November 5, 2018
As a minister, one of my jobs is to walk along-side families as they take the painful journey of saying goodbye to their loved ones. That’s what I was doing in Big Stone Gap, VA on April 12, 2013: helping four children, 11 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren say goodbye to their Mom and Grandma.
The difference on this crisp spring afternoon is that my wife was one of the eleven, my children three of the twenty, and my mother-in-law one of the four. This time it wasn’t someone else’s grandmother; it was mine.
We all have stories—and sometimes they’re painful.
After the interment, we all went to lunch and then loaded into the van and headed toward the little coal camp where my mother-in-law grew up. As we drove the winding roads of western Virginia, my wife’s mom told stories. She told stories about her childhood, about learning to drive on those crooked roads, about her parents and grandparents. She pointed out the little church she went to as a child. We saw the house she grew up in. We even spent time in the family cemetery, paying respects and fixing headstones that had fallen into disrepair. For several hours that day, this place was home. It was home because we were seeing it thought mom’s eyes.
We all have stories—and sometimes we don’t even know them.
The hours passed and the memories flowed. Some of them were new even to my father-in-law. That day, my children were given a great gift. Their grandmother told them her story—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And in so doing, she told them THEIR story.
Some of our stories are happy and light, but many of them are sad and troubling. Some we feel are fit for public display while others are just a little too raw and unflattering for the world to see. That leads most of us to keep our stories in two categories: the ones we tell and the ones we don’t. But I wonder if that’s what’s best?
I think these unflattering and painful stories serve a special redemptive purpose. They communicate hope in a way that other stories can’t.
We all have a story—and all of it is worth telling.