When my parents built their house they had each child press their handprint in the freshly poured concrete to commemorate the excitement and accomplishment of building a home. I wasn’t even born when the first set of three children, my older siblings, pressed their little hands into the concrete leaving their mark forever. The arrival of myself and three additional children necessitated a second addition to the house. When the foundation was poured, all seven children pressed their hands into the cold, wet rocks, and we traced our ages underneath. It was to commemorate a unique moment in time, that might otherwise be easily forgotten. I was born in that house. Literally, born into one of the rooms of the house my Daddy built. I lived my whole life in that house until I moved out at the age of twenty. My parents still live in that house, on the same stretch of land where I spent my childhood.
Now I also live on that land, in the woods where I grew up. My husband, Cody and I are building a house of our own for ourselves and our two children. We live in a sort-of community, “The Compound” is a name we’ve allowed begrudgingly, with three of my older siblings and their families who also built houses on the land that now spans 20 acres. I have three other siblings who do not live on the land with us… yet.
I know for certain my parents didn’t plan for any of us to move back to the place we were raised. When my Dad found the land, thirty plus years ago, it was in an effort to assuage his desire to become a park ranger. He’s always loved the woods, but when he realized a park ranger’s salary wouldn’t keep up with a growing family he went with the next best thing, living in the woods. And so for twenty years, that’s what I did.
As long as I can remember, my parents talked about the importance of heritage. I didn’t fully understand it at the time. The number underneath my handprint read 7, but I can remember several times growing up my dad giving long, serious speeches about something we came to call the “H” word. “Don’t get Dad started,” my older siblings would warn us. It became a joke in our family that anytime Dad wanted to talk or pray, we knew we’d be there a long time. “Oh no…” we’d say, “Not the ‘H’ word.”
It was a time, for me at least, that I followed my siblings with a watchful eye. I pretended not to like these talks, because that was the cool thing to do, but as I grew I found a unique strength I gained from them. An identity, founded on unshakable principles that my parents just wanted to share with us. These talks were not planned, thought out, or rehearsed. They sprang from spontaneous moments of instruction, encouragement, and passion that my parents had inside them. Things like hard work and determination. Doing a job with excellence. The importance of personal responsibility and caring for others. The importance of relationship and community. Being a part of the local church, grounded and rooted in God’s Word as a source of strength and identity. Allowing the Holy Spirit to lead your life in every way. All these things were freely discussed, but more importantly lived out, as I was raised in this family of seven homeschooled children. Now that we are all grown, I see these qualities played out in each of my siblings own families. That is what heritage is, after all: valued qualities, traditions and beliefs that are passed down from one generation to the next.
Now this is not to paint a picture of the perfect family. It’s not to say you must be a homeschooling family, living on land, in a house you built yourself to pass down heritage. In fact, my parents would be the first to tell you, it is by the grace of God they raised us and we all still enjoy spending time together. They would even tell you they felt like failures most of the time, and mostly just tried to survive raising seven children on a one-income budget. But that didn’t stop them from trying. It didn’t stop them from continuing to share their beliefs and passions and live them out everyday even when it looked like we weren’t listening.
I realize however, that for many, you may not have had parents like this. You may not have been raised in a Christ-believing home or taught the importance of heritage. Maybe the things passed down to you were not positive things, but curses you’re having to break in your life now. You may in fact be alone as a single parent, just trying to get by as both Mom and Dad. You may be a first generation believer without a genealogy of faith, and as one your job carries even greater importance, and perhaps you face even greater opposition. You are turning the tide, building a new foundation, and forging brand new paths in which your children, grandchildren and future great-grandchildren will be forever grateful. You are breaking family curses left from those before you, which means your role is even more vital in this battle.
Now that I am a parent, I am beginning to see the importance of heritage. It strikes me now more vividly than before because I’m realizing, whether we try or not, we will all leave a legacy. The question is will it be one worth passing down? Will it be one our children will want to emulate? It is a sobering thought to know the way I live my life right now is shaping my children’s upbringing, shaping their memories, their origin.
God has given me and my husband our own unique passions and qualities, and along with the ones instilled in us by our parents, we want to be intentional to share them with our children. Not in a forceful way, but through relationship. Through sharing our strengths and weaknesses, our failures and victories, and what God has done in our lives. I’m sure we’ll also pass along a few not-so-great things as well, but that is the nature of parenting.
Recently, I got to share this little piece of heritage with my own children. I showed them my seven-year-old handprint, now corroded by time, and we talked about the importance of hard work, and leaving our mark on the earth. Will they remember our conversation? Probably not. They are five and three, but that didn’t stop me from sharing this special moment and creating a new one of our own.
Cody and I are building our own home on an acre of land passed down to us by my parents. When they poured the fresh concrete we pressed our children’s handprint into the rock leaving their mark. Hopefully, one day they will show their own children and share with them the things that matter most.