As I get older, I have become interested in genealogy. I especially like to explore the less-trod histories of the “Grammas.” In doing so I recently dug up a real hidden treasure. The story starts with my great-grandfather, Nathan Douglas. According to the History of Oakland County Michigan, my grandfather, as a young man, accompanied his father, the Rev. Caleb Douglas and the pastor of their church, Rev. Elon Galusha on a mission trip from Whitesboro, New York to the wilderness of Michigan in the fall of 1822. There, they preached to the scattered pioneer families and founded the first Baptist church near Pontiac. In June of the following year Nathan came back to Michigan in the company of his father “who preached and broke bread to the church.”[i]
Exhilarated with the success of the missions and, I’m sure, loving the beautiful Michigan wilderness, the young man, who would later come to be called “Deacon Nathan,” went home determined to return. Apparently, as the story goes, my great-grandmother was not so thrilled with the idea. But, in 1824, the Deacon and his bride of six months, Frances, packed up all their belongings into an oxen-drawn wagon and started the 570-mile trek to, what is now, Troy, Michigan. The History of Macomb County Michigan relates that they “located in the primal wilderness, cleared a space and built a log home, in which they lived four weeks before doors and windows could be procured. The time was made interesting by the screeching of owls and howling of wolves.”[ii]
I have this picture in my head of Gramma Frances packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets[iii] and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage with the white picket fence and flower arbor and perhaps a secluded rose garden retreat in the back.
The story continues with the bride walking ahead of the slow-moving oxen, weeping as she went, and sometimes sitting down on a fallen log to have a good cry, “of homesickness and dread of the trials of pioneer life.”[iv]
Yup. That would be me – the one being dragged kicking and screaming. I wonder if it is genetic.
I think Jesus understood the feeling. With grace and mercy, he told a parable of two brothers.
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered. Matthew 21:28-31 (NIV)
So, what was Jesus saying here? That the son, who at first, kicking and screaming, wailed, “I don’t wanna!” but who went anyway, was the one who did the will of the Father, the one who pleased God. It’s part of that picking up your cross daily decision, “dying to the flesh,” getting out of your comfort zone, leaving your cozy little cottage and trekking into the wilderness where there are wolves and mosquitoes and hard work. It’s about perseverance and endurance. It’s about how you end, not so much how you start out.
My grandmother raised eight children, six sons and two daughters. Four sons were dentists and one was a minister, and the rest of the children sturdy farmers. Deacon Nathan and Frances celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1874. They continued on working in the church that whole time. It is said that grandmother “sang in the church choir a great many years, having a fine contralto voice.”[v]
But I think I will remember her mostly walking and weeping, putting one foot in front of the other. Persevering. Anyway. Yet.
I hope that is genetic too.
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6 (NIV)
Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength [increasing in victorious power]; Each of them appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:6-7 (Amplified Bible)
Photograph is of my grandmother, Mrs. Nathan Douglas (née Frances B. Smith), which has been passed down in the family.
[i] Durant, Samuel W. History of Oakland County, Michigan, p. 96.
[ii] Leeson, Michael A. History of Macomb County Michigan, pp. 653-654.
[iii] My grandmother was a talented sewer. A sampler and two coverlets made from cloth that she spun herself now reside in the Romeo Historical Society Museum, Romeo, Michigan.
[iv] From James H. Downie and Elizabeth Clark Douglas’s scrapbook. Transcribed by great-granddaughter Aug. 2010.