Sunday, March 25, 2018

Quiz time! Test your Fort Montezuma Knowledge!

R.F. "Ron" McDonald in 2015

R.F. McDonald near San Juan River --in vicinity where Harriman cabin was located (actual site not found yet.)

Quiz Time! How well do you know your Fort Montezuma history?
1. Fort Montezuma was located:

A. In southwest Utah near St. George.
B. In southeast Utah near the Four Corners.
C. In central Mexico, in the state of Sonora

2. At least 15 families eventually settled near Fort Montezuma, but the first missionary families sent to colonize at Montezuma Creek for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were:

A. Henry and Elizabeth Harriman and George and Julia Hobbs
B. Henry and Elizabeth Harriman and Hyrum and Ellen Hobbs Fielding
C. Henry and Elizabeth Harriman and James and Mary Davis

3. Which of these events happened to the Harrimans at Fort Montezuma?

A. Elizabeth made an American flag from scraps of a dress, red flannel underwear and white cloth for the 4th of July celebration in 1879.
B. They became close friends with nearby Navajos.
C. They opened a trading post.

4. The Harrimans had to leave Fort Montezuma because a huge flood tore out their farm. Which river flooded?

A. Navajo River
B. Colorado River
C. San Juan River

Correct Answers: 1. B; 2. C (Trick question! George Hobbs was one of the scouts who made the initial trip and who came back two more times; Hyrum and Ellen Fielding later settled at Fort Montezuma. George, Ellen and Elizabeth were siblings.) 3. A and B—another Pioneer, William Hyde, opened several trading posts; 4. C

R.F. McDonald's book, Fort Montezma 1879-1884: Crucible of Devotion is the story of the valiant mission of these pioneers. (See the prior blog post for more details.)

I hope this quiz makes you hungry for more of this great story! I’m working to obtain a print version of this book, which R.F. has gave me permission to publish. To display his photographs at their best, they will be printed in high resolution on quality paper (softcover). Each printed book will cost around $27—with no profit for R.F. or me.

We need pre-orders for at least 100 books to start the process, and checks must be submitted by March 31, 2018. I’ve received 29 pre-orders—here’s a shout-out of thanks to those who sent them!

If you or your family members would like a print version, please send a check ($27 for each book desired) to me, Debra Holm, 114 Meyer Ave. Nampa ID 83686. I will combine these into a final payment for the printer. I plan to deliver most of them at the Nelson Midsummer Reunion on June 16 in Rexburg.

If you prefer reading the story on a computer or a device here's a link:

Although the quiz was centered on Harriman history, the book contains fascinating stories of other settlers—surnames include Hobbs, Davis, Shurtz, Holyoak, Hyde, Fielding, Haskell, Decker, Allan, Tracy, Moody and Guymon.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Rejoice, Fort Montezuma Descendants!

Mary Fretwell Davis

James Davis

Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs Harriman

Henry Harrison Harriman
It’s time to celebrate some glorious pioneers! Their story, Fort Montezuma 1879-1884: Crucible of Devotion, is complete. R.F. “Ron” McDonald wrote this final version of the forgotten stories of this group of intrepid pioneers, which included Harriman and Davis ancestors.

Some years ago, R.F., who hikes the red rock canyons and wades the muddy San Juan River in southeastern Utah, discovered the headstones of two children, John and Lizzie Harriman. He set out to learn their stories --a difficult task, since no descendants of the early pioneers still lived in the San Juan River country. During this journey of discovery, R.F. shot the stunning photographs of vestiges of roads, water wheels and other relics which are in this book, along with sharing the fascinating stories of settlers who fought the desert and the unpredictable river for six years.

I've been blessed to edit this history with R.F. over the past two years. He's wise, funny and extremely patient. Norm and I are grateful to call him our friend.

