We’ve worshipped together for 15-plus years now. The Mark Holder family has been dear to the Colley family for all of those years. Mark is the deacon in our congregation who keeps our tract ministry going. I love his wife Susan and they have three faithful Christian children now (all of which were very small children when we first moved to work with the West Huntsville church). Mark has a voice that’s James Taylor-esque and it’s every bit as smooth and rich. He and his sweet daughter, Emma, performed together at our West Huntsville holiday party again this year. It’s a highlight for us every time I get to hear them.
I’d often go to the mailbox when little Katie Holder (she’s in the middle of the photo), Mark and Susan’s oldest, was growing up and find letters written in pencil to our daughter, Hannah, who was about seven years older than Katie…sweet notes forging a friendship that was encouraging to Hannah, giving her a bit of a mentor responsibility to Katie (who is now in grad school, by the way). Katie attended the guest table at Hannah’s wedding. Emma Holder, the youngest daughter of Mark and Susan, is now a college student and, just this week, met me at the church building to give a sewing lesson to a couple of girls in the youth group, so they could complete their Lads to Leaders Keepers projects. Emma is beautiful, talented, and, best of all, faithful to our Lord. Ethan Holder, the youngest of their three children, is active in a busy youth group, loves baseball, and has a dry sense of humor. We love the Holders.
So you can understand, since my maiden name is Holder, how that, fifteen years ago, when we moved to West Huntsville, I quickly tried to determine if there was a relationship between my family and Mark’s. Sadly, our ancestors seemed to be from different areas of the country, and Mark had no knowledge of any links to connect our families. Still though, the Holders, were among our biggest spiritual encouragers. Watching the girls grow from smocked bishop dresses to formals at the senior banquets, watching them graduate from kindergarten and then, seemingly the next week, from high school and, one of them, even from college, has been a surreal witnessing of the quick and sweet evaporation of childhood.
And then, one Wednesday night, this year, Mark came up to me and said “Now, have you ever heard of Green Berry Holder?”
Well, “Green Berry” is not just a name you’d find multiple times in a genealogy search. It’s not like Mike, Jeff, or James on a document or a tombstone, of course. He had my attention as I replied, “Yes. Green Berry Holder is my great-great grandfather, and there can’t be but one Green Berry Holder…”
“And he is MY great-great grandfather, too,” Mark said.
And so we are cousins. Our common ancestor is only four generations back. Green Berry Holder was married to Mary Rhodes and they were the parents of twelve children, one of which was Jabus, my great-grandfather, and one of which was Josiah, Mark’s great-grandfather. Records indicate that Josiah was the firstborn and just a year or so older than Jabus. The brothers and the rest of the family had some hard times while their father, Green Berry, served in the Alabama Infantry during the Civil War. It was after he fought in several battles that he was wounded near Atlanta in the Battle of Peach Tree Creek and returned home.
It was wonderful fun for me to find out that Mark’s great-grandfather grew up with mine during those days prior to and during the war between the states. It’s fun to think about how many colloquialisms we might share in our speech or what similar genetic traits might still influence our kids due to our common ancestors, Green Berry and Mary. It’s fun to talk about the stories of individuals on the family tree and to think about how my grandfather, who often held me on his knee when I was a very young child, had likely known Mark’s grandfather and maybe had mourned his recent passing, even though Mark’s grandfather was living in Tennessee at the time of his passing.
Most of all, I’m extremely blessed to think about how it is that each Sunday, Mark and I sit in the same room and sing praises to our Father, even though our branches of the family tree came about knowing His truth in very different ways. My grandfather, John Franklin Holder, learned the truth and became a faithful man of God. I am not sure when or where he learned the gospel, but I know he was a member of the Lord’s church by the time the family lived in the sweet old Peaceburg community in the early part of the last century. One of my siblings has the original bell that rang when it was time for the services in that little building. Mark, on the other hand, is a first-generation member of the church of Christ. He first attended with a classmate in college and searched on his own, finding the way to lead his family to heaven.
As much fun as it has been to discover an earthly kinship, the truth about family is not lost on me. What I love most about the Mark Holder family did not deepen or change or evolve when I learned that we descended from the same great-great grandfather. It’s the heavenly Father who gives us the characteristics that make us close. It’s not the facts that you find on ancestry.com that provide your truest kinship. It’s the spiritual ancestry…the fact that we are spiritual children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7). That kinship makes us most similar in priorities, goals and matters of the heart. It’s not what you find on a tombstone somewhere; it’s the connection to our final and real resting place around the throne. It’s not what you find of good or bad (and we have found both) in the lives of the people on the tree. It’s the good (the complete and perfect good) we both have found in that man on Calvary’s tree that gives us the precious family that means the most in this life.
I’m eternally grateful for the man on my family tree who first contacted the blood of Jesus. I’m thankful for the one who first invited Mark Holder to study the scriptures. Most of all, I am thankful for the family tree…the one at Calvary…that makes us blood kin in the primary and eternal sense of the word “family.”
As I studied Green Berry Holder, I found that the words below are inscribed on his old tombstone in Jacksonville, Alabama:
I have fought a good fight
I have finished my course
I have kept the faith
I hope to go and see that stone in the very near future. May Mark and I be able to confidently say these same words on another glad day that’s also inevitably in the very near future!