Rare Fruit from Our Family Trees

This post is dedicated to Dolores, my family’s lifelong friend and my surrogate mom. As one who is passionate about life, she has grown wise as its student. So it’s no surprise that one of Dolores’s passions is genealogy: the study of a family’s lines of descent. She understands that by knowing your history you can better fulfill your destiny. This is a good lesson for today’s generation of young adults.

As I write this, young people—disgusted with humanity’s historic sin of slavery and continuous sin of racism—have decided to tear down monuments they believe celebrate those sins. But wisdom tells us that rash judgment is another of humanity’s greatest  sins, and by trying to erase past errors in judgment we are doomed to repeat them—and fertilize the evil of ignorance from which they grew. We need to trace our roots to Solomon, who prayed for the wisdom to deliver from evil the people he would soon lead. His prayer can be found in the First Book of Kings (1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12):

Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.

God so loved that Solomon rejected desires rooted in humanity’s original deadly sins that he answered his prayer. The point we should take from this lesson is that because Solomon understood the consequences previous generations suffered for their sins, he was determined to chart a nobler path for his descendants.

So what kind of nobility did Dolores help our family find by digging up the dirt in which our family tree is planted? Not much, except for one factoid the size of a mustard seed that exemplifies the grand purpose God intended for humanity. In researching my mother’s side of the family—which I didn’t know much about because she died when I was a child—Dolores’s original search found a death date of 1964 for Mom’s father. I didn’t know much about my maternal grandfather, but I did remember Mom mentioning her dad died in the early 50s in a tragic accident. So Dolores, my honorary mom—understanding that birth and death dates are the bones that help a forensic scientist understand the flesh and blood once associated with them—dug deeper. With the revised year, she found census data that not only pinpointed my real grandfather, but revealed a clue to the nobility that Solomon sought for his descendants.

Turns out, that sharing the same 1920 household with my grandfather, grandmother and their newborn daughter was a 50-year-old immigrant from Hungary—labeled as a “lodger” on the census form Dolores discovered. My grandfather was himself an immigrant from Yugoslavia, so could it be that my grandparents, knowing the struggles early 20th century immigrants to America faced, shared food and shelter with an older man whose destiny they helped shape? Perhaps my mother’s God-fearing parents internalized the wisdom St. Paul shared with the Romans in this letter (Rom 8:28-30):

Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined.

A key lesson from this exercise in genealogy is that, while you can’t change your roots, you can still maintain their purpose by ensuring your tree continues to grow and bear fruit for generations to come—as the One who planted it intended. Denying history only makes our destiny harder to reach. In the gospels, that destiny is described as the Kingdom of Heaven (which Jesus said is among us), and in Matthew (Mt 13:44-52), as Jesus is about to send his census takers into that community, he explains the importance of the training they just received for the formation of every household they’ll visit:

“Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

Thanks, Mom, for identifying the tiny piece of fruit from our family’s tree that grows in orchards all along the path leading to humanity’s destiny.

–Tom Andel

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