The book is posted online in the Family Search Accounts of the Fort Montezuma pioneers. Studying the book online works well for those who enjoy reading on devices or a computer. For example, for Henry Harrison Harrima, the book is at the link below:

R.F. has given me permission to publish a print version. To show his photographs best, printing must be done in high resolution on quality paper. Each printed book will cost around $27, with no profit to R.F. or me. I need pre-orders for at least 100 books to start the process, and checks must be sent to me by March 31, 2018. If you or your family members prefer a print version, please reply in the comments.

Here's an overview of the story: a few scouts and two families with children—James and Mary Davis and Henry and Elizabeth Harriman—responded to calls extended by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to colonize on Montezuma Creek in southeastern Utah. After an arduous journey, they built Fort Montezuma. They nearly starved that first winter.

Some “Hole in the Rock” pioneers joined them the next spring: families with surnames that included Shurtz, Holyoak, Hyde, Fielding, Haskell, Decker, Allan, Tracy, Moody, and Guymon. These settlers conquered the arid land and constructed large water wheels to carry river water to their crops. Unlike most white people at that time and place, they made warm friendships with the Navajos and Utes who lived nearby.

The pioneers determined to carry on even after Church leaders offered them an honorable release in 1883 because of crop failures, the vagaries of the San Juan, epidemics that brought death to the settlement, and livestock thefts. Then, in 1884, the river flooded far beyond its banks, tearing out their homes and farms. Left with nothing, the pioneers moved on, taking the tales of their valor with them.

About one hundred years later, in the late 1990s, R.F. found the graves. He put inquiries on message boards on the Internet, and months went by with no hits. In the meantime, my sister, Brenda Nelson Anderson—who was a great-niece of Lizzie and John Harriman, and a gifted historian—joined the Harriman Family Association in New England. Someone from the Harriman Association gave R.F. Brenda’s contact information, and he called her in October of 2000. In the final stages of terminal leukemia, she felt blessed to hear that someone had tended the graves of children we had heard about since childhood. Our cousin, Colleen Smith Bingham, and others shared family history so that R.F. could fill in the blanks about the pioneers’ brief stay in the San Juan area. Brenda died December 24, 2000. As time went by, R.F. discovered more Montezuma families and worked tirelessly to tell the stories of their courage.

Though these pioneers may have felt like failures when they left their mission— flooded out and busted—Fort Montezuma 1879-1884: Crucible of Devotion celebrates the depth of their devotion to God.

Please comment with your impressions of the book! And if desired, tell us the number of print books you’d like, and your email address.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Let's Hunt for Harriman History!

Henry Harrison Harriman

  Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs Harriman

        In 1879, Henry Harrison Harriman, age 30, and Sarah Elizabeth Hobbs Harriman, age 26, were called to help explore and settle the San Juan River country in southeast Utah, along with their children: Henry George, 6; Mary Clarissa, 5; John Alma, 3, and Elizabeth “Lizzie,” three months.  Sixteen male scouts, including Elizabeth’s brother George Hobbs, and another family—James and Mary Davis with their four children—joined them on the arduous journey. Their call was to establish themselves and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a wilderness of more than 9000 square miles frequented by outlaws, to make friends with the local Indians, and to prepare for the arrival of a much larger group of pioneers.

Now that you are started on their story, we are extending a call for family research help on Henry and Elizabeth:

It’s time search deeper for photos and stories of Henry and Elizabeth for the  fourth edition of Ron McDonald’s “Fort Montezuma,” scheduled to be printed in early 2016. We seek photos and provenance (the history of ownership) of any heirlooms still in existence—such as Henry’s rifle, which is owned by the Henry Nelson family, and Eliza Elizabeth Jones Harriman’s basket, which is owned by Ellen Nelson Frazier. It would be wonderful to photograph handiwork sewn by Elizabeth. We need help to reach out to their other descendants, who include the posterity of Henry George (married Gertrude Van Horn); Mary Clarissa, (married John Fausett); William Harrison (married Melissa Clifford); Cornelia (married Anthon Nelson) and Zuma Elizabeth (married Alva Frederick Murdock.) If you’d like to help in this effort, please comment and we will get you started.

