What I remember of my Pawpaw, my father’s father, are memories gleaned from a child’s-eye view.
He liked to wear bib overalls and a baseball cap, and he had a thick head of gray hair and my dad’s features and easy grin. He played “store” with me using loose change and random items we found around the house. When I made As in elementary school, I took the sticker-covered papers down to his house to show him. He was always fiercely proud of my schooling and wanted me to do well. And once – I remember this in particularly vivid detail – he took me out to see a nest of baby rabbits, warning me in a hushed voice to leave the nest and the little huddle of bunnies undisturbed.
When I was in the third grade and he passed away, I was so sad that I asked my maternal grandmother to take away the dress I wore to the funeral so I would never have to wear it again.
But that was not nearly all that there was to my grandfather. In the decades that followed, I learned more about him than my child’s understanding could have ever grasped. That he was a dedicated miner who suffered from black lung. That he was a child of Hungarian immigrants to the United States and had remembered their language and their recipes – and that my dad’s infamous homemade noodles were, in fact, a Hungarian recipe learned from Pawpaw. That he built his own house. That my Mawmaw’s famous temper calmed down after she married him. That he gave my mom gardening tips and liked to tease her when she was a newlywed. That he was afraid to hold me when I was a baby.
I didn’t learn those things on my own. They come from my parents’ memories, and from my grandmother’s memories. When I asked about my Pawpaw in the years after he died, they had stories to tell me, all the stories I had the patience to hear. And because of that, I have a much fuller picture of him now, and of my family too – I can see in broader strokes the way God has moved from generation to generation, the ripples of impact from redemption.
That’s why it’s important to listen. Not just to the stories of your family members, but of your church elders, your dear friends, the people who matter to you. In the narrative of their lives – in all the details of what you don’t yet know – you will see, in surprising and strange and subtle ways, the glorious and wonderful work of God. And it’s important that we listen now because all of those stories and histories have an expiration date: memory fails and to everything there is a season and if we are not very careful, the “one day” that we expect to sit down and listen will become “never.”
I often joke about the “begats” in the Bible – those ginormous branching lines of lineage sprawling all the way back to Abraham – but they serve a similar purpose. The writers who invoked these genealogies wanted us to be able to understand fully not just who Jesus was and how He fulfilled the prophecies, but also how God’s hand moved through generation after generation to the moment of great salvation. As believers, it’s important for us that we see what God has been doing on a grand scale, not just in our own lives. The plan is so much grander than just us!
So in the coming weeks, if you have the time, seek out a family friend or someone you know and love dearly. Ask them about the stories they haven’t told you – either about themselves, or about those who are no longer with you. Try to get a bigger picture of the evidence of grace – God’s work through the ages will boggle you.