard it’s a struggle even to breathe.  There are moments you’re wild to talk it through with someone, someone who will understand the pain of it all, someone who will lift just a few ounces of the stifling load off your chest.  Someone who can sit with you and encourage you to keep breathing, keep trusting, keep stepping forward.

But who can we truly trust?  Who will not betray us?  Oh, it is scary to be transparent, to honestly unveil the shape of the ‘hard’ that is rocking your particular bit of the world on any given day.  The reasons not to speak are so many.

When it’s a loved one whose pain is savaging your heart, even in the middle of that pain you often still want to protect them from the uncharitable thoughts of others.

Or maybe it’s pity you want to avoid.  Who wants everyone feeling sorry for you, or wincing at just how un-together your life is some days?

Or maybe it’s judgment that you fear.  Always it seems there are people judging you for not getting this thing or that thing under control.  Judging you for not preventing this pain in the first place.  Not being wise enough, kind enough, dedicated enough, maybe even ruthless enough.

There’s also the problem of scale. Maybe despite the very real misery in your own heart, you know that others have it so much worse.  There are friends mourning lost children, loved ones coping with their cancer or their child’s cancer, friends facing financial ruin or relational ruin or spiritual ruin.  And all over the world, for the love of all that’s good, there are mothers whose dearest wish is simply to be able to feed their children.  So. much. hard.

How dare I complain?

And yet.  The heart aches.  Quietly breaks sometimes under the weight of the struggle just to keep breathing in and out.  What then?

The longer I live, the more I realize that pain is a familiar stalker of us all.  Some more than others, perhaps.  Each of us experience it in different ways, and some hide it deeper than others.  But oh, we all know hurt.  Don’t we, friends?

Our first and best and brightest hope in all of this pain-filled world is Jesus.  He remembers our weakness.  Sees every tear we shed.  Feels every ache. He promises to someday wipe all tears from our eyes.  He promises that His plan for us is good, that it is intended to give us hope and a future.  He promises that He will carry His good work on in each of us to completion.  He went to the cross and died to ensure that bright and complete and perfect future for us.

On those promises we can depend.

But when we find ourselves adrift in the abyss of suffering, I think most of us also long for the kind of friend willing to be ‘Jesus with skin on’ to us. The kind quick to offer solace and forgiveness and encouragement,  and glacier-slow to offer judgement.  We also need friends willing to share their own moments of struggle and pain.

Some of us have hurts deep and raw and evident, and we need no invitation to share.  It just bubbles out. But others of us are all too quick to paste on a smile and to say, ‘Oh, I have it so much better than so many…’ when really what we need most is a safe place to share honestly, to unburden those covered-up hearts. And for some of us that courage only comes when someone else is brave and honest and vulnerable and transparent, first.  Leading the way.

Oh, to have friends like that.  Oh, to be that kind of friend. It truly is one way to see Jesus at work in this hard and hurting world. We all know pain and suffering.  Let’s lift each other up whenever we can.

Flowers in the redwoods