The Family Chronicler

I have pneumonia. I’ve had it since Memorial Day, and the dry Denver air has made it tough to heal. A couple of days into my steroids, antibiotics, breathing treatments, and sinus flushes, it occurred to me that my grand genealogy project might be part of the problem. I had been scanning pictures touched by pink mildew and transcribing letters stained by hopefully dead-by-now black mold. But when it comes to breathing, “hopefully” isn’t good enough. I should have known better than to dive into the trunk without a respirator. First, because I worked for the Tennessee State Library and Archives for a semester–I archived for a living. Second, because the very women I am studying were tuberculosis nurses. I admit that for a fleeting hour moment, I thought I had somehow contracted tuberculosis from the trunk.

Excavating a bowl-lamp-bowl foundation
deposit in Ashkelon, Israel.

Standing at my kitchen sink staring at all the expensive prescriptions in front of me, I wondered, Why am I doing this? When I’m gone, I won’t have any children to will these albums and letters and garments to. No one will know I existed, and no one will care that these people existed. (Forgive my maudlin attitude–I was literally coughing up blood, and death felt imminent!)

Always ready to set me straight, my David reminded me that genealogies have rooted my career: I was briefly an archivist, I am a trained biblical archaeologist, and I translated and annotated 1 & 2 Chronicles for The Voice Bible. My entire adult life has been dedicated to preserving, cataloging, and respecting those who have lived before me. Why? Because history fascinates me. Even the genealogies in Chronicles. About six years ago an elder in our church called Chronicles “boring,” and I dared to challenge him. It was recent-grad-school-graduate bravado. Today I will admit that, yes, lists of names are boring (on the surface). But they are Scripture for a reason.

The key to genealogies (biblical or ancestral) is “reading between the lines.” Consider Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke:

This is the family history, the genealogy, of Jesus the Anointed, the coming King. You will see in this history that Jesus is descended from King David, and that He is also descended from Abraham. It begins with Abraham, whom God called into a special, chosen, covenanted relationship, and who was the founding father of the nation of Israel. (Matthew 1:1, The Voice)

He was assumed to be the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,…the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3:22, 38, The Voice)

Jesus is who He is. His ancestors were who they were. So why don’t Matthew and Luke have the exact same genealogy for Him? That’s the interesting part! The Voice Bible does a good job of highlighting Matthew’s point: Jesus is Jewish–just as Matthew’s readers were. Luke, who was writing to the rest of the world, connects Jesus to God and makes Him supra-Jewish. The Gospels (and their genealogies) together tell New Testament readers that Jesus is for everyone.

So I look forward to returning to my family’s genealogy project as soon as I’m healed. I’ll do it with a respirator–so I don’t think I’ve contracted tuberculosis–but with renewed dedication to the importance of all history.

Flying Home

Did you take an aptitude test in high school? My junior year the Air Force administered the ASVAB to all eleventh-grade students, and I learned that the career for which I was best suited was airplane pilot. This tickled Daddy to no end, as he was an aerospace administration major in college. He has the best stories about his first flights.

For a while my daddy flew corpses across the country as a part-time job and as a way to earn flight miles for his license. (It is important to this story that you know one not-so-polite fact: as corpses change altitude, they tend to release gases. Got it?) When he was pledging his fraternity, some brothers booked a fake flight. One of the boys hid in a body bag and made the appropriate noises for an hour or so as the plane approached its destination. Long after the sun had set and as he began his descent, Daddy felt a tap on his right shoulder.

“Gotta light?”

It was the 70s. I’m thankful they were only smoking tobacco.

The Air Force didn’t know and Daddy didn’t imagine just how important air travel would be in my life. David and I regularly earn 500,000 Southwest Rapid Reward miles each year. Unfortunately most of that is work-related instead of pleasure-oriented.

Worse than work-related flights are bereavement flights. David and I had been Colorado residents for 3 days–and the 12-year-old-looking Xfinity guy was installing internet at our condo–when I got the call: my papa (Daddy’s daddy) was dying. We had to fly home to Tennessee.

As it happened, Daddy was in Oregon that day for work of his own. He had already planned to return to Tennessee via Denver. Before learning about Papa, David and I had planned to just wave at Daddy as the plane crossed over our heads. Instead David got online and managed to book us the last two seats on the same flight as Daddy. For the first time since 9/11, I had one of those 90s-movie lovey-dovey airline-gate reunions that TSA has rendered practically impossible.

