Fourteen years. We lived in that little house for fourteen years. Almost to the day... and in the middle of all the boxing up of possessions and much too much stuff, we've been boxing up the memories that go along with it.
So much life in that one tiny space. Nearly 100 years old, the house had its own stories before we moved in, two shiny newlyweds and very green pastors. We opened the doors at all hours of the day... and night. Bible studies turned hangouts turned Xbox-athons. Our couch became home to sleeping guests and weeping friends, too rowdy and rambunctious indoor stadium seats for hotly contested football games and, eventually, a mini-tramp for toddlers.
Two bedrooms seemed enough, yet didn't have the revolving doors we needed to accommodate everyone that would -- and wouldn't -- pass through. Just across the hall from our own room, first a guest room, the "spare" got a fast repaint when the baby booties hanging from our pickup truck mirror became more than a prayed-for miracle. Preparations were made... until they stopped. A miscarriage disrupted our small but sacred utopia in town; I couldn't walk in the bedroom for a couple months after that. Until we learned that another little was on the way, and we needed to make room for 10 fingers and toes and diapers and tears and sooooo many onesies and toys galore.
The sweet moment when the front door opened and we walked in as a family of three after walking out just days before as a couple with wide eyes and a truthful mix of excitement and healthy fear. The high ceilings closed in a little bit as we learned to swaddle and snuggle and hold close the treasure of a child we'd been gifted. The walls narrowed too... especially the day he hit the doorframe going 90 miles an hour around the corner without watching and ended up with a goose egg on his noggin so big you'd have wondered if his brain swallowed a golf ball. (There's still a scar... on him AND the wall.)
The kitchen -- the room that sold that home to me -- with skylights and tile and wide counters and room to layout the smorgasbord was always full. Friends and fondue and pigs in a blanket and Iron Chef moments. New Year's Eve gatherings with more eats than the local grocery. The place where I prepared my first Thanksgiving turkey (and thankfully near the deck where my husband smoked a turkey breast just in case and fed the many at our table when the bird in the oven wasn't done)! Everything I wanted in a place to cook the comfort foods of my childhood... it was what I'd hoped for and more. Especially the day the new refrigerator came.
And those are just the obvious spaces. The ones you see without looking too hard. It's all the extra, hidden, known-only-to-us spaces that have flooded back with every piece of cardboard and packing tape. Moments in the hallway, on the living room floor, at the dining-made-boardgame-table, behind the curtain up to my chin in bubbles in the bathtub. The front porch, the back deck, the garage. The tiny fenced in backyard... especially the year we tore it all down with a sledge one slat at a time.
As I've been remembering all these things, it echoed to me a more powerful reminder; it was as if I heard God whispering "Don't forget to see Me."
I'm convinced that our "looking back" is rooted in the God of Scripture who constantly calls His people to build memorials to His faithfulness so that, even after moving away, when they look back at the road, at the places they've been, the battles they've fought, the obstacles they've overcome, they will know that God was there, making a way where there is no other way.
At Community Church of God, we've been working our way with Israel into the Promised Land from one bank of the swollen Jordan to the other. God was leading a new generation of Israel into His best for them -- Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey. Trust was necessary. Restoration of covenant living was essential. Faith was paramount. But even after God parts the waters of the Jordan and some 2 million people find their way to the other side, before they can "receive the promise," God presses pause and asks them to return to the site of the miracle and gather stones. He wanted them to build a memorial to the place, the day, the moment when God showed His power to His people. Twelve rocks for twelve tribes. They gathered the boulders at Gilgal (which means "circle of stones") and Joshua said to them: "In the future your children will ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' Then you can tell them, 'They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the LORD's Covenant went across.' These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever" (Josh 4:6-7).
This past week, we built our own memorial. We believe that here, in Mt. Carmel, Illinois, population 7300 or so, that God's best is yet to come, that we are coming into a new season and land of promise, that every where we set our foot will be territory He has given us to serve Him and show His glory. But we can't go forward before we look back. We have to remember. To testify to all the times He made a way where there was no way. To remember His promises to us, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did. To remember when He helped us, like Samuel did with the Ebenezer stone. To recall the stone that was rolled away that proved Jesus the victor over death. Each stone tells someone's story where God provided and we promised to remember.
Last week I was a Buckeye, living in the home of the Wright Brothers and 4-H. Today, I'm sitting in the Land of Lincoln. A lot has transpired along the way. The memories of our first home are sweet, but nothing will stand out to us as much as this: God was there. In our sorrows when we miscarried, when we lost Steve's father, Jehovah Shammah was there. In moments of sickness and anxious nights, Jehovah Rapha, our healer, was there. In seasons of leanness, Jehovah Jireh the provider was there. In times of joy, when things we hoped and prayed for were realized, El Shaddai was there.
