A Trip to Kalmar: Part III of III

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That night, I played a concert in a little church in Kalmar, and, try as I might, I didn’t see anyone that looked any more like me than than they do anywhere else (though their fingers might have been of the slightly floppy sort). Still, with a week or so of research I would almost certainly be able to find some distant cousins, mutual descendants of Nils Petersson. The people were warm and kind, and there was an audible response when I told them about my connection to Kalmar. I sang “Lay Me Down”, a song about my geographical roots in America (Illinois? Florida? Tennessee?), and realized, as silly as it sounds, that I need to add this little coastal Swedish town to that list.

p9290313It’s such a gift that these people from my past are in some measure knowable. I have seen their castle. I have walked the same stony ground. I have smelled the sea air in autumn. So often in the U.S. I meet people with striking surnames and ask them where the name came from–and they shrug. It’s never occurred to them once to learn about this name they’re marked by, this identifier they carry all their lives, which their children will also carry. Rich Mullins said once that we can’t choose which family we’re born into, so there’s a lot to learn from it. We should pay attention to it. Ask ourselves why God might have put us in that family, in that story, and not another. Ask your parents about their parents, and theirs before them. Learn their reasons for boarding the ship. Press in. Encounter the long suffering and secret joy of your forbears. Unearth the mystery of their silence.

Then board the plane for home, see yourself in the story your descendants will tell, and kiss the ground where your children play. You are living a life that is not just your own. Your story will be told, by someone, somewhere, in some age. Behind you trails a shimmering strand that weaves among the people in your life, and binds your story to theirs. Before you is the story of your fathers and mothers, and part of your toil is to cling to its light as it leads you down those old roads.

But some of us may look into the past and see darkness, or nothing at all. There may be little that is laudable about the choices of our ancestors; they may be dead branches on the family tree. We may be struck with fear that our choices will inexorably be theirs. That is a lie. Evil’s power is destruction, a weak and sloppy thing compared to the music of light and beauty. If you look into the past and see desolation, it falls to you to hover over those waters and sing a new song. The canvas is yours to fashion as you will. Step into the love of Christ, let him clothe you with mercy and equip you with his power. Then in strokes broad and bright, fill your canvas with love and truth–then even your worst choices will only brighten the picture. And that is a great mystery.

Look back. Look forward. Then walk with a sense of your place in time and space. Listen by faith for the great cloud of witnesses to cheer you on in the long defeat. In a hundred years, when your grandchildren’s children ask about you, the answer will drip with honey. May they taste and see that the Lord is good.

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Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


18 Comments

  1. Art

    Bravo for the Fatherland! Bravo for the land where now I stand! Bravo to the heavenly land I’m bound for!

  2. Paula Shaw

    “. . . it falls to you to hover over those waters and sing a new song.” “Listen by faith for the great cloud of witnesses to cheer you on in the long defeat. In a hundred years, when your grandchildren’s children ask about you, the answer will drip with honey.” I love those words of truth and promise. Thanks for, yet again, articulating truths that are in my heart, but that I’m unable to express with my own lips. You are appreciated for sharing this gift with so many. I have been utterly struck lately with the fact that one cannot outgive God. Ever. This is encouraging because I know the more you share the gift God has given you for writing, whether it be song lyrics, music, or fantasy, the more He will enrich that gift within you. And so the cycle continues. Isn’t it so cool that in each generation of a any given family, the choice can be made to continue a way of life (and hopefully that way is good and right), or if it’s not so good, to choose to “hover over the waters and sing a new song” through Christ?! All three parts of your “A Trip to Kalmar” were articulated so well, and I know your grandchildren’s children will taste and see that the Lord is good. Thanks, Andrew!

  3. April

    This was a beautiful series of posts. Any chance we’ll be hearing you read them aloud on a future episode of the Rabbit Room podcast?

  4. Joy C

    Good stuff, guy.
    Sometimes in my dreamy netherworld, even the prison is transformed into a castle, full of precious souls…

    And also: If I were the child of the man my mother was married to when I was born, I would be a Swedish Peterson.

  5. P

    Oh, and how I wish i’d heard the stories of my ancestors before they died. I’m in my fifties now and appreciate history, peronal and otherwise, much more now than I did when my grandparents were alive. My dad’s parents are both Russian immigrants who came to America before the Revolution in the early 1900’s and, boy, do I ever wish I could pick their brains now. Even my dad does not have answers to the questions I’m asking. So I encourage any of you who still have the chance to take time to talk to the older generations of your families.

