My Grandmother's Boots
Updated: Jun 30
The Blessing of Honoring Our Ancestors
What does it mean to honor our ancestors? And why does it matter? Discover more about God's blessing when we do in this devotional blog.
Grey and lightly covered with dust, they were tucked away in the back of the closet. My mother asked, “Would you like Mom’s boots? Try them on, they will probably fit.” I pulled on the grey leather cowgirl boots and found they fit perfect! “Yes!” I replied. We continued to sort through my Grandmother’s things, which felt strangely odd. I kept thinking, “She is going to walk through the door at any moment and ask why we are going through her closet.” But she would not. Grandma was gone.
The silence that had always been a part of her home, seemed to close in around me now. There were so many stories associated with the personal belongings in her home. My mother was hurting, too. She had just lost her mother. In addition, she had been the one child (and youngest) of four, who moved twice, who sacrificed and rearranged her life to be there to help care for both her parents in their last years. As we sorted through belongings, my mother rambled on with the stories as a way of filling the silence and finding comfort in the memories.
Earlier that week we had a beautiful celebration of life service for my grandmother. I had come across sheet music of the song that was her and Grandpa’s love song when they were young and I wanted to sing it at her funeral. At the service, I began singing then faltered. Too moved by raw emotion and grief, my voice could not hold steady. Singing gave way to crying. At the cemetery, she was laid next to Grandpa, who had passed three-and-a-half years earlier, after fifty-seven years of marriage and shared life together.
Now we were back at her home, sorting through her things. It was my first experience of this kind. I was in my early thirties and had never considered what happened to people’s possessions once they passed. Grandma was very organized and kept her home neat, clean and uncluttered. It felt almost intrusive to be sorting through everything now. My maternal grandparents were stoic, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth German farmers, born in the early 1920’s to parents who had all immigrated from Russia in the late 1800’s, forever leaving their families and the familiar land behind.
My Maternal Grandparents in 1964 - Silver Anniversary
My grandmother was generous and kind. She had a sense of humor and while not affectionate, expressed her love in other ways. She was a good cook and always sent food home with us. An expert seamstress and quilter, she spent time with me as she taught me how to sew - and praised my less than stellar efforts. It was in her passing that I realized the significant impact she had on my life and how her consistent example, faith in God, strong yet gentle presence, sweet nature, and solid character had profoundly influenced me in a myriad of ways.
She was also a woman who respected her heritage and honored her ancestors. On one wall in the living room of their farm house she displayed a gallery of framed family photographs. As a curious child I would study the faces in sepia tinted photographs and ask her about the people in the pictures. She would patiently explain who each person was and their relationship to us. Later, as a young woman, I would ask the same questions and receive the same answers. As she explained each person and relationship, her love for and pride in her heritage was evident.
Because of her example, as well as my mother’s, I developed a deep respect for my ancestry and those who have come before me. They each had their own life stories, which impacted each subsequent generation. I have now been able to trace the ancestry of both my parents back eight generations into the 1700’s and feel gratitude, as well as a sense of being grounded and connected to deeper roots, which comes from understanding my heritage. My parents also taught me to respect them as well as my elders. Respect. An invaluable and vital lesson to learn, especially at a young age.
In addition to their DNA, customs, cultural traditions and beliefs, many of these ancestors were men and women of great faith. A legacy of faith which paved the way for me as well. In the natural, it is important to know where we come from because it helps us to understand who we are. In the spiritual, it is important to know who we belong to because it helps us understand we are also children of God.
“Honor your father and mother, as Adonai your God ordered you to do, so that you will live long and have things go well with you in the land Adonai your God is giving you.”
In the book, Jesus Life Coach author, Laurie Beth Jones writes, “I was shocked to read in a statement that our Western culture is the only one that blames, rather than honors, our ancestors. It has become de rigeur to blame our illnesses and psychoses on our poor, pitiful parents, who either ignored or coddled us, pushed or delayed us, gave us bad examples, abandoned or overprotected us.
“Honoring your father and mother doesn’t mean that you have no boundaries with them. Jesus set a boundary with his mother when she wanted him to come and talk to her, perhaps delaying him from his work (Mark 3:31-35 NKJV). In that instance he declined her request, saying that his family included ‘whoever does the will of God.’ Yet the Bible also tells us that he grew in wisdom and favor with his parents, listened to their lessons, and learned them well. (Luke 2:52).
“I think that this culture has driven us away from honoring those who loved and raised us. Our almost narcissistic self-involvement has also caused us to actually blame our ancestors for all they didn’t do for us.
“While it is wise to examine the patterns of our parents’ behaviors, both negative and positive, ultimately we do ourselves a favor when we are able to bless and honor them, somehow, some way.
“Jesus honored his mother even from the cross, making sure that she was taken care of. And he lived his life with every breath, trying to do the will of his Father. Jesus did not blame his ancestors for his problems. Neither must we.
“Respect. And honor. We must honor those who came before us, or we cannot move forward. And we must honor those who will follow us” [by the example we set and how we live]. [i]
I tend to agree. Yet, these are not necessarily easy words to receive. In my own life, especially in my youth, I struggled in the relationships with my parents. (Are there any of us who, at some point, have not?) This struggle was especially evident in the relationship with my mother. There can be a tension in the mother-daughter relationship which is difficult to reconcile. Deep and turbulent waters which can be challenging to navigate. I have blamed my parents for what they did as well as what they failed to do. I have idolized one while despising the other. I have focused on their failures and the pain they caused in a variety of ways.