Never have I been so thankful to fly. I cried when David told me he’d gotten us tickets, when I saw Daddy waiting for us at the gate, when I boarded the plane and saw the last open seat was wedged between my father and my husband. And days later, I cried when Papa “flew home” to God and Granny.

Tonight, as I look out my window at that glorious sunset over a blanket of clouds, I am thankful for so many previously unnoticed primers God has used to prepare me for this life. He gave me an aptitude for and love of flying, a lifestyle that amasses frequent-flier miles and shrinks the size of my world, and a better “airport moment” than any Hollywood writer could describe. And one day, He’ll watch as I take my last “flight home” to Him (and my papa).

Happy [God]mother’s Day

Dry Creek Crossing at 8:00a MDT

I woke up a little late this morning. It is snowing and sleeting in Denver today (while my own mother has sunny, 90-degree weather down in Tennessee), so the clouds kept my bedroom a little darker a little longer than usual. It was 7:30a when my eyes opened and I blindly reached toward my nightstand to grab my blinking smartphone. I had received an email overnight from a new friend in the Czech Republic, and I had to get up RIGHT THEN to answer her email RIGHT NOW. Her question reminded me of struggles my David and I’ve encountered in the last few years. If my answer could ease her pain, it needed to be sent halfway across the earth immediately!

Maybe an hour later I’d finished my reply. David had gotten up by then, and we were both settling into a restful, coffee-infused Sunday. He was watching golf, sneezing, and cursing this “ridiculous” weather; I was cataloging stuff from great-grand Aunt Bessie’s trunk; we both were avoiding church.

Mother’s Day isn’t a particularly happy Sunday for a couple who has had multiple miscarriages. In years past we’ve had church leaders who were sensitive to our feelings. Maybe they avoided mentioning Mother’s Day entirely, or maybe they made a point of including the parents of miscarried children as “mothers” worthy of honor on this day. We were thankful for their efforts, but no matter what anyone says or does, Mother’s Day is miserable for any woman who wants-but-doesn’t-have a particular child. If there’s a special children’s music program that day, it hurts. If the existence of the holiday is ignored entirely, it hurts worse (because Mother’s Day is the elephant in the room and you know you’re the reason why it isn’t being acknowledged).

So this Sunday, we stayed home. It was easy to do: the weather is indeed “ridiculous,” and we haven’t officially joined a church out West yet. No one would notice our absence.

From our balcony

A few hours later David went to bed with a painful sinus headache, and I stayed up working on the trunk stuff. In the quiet I heard a ding-dong from my smartphone: the mama of my soon-to-be goddaughter posted a picture of the mobile I had commissioned for her baby, and she thanked me for it. I remembered the words I’d typed to my new European friend just this morning: “But [are fertility treatments] right for you and your husband? That is for the Holy Spirit to tell you. After 7 years of … procedures and 5 miscarriages, David and I are confident that God doesn’t intend for us to raise children of our own. We believe He has other plans for us, such as being very involved in the lives of our godchildren and our future nieces and nephews.”

Yes, I stand by those words. God has shown to me that He wants to use me in nontraditional ways. As Paul said to the Corinthians,

My primary desire is for you to be free from the worries that plague humanity. A single man can focus on the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord, but a married man has to worry about the details of the here and now and how to please his wife. A married man will always have divided loyalties. The same idea is true for a young unmarried woman. She concerns herself only with the work of the Lord and how to dedicate herself entirely, body and spirit, to her Lord. On the other hand, a married woman has vast responsibilities for her family and a desire to please her husband. I am not trying to give you more rules and regulations. I only want to give you advice that is fitting and helpful. I want to help you live lives of faithful devotion to the Lord without any distraction (1 Cor. 7: 32–35, The Voice).

I am a married woman, but I can extrapolate Paul’s intention to apply to my situation. I am a woman who “desire(s) to please her husband,” but because my David and I don’t need to divide our loyalties between children and Him, we can together “live lives of faithful devotion to the Lord without any distraction.” Is that not exactly what a godparent is commissioned to do? To guide his or her godchild to “live lives of faithful devotion to the Lord without any distraction”?