Honor Your Roots

How to follow in the footsteps of those who came before us.

If you would have asked me a year ago the importance of my hometown, my roots, and my ancestors, I would have dismissed your question. “I want to get out of Virginia,” I would have said. “I want to move up North, get a job that reflects my hard-earned degree and forge my own  path — a  path I deserve.”

Today though, after only a year of “forging my own path,” my response to that question would be quite different. There’s something undeniably important about one’s heritage, and only in trying to forget mine did I realize exactly how valuable it was.

I come from a long line of Southern, Bible-believing, hay-bailing farmers, people who used to seem utterly removed from the intellectual I wanted to be. Though my daddy was not a farmer by vocation, his father and his father’s father both tilled the earth, and they had an almost mythical presence in my childhood through the stories that were told. My daddy would often tell me stories of Granddaddy Jack who, because he was born right around the turn of the century and lived the hard life of a dairy and tobacco farmer, would not survive long enough to meet most of his grandchildren. Even though many in my family never knew him, his colloquialisms, the twinkle in his eye, and the sweat on his brow were as familiar to us as if we heard and saw them ourselves. And truthfully, he is inseparable from who we are; it’s only been very recently that I have realized this and have begun to appreciate the foundation he and his ancestors established for my current generation and for my own identity.  

Those who came before me, those simple, Southern farmers, did more than just pass down my thick eyebrows and the drawl I’ve worked so hard to mask. They laid an unshakable foundation for my quality of life, work ethic, and faith. As my dad would say, “Hard work is in your blood, Christy girl.” The 5 a.m. milkings, the endless rows of corn to be harvested, the reward of a vine-ripened watermelon after ploughing and the sound of the whippoorwill as you fell asleep, all of these things contributed to an intrinsic set of values.

I was born into a heritage tended by the blood, sweat and tears of Confederate soldiers, fighting in a war they neither understood nor supported; turn-of-the-century farmers selling their skinny cattle at market; women churning butter on the front porch, beating back the dust of the Great Depression; and a little boy who traded his beloved horse for his first car. It is because of those who came before me that I have the luxury of a deeply-founded faith and the grace and understanding of the value of hard work. I have quilts with Psalms sewn into them, an old family Bible with my father’s birth recorded in it and the rich blessing of yearly family reunions where it’s understood that we “say grace” before the annual potluck meal. To some degree, my faith has come more easily because of this, because of those who have come before me, laying a foundation of moral and biblical values.

The Cost of Paying Your Dues

The legacy that Granddaddy Jack and my other ancestors left has also instilled in me the value of an honest day’s work. There is no shame, I have learned, in beginning a job on the bottom rung of the ladder; there’s a solid, healthy pride in hard work, even if the job I am working isn’t a glorified one. Whether I’m waiting tables, washing cars, taking care of my home and my children or working in management, I’m not entitled to a job that matches my degree. The ability to work, to help provide for my family, is a blessing in and of itself.

But not everyone has the heritage that God has chosen to bless my family with. Many Christians are fledglings, pioneers, who come from a background of hurt, spite or fear – a heritage devoid of goodness. There are people who, instead of relying on the firm foundation built for them, must actively work instead to break the cycle of sin that were passed down from generation to generation. What can someone like me, someone who has had a clearly established foundation of Christianity and morality, even begin to say to relate to my peers who are working double-time just to survive, whose only sustenance seems to be their faithfulness?

Be like my ancestors.

Though you may feel like you are stumbling through the rows of corn or ploughing in a hot field on an August day, remember that you have the great, unmatched honor of laying a foundation of faith and faithfulness. Your future family, your children, your friends, your legacy can rest on your shoulders. Though you may not yet see the cool shade of the front porch or the watermelon at the end of the long row of corn, the seeds you are sowing and the harvest you are gathering will sustain both you and your family, perhaps for generations to come. You can change the tide; you can shift the history of hurt, of abuse, of absence, and you can invite God to fill that emptiness, to come alongside you as you till the great earth He has given you. And though you, like my Granddady Jack, may not see your grandchildren reaping the sweet reward of a foundational faith and honest, hard work, you can rest in the assurance that you are planting crop that will yield fruit long after you are gone.

After the seeds of your faith are sown, consider how your work ethic and your job pursuits reflect that. It’s difficult to remember that our work is for the Lord when we are scrubbing floors, dealing with impatient clients or teaching unruly students. How can you begin to build from the materials God has given you? And what can you build with his grace and his help? God may be calling you to the mighty work of laying a foundation and building a heritage that you and your family can rest, grow, and thrive in.

Remember the value of hard work, and appreciate a foundation of faith if one has been laid for you. Also know those generations who’ve come before us, especially those who are now languishing in old age, have not lost their value. One day, we too will be old, struggling with the iPhone 50 and having to ask our children, nieces, or nephews for help figuring out this newfangled technology. I hope they treat us with the same respect and deference that our ancestors deserve from us.

So whether you are tending to the foundation that your ancestors carefully and methodically fashioned or you are laying that foundation yourself, remember that your work fulfills a higher calling, one of respect and deference to those who came before you, but also one of faith, as you work for the One who was and is the physical embodiment of foundational sacrifice.

Copyright Christy Chichester 2016. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Christy Chichester

Christy Chichester is a lecturer in English at Penn State University. When she isn’t grading papers, Christy likes to read Tolkien, communicate in puns with her husband, and watch her pit bull try and fail to catch tennis balls.

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