Show-and-tell Fridays were days my brothers and I lived for as we progressed through grade school. We simply brought our dad. Well known among our peers as the man who brought unusual artifacts and interesting stories of Native American folklore to life, he also brought the pride of his ancestry. He easily looked the part with his tan skin and black hair. Both, he would tell classrooms full of wide-eyed children, were gifts from his two great-grandmothers—one Muscogee, the other Cherokee. He was more proud of his genealogy than anyone I had ever known, and I always proudly sat beside him as he shared.
As children, we enjoyed walking fields in Central Alabama with him, scouring each freshly plowed row for bits of flint in the hope of discovering arrowheads. Once inhabited by either Choctaw or Chickasaw tribes, the land was and still is a treasure trove of artifacts. There were five of us, and we covered a lot of ground together. Over the years we found hundreds of arrowheads, tools, and beads fashioned from rocks found in the nearby creek. Our father modeled respect for those who once inhabited the land, and we were honored to hold and protect each piece we discovered.
He shared history of indigenous peoples with us as we searched, and he claimed our ‘hunter-gatherer’ skills had been passed down from our storied Cherokee ancestors. As a child, I could easily visualize his words and often wondered what it would have been like to live in a culture where people depended on the land, wildlife, and their own skills to sustain life. I wondered what stories lay underneath our feet. What were their families like? How long were they here and when did they leave? I imagined a little girl among the tents and furs, working beside her mother or playing chase with other children.
As an adult, I still find myself hunting for treasure and asking questions. Two short years ago, I embarked on a life-changing expedition. Finding myself struggling for breath, I entered into a season of personal discovery and sought professional counsel for the first time ever. As I shared generalities about my life, we worked our way into my family of origin. What I believed to be the ideal childhood, I found, went far beyond sunlit surface memories of beach vacations and holidays spent with distant relatives. Growing up in a large family had invited excitement and adventure, which easily came to mind, but much more was there, remaining as subterranean as those hidden arrowheads I overlooked as a child. Discoveries awaited—unseen, concealed, buried.
With bare hands, I began digging deeper than I had ever gone. Excavating each layer, I found myself resistant to probing further into the next. I was hesitant, and as I mined my past in exploration, I desperately attempted to avoid what had been covered there. Even so, I continued with determination. I was hunting for what was embedded beyond what I could imagine, and my curiosity propelled me onward in search of the subtle as well as the overt.
Sifting through one story at a time, I began gaining a clearer understanding and new perspective of events that shaped my life.
As each glimpse of truth was pulled into light, I gently brushed its surface and soon realized I was not “digging dirt” as I had feared; instead, I was finding hidden treasure! Truth by truth, my secreted past began losing its grip on me, bringing me closer to the answers I was seeking. The artifacts I thought were left behind in my buried past, I had actually carried with me all along. They only needed to be reclaimed and named.
I now survey my own excavation site with the same respect I hold for those who came before me. I see places of devastation and destruction as well as harm and heartache. But, more than that, there is exposure of truth and treasure. While the revealed foundation of my life is now visible, I continue to dig. I am looking for another little girl who worked beside her mother and played chase with other children. A little girl who found ways to hide what she could not carry alone and bury what she could not bear. And, once I find her, I will have found the real treasure. I will find myself there.
Wendy Lipham lives on the Alabama Gulf Coast where she has taught interview and communication skills for over twenty years. Having heard God’s call to work with young women who have experienced sexual violence and abuse, she is further inspired by the growth of her “Beautifully Broken” story group. She enjoys writing, drawing, and needlepoint. Most of all, she loves living life beside her husband and hearing the laughter of their seven grandchildren.