Henry Harrison Harriman's rifle,  in possession of the Henry Nelson clan.  Please let us know the make and caliber, and any other details you can!

And now… the rest of the story! 

When they reached Montezuma Creek, they built a fort, but it was too late in the season to plant crops. The larger party of Saints called to the mission was scheduled to arrive with provisions shortly, but unfortunately, that band suffered the privations of the “Hole in the Rock” journey, which took six months instead of six weeks. The Harrimans were saved from starvation only through the providence of Heavenly Father, who guided Elizabeth’s brother George Hobbs in bringing them food.   When the other pioneers arrived at Bluff 15 miles west of Montezuma Creek, they were starving and exhausted, and most planted gardens and crops where they were. A few pushed on to Montezuma.

Harrimans built a cabin and raised crops on a farm a mile near the fort. They became good friends with the Indians, even to the point of allowing a Navajo family to take Lizzie for short visits to their camp.  A son, William Harrison, was born on 5 February 1881. But tragedy struck the family twice: Lizzie died in March of 1881, and John died of measles in 1882. The environment was harsh—they scorched in the summer and the San Juan River was unpredictable. Thieving outlaws hid in the canyons. There were Indian scares, with killings between the Ute and Navajo tribes and other white men—but the Mormon pioneers escaped because of the Lord’s mercies and their kindness to the natives.   In late 1883, Church authorities extended a release to those settlers who wished to move away; they voted to stay at least another year—and in 1884, spring run-off brought the biggest flood the San Juan had ever had, which tore out the pioneers’ water wheels, crops, and many homes. 

Lizzie and John Harriman's graves.  We do not know who placed the headstones, made of native sandstone. Kind people have covered the graves with rocks to protect them. 

          With their farm in ruins, the Harrimans bid goodbye to two little graves and turned their faces northward, never to return.  They eventually settled in Canyon Creek, Idaho, where Henry died in 1908 and Elizabeth in 1925. 

In the 1950s, Brenda Nelson, a great-granddaughter of Henry and Elizabeth, led her younger siblings on “pioneer treks” on the family dry farm near Canyon Creek. The girls wore sunbonnets and carried dolls, while their brother “scouted” from the hilltop with a stick for a gun. Brenda and her Nelson cousins had heard stories, made hazy by time, about golden-haired Lizzie and her brother who died, and other adventures of their forbears.  Brenda’s early fascination with family history became a lifelong passion. She married Sherrell “Shae” Anderson and they became parents of eleven children. They experienced the Teton Dam Flood, which displaced them from their home in Sugar City, and other trials.  A son, Owen, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and another son, Brett, drowned as a toddler. In 1995, Brenda and her family moved from Idaho to Ohio, leaving two little graves on a hillside. 

Around the late 1990s, Ron McDonald of Blanding, Utah, a piano tuner and voracious hiker, explorer and researcher, ran across the graves of Lizzie and John Harriman. He wondered where the family had gone—no Harrimans lived in San Juan County.  He put queries on the Internet seeking descendants of Harrimans, and months went by.

In Ohio, Brenda had connected with the New England Harriman family organization and other connections.  Someone online told Ron to contact Brenda, which he did. It was 2000 and Brenda was very ill with terminal leukemia. She was excited to hear of his interest in Harriman family history and gave him the names of cousins who helped him obtain Harriman history and photographs—Colleen Smith and Wilbur T. “Whitey” Nelson. With this information, Ron started a huge research project; more than a decade ago, he published the history of the Montezuma mission and all the families who settled there in “Fort Montezuma.”  He continues to obtain new information and plans to publish a fourth edition of the book in early 2016.

          A month ago, when we heard of the dedication of a monument in Bluff, Utah, we realized it was a chance to meet Ron and have him show us the Montezuma sites.  From Wayne Nelson’s family, Bruce Nelson, Jeanne and Alan Jeppesen and Norm and Debbie Holm made the trip. In Bluff, we met cousins from Lester Nelson’s family— Clara Ann and Doug Olsen and Joy and Bill Wingo, and Jeff and Michelle Nelson and family, and Lisa Nelson Horton and her family. 