There were years when I would dutifully look through Mother’s Day cards and angrily shove the cards back in the rack, wishing I actually felt the way these cards described toward my mother. Sometimes I choked back tears. Often overcome with pain or guilt, I would leave without buying a card. Later, I would enter another shop and try again for something that conveyed love and respect without all the deep emotional descriptors. Underneath it all, I loved my mother dearly, as she did me. At the time, we just didn’t know how to get past the barriers to express it in healthy ways.
What helped change my perspective and heal these internal wounds was to forgive. To realize that parents are simply older people trying. In most cases, our parents are doing the best they can, with what they know, what they have, and where they are. They are not perfect. Only our Heavenly Father is perfect and only He can love us in the way we long to be loved, feel seen, and be known.
Our parents do not have all the answers. They make mistakes. They live with regrets from those mistakes. They have their own beliefs, fears, dreams, heart wounds, events and life stories which have shaped them. But they gave me life. They nurtured and cared for and provided for me as best they could and knew how to. Most significantly, they have loved me unconditionally and believed in me consistently. They have also done many things well, good and right, and have given selflessly. My parents provided rich soil for the roots of my life to grow deep and strong in, a heritage of faith to guide me, and they have set a positive example in ways too numerous to count.
God chose these parents to give me life, to teach and guide, love and provide for me. (Psalm 139:13-16) God created me – and you - from a multitude of possible DNA strands. He designated the family, time, location, and generation of my birth to fulfill His purpose in and through me, a story interwoven into His story. (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 1:3-5, Esther 4:14)
To refuse to acknowledge or accept this is to presume and assume that I somehow know better than God. Our cultural attitude of entitlement insidiously undermines and questions the sovereignty and goodness of God. We each have a specific purpose for being here on the earth at the time God has designated for us to be. He has given each of us specific gifts and talents to cultivate and share. And we each have a specific sphere of influence God has entrusted to us, wherever we are.
A word of encouragement here for those of you who grew up not knowing your biological mother and/or father. Throughout the Bible it is clear that God cares for the orphans and widows. You matter to Him. He wants you. He sees you. He loves you.
If you have ever thought or believed that you were not wanted, what would it look like to exchange that belief for the truth of being wanted? Because your Heavenly Father does want you. While you may never know the circumstances surrounding your conception and birth, or the circumstances your biological parent(s) were facing, you can know that God still purposed for you to be born.
Yoshabel, the mother of Moses placed him in a woven basket afloat in the Nile River in order to preserve his life from pharaoh’s edict to slay all Hebrew male babies. Moses was found by pharaoh’s sister, and adopted as her son into the royal family. He was raised as a Prince of Egypt instead of as a slave. Yoshabel loved Moses and it was love that selflessly sought a way to preserve his life.
It was a mother’s love which afforded Moses a different and better life than she could have provided, even without the edict. And God used it all to shape, mature, and prepare Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery and write the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. God always has a plan and a purpose for each life. He gives us the freedom whether we will choose Him to live out that purpose or live for ourselves.
Another facet to consider is that parents are only one side of a relationship. Every relationship consists of the two people interacting within it. So I have my part too. What are my attitudes? What are my words and actions conveying? What are my choices saying? When have I falsely impugned wrong motives? When have I made something my mother or father have done or said mean something that it did not? When have I had unrealistic expectations and then felt anger when they were not met? When have I treated them as if they had no feelings or that my words and actions could not wound? I too, have made mistakes and live with regret for those choices. I have also hurt them deeply. We have chosen to forgive one another. Many times. Yet, their love has never faltered.
In taking responsibility for my part, instead of blaming, I am free to own what is mine and make better choices. Blame keeps us stuck. There is freedom and healing when we take responsibility for what is ours and allow others to do the same.
Now I eagerly look for just the right Mother’s Day card to express the love and gratitude I feel for the wonderful mother I have been blessed with. I can’t change the past, but I can make more kind and loving choices going forward. Choosing to focus on the positive and the good in my parents, all I am grateful for, to show compassion, and still have healthy boundaries and to love them well, is a form of honoring and respecting them. As we honor and respect our ancestors, we also honor our Heavenly Father.
Honor your father and mother that you may live long in the land.
When I pull on my grandmother’s grey, leather cowgirl boots, I stand a little taller, walk with a bolder stride, feel a deep-rooted connection to my family and ancestry, and say a prayer of gratitude for her life and how she graced us with her presence and love.
Some questions to consider:
How are you honoring your mother and your father?
What is the difference between boundary setting and honoring?
Why is it important to acknowledge the footsteps of those who have gone before you?
Whom are you blaming for your problems today?
If you shifted from blame to wonder, which ancestor would you take to “show and tell” and why? [ii]
If you would like support in living intentionally or learning how to set healthy boundaries I would love to come alongside you to help you achieve the results you desire. To learn more, you can schedule HERE for a no-obligation Create a Life You Love Discovery Session.
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This blog is by Freedom to Flourish Life Coaching Founder and Christian Life Coach, Jen Stone-Sexton. She is currently accepting new clients. You can learn more about Jen here.
Jennifer C. Stone-Sexton © 2023 Freedom to Flourish, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
All graphics created by Jennifer C. Stone-Sexton © 2023 Freedom to Flourish, LLC.
Photo Credits: Cover Photo of Jen Stone-Sexton: Personal Collection of Jen Stone-Sexton | Photo 1 of Maternal Grandparents Personal Collection of Jen Stone-Sexton | Photo 2 by Ekaterina Shakharova on Unsplash (Grandma hugged by child)| Photo 3 by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash (Mother holding baby) | Photo of Jen Stone-Sexton: Personal Collection of Jen Stone-Sexton
Reference Credits: [i] Laurie Beth Jones, Jesus Life Coach (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc. © 2004) [ii] Ibid.