Old tattered photos and pieces of long-ago letters collect in my laundry room office. Rescued from dust-covered boxes found in closets and drawers, these sepia photos and letters now fill a large three-ring binder I covered with a pretty fabric. Together they are all that remains of people’s lives I never knew.
On a yellowed scrap of paper is a tantalizing tidbit about Edward William Peterson, my great grandfather. At age 18 he left home to serve in the Swedish army for several years. After he finished military duty, Edward worked in the palace in Stockholm taking care of the queen’s horses!
Every time I see that piece of paper, recorded factually by his daughter Judith, I wish I knew more. He loved horses and working there, she wrote. Dozens of questions ping around my brain.
-My great grandfather worked in the palace?
-Who was the queen?
-What did he experience in the palace?
-What did the palace look like?
-Did he know the royal family?
I never had the opportunity to learn more because, even though he lived to be 99, I was a child during his last decade of life and he was just an old man to me. It never occurred to me to want to know him. Now I see that as a great loss.
What if I’d had someone helping me ask him a question or two? Like when my daughter Laura had to do a history report in tenth grade and I encouraged her to interview her grandpa, my dad, about stories he remembered from his service in the army in World War II. When Laura asked him those questions one Thanksgiving, all of us, including my mom, heard stories we’d never heard before. It was a shared sacred moment.
My dad’s stories that day reminded me that the narrative of our circumstances is crucial to the story God is writing in each of our lives. What a personal loss that most of us know so little of His work, even in our own family! Knowing how to ask a good question, and even knowing what question to ask, is what keeps those stories hidden from view.
But having a guided script can literally Untie Your Story, which is the name of one of our best-sellers. These questions can open up conversation, unlock forgotten events, and create safety for sharing paragraphs of what God has written in the lives of those you love.
Untie Your Story is a spool of ribbon ties designed for mealtime conversations with your family or friends. These questions are great for any gathering any time of year. They’d be perfect for your Thanksgiving table, too, as you bridge the gap of generations and calendar dates in between visits with those dear to you. These 12 questions printed on fabric ties will help you get to know the most important people in your life.
On another scrap of paper, this one written by my father, is an answer to a few questions I asked about Edward as I was creating notebook. My dad wrote me some of his memories about his grandfather.
Grandpa Peterson came to America, landing in Massachusetts and worked in a steel mill. From there, he went to Chicago and worked in the tailoring business. He didn’t like the hard work in the steel mill. Don’t know much else but I remember when we went to see him he always said, thank you, thank you, thank you, and Praise the Lord, clapping his hands together.
What a treasure to know he must have known the Lord!
Even this short summary of the man in the old photograph who worked in a palace, rode a ship to America, found his way west to Chicago, fathered eight children—one who became my grandfather—is a gift. How much more is forever lost because I didn’t know to ask questions when I had the opportunity to gather answers.
Don’t let mealtimes be meaningless! Choose an evening when everyone will be home. Tie your dinner napkins with the Untie Your Story ribbons. As you enjoy the meal together, awaken memories by answering these 12 questions by going around the table one by one.
You’ll be surprised at what you learn!
We’d love to see photos and hear stories of your family and friends sharing the tales God is writing in your lives! Drop a picture in the comments below and let us know your favorite memory of your time together.