          Fort Bluff is a historic site with restored cabins of the Hole in the Rock Pioneers. The monument features President John Taylor, who presided over the church when the San Juan missionaries were called.  It has a section in honor of Montezuma pioneers. (For more information, go to:

Plaque in the Hobbs Siblings Cabin, Fort Bluff

          Joy introduced us to Graig Taylor, a descendant of George Hobbs. George scouted for the exploration party and for the Hole in the Rock pioneers, which included his and Elizabeth’s sister, Ellen Hobbs Fielding. Graig gives big “Hobbs hugs” and is on the board of the Hole in the Rock Foundation (HIRF). Graig told us of the trials modern workers endured to build the cabins and the visitors center. He placed a little high chair and dolls in the “George Hobbs Siblings” cabin in honor of Elizabeth.

High chairs and dolls on left side were placed in honor of Elizabeth Harriman

          The dedication was in honor of the “second wave” of pioneers who settled in Bluff around 1915, when they left their homes in Mexico during the troubled time of Pancho Villa. LaMar Helquist, chairman of the HIRF, paid tribute to the Montezuma pioneers and was visibly moved when about 20 members each of the Davis and Harriman families indicated their presence. All who were there from the two families posed for photos together, and I obtained an email address for Carol Parrett of their group.

In the afternoon, the “Wayne” group and Clara, Joy and Bill met with Ron and quickly sensed his deep love of the Montezuma pioneers, of the Harrimans, and of Brenda, who started him on this journey. 

Tradition says LDS church leaders built the Montezuma Creek church near Harriman’s cabin site, and just across the highway and up a hill are the graves of Lizzie and John.  We climbed about 300 feet from the road up a hill covered with tumbleweeds, prickly weeds and dry rock.  It was incredible to see these graves, preserved for 132 years in an inhospitable landscape.  Lizzie and John were never forgotten; Henry or other early saints built a fence of cedar wood around the graves; unknown people in Montezuma Creek or Bluff placed sandstone headstones; in the 1970s, a Mr. Kemner led a Lions Club project to build a white metal fence around the graves. Kind people—including members of the Montezuma Creek Branch and missionaries from Fort Bluff—have covered both graves thickly with large river cobblestones, and kept them clear of weeds, a labor of love for which our family owes a great debt of gratitude.  When Ron found the graves, there were remnants of the cedar wood fence, which he had placed on the graves; someone had thrown the aged sticks off of the graves, but we found them and put them back. This tiny plot is sacred ground to us. 

Ron showed us where wagon wheels could possibly have left tracks and scarred a rock cliff side near the San Juan River– nowadays, it’s “thick enough to pour like cement,” Bruce said. However, Ron emphasizes that "We simply don't know the exact location of anything except the Harriman graves. We just know the approximate locations." 

We drove a mile up the road from the church, walked across another field of weeds to the bank of the muddy San Juan River to see a pile of rocks in the water. Ron has hefted them when the river is low and feels that they were part of a man-made structure.  Maybe it is the site of Fort Montezuma – they built the fort or parts of it with rock.  Most likely, it was the cribbing platform of William Hyde's water wheel, which would have been a little west of the actual fort.  In any case, these rocks are the correct size for a man to lift to make a structure. 

   Rocks in the San Juan River that are the right size to have been used in a man-made structure.        

          As we walked back to the car, we pondered why the Lord would have the Harrimans come to this desolate place and suffer so much, and then move away, feeling like failures, tired and worn out. Brenda immediately came to mind and I said, “It’s like anything in mortal life—we don’t know why.  Why would my sister Brenda, a mother of eleven children, die of cancer before she could meet her grandchildren? We don’t know, but God does, and one day it will all be made plain to us.  We know that the Harrimans were very strong people with great faith in God, and they passed that on to their posterity. And Brenda was determined to share their story.”  Ron walked thoughtfully for a moment and then said, “Maybe that’s why I just couldn’t give up.  Two or three times, I boxed up all of my work on the book and put it under the bed.  I told my wife I was ready to quit.  And then I couldn’t leave it alone.  I came back to it.” It was a sacred moment.

