A few days before I left for college, I drove across town to my grandmother’s house, as I regularly did on Saturday mornings.
I found her sitting at her kitchen table covered with its vinyl tablecloth and newspapers, as she always seemed to be. In all of my memories, my grandmother carried herself with a sense of confidence. Even when her body was failing because of Parkinson’s Disease, as it was this day, she was self-assured in the words she carefully chose. We talked together about all that was ahead for me. She held my hand, looked me in the eye and said, “Remember, you are a Walker.”
It is worth noting that my name has never been Walker. Walker was her maiden name, and she spoke of her family often.
A legacy to uphold
My grandmother was particularly proud of her father and my great-grandfather, Judge Edward Glenn Walker. Born in 1886, our family has always referred to him as “The Judge,” as I believe he was called by many who knew him.
In a resolution adopted upon his death in 1941, his friends and colleagues wrote about his life, service and personality. Among other things, it states:
“As County Judge, he was the Juvenile Judge of Wilson County, [Tenn.] a work for which, by temperament, he was peculiarly adapted. It is doubtful if any Juvenile Judge of the State ever exercised a sounder discretion in the handling·of helpless and dependent children that did Judge Walker. This he did by the exercise of his profound knowledge of human nature, his accurate sense of justice, tempered by his natural love for children and interest in their Welfare.
Verily, ‘Those friends he had, he grappled to himself with hoops of steel.’ This he did by being loyal, aided by the sheer force of his unusual personality. At no time was Judge Walker a negative character, or, a negative personality. You might agree with him, or, you might disagree with him; you might support him, or, you might oppose him; you might like him, or, you might dislike him, but he compelled admiration.”
I grew up in the same town where he served and the same town where my grandmother lived. The knowledge of The Judge—his life of service, his noble character, and his care for the others —has always been a part of my life.
That day in her kitchen may have been the last time we sat together alone. I know that I saw her a few more times, including in the hospital. She would pass away a few months after our visit. The importance of her words that day have only grown as the years have passed without her.
I believe my grandmother was seeking to solidify my identity before I fully stepped out into the world as an adult. She wanted me to know that there was a legacy that traveled with me wherever I went. That I was known. That I should treat others with respect and expect it in return. That I should carry myself with a sense of value, no matter the place or the people around me. I have spent the majority of the last 17 years in a place other than my hometown, and her words have never left me. They brought me confidence and comfort in times of difficulty or change.
A more important identity
Over the years, the lessons from my grandmother have become the jumping-off point for another, more powerful, anchor in my soul. My strongest comfort has been found in knowing that my identity is irrevocably rooted in the family of God. And no matter the details of your family of origin, or if you even know them at all, all who are in Christ have an identity far greater than the one found in my family tree.
Our culture is constantly asking us questions of identity: What do you do? Where are you from? What are your dreams? Education? Political party? The fear of insignificance or isolation will lead many to plant their flag at the top of their achievements, followers, or tribe, with a banner waving, “This is me!” Yet all who are in Christ have been freed from the toil of seeking to prove our own significance. (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 5:1) Finding our identity in Christ allows us to walk through life with both a confidence that frees us from needing to please others and a humility that frees us to serve others.
Christ demonstrated this as he found his identity in the words the Father spoke over him: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Because of this identity as beloved Son, he had nothing to prove and everything to give in humble service. And this is the life we are empowered to live as the Spirit bears witness that we are “children of God . . . heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17). This frees us to turn our attention away from our own pursuits and toward those who are in need, who cannot repay or even offer thanks.
I am thankful to be a Walker and all that my heritage has meant, but even more so, I am thankful to be a heir of God. And that is what we are (1 John 3:1)! As I carry the name of Christ, I want to be a demonstration of his love and my family to be an embassy of his kingdom. We will lift up our banner in the name of our God (Psa. 20:5) proudly and invite all to join us—today and into eternity.