No matter where I live, I will not forget. I will confess with the psalmist, "I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living" (27:13). Some say “Don’t look back.” God says “Don’t forget to remember!” I will set His faithfulness in stone - by my testimony and by my life.
I don't know what stories our new home will hold. I pray there are large gatherings like before, that our couch will still be a place of refuge, consolation and celebration. (Maybe not that our walls will incur dents from a too-fast teenager, though.) I pray our kitchen will still be a pass through where food and fellowship go hand in hand. But more than anything, I pray our home will stand as a memorial to God's faithfulness.
The next time you're driving through Southeastern Illinois, look closely. I bet that small pile of rocks you see might be mine. God is still working, so I'm still building. Will you?
Someone forgot to remind the weather it's November in Ohio. High of 70 degrees yesterday and 75 degrees today with the meteorologists' promises (We know how that goes!) of more to come throughout the week.
While blissful in its deferring of cold temperatures and bone-chilling winds, the uncharacteristic warm air creates havoc with plans to dress a fifth grader. Early morning cold gives way to unnatural heat quickly, so long sleeves, gloves and coats can seem right at 6:30 am and ridiculous at 2 pm.
Nonetheless, I'm grateful for the blessing. This morning it even made national news; the ticker tape across the bottom of the screen identified "unseasonably warm" weather and its impending effects on the rest of the month. That phrase captured my attention: unseasonably warm. It had already been on my mind before I saw the news, but when the television screen started replaying my own thoughts, I stopped and gave pause. Why does that speak so loudly to me?
The only connection I could make at the time -- and still am -- is the familiar rhythm of that phrase with another "warm front" I read about in Scripture: "They began telling each other how their hearts had felt strangely warm as He [Jesus] talked with them and explained the Scriptures during the walk down the road" (Luke 24:32, The Living Bible). When the weather is warm outside, and it shouldn't be, based on the season of the year and typical weather patterns, any deviation from the norm is "strange." This is the same word that two of Jesus' followers used to describe how they felt when Jesus was walking with them on the road to Emmaus, yet they did not recognize who He was.
I don't remember the first time I read or heard this story in Luke's gospel; it was many years ago in my childhood, I'm sure. However, in my adult years, I've always come away from the Emmaus story with a particular prayer on my heart, one that I pray regularly. It goes something like this: Lord, help me know you "on the road" to wherever I'm going, and not just when I get there.
I cannot imagine what it must have been like to walk and talk with Jesus, to literally follow Him as He went about preaching and teaching and healing and turning the Kingdom of God upside down for people. But even as I try to imagine that, I can't fathom what it was to have known Him before His death, and not to know Him after. These followers were intimately familiar with Jesus, the same one who they thought was the Messiah, and yet not able to recognize Him when He was with them again.
They're not the only ones. Mary didn't know Him in the garden, at least not immediately. She thought He was a gardener until He spoke to her. Luke tells us these men were even "prevented" from realizing it was Jesus. At least until the breaking of the bread. Now that's what I call "holy hindsight."
If I'm honest, I have holy hindsight a lot. I can look back on a journey often and see the signposts that show evidence of the Lord's presence. I can often reflect on a challenging season I've been through and see where God was working for my good. But I believe there are times when I may miss Him in the midst of my circumstances, and I so desperately want to see Him then too.
I can feel the disappointment of these men as the bread is broken and they finally see it's Jesus, only for Him to disappear in the same moment. They're looking at each other in astonishment -- Did you see what I saw? -- and then wracking their brains trying to figure out how they missed it: :“Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road...?" (HCSB). I know I've felt the same things -- a stirring, a wondering, an unseasonably warm moment in my heart -- and still failed to see Jesus on the road.
So I'm praying more fervently these days. Lord, help me know you "on the road" to wherever I'm going. Don't let me miss the warm front when it comes. (Maybe, at my age, I could start calling them "holy hot flashes"?) I understand that sometimes the revelation comes at the end of the journey because God chooses it to be so, but oftentimes my oblivion is driven by my own ignorance and self-centeredness. I don't want to be so focused on myself that I miss the Messiah moment.
Don't get me wrong. Any time I get a glimpse of the holy in the mundane, I'm thankful. If anything, not thankful enough, but I'm exceedingly grateful to acknowledge that God is with me, whether I sense Him with me or not. Still, my prayer is that I'm not so wrapped up in my situation that I miss the times He is literally as close as my next breath and speaking to me. I welcome the "strange warmth" and hope I'll relish it as much as I am right now.
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.