As we drove away, Ron showed us Recapture Canyon, where Harrimans turned their wagons north when they left to go to Huntington (where our grandmother, Alice Anna, was born). Back at his truck, Ron asked us to send him a photo of Brenda.  I feel Brenda influenced Ron to keep working on a book that only he could write, and he united facts from the Nelsons with his knowledge of the terrain and pioneers of San Juan County. He hopes for more information before he finishes the book’s final edition.

Elizabeth Harriman, seated, with a grandchild and daughter Alice Harriman Nelson. This photo was taken at Elizabeth's homestead home in Canyon Creek in about 1910.

          Henry and Elizabeth lived their testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ by doing everything that was asked of them. The purpose of their mission—to provide a civilizing influence over Southeast Utah and to make friends with the Indians—proved to be a success. At that time, there was much conflict between the Navajos, Utes and white men of the area—cowboys, outlaws, settlers, and cavalry.  Under Army orders, Kit Carson and his men had forced the Navajos to march to a reservation in 1863-64—many men, and even women and children, were killed; many died of privation.  In 1879, renegade Utes killed Nathan Meeker and his men (whose clumsy attempts to civilize them including telling them to kill many of their horses.) After the “Meeker Massacre,” hostile Indians came through Montezuma Creek but crossed the river a mile south of the fort. A report reached Salt Lake City that Indians had killed the Harrimans and Davises. Thales Haskell, sent to bury them, ascertained with much relief that they had been preserved.
The Harrimans and Davises were exceptions to the general hatred and vengeance.  They offered the Indians friendship, patience, and restraint, and received the same in return.  That kind of behavior isn’t extolled in most history books but it changes the hearts and lives of the posterity of all races.  Many Native Americans were present at the dedication ceremony, and some live near the Harriman graves, which are on reservation property.

We hope there are photos and artifacts that will shed more light on these valiant ancestors. Modern generations may not know all their stories but the examples of our forbears resonate deep within our bones.  Please respond to this call!  We need your help. 

Ron McDonald, Debbie Holm, Bruce Nelson, Jeanne Jeppesen

 Clara Olsen, Ron McDonald, Joy Wingo 

 Ron McDonald on a flat rock near the San Juan River. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Believe in Visions

Our five-year-old grandson asked, “What is the future?” His brown eyes reflected the wheels turning in his mind.

I replied, “Remember a week ago, when you hadn’t been to kindergarten yet and you didn’t know what it was like?”  He nodded.

“Well, being in kindergarten, knowing the other kids and knowing what you like to do during recess was all in your future.  Now you know all about kindergarten, and your first week of kindergarten is in your past. But you don’t know the fun things you will learn next week—that’s in your future.”

Then he asked, “Can we see into the future?”

That was a stumper.  I didn’t want to give him a flat “No”—now wheels were turning in my mind!

Thanks to insomnia, early that morning I’d been thinking about my life as a daydreamer. All through childhood and adolescence, my daydreams seemed almost more real than life. 

Some of them developed into life-dreams, goals that influenced my choices and my path. My dream of writing the kind of book I like to read helped me finish my college education during my 50s.  A mental picture of myself in cap and gown had guided me through every class, every test, every commute, every obstacle. 

That epiphany taught me that my daydreams are visions unique to me—glimpses of a possible future that keep me focused on goals.

And I believe in visions. 

I believe that prophets are special people who are given visions for groups of people. Joseph of Egypt, Daniel, and of course, Jesus Christ saw visions that guided and warned many people.

Solomon said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)  That is as true of individuals as nations. We need daydreams. They give us hope.

