The Home Place

How does a place hold memories?  How does a house contain the lives of those who have long since stopped living in it?   I was vividly reminded last week of the power a place can have in our lives as I walked through the yard at my grandparents’ house.

Will, my youngest son, was a baby when Mamaw died.  He will be 16 in November.  I was a junior in high school when Papaw passed away. Yet, being there brought back so many memories.  Everywhere I looked there were reminders of moments and happenings.  They were surprisingly fresh after all these years.

The memories were of mostly ordinary activities.  I remembered how I used to watch Papaw cut the grass and wish that he would let me push the mower.  (What was I thinking?)  Then when he would let me mow, and I would miss spots, how he would fuss at me and tell me to be more careful next time.  I remembered sitting on the carport with him watching him whittle and trying to do it like he did it.  Mostly, I just remembered being with him and doing whatever it was he was doing, or watching him do whatever it was he was doing.  The memories of Mamaw were similar — picking vegetables from the garden, watching her cook, helping her break beans, and all the times she let me beat her at checkers.

Not all the memories were of Mamaw and Papaw.  There were memories of aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and the yard that seemed so incredibly large when I was a boy.  The side yard more specifically could be Yankee Stadium and Shields-Watkins Field all in the same afternoon.  I could almost hear the laughter and cheering even still.

I left the home place with a deep sense of gratitude for the memories that it held for me, and for the visit that had brought so many of those memories back to life, if but for a brief time.  What a gift to have known the people who had lived in that place.

Places have their time.  Children grow up and move away.  Loved ones go to be with the Lord.  The place is still in the same location and it is still special; but it is not the same as it was when the people who lived there were doing the ordinary activities that made it such a special place.  Those children who grew up have gone to other places where they now do those ordinary activities that make up so much of life; and in so doing, they are creating new special places for a new generation.  Like an empty canvas, the places where we live patiently collect the brushstrokes of our lives — the dark tragedies, the bright milestones, and the various shades in between.  They hold the stories of lives in such a way that only we can see what happened there and what it meant to us when it happened.

Places in and of themselves are not special.  What makes them special is what happens there, the lives that get lived, and the love that gets shared.  The stories that unfold and the dreams that are born make a place special.  The people that inhabit those stories and fuel those dreams are what make a place special.

So it is with the places where we are now living.  May our living do something in those places that causes them to be places that remind us of being loved, of dreaming dreams and of sharing our lives with one another.

Spiritual Memories

Last Sunday, I had an odd sensation that the clock or the calendar had been turned back a few years when I paid $1.55 a gallon for gasoline. On the news, I heard that O.J. Simpson was on trial. Now it is Wednesday and the electricity is off at the church. I am sitting, writing by the light from unshuttered, unblinded windows. The year might well be 1808, rather than 2008.

However, in the midst of Advent, with Christmas just days away and 2009 drawing nearer each day, our lives are drawn toward tomorrow. There are certainly reasons to be excited. A new year always holds the promise of new possibilities and new adventures. Yet, tomorrows can also come with uncertainties. We all have them. Challenges that are unique to our own personal situations. Tomorrow can be an occasion for dread, rather than excitement.

Recalling spiritual memories can be a helpful thing to do when facing a difficult situation or an uncertain tomorrow. Remembering how God has been present with us in the past can bolster our outlook for today. We should never let those times in our lives, when God has been intensely close to us, slip from our memories. They are rich treasure — treasure that moth or rust cannot destroy.

Once we have experienced the presence of God giving us what we need to face a difficult time, that experience cannot be taken from us. The memory of God loving us and holding on to us through a hard place is always there for us to remember and reclaim. In remembering, we draw our lives closer to that same source of strength and life. We draw ourselves closer to God even as God draws closer to us.

Over the course of a lifetime, a collection of spiritual memories can become a rather potent force in our lives. When we remember challenges that we faced together with God, our present difficulties can seem a little less daunting. However, remembering those times when we have experienced the presence of God in an especially close way is not always an easy thing to do. In fact, it can be quite difficult. The difficulty comes from the circumstances of the situation we are remembering. When have I felt God’s presence in an especially intimate way? When I have lost a loved one. I love to remember Mammaw, Pappaw and Daddy. I do not like remembering when they died. The hurt and the grief at those times was heavy. Yet, it was when the hurt and the grief were at their heaviest that God came nearest to me. In remembering when God felt so close, I cannot help but remember why I need for God to be near.

The clock and the calendar only move in one direction — forward. There is no going back to another time or place. Yet, we can remember, and it is good that we do. In remembering, we cherish again the special people who have touched our lives while at the same time, we strengthen our grip on the hand that has held on to us all these years.