Family Jewels

“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32

I had the most delightful conversation with my stepmother yesterday.  We have been playing phone tag for quite some time, and finally we were able to catch up.

She is an incredible woman of strength and even temperament.  Even with losing my dad in December, she remains faithful to our Christ and is slowly finding a new sense of normal – though she misses him terribly.  We chatted about everything we could think of.  I loved listening to her talk from her perspective about the important things in life.  Wisdom that only comes from having lived through it.  It’s like a sneak peak at the future with tips and advice on the tough stuff.

After our conversation, I thought about my family and pondered how important the generations ahead of us are to us and those coming behind.  They have so much insight and wisdom to share.  It is, indeed, their priceless legacy.

My grandmother was a woman of incredible strength and poise.  She was a southern lady – soft as a flower with the tenacity of a tiger.  She taught me invaluable lessons about relationships, cooking, budget-keeping, well, almost everything!  Her mother, my great-grandmother was also a beautiful and strong woman.  I was 12 when she passed away, and growing up my claim to fame was that I knew someone born in the 1800s.  1899 to be exact.

My great grandmother and I sat together many summer afternoons on my grandmother’s couch and snapped green beans.  And I loved sleepovers with her.  As she got ready for bed, I was amazed at the regime of hair rollers, facial cream, etc. she performed every night.  When it was time for bed, she and I would lie there and play “Guess Whose Sleeping?”  A game (I think she made up) where we had to be completely quiet, and the first person to fall asleep would say, I’m asleep.  Silly.  I know.  But fun.  Our generational gap showed once when I was a tween and came over to visit in my brand new bleached jeans.  They were my favorite birthday present!  She looked at them and said, Why I wouldn’t have even picked corn in those pants.  Ha!  We agreed to disagree. 🙂

My grandmother was my second mother.  She made the best blue cheese dressing and was my daycare because my mom worked.  She was a very funny lady, and family meant everything to her.  When she grew older, she sat me down once and showed me the linens that had been in our family for generations and told me what was what and who it was from.  Family was her heart.  Mess with any of us, and you had to reckon with her!

When I was young, these ladies told me a true story that defines who they both were.  Back in America’s unfortunate days of segregation, my grandmother and great-grandmother went shopping in downtown Atlanta.  While in a clothes store, they saw a young African-American girl who was in distress.  They approached her and asked her what was wrong.  She had to use the restroom really bad.  She was desperate, but the only bathroom was for white people only.

In the days of great hostility and shakeup, these ladies decided to buck the system and help this young girl.  My great-grandmother hid the young girl under coat and assisted her to the store’s white’s-only restroom.  My grandmother stood guard outside.  Trust me, no one was going to get past my grandmother.  She was too smart, too sweet and knew how to use both to help this precious girl.

Hearing their story showed me how to put the Bible into real life practice.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My grandfather was an upstanding man in our community.  Everyone knew him and liked him.  He knew how to stretch a dollar and make touch decisions as the leader of the family, but he had a real soft side that only a few of us saw.  I would describe him as a pillar.  Strong.  Unwavering.  Kind, generous and practical.

The best financial lesson I ever received was from him right after Bruce and I got married.  I was a young 19, and had lived with my grandparent s for 3 years following my mom’s death.  I visited them one day about a year after the wedding, and my grandfather surprised us with a washer & dryer for the tiny foreclosure we bought.  However, he sat me down at the table on the back porch and took out his wallet.  He opened it (never taking anything out of it) and said, This is the last time we will help you.  You are married now, and it’s up to Bruce and you to handle your finances.  Then, he literally, physically, shut his wallet and put it in his back pocket.

Wow!  How’s that for an object lesson?  There was absolutely no ambiguity of where he stood, and it was the best thing he could have done for us.  From that day forward, 22 years later, we have been completely on our own financially, making good decisions and accepting the consequences for the bad.  I learned in about 30 seconds that my life was my responsibility.  It is one of my life’s greatest learned lessons.

Our society truly undervalues the older generation.  However, they are an untapped resource of knowledge and strength from which to draw.  During my mother-in-law’s recent battle with cancer, she told me one day while we sat together, I’m not ready to go yet.  I have so much to still teach you guys.  Like how to use newspaper for lining the insides of your shoes when they wear out.

That conversation stuck with me.  We have thousands and millions of people right at our fingertips who know what it is like to live through rationing; to work as a community for the good of the whole; to give us advice on self-sacrifice (something my current generation and the one after me doesn’t know) and leadership.  We need people to tell us how to live within a budget, how to work hard – even if it is for the benefit of someone else, and that less truly is more.  We need to be told the beauty of appreciating simple moments and be admonished on just how short life really is – something those ahead of us have much to offer to the conversation.

The way things are in the world right now, we should be having lots of conversations with those who know how to survive and thrive in the face of unpredictable hardship.

On thing I love is that we worship at church with the elderly.  We have Widow Sunday periodically where the widows are given a white rose to wear, and everyone who sees them gives them a hug.  This is respect that is biblical and esteemed by God.  I love to watch the older generation at church.  Sometimes I glance around and watch them sing, with their eyes closed, hymns like It Is Well and Amazing Grace because there are decades of history in their voices.  Decades upon decades of living in God’s faithfulness – and in theirs to Him.  I study their faces and think of the hard times they’ve survived, loved ones they lost, and health crises they’ve faced – yet here they are, every week, worshiping God. I think to myself, Teach me.  Show me.  Guide me.  They are an example I want to follow.  One I want my children to follow.  Inter-generational worship, be it in church service or spending time with those of the older generation, is extremely important for everyone’s benefit.

My heart was so touched when my oldest teen told me that he saw our special widow friend at church and went up to her and gave her a hug and chatted – all on his own.  They were both blessed.  We live in such a “me” generation, and the one coming behind is even more so.  We as parents must teach our children the value of all people – not just those who are in the same season of life as us.

Studies show that communities where the elderly are honored, respected and highly regarded have a considerably longer life expectancy.  Interesting.  The fact is, we will all be there one day, hopefully, and it will be our turn to share advice, stories, and life lessons.  Will anyone listen to us?

5 thoughts on “Family Jewels

  1. This was a tear jerker for me. I loved Zip and Mel and was so blessed to know them and see their influence in your life. GKYS

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