In my cemetery sojourns across Iowa last August, my uncle and I left at least one ancestral gravestone better than we found it. With years of natural debris having accumulated and hardened on the shared 1890s grave marker of Joseph and Elizabeth, I could still make out some writing on two sides of the obelisk-shaped stone. We could discover what it said, I insisted, if we gently nudged the debris away. Obliging me, my uncle took out some coins and we began.
On one side, after some scraping and squinting, we uncovered these words: “His toils are past. His work is done. He fought the fight — the victory won.” It turned out the engraved letters had been obscured by smoothing over the years, so on the other side, as the debris gave way to the stone underneath, it helped to be familiar with the words as they emerged: “IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE ARE MANY MANSIONS.”
I felt joy seeing this as I thought about this couple’s final resting place in this small town in Central Iowa. I had already speculated on the details of the migration story that brought them here … a family my paternal grandmother described as having been in America for “a very long time.” While proof-worthy documentation may never be available, it appears by most accounts that Joseph descended from a band of English Puritans, with his first American ancestor arriving on the coast of Rhode Island in the 1600s. Joseph’s line of descendants, at least, tells a story of westward migration. As a professed believer in the communion of saints, I think of those who preceded Joseph and Elizabeth on the westward journey, wherever it started, and I enjoy the idea that they are all together now, beyond time. One day I expect to learn more about that journey at a great reunion … in our Father’s house …
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” — John 14: 1-2 (KJV)