On Going Back to Your Roots by Ellen Graf-Martin

Last week I got to spend time in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. You know you’re a real Canadian if you can say that 10 times fast, know where it is and can pronounce it properly.

I had the opportunity to share my heart about adoption, identity, sisterhood, and finding God when you’re walking in the dark. The ladies who showed up to listen were diverse, beautiful and so gracious. It was good. So good.

Going to Saskatoon also meant going back to my roots, which was a good thing and a hard thing. My grandfather was born on a homestead in Saskatchewan, the eldest son of an English immigrant and a part-Irish religiously-devout mother with deep roots in North America. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, which was such a gift. While I was cleaning and hopping around their house one day, not long before grandpa died, he started to share stories of his youth. I had no idea how precious this early history was, and I especially remember his tender, vivid memories about losing a small, blonde brother who died too young. He shared about tough years on an unproductive dustbowl-era farm and paying the bills by traveling around Saskatchewan as part of the family band.

On Going Back to Your Roots by Ellen Graf-MartinAs my man-of-few-words grandfather shared, he also told the story of his father, my great-grandfather. A story of bad choices, broken marriage, of a family uprooted, of failure and shame. So much shame. A story that still makes me sad. About a man who had a weakness for women and suffered the consequences his whole life, but worked for social change and was named Senior Citizen of the Year in Saskatoon, who smoked cigars, seemed determined to be significant and was a piano player with a beautiful singing voice. Who died a few years after I was born, although many of his descendants didn’t even know he was still alive. Who left no inheritance for his children, but plenty of sad memories. I’m starting to understand just a small bit about how much my own grandpa carried, as the eldest son in such a broken family story. You see, I’m the eldest child of his eldest child, and we firstborns carry a lot on our shoulders.

Last week I got to see the city my great-grandfather called home, the place where his home stood, and talked to an archivist who has a bunch of material on him, including an audio recording of him telling his story as a Saskatchewan pioneer. I’m looking forward to hearing his voice for the first time and giving him a chance to tell even just a part of his side of the story.

Honestly, I’ve wrestled with even sharing this today, long after he’s gone, because of the pain experienced by his children, especially his daughters, cut so terribly deep. It’s not really my story to share – but it is the story I come from. Like it or not, these things shape us in ways we may not even realize.

My Dad’s mother was also born in Saskatchewan. Her story was no easier – perhaps harder, in fact. The consequences of what we call “bad adult choices” ran deep, and were like a curse, generation after generation, affecting my father until he died. Terrible, terrible choices. Again, the stories, even as I recall them to write this, make me so very, very sad. So much brokenness.

I had never been places where my grandparents – maternal and paternal – were born and lived. We never chose them as a pilgrimage or a holiday, because the place of hard beginnings and pain is rarely where we long to return.

But God.

He is such a Redeemer, friend. In Saskatoon, I went back to that place where my family story seems to have an inheritance of brokenness and hurt. I went back as one redeemed, knowing that He redeems our wounds and our stories in ways we could never imagine. I can tell you this: our history and our hurt is not hidden from Him, and He is good.

Last week I shared from Ephesians 1:18, so profound in these circumstances: “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he has called – his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.”

On Going Back to Your Roots by Ellen Graf-MartinThis is the truth of it – I travelled to this place of hard beginnings as one who has been called a child of God. Adopted by Him. Who, by no merit of my own, has been offered grace and knows deep joy. Who has been given life in abundance. Dancing instead of mourning. Beauty for ashes. Humble for the honour of it. A daughter of immeasurable confident hope. One who knows she is part of His holy people, by grace, with nothing to brag about but everything to be joyful for. One who is part of a rich, glorious inheritance for God’s glory. Our history – the brokenness of it – does not have to be our identity.

In this returning, I know that He makes all things new. It may take three generations to bring things full-circle, but He is faithful.

One of my Mama’s favourite songs is How Great Thou Art. It always has been. I remember singing it at every funeral and hymn-sing throughout my life. It’s a treasured song for me now too. Funny enough, she said it is her favourite because she remembers her grandfather (the one who caused so much pain) singing it with his beautiful voice.

I have to believe that the God who sees me, saw him, and has been redeeming this story long before I was even conceived. That same God that loves me, loved him and heard him when he sang. It might be that in his great-granddaughter’s returning to the place his story ended, we’re seeing just a bit of the very greatness of God and His beautiful unfolding grace.


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