The last Hultin-McLean family reunion held in Idaho was, I kid you not, in the town of Beyond Hope. That was twenty-five years ago, just before I was born. It was occasioned by the celebration of my grandparents’ 25th anniversary, which made this year’s reunion their 50th. That’s quite a thing for me to consider: the whole of my life is half of their marriage.
And for any sane, normal person who has even a shred of dignity, it is also quite a thing to consider that this year’s reunion was, I wish I could kid you, held in the town of Athol, ID. (You have to say it out loud, but no matter how you pronounce “Athol” it still sounds like a lisped curse.) I suppose there’s a certain logic to it—if your family was beyond hope twenty-five years ago what’s left except a bunch of plain old athols?
Furthermore, I ask you to consider this: my dad’s dad passed when he was three, his mom’s sister also passed around that time, and then several years later his mom married his uncle, his cousins became his sisters, and ten years later a half-brother sealed the deal. Sound a little inbred? Well, as my dad is fond of asking in his best hill-billy voice, “If dem parents got divorced would my cousins still be my sisters?”
The confusion has passed on into younger generations with more half-cousins, step-step-uncles and the like, and yet the Hultin-McLean family coheres, due in large part to my grandparents, Gracie and Windsor (G.G. and Grandpa Mac from here on out).
In the seventeenth chapter of John, Jesus prays for himself, his disciples, and all believers. After praying for his disciples, Jesus says this: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word.” And later, in a prayer that all believers may be one he prays, “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity.” Because God in Christ is a reality, Christ in us is made real too.
This indwelling inside an indwelling, is, I think, the word through which believers come to belief, the word through which I came to believe, and the word which is perfecting the unity of our family. God is in Christ, Christ is in us and so we are made one with our creator and each other.
So it is too with the Hultin-Mclean progeny. A similar incarnation is passed on, imperfectly, through the generations, and our unity, also imperfect, is not beyond hope because of this.
My dad’s side of the family is scattered across the West, and we saw them infrequently growing up, maybe once a year but often less. Despite this I have deep sense of my grandparents’ abiding love for me. Birthday and Christmas cards sustained it, but it seems that each visit made a powerful impression on me. As with any family there were the numerous heartfelt, outrageous, and ordinary stories G.G. and Grandpa Mac each passed on. But most of all I treasure the individual conversations I had with each of them. Time spent in their presence was rich. I knew I was loved simply because I was listened to. I could speak about anything and they valued me no less.
This reunion I had only one such conversation with my grandma, but it impressed me even more deeply. She shared with me the story of her faith, which is also the story of her life. I was surprised by many things—that she wasn’t always the devout saint she is now, her Catholic upbringing was nominal and lax, and so on—but mostly I was struck by the apostolic nature of it all. God in Christ was passed on, as it has been to me.
Her parents were Catholic, but not strictly so, and her first real instruction came from her godmother on the days she would babysit. She learned simple things: verses to memorize, how to pray at night before bed and thank God for everything and the like. But this was a foundation, an inscribed habitation she still lives in.
Her first husband and his family encouraged her faith. Her mother in law, Grandma Edie, was of the silent yet confident believers, G.G. said. A person whose life showed God’s importance by its very nature. This, by the way, is exactly how I would describe my grandma.
And when her husband passed and she moved back to California and she became involved with another, uncharitable man, the church she found welcomed her unconditionally. None of the “Yes, welcome, but only if you don’t smoke and don’t drink and don’t keep bad company.” This church in California welcomed her with God’s welcome and supported her as she struggled to rebuild her family and pursue God.
And now, as I look to start a life and a family, I have, passed on to me, the same indwelling presence that was passed on to her. And it strikes me anew how that happens—“through their word.” As our God entrusted his very presence to a human, so Christ, that human, entrusts himself to us, the disciples and believers of his dwelling.