I am reflecting on the life of my ancestors today, on my great-aunt’s 83rd birthday. Sadly, it is also the day her sister, my Abuelita (grandmother), passed away 11 years ago. It is a bittersweet day: we thank God for every year we get to have with my Tia, yet we remember that my Abuelita is already gone. She went into a coma August 21st, 2012, while I was teaching English in Taiwan for the summer. I never got to say goodbye, and returned just in time to see her last days. Still, I am grateful for the time we did have with her, especially the last 7 years of her life, during which she lived in my family’s house.
I could tell of the epic journey of two young ladies–my Abuelita and my Tia–from way down south in Mexico to Los Angeles, seeking a better life for themselves and the families they were to raise. I could tell of their struggles to raise these families–7 kids altogether, including my mom–both of them as single mothers. And I could tell of the heartaches and illnesses they endured throughout the years, and how they survived. But today, I mostly reflect on the unshakable faith in God they passed on to their children, and which many of them carry on for themselves.
Strangely enough, I have been confronted recently with the memory of someone from my past, someone I used to regard as a spiritual father to me. Yet, it was really abuse and manipulation, not an accurate depiction of the God I now know, to which I was exposed. This person, and the environment he created by his own overbearing and dynamic nature, had more power to destroy my relationship with God rather than build it up. Somehow, by the grace of the God I believe in, I made it out alive and spiritually intact. Barely, but still intact.
The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that it was women like my Abuelita my Tia who had more of a positive and meaningful impact on my faith than any brainwashing tyrant ever did. And it wasn’t by their theological prowess, their dynamic preaching, or their penetrating psychoanalysis. It is their simple faith, lived out through hard work, commitment to the family God had given them, and their belief in a God who had seen them through some of life’s worst horrors. I remember in the last years of my Abuelita’s life, when she lived with my family and me, we would always hear her whispering prayers as she fell asleep. Every night, without fail, in complete sincerity.
This is the faith that was passed on to my mom, and which was passed on to me. I am proud of this faith. I own this faith. I will defend this faith, for it and the God in which it is founded have stood the test of time and argument. And if this faith was good enough for the courageous women without whom I would not be here, it is sure good enough for me.
This is the faith I want to pass on to my own children, and the young people to whom I am responsible as youth pastor. They don’t need fancy theology, or a youth ministry that resembles a circus. They need to see a man whose faith simply stands and speaks for itself.
The church of tomorrow needs examples of faith today, just as I needed those examples in my young years. I am so proud to call these women–my Abuelita and my Tia–the ancestors of my faith.