Past and Present

I don’t know who I am. I’m not speaking philosophically. I’m referring to a literal understanding of my family roots. There’s supposed to be a lot of German in my family tree on my dad’s side. And on my mom’s side there is a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, which is just a fancy way of saying I have German speaking immigrants in my ancestry. But somewhere along the line, I’ve also heard I may have Irish, English, and even a tiny drop of Native American DNA.

As a child, I wanted the Irish part to outweigh the German part. No offense to anyone with German heritage, but there wasn’t anything I knew about Germany that made me want to identify with it. On the other hand, I loved everything I believed symbolized Ireland. I loved the idea of fair skin and red hair. Green was my favorite color. And I wished with everything in me that I could speak with an Irish accent. I mean, who wouldn’t want to speak with an Irish accent, right? But as little as I know about my family history, I do know my childhood hope was an impossible dream. I know German DNA plays a part in who I am more than any other DNA out there. But I still don’t know who my ancestors were or what their stories would tell me.

One day when life’s demands are not as great, maybe I’ll find out more. I doubt it would change my life in a drastic way, but you never know. Seeing their stories played out could lead to new understandings about myself or even my circumstances.

This was definitely the case for Abby in Saratoga Letters by Elaine Marie Cooper. In fact, it was so true that the book itself is really two stories in one. Part historical and part contemporary fiction, Cooper did a wonderful job drawing me into both stories and keeping me engrossed until the end where she allowed me to see the complete picture.

Set in Saratoga during the Revolutionary War, the first half of the book tells the story of a young woman named Abigail whose Loyalist uncle forces her to work in a hospital for the British army. Through her time of service, Abigail must carefully guard the secret of her true allegiance. And while she wishes to see the war won and the British leaving the colonies, her time tending the wounded changes her perspective about the enemy. She sympathizes with their losses, and she learns to befriend and even love them for who they are as people. Her time isn’t without struggle though. She is plagued by fear of being found out, but fear of her uncle keeps her silent. She faces dangers too, as a woman in a camp filled with men who haven’t seen home in far too long. Abigail’s experiences are enough to fill a book in themselves, but thankfully, the author didn’t agree.

It’s in the contemporary second half of the book that we finally meet Abby. She’s like a lot of us. She’s trying to live her life. She doesn’t have time to dig into her family’s past. The little she does know has been passed down through her father, and it’s her love for him that sends her to a celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Saratoga after his death. Abby learns a lot about the general history surrounding her family’s involvement in the war, but it’s what she doesn’t know that takes her time in Saratoga from relaxing vacation to deadly excursion. When the past threatens her future, Abby has to figure out the rest of the story before it’s too late.

I doubt any of us would have our lives altered as drastically by our ancestry as Abby does, but that doesn’t mean the past doesn’t play a part in who we become. And the past’s ability to shape our future doesn’t stop with our physical DNA. Each believer also has a spiritual ancestry. While it includes those of faith in our family trees, our shared ancestry comes from scripture. We have a spiritual heritage recorded for us and passed down through the years. God means it to shape and direct our lives today in a real way.  2 Timothy 3:16 tells us the entirety of scripture has been given by God for our “teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that God wants His followers to learn about Him and the history of our faith. It’s been clear since the beginning that while He doesn’t want us to live in the past, He does want us to remember it and learn from it. When we study the Old Testament, we find God’s people instructed to set up 12 memorial stones after crossing the Jordan. They did this so when future generations asked what the stones meant, the story of God’s provision would be passed on. Festivals were set by God to help His people remember the ways He intervened in their lives. The Passover and Purim recounts God’s salvation of the people.  And in the New Testament, when Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples for the last time, He instructed them to “do this in remembrance of Me.”

And the great thing about our spiritual heritage is that we don’t have to work hard to find it. We don’t have to shell out a hundred bucks and a swab of our DNA to know what God wants us to know about Him or faith. We don’t have to spend hours scouring web sites and pouring over the faded writings of long gone ancestors. Our spiritual heritage is as easily accessible as the nearest Bible.

By the Book: Have you given any thought to your spiritual heritage? Have you let it change your life?

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