Photographs and memories.
It is an old song…but it is also a present reality.
I went to one of my childhood homes, my dad’s, for the last time several weeks ago…for the last time; cleaning out, gathering bits and snatches of things that evoked emotions of laughter and tears – papers, books, objects, pictures.
Photographs and memories.
This past weekend, I went to my mom’s home and did the same…for the last time; pulling out, sifting through, gasping at “treasures” long forgotten but which evoked many reminiscences. As I packed up and began to leave, I kept going back for “one last” look or item that meant something to me if to no one else.
Photographs and memories.
They take me back.
I am somewhat of the family “historian,” the keeper of the memories – the one who didn’t want to leave anything that was special to my mom or dad behind…even if it was a “silly little thing.” And, if I couldn’t get someone else to take it home, I did.
These “last times” have been bittersweet. The stories my siblings and I have shared, the “finds” we uncovered, the memories relived, the dividing up of one home to go to the many – just as each individual moved out from the larger family to begin new families so many years ago. We are extensions of our dad’s and mom’s stories and their story and, so, just as physical pieces of their lives are reminders of those stories, so we remember, and we live out our own lives, in many ways shaped by their own.
I admit, tears have fallen as I remembered both joy and sorrow, times of laughter and tears, and driving away from each one brought a finality that was, in the moment, a little unsettling. Even now, as I write this, the reality brings some tears welling up in my eyes.
But not without hope.
It sent me right where I needed to go…to my Father God’s throne of grace, straight back to the heart of the One who created me, knows me, and comforts as none other.
The “things” I brought back are history and part of my story, but I don’t “need” them to remember. I enjoy them, and I enjoy sharing the stories with my family…but I don’t “need” them to keep the memories alive.
Every memory is not sweet.
Every memory does not bring a smile.
Every object does not bring a good remembrance.
But every bit of my story, joy and sadness, is sifted through my Father’s hands, my Savior’s grace. And that grace, that careful sifting for His glory and my good is sweet, does bring a smile, is a good reminder of His faithfulness to those who are His, who are “called according to HIS purpose…to be confirmed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:28)
We can remember the sweetness with delight, and we can see how God has redeemed the harder moments.
We can smile at the tender times and the precious comforts. And, because we have been saved by faith in the mercy and grace of God and the fact that, for those who have been redeemed, He makes all things new, we can be thankful for the lessons learned and the redemptive way He has taken the hard places and used them to grow us; the way He has given us opportunities to point to Him, to use our stories to tell people about His forgiveness, redemption, and transformation of our souls and lives as we interact with others.
Life is messy because we live in a fallen world with fallen people…and each of us is one of them.
But THAT is the Gospel – we are, each one, sinners – rebels against the Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth, and sovereign over all, wanting to do things our own way.
We are born and live out our lives – sometimes well and sometimes failing.
Our days are numbered and, as one has said, “100% of us will live, 100% of us will die, and 100% of us will stand before Him one day and spend eternity in heaven or hell. It is a reality which we all face.”
But, in real time and history, Jesus died on the cross to take the penalty for our sins, and He was resurrected from the dead defeating the power of death.
We don’t have to “do” anything but accept, by faith, that work on our behalf. And God Himself gives the faith to do that. We just have to say, “I believe, and I trust the work You did on the cross; I am Yours, Lord!” And, out of that love and thankfulness and, by the power of that same grace, learn to give up our desires, and let Him replace them with His desires, which are so much more satisfying; to joyfully say, “I am Yours, Lord; change me, use me, grow me!”
Because of His great mercy and the power of the Holy Spirit, we “once were” and are now being made more and more into the likeness of His Son, transformed and being transformed! As we submit to Him (a word towards which our culture turns a haughty shoulder), He changes what is not in line with His will in us, defeats the enemy of our soul’s attempt to accuse us, redeems the hard places, helps us forgive others as He has forgiven us so that we do not allow the emptiness of bitterness to rob us of the joy of moving forward and bringing Him glory!
We can remember the good and the bad, the sweetness and the sorrow with a peace that makes no sense to the world, because He is more than able to “work all things for the good to those who LOVE God, to those CALLED according to His purpose.” (again, Romans 8:28)
He redeems our stories.
He rescues and transforms us.
He makes all things new for our good and His glory.
Our photographs and memories may bring great delight or deep sadness. They may make us laugh uncontrollably or send tears streaming down our faces.
Some we need to remember and simply thank our Father for the sweetness of the memory.
Some we need to confront and take to the cross of Christ, maybe with another…then leave behind.
Some we need to allow God to use to encourage, challenge, or exhort another.
Each memory, a part of our story, and, in the Father’s hands, they have been and are being used.
Our response must always be to thank Him – for His grace, for His mercy, for His redemption.
I drove away from each house – praying for the next families that will occupy the places I once called home. I’m asking the Lord to fill them with the love and grace I received but also that each person will know the love and grace of Christ.
And, as I did, I thanked my Savior for making me His own, for giving me the parents He gave me, as one friend said, “flawed (like each of us) and fabulous,” for blessing me with the siblings I have with each other, for the relationships and friendships, some that were mine for a moment in time and others forged over a lifetime – each of which have shaped me, for the memories of joy and laughter not only in the past but the ones created over these weeks of the “clean out” process, and for growing that little girl into a woman whose life is hidden in Christ and whose story He is still writing.
Photographs and memories…may they always remind me of His goodness and grace.