So I told my grandson, “There isn’t a television program or book that can show you your future.  But you know how much you love finding and collecting rocks?  If you want to study rocks, imagine yourself as a geologist.  Make a picture in your mind—that’s like seeing into the future.”

He screwed his eyes tightly closed and imagined with all his heart.

I can’t see his future, but he can.  It will be great.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thanks for the memories-and support new library

A video making the Facebook rounds shows a five-year-old girl sobbing because someone said that her six-month-old brother would grow up.  “I don’t want him to get big. (Sob!)  I’ll miss his cute smiles. (Sob!) And I don’t want to d-d-die when I’m a hundred years old!”

I can relate.  I never want a sweet baby to grow big enough to climb on counters or pick his nose.  And I’m getting way too close to one hundred years old.

Change is hard, but as this girl will learn, it’s inevitable, and essential to our growth.

This is my last IP-T column, though I’ll still blog at “Savoring Fruit from the Family Tree”  When I started, we agreed that I wouldn’t be paid. The columns have been my gift to the Canyon County community, which has been good to my family and me.

My daughter’s editor shared this quote: “Content is a means, not an end.” In other words, though we writers think our job is to express thoughts perfectly, the test is what readers do as a result of reading an article. Did our words make someone laugh, encourage them to do the right thing, or influence them to call a loved one? 

I started writing columns for the Idaho Press-Tribune shortly after my mother died.  Though I didn’t realize it, I wrote to share her example of compassion, humor, and putting people before things. Everybody loved Mama because of the warmth she radiated. She valued people and generously shared her time to listen; she focused on individuals; she forgave freely; she encouraged family reunions and other family events; she laughed often, and she understood the value of history and of sharing and writing family stories. I hoped my columns mirrored her personality. I appreciated it when readers called to tell me they’d enjoyed a column.

Mama had very little money, but she knew how to spend it—one column told how she bought encyclopedias for the hungry minds of our large family. Nampa’s new library is a similar example of a wise investment in those who will guide our future. I’ve toured it—wow!  It will be a wonderful community living room for families, children and senior citizens.

Library supporters are seeking funds for art and technology, items that cannot be purchased with tax dollars. It’s been slow going.  I feel like standing on top of that new building—right where this city started—and shouting, “Wake up, Nampa!  In the past 30 years, you built a gorgeous City Hall, Civic Center, Recreation Center and the Ford Idaho Center that bear the names of local businesses and families. Recently, without finger pointing or recrimination, you rescued the Nampa School District from a $5 million deficit. It’s time to support this library. It’s built with urban renewal funds; some of us don’t like that. Remember, this is Nampa—where we forgive, get over it and pull together. Jump on the bandwagon!”

This month, Norm and I will put our family’s name in the building, and we challenge others to do the same—by sponsoring a piece of art or technology, or by “Making it Yours” with a family or business name on a book spine—permanent legacies that tell the world we love living in Nampa.

Thanks for the memories!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Find treasure by pursuing summer's Bucket List

“Want to see where I slept when I was your age?”
My granddaughter nods so hard that her blonde curls bounce up and down, and we labor up the wooden stairs of the old farmhouse. They’re still steep, 50 years later—Dad didn’t build the house to modern codes. 

“The walls are pretty!” she says, touching the peeling wallpaper—pink apple blossoms on a blue background.  I agree.

“Every morning I looked out this window.”

She looks past the shabby room and her blue eyes pop wide open at the view—quaking aspen laughing at the teasing clouds. 

Because we were poor growing up, my siblings and I are now rich.  Dad and Mom couldn’t hang on to their dry farm ground, but taxes were cheap on the house and a few acres of sage and aspen around it, so they kept it.

It’s a scruffy old farmhouse, and every summer we have to chase out the mice and order the porta-potties, but it’s our dry, dusty, playground; our treasure, our legacy for the next generation. 

