To describe that I’ve been raised in a “Christian upbringing” probably goes without “saying.” My family attended church each week, my brother and I attended a Lutheran preschool, grade school, high school (and college, for that matter). However, given all of these “Christian actions” or choices made (initially) by my parents, there was one constant that stood out as “special.”
My Grandpa Patzke.
Grandpa Patzke was one of four siblings who grew up in Racine in the early 1900s. Like so many from that era, his parents/relatives were recent immigrants from Germany. They were poor. They were hard working farmers. They were strong Lutherans.
Each Sunday of my childhood and early adulthood was spent going to Grandpa’s house for dinners. After dinner? Off to Linda’s for dessert prepared meticulously by my grandpa’s sister, Aunt Carol who lived with Linda. A prayer before each meal, was regularly followed by Matt and I enjoying the banter between my dad and his father pertaining to who would get to pay for the pizza this week, or how something should be gone about differently. The “German” always shone through with bright colors.
But so did the Lutheran.
My grandpa and his siblings were raised to speak of their faith without caution. (**Sidenote: This is really remarkable to me given the many hardships my grandpa and, in particular, his sister Carol endured. Amongst life’s general “hardships,” my grandpa lost his wife shortly after my father was born, and Carol lost her husband quite early in life as well. While I was obviously not around at the time of these life challenges, from the time I was cognizant enough to “know” each of them, their faith in God remained very obviously unwavering. The point I’m trying to make, here, is that their faiths had clearly been tested. It wasn’t “easy faith.” But a “faith” that had endured and grown through trails and tribulations.)
I don’t know quite why, but growing up it wasn’t easy for me to be forth coming with my faith. Sure, in theology class, it was easy to answer questions, or even at Sunday school, but out loud in public, or even amongst my peers it just felt very unnatural. It felt a little awkward. Maybe it was awkward because I was still growing up, but I feel strongly that these “unnatural” and “awkward” feelings were culturally impacted. Culture around me said, “You just don’t talk about your faith out loud whenever or wherever you want.“ Culturally, people don’t do that. But when we were with Grandpa, his faith always shone through. At his house, sure. But even in his truck when he’d pick me up from school. Or at McDonald’s on a day he was watching my brother and me. His faith was never “preachy.” In fact I cannot recall an example right now to save my soul. But it was present enough for everyone around him to know he was a man of faith, and he was unashamed and proud of that fact.
I can recall specific examples near the end of his life. He’d say things like, “I just don’t know why the Lord won’t take me now,” or, “I’m praying each night for this to be my last night and it seems like the Lord just isn’t listening.” And he wasn’t the only one to say that. His 99-year-old sister, (Sidenote: all the Patzke siblings lived to be around this old. His mother: 106. Grandpa, 98. Older Brother: 101) who was my dear “Aunt Carol” died this morning. I was told some of her more recent comments included similar pleas made in faith to her Lord.
I’m focusing on “end of life” faith-talk here (because it’s fresh in my mind), but the point I’m trying to make is that the faith of these Patzke siblings was exactly this: Faith they lived. Faith they spoke. Unwavering, confident, and without fear for “political correctness,” or what others around them might think.
It hurt when my grandpa died over two years ago, just as it hurts now to know that Carol has also left her Earthly family behind to join that happy reunion in Heaven. While I’m sad for the physical loss of these family members, I’m further saddened by the fact that this Earth has lost another strong person of faith. Carol, like my grandpa, was unafraid to speak her mind. (Whether that be her faith, or the “secrets” to her phenomenal baking skills). I count myself as blessed beyond measure to have personally experienced such outspoken, confident, faith; while equally feeling sorrow for the growing baby boy inside me who will never get to meet such strong and confident Christians.
And here then, is the challenge that we are now facing. Especially in today’s fast-paced world of social media, social pressures, and “politically correct” means of communicating. It is up to us, the generations still on this Earth, to be strong in our convictions, like those before us were. I’m proud to know my grandpa and his sister, Carol, shared their strong faith with their children, grandchildren, and even great-grand children. There continue to be strong role models of faith for my future son, and his cousin, Theo, who proceeded him earlier this week.
While I know, a Christian faith is not a requirement for one to live a long, happy, and prosperous life on this Earth, I simply don’t know where I’d be today without my own faith, and the faiths of those around me. Miscarriage broke me. Broke. Me. But my faith was the glue that kept all my pieces from spreading out into nothingness. I can say with conviction that my own faith would not be as strong as it is today without the strong Christian role models that began in my grandpa and his sister (and continued down the lines to my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins).
My prayer tonight is twofold. First, of thankfulness for the long, happy, and faithful lives of the Patzke siblings, in particular tonight for Aunt Carol. Second, for a faith as confident and strong as those that have gone before us. Those proceeding me had such a faith, and impacted mine. It is my prayer to be the same for my growing son, his cousin Theo, and all those yet to come.