"You