I have a scar under my chin. I was young, maybe kindergarten or first grade, visiting my cousins in New Holland, Pennsylvania — land of Amish farms, horse and buggies and my one-week childhood crush, Serge Lehman. I was trying to impress him by gracefully (some may even say heroically) swinging across the monkey bars. I made it three rings, turned around, lost my grip and landed my chin square on the rusty-bar steps. Four stitches and thirty some odd years later, I still run my index finger over the scar’s subtle indentation and remember the story of how it came to be.
I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about the importance of remembering, thanks mostly to my friend Adele. In her book Invitations from God, she writes about invitations that don’t necessarily fall in line with the cultural norm — which school to go to, which job to accept, which party to attend, which soccer camp to sign up for — but invitations that often don’t make our to-do list. Ones that are easy to miss, but ones that will cultivate our souls when we choose to accept them. Invitations to forgive, to weep, to grieve, to rest, to wait . . and to remember.
Remembering, I’m realizing, is a soul-filling exercise.
Think about it for a minute. When’s the last time you’ve taken a moment to remember the parts of your life — big and small, good and bad, lousy and downright ugly — who have made you who you are?
Earlier this summer, my family piled into our minivan and made the eight-hour trek back to Pittsburgh, a place I still call home. I slept in the same room I grew up in. I remembered the pale pink that used to cover the walls, the shade my mom let me pick out (and put on the walls herself) even though in hindsight I think she probably hated it. I remembered where the bed used to be and how the cold winter air seeped through the window above it and how my sister and I would pile layers of sleeping bags on top of us just to stay warm. I looked out that same window (now new and insulated) at the yard below and remembered how one summer, for weeks, my brother and I entertained ourselves by flipping off a mini-trampoline onto two old mattresses stacked on top of one another. My kids were now playing a kickball game in the same yard with their cousins — laughing, fighting, quitting, restarting– and I wondered how generations of kids and cousins and grandchildren would remember that same yard. I wondered how many scars the grass and dirt and sticks had yet to hold.
I admit it. Even the good kind of remembering doesn’t come without a certain ache, an awareness of the fleetingness of time, the finickiness of change, the sense of loss for space that will never be recovered. And with the scars, well, sometimes it’s difficult to remember how they got there without still feeling the sting, regardless of how many days or years have raced, or torturously slugged, by.
So why bother? Why not just keep rushing forward through the chaos of life and skip the infusion of joy and pain that comes with remembering?
“Having memories is a bit like having bones,” Adele writes. “Bones determine the structure of our body; memories determine the structure of our souls. Memories shape who we trust and who we don’t. Memories govern our choices, give us our bearings and form our future. Without memories, we forget who we are.”
Hmmm. . . think about that for a minute.
She goes on to say that in the Bible, God calls his people to remember nearly 450 times.
- “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years. ” (Deut. 8:2)
- “Remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharoah and to all Egypt.” (Deut. 7:18)
- “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you.” (Deut. 15:15)
I find it curious that God mostly calls his people to remember the scars. (I don’t know about you, but living in bondage for 400 years isn’t exactly the kind of thing I’d mark on my calendar and throw an anniversary party for, but that’s exactly what God told them to do.)
The part that’s been running through my head this summer, though, is why he tells them to remember. Not as part of some cruel, pain-inflicted ceremony, but because he wants them to remember how he led them through it, provided for them, rescued them and — my personal favorite — how he redeemed them. He says to remember their scars as a reminder that they’ve been healed. Remember their slavery as a reminder that they’ve been set free.
I saw it clearly in a simple summer moment.
It was time for us to leave my parent’s house. We were standing on the brick walk between the house and the driveway saying our goodbyes. For the first time in nine years, my husband and I were leaving alone. The kids were going to enjoy some quality time with Nanna and Pa.
I yelled a final goodbye to my son who was hitting golf balls in the yard; he hardly looked up. But when I looked over my shoulder to see my husband hugging my daughter, I was surprised to see that she uncharacteristically wasn’t letting go. When I saw her lip quiver, my heart stopped. I gently rubbed her back and she quickly grabbed my waist, the side of her face pressed against my chest. My throat closed; I froze. I held her, strong, then I grabbed her face in my hands and kissed her forehead. I smiled into her eyes, told her how much fun she’d have, how much we loved her. She bravely exhaled, nodded and stepped onto the porch with my mom and dad, wiping tears as we pulled out of the driveway.
As a parent, it was a gut-wrenching moment that left me in tears of my own, but one I’m convinced she’ll remember forever. Bones determining structure, memory shaping soul.
What I hope she remembers most is not the ache, but the comfort of my dad’s arms wrapped around her, the words her grandparents said that encouraged her heart, made her feel safe. I hope she remembers how it feels to miss someone she loves, to grasp for something she can’t quite hold, to depend on others to pick her up, to pray for courage when she feels afraid. I hope that through her tears she remembers what it was like to get through a moment that in her nine-year-old mind might have been deemed impossible.
It’s this kind of remembering that I think God invites us to. Remembering the moments that shape us and make us who we are. The failures and successes, the disappointments and the triumphs, the pain and the healing, the people who surrounded us in both and how we’re different because of all of it.
Not just for the sake of remembering the good or simply getting past the hurt, but so that we’re certain of God’s ceaseless presence, his persistent faithfulness and his consummate love.