In 1994 I attended a Peter P. Wiebe family reunion in British Columbia. There were about 120 of us, many of whom I didn't know, having lost contact with the younger generation over the years and because of the distances that separated us. I had been asked to speak on Sunday morning. What to say? The words fell into place:
Heredity is powerful! Anyone looking over this group of Wiebes would immediately know they were related. My son walks the same way his father Walter walked. There is that characteristic Wiebe eyebrow arch, the character traits that appear and reappear such as the love of singing and music in many of them, the urge toward creativity, particularly writing poetry and much more.
Pain is omnipresent! From my decades of association with many of them, I knew the depths of pain and heartache some had experienced. Illness, death, disappointments, failures, wrong steps -- all were present as they are in all families.
Grace is abundant! As I looked over the crowd of faces that Sunday morning I became very much aware of the grace that had prevailed in their lives -- the perseverance, the continued reaching, the encouraging,the forgiving.
Grace had been imparted to me by many of them. As I wrote in my first book Alone: A Widow's Search for Joy, a tiny, white-haired grandmother, her face lined by many years of hard work and poverty, sensed my fear as I faced the birth of our first child. My younger friends told me what to expect at the hospital, how many diapers and nighties I would need and all about formulas and night-feedings. This mother and grandmother, my mother-in-law, said simply, "The Lord helps at such times."
A glimpse of grace will not send a burdened person deeper into despair and self-pity, but will lift and encourage and help him or her to see a God able to meet their need. With these words she built a bridge by which I could walk in faith into one of the deepest experiences of a woman's life. She was telling me that when a woman needs God, God is there to help. And he was.
All twelve of her children had been born at home, miles away from the white sterility of a hospital. Perhaps she was thinking of the time one baby arrived in the dead of winter in the old frame homestead on the cold, snow-covered prairies. Perhaps she was reminded of the time she held a limp, feverish little girl in her arms on a hot, dry August day in Saskatchewan to watch her breathe her last. Whatever had been her own experience, she was offering me faith, steadied by the grace of courage.
As I think over that reunion I am reminded of Oswald Chambers' words: "The lives that have been of most blessing to you are those who were unconscious of it."
Heredity, pain, grace -- all three come plentifully. Heredity comes without our choosing. We do cannot choose our genes. Pain likewise. Most people would not choose pain if they knew how to avoid it. Grace is something we can open ourselves to all times.
Who can be a purveyor of grace? This gift is not limited to specific types or groups of people, or to certain denominations even though their fences are erected high to keep grace limited to their kind, or to some theological persuasions. I have been blessed by the words of a stumbling speaker more often than the carefully crafted production of a slick orator which slid past me like a greased pig its would-be-capturer. The imperfect and the perfect, the poor and the rich, the sick and the well, the educated and the uneducated -- everyone can be the means of grace to others.
Heredity, pain, grace. All three play a part in our lives.