  6. Stacy Grubb

    My grandma is 89 and pretty afflicted with alzheimer’s, but remains a very adept story-teller. When I was growing up, I loved hearing her crazy stories about her life. She is a spitfire who, at 15, married a spitfire, so I never could get enough of her stories. Plus, the fact that she grew up in rural Appalachia with all its backwards, backwoods, witchcraft heritage made them that much more intriguing. Grandma might tell about the time her mom put a spell on her uncle for putting a spell on her cow one day and talk about riding in a car with Henry Ford the next (he owned some mines in Twin Branch, WV, where her daddy worked). Then she’d tell me about the spirits she raised to find out what my papaw was up to while he was laid out drunk and playing music for days on end and then how they’d beat the crap out of each other when he finally came home. She’d go into the details of making up, too, which I’ll spare anyone reading this. Good times. As much as I love those stories, I never dreamed how thankful I’d be as an adult that I sat there and listened to them when I was a child (even if they did give me nightmares half the time). Somehow or another, several months ago, Dad came across a name on a Cherokee Indian registry that belonged to someone he figured out to be an ancestor. He ran the name by Grandma and she remembered her, citing her as an aunt. Dad was excited, yet bummed that she had her facts twisted because this lady would’ve been her grandma. A couple days later, while doing a search on the name, I hit the motherload list that traced Grandma’s lineage on her father’s side all the way back to a guy born in Germany in 1731. Pretty cool since all we’d known up until then was that my Papaw’s family was made up mostly of Scots and Cherokees and Cherokee was all we knew about Grandma’s family. Then going on down the list, I got another nice surprise: Grandma did have an aunt with the same name as her grandmother, so she wasn’t as kooky as we were thinking. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a branch from Grandma’s father’s name that told of his children. She is the last surviving of her siblings. I can’t explain why it felt good to learn so much and see all those old names (and Dad got a hold of many pictures of the people, as well) and know that, while many, many of them died well before I was even born, they were a part of me. Their existence became my history in some sense. And I put myself in their shoes. Maybe one day someone will see my name and picture on a list of long-forgotten relatives and feel a connection to me.

  7. Brad

    Thanks, once again, for sharing Andrew. I wish I could more often slow down and, well…live more deeply. Your writing and songs definitely inspire me to that. My great-grandparents came over from Denmark (on my mother’s side, so we no longer carry the Hansen name), and my boys share your fascination with Vikings (but no meatballs, just pastries). In fact, we have quite the collection of wooden swords around the house that they continue to hand-craft with increasing skill and complexity. I’m sure they’ll be glad to show you the collection when you and Randall are out here in the Spring.

    Your encouragement to not be afraid to look back really struck me. I think I have had some fear in that area. Or maybe it is that good old American desire for autonomy that has made me shy away from contemplating my roots. Whatever the reason, I know there has been some reticence there on my part. Perhaps it’s time for me to take another look back. Thanks again.

  8. Darcyjo

    I wept as I read the last few lines of your writing.

    Today is the day that my first grandchild was born. May she have more to look back on than I have.

  9. Jeff M

    AP – Sorry to see that this is Part III of III…I wish this was part III of XXIII. I’ve really enjoyed reading these “Kalmar” posts. When you have finished your journey in the land of Aerwiar (sp?), I encourage you to write about a journey (maybe your own?) here on Earth. You are a gifted writer and your non-fiction tales are equally as insightful, inspirational and though-provoking as the fiction ones.

    Jeff M.

  10. Joy C

    Yeah, Andrew: Ditto what Jeff M just said. I think you could articulate in words and feeling what many of us earthlings experience but don’t quite have the words for. I think you otta go for it. Joy

  11. Jonathan

    When I researched the Bickham lineage I discovered that the name is rooted in England and it comes with a family crest. A love the idea that families used symbols to denote who belongs to them. The makes me want to make a t-shirt to where to say proudly “I’m a Bickham” (in a fake english accent). Then I remember I’ve been given an crest that is not seen by human eyes, but by heavenly eyes, the crest of the Holy Spirt. So that God can look down and say “He’s mine” (probably not in an english accent)

  12. Mike Brown

    I know my maternal lineage is from Scotland. But I’m not sure about the Browns. Some are from Germany, some from Scotland. You make me want to know for sure. How do I find out?

  13. Robert Treskillard

    “If you look into the past and see desolation, it falls to you to hover over those waters and sing a new song. The canvas is yours to fashion as you will. Step into the love of Christ, let him clothe you with mercy and equip you with his power. Then in strokes broad and bright, fill your canvas with love and truth–then even your worst choices will only brighten the picture. And that is a great mystery…”

    Simply beautiful and encouraging writing, Andrew. Thanks.

  14. Margret

    Thank you, Andrew. Thank you very, very, much. Your thoughts and perceptions, meanderings and conclusions, have brought peace and comfort to my hurting heart.

    I was born in Sweden and, just after I learned to walk, my immediate family moved to the United States. This is now my home and I am happy to be here, although I weep about not knowing anything else about myself, my people, or my past. With my parents dead and my father having my birth certificate changed before he died, those questions will only be answered when I get Home. Until then, even though I have long felt orphaned, I am blessed to be in the family of God. I am also blessed to read your encouragement to “hover over those waters and sing a new song.” May any who feel alone and adrift find healing in the arms of the One who loves us immeasurably.

    And may your days be full and replete, knowing you are doing much good. All of Heaven’s best to you and yours,
    Margret

  15. Laura Irick

    Andrew,
    That part you said about how even our worst choices will only brighten the picture… it well demonstrates “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8 28”- what God’s grace and redemption can do for us if we will only trust and obey.
    Blessings,
    LI

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