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Capturing Your Family Stories

In today's transient society, when family ties are weakening, children need to know their heritage.


by Kimberly Crosen Luckabaugh

 

During a recent visit with my grandparents, we talked about a barn. Not just any barn, but our barn. It's now old and dilapidated. Technically, it's not even ours anymore but belongs to a restaurant chain. But it's still a part of our story.

I showed my grandparents an article I found in a local newspaper at my dad's house. The article caught my attention as it included a picture of their old barn. It focused on the preservation of the barn in the picture by a local upscale restaurant chain. It also briefly spoke of the agricultural era (particularly that of dairy farms) in Loudoun County, Va. A local museum curator was contacted about the barn in the picture and did not appear to know much about it, just that it looked to be from the 1930's or 40's. Even the restaurant's vice president, who was quoted in the article, didn't know anything about this barn which they plan to prominently feature within their expanding chain.

I could have told them that my great-grandfather, relatives and farm hands built that barn in the 1920's. Granddaddy played in it as a youngster, drank fresh milk in it (squirted right into his mouth from the cow, by his father), and worked in it as a young man. As a child, my mother learned to roller-skate up and down the concrete ramps and through the length of it. My sister and I grew up just across the dirt road from the barn and used to play in that cool, dank building to try to escape some of the summer's humidity and heat.

While talking with my grandparents about the article, I told them that we had to tell our story. Not only was this barn part of our family's history, but it's also the county's history. Loudoun County is no longer a primarily agricultural or rural county as it was when we were growing up. It is rapidly filling with businesses and high-tech firms, and is the third-fastest growing county in America. So, telling the story about this barn would help preserve my family's story and remind the county of part of its own heritage.

This led me to think about family stories. How often do we make an effort to pass them on to future generations? In today's transient society, with many children living far away from the communities where they grew up, family ties are weakening. Today, children don't normally grow up knowing "Uncle Tim and Aunt Sarah" very well at all. They may be doing well just to know that this uncle and aunt exist. As such, they likely don't know that "Uncle Tim" is an expert, self-taught carpenter or that "Aunt Sarah" was a professional cheerleader in her younger years.

With today's families spread out over the country and the world, our sense of belonging is minimal and our heritages are suffering, too. That's why it's important for parents to tell family stories to their children.

A family's story is its heritage

It's something to be passed down. It's an invaluable inheritance to leave to your children.

There are so many parts to your family story. Your children need to know where you and your parents and grandparents grew up, what your childhood was like, interesting events you witnessed or participated in. They also need to know the spiritual stories—the ones about God's teachings, provisions, blessings, answers to prayers, and His saving grace. As believers, you and your family have a story, and it's invaluable.

Remember that God commands Christian parents to pass down His teachings and laws in Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (NKJV), "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house on your gates."

I'm reminded of that passage when my young children ask me questions about God and as I strive to explain His wondrous ways to them. What I find to be so amazing is how they drink up like a dry sponge what I tell them about God and how He has worked in my life and in the lives of other family members. In doing so, a fulfillment of one of God's promises found in Deuteronomy 11:21 will abound. God reiterates his directions from chapter six and adds a promise in verse 21, "that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth."

By passing on God's teachings to my children, I'm helping them have a longer and more fulfilling life because they will have the testimonies of their relatives to fall back on. They can find encouragement in seeing that God is real and cares about every event in their lives.

An incredible man of God

One particular story I can't wait to share with them is about their grandfather, Ray Luckabaugh. He died in 1998 at 60 years of age from complications related to an inoperable brain tumor, before my children were born. He was an incredible man of God, studying and understanding the Bible more than anyone I have ever been blessed to know. He had been an electrical engineer for about 40 years and as such, was very detail-oriented.

After the diagnosis of the tumor, everyday activities were too difficult and confusing for him. He soon had to give up driving, singing in the choir, and working. In the last several months of his life, conversing was even a challenge for him as he couldn't even remember his own son's name.

I remember one particularly awful day, about a week before he died. My husband, Dan, was so sad and frustrated when he stayed with his dad. He was heartbroken to see his strong and intelligent father become like a small child, unable to understand that the kitchen was not the bathroom. Equally frustrating was his dad's gibberish speech, which was so severe that neither one could effectively communicate with the other.

But God was constantly with Dad. At dinner that evening, we sat down and Dad asked the blessing. Tears come easily as I remember how beautifully and coherently he prayed that evening. His prayer had the type of depth of a seasoned Christian man in perfect mental health, but he wasn't healthy!

Through this testimony, our family is reminded of God's caring nature, His mercy, love and presence. We see how God stays with us and gives the Holy Spirit to intercede for us when we can't do anything for ourselves. He showed us first-hand that His grace is sufficient.

You can find part of your story in times like we experienced or even in quiet, still moments. What you note doesn't have to be deep or complex.

Putting your story together

How do I know what to put in a story about my family, you ask? Well for starters, don't create a basic family tree. Yes, that's interesting and has it's place. But this needs to be personal. Here are some suggestions:

Remember that the 'oral tradition' is the basis for passing down stories in all cultures. Work to capture some of these in your family. Record personal thoughts, feelings and memories of family members. That is what is really at the heart of this idea.

Arrange for interviews with relatives. Or, if that's not possible, call and solicit written or recorded memories from your mom, grandmother, Great-uncle Phil or Cousin Liz, whoever. Ask them to preserve some of their memories—even if they may seem minor or insignificant. Ask them specific questions about different times and events in his life. Also, e-mail or write relatives and find out if any family journals or diaries exist.

Set up a video camera or tape recorder at family reunions, birthdays, graduations celebrations, or baby showers, and record those favorite family stories that only come out when the memories flow and bantering begins.

Create a collection of your family's favorite things. Make a record of family members' favorite hymns, books of the Bible or Scripture verses along with explanations of why these have such special meaning. Make a family cookbook of favorite family recipes and include little thoughts about the recipe, such as the person known for making it, what makes it a favorite, or a special memory about times the recipe was made.

Start a family scrapbook. Pull out a combination of older and newer family pictures and place two or three on a page in a scrapbook. Take it with you to family gatherings and ask everyone to take a look through it. Have them list the names of the people in the pictures along with the story of the picture.

Consider starting a journal. My mom, Nancy Crosen, began journaling many years ago. I think it began with her daily "to do list" kept in a pocket notebook. Eventually, she included the day's weather on each entry. Gradually, she started recording her thoughts, concerns, needs, prayers and the various things God was showing and teaching her.

After she died three years ago, my dad, sister and I read over some of her entries. It was so touching to see her heart poured out on these pages. As you probably would expect, some entries made us cry, others made us laugh. But there were many others which were simply touching. I will never forget one particular "to do" entry: "Bake choc. chip cookies crunchy for Kim, chewy for Karen."

She cared about what many would call "insignificant details", namely how my sister and I prefer our cookies. God cares about the details even more. Jesus reminds us of this in Matthew 10:30 when he said that God knows the number of hairs on your head.

Upon reflection of this truth, I realized that God cares about the details in my life and has blessed my family with a story, our heritage. Then the Spirit prompts me to ask the question, "Now what are you going to do to with it?"

The question is basically the same for you. What are you going to do? With these ideas and your own creativity, you have what you need to begin. Go ahead and get started preserving your family's heritage. Tell your story about all the things, big and little, that God has done in your life!

Copyright © 2005 by Kimberly Crosen Luckabaugh. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 



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