Years ago we roamed the hills, pretending to be everything from Mormon pioneers to assassins.  Adolf Hitler and Nikita Khrushchev were our usual targets—World War II, the Cold War and President Kennedy’s death affected our psyches.  (If you played the part of Khrushchev, you took your shoe off and banged it on something!)

This summer’s flashflood in Rexburg, Idaho (20 miles from our farmhouse) reminds me of a flashflood we had when I was about five.  Within an hour, a raging torrent ripped through the bottom of our dry canyon, tearing out our road—I nearly drowned trying to swim in a river that appeared out of nowhere.

Pictures of us show the grubbiest, happiest children who ever walked the earth.

Going back to the farm reminds me of pleasures I haven’t enjoyed for a long time.  Here’s my “2014 Summer Bucket List”—
--Throw rocks into water.
--Throw sticks into water.
--Pile rocks up. 
--Pick peas.
--Eat peas.
--Peel the bark from a green willow stick and marvel at the slick, shiny, pungent interior.
--Peel the bark from a dead stick and feel the smooth interior.
--Pick huckleberries.
--Eat huckleberries.
--Pick flowers.
--Make dolls with flowers—a hollyhock for a skirt, a bluebell for a trunk and head.
--Lie on a blanket on an August night, watching for falling stars.

Once, while visiting the incomparable Beverly Castagneto, I asked where her husband Bill was.  She said, “He’s in the backyard, trimming bushes and pruning trees.  He’s busy all summer long, keeping our yard looking nice.  Nobody works harder than Bill.”

I’m sure that was true, but as we talked, I looked out a window over her shoulder and spotted Bill in the backyard—lying on his back with his arms behind his head, contemplating the clouds.

Whether his eyes were shut or open, Bill also had his Bucket List and his treasure.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Healing: a family affair

Family relationships are messy. Our families are the source of our greatest joys, our best laughs, our most tender moments—and our deepest pain.

Many of us are “the walking wounded,” with deep hurts that started in a family setting.

Unattended, these injuries fester and canker. They never heal on their own. 

A day comes when we have to decide—do we want to free our minds and hearts from guilt and loss, and our bodies from stress-caused hormones that trigger poor health?  Will we ever release loved ones from our desire to get even—not because they do or don’t deserve to be punished, but because we choose love over resentment?

Dag Hammarskjold said, "Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again."

It’s a long path, sometimes requiring help from clergy or psychologists. But these injuries are best healed where they started—in the family.

Writing is a useful tool.  First, we look at feelings and memories, jotting down resentments and grudges. How old are these feelings—do we bring up past events in arguments?  Does a loved one have a pattern of behavior that continues to offend us?  Are we willing to push ourselves to forgive?

Second—this takes courage—we reflect on situations where we may have hurt someone.  We ask, “Have I taken responsibility? Did I apologize? Have I tried to change my recurrent patterns that offend?” 

Family expert Howard Markman says, “You stand in the way of reconciliation if you never take responsibility for your part of the problem.”

Next comes the hard part—reaching out to the family member.  It requires a phone call or personal visit to break the ice and set a good time to talk. 

Then, we listen, listen listen. Noted storyteller Kim Weitkamp says a vital key to forgiveness is to hear the story of the one who wronged us, to understand where that person is coming from.

We then tell our story, and the stage is set to discuss the identified problem and its pain. Hopefully, eventually, these magic words will be spoken: “I’m sorry—I was wrong. Please forgive me.” If one person isn’t ready to say those words, great peace can still come to the one who made the effort to reach out—that is the nature of forgiveness.

The book of Genesis tells the story of ten brothers who carried a burden of remorse for selling their brother into slavery many years before.  When a gruff Egyptian ruler, who held their future in his hands, declared that he was their brother, they were speechless.

Then Joseph “kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them, and after that his brethren talked with him.” Perhaps they spoke of long-ago jealousy over their father’s favoritism; surely, they asked his forgiveness, and Joseph no doubt spoke of his loneliness and his determination to forgive if he ever saw his family again.

Years of distance, estrangement, guilt and anger flowed away with their tears and they were family once again.