Both my parents have gone to heaven, now. But their words live on through Dad’s courtship letters, which also chronicle their spiritual journey. A few excerpts, from 1934 and 35:
"There was to be a [liturgical] service last Sunday afternoon, but I didn’t go, as they want me to supervise the Sunday school again, and it’s no use of my going ... as I believe Christ and conversion should be stressed more and I cannot teach against my beliefs. What do you think?" Later: "I was at a [revival] meeting today and heard a very good sermon. It seems closer to the Bible than the other ...."
"... last night I went to the meetings in the school and Bailey preached a sermon as I never heard before and I don’t think I’ll ever hear one like it again. Most of the people wept while he preached and it sure affected me ...." And again: "... try to get out here for your holidays so that we can talk of these things in religion and of these followers of Christ which in my mind, we should be."
Obviously, later still:
"I shall be despised more than ever now, but what of it ...."
These memories flood my eyes with thankful tears. I thank God for the spirit of the ancient Bereans (Acts 17:11), who "examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (NIV). And I thank God for the best features of my faith which fired my imagination, and propelled me into the adventure of freely and passionately following Jesus Christ, guided only by Scripture, no matter where it may lead. And I thank God for the faith-style of my parents, whose spirits spurred me to explore — and fostered the freedom to question — even to doubt. Oh how I needed what they gave, because, frankly, I have personally been a questioning, doubting searcher all of my life. I don’t think my own personal faith would have survived
However, my parents also taught me (and I want my grandchildren to teach their children) that those who pursue truth will at times pay some enormous prices. Those who authentically pursue the will of God have always done so in the face of hostility. Remember Jeremiah — in a well? And Jesus — on the cross? And Stephen — stoned? And Luther ...? Zwingli? My parents, and possibly yours? For them, authentic relationship with God meant infinitely more than job security or social approval.
Yet, these nearly seventy years after my parents set out on their courageous faith journey, at times I am strangely puzzled by my own attitudes:
Why do I admire my parents’ integrity, yet get "antsy" when my children (walking in the tradition of their grandparents) sometimes "own" conclusions which don’t match mine?
Would I want to discourage in my children the very integrity I so much admired in my Mother and Father?
Would I want my kids to "settle permanently" on theological turf that my pilgrim parents saw only as "the horizons of a new frontier?"
Of course, I do believe some things deeply enough that I want my children to share them. But, I cannot allow my own conclusions to chill my children’s quest. Rather, I pray that they will pursue God’s truth and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ even if integrity drives them out of any ruts I may have been traveling. How could I ever quench the spirit that shaped a family faith paradigm, which has lasted lo these generations?
Again my eyes mist over as I watch our married children and their spouses build homes of hospitality, Bible study, and worship. They serve joyfully in their local churches in various roles — teacher, worship leader, deacon, and evangelism. Both sons-in-law, businessmen, keep leading people to Christ, baptizing them and then mentoring them in faith. One is now an elder in his church. Our oldest son, after eight years in business, and fourteen months as a youth minister, is now a Marriage and Family Therapist, his chosen field of ministry. Our youngest son, still a single and a globe-trotting photojournalist, keeps pursuing his faith journey with integrity.
Now, do all of our children see things exactly like Carolyn and I see them? Of course not. Do they all see things alike among themselves? Hardly. But, they do walk in faith, free before Christ, with integrity in their search for the will of God. Yes. Oh yes. And we are proud of their faith journey. A thousand times, Yes! And, Oh yes, they follow the searching spirit of their grandparents, and the spirit of their faith heritage.
Our four oldest grandchildren (of eight) are already baptized believers. One of them, at 14, began a summer Bible study group with school friends. Another keeps her family’s prayer list moving and journals answers. She recently penned this paraphrase of Psalm 93: "God is the ruler ... Even though he does not wear a gun, he has strength like a bullet. He guides the earth like a car and no one can move it except God ... You made our future world long ago. You are lasting forever ... I know I can trust you; you doubly check every hour. You are in charge."
Another has just returned from a mission trip to Russia, where she poured love into orphan children, for two weeks, in the name of Jesus.
Each year, our extended family gathers to re-enact the Passover, thus shaping faith memories — pointing to Jesus, our Passover lamb. The older grandchildren (two now teen-agers) have already taken strong stands for Jesus in their public school environments — in the tradition of their Great Grandparents. And, what is really spooky, our two Grandsons say they want to be preachers! And next month, our oldest grandchild will be a freshman at a Christian university.
Oh yes, Mom and Dad, thanks for blazing a trail to vibrant faith which has now spanned four generations. May this roadway never run out:
Oh may all who come behind us
find us faithful.
May the fires of our devotion
light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
lead them to believe,
And the lives we live
inspire them to obey,
Oh may all who come behind us ...
find us faithful.
Oh, yes, Lord,
may my grandchildren
leave a glowing pathway of freedom,
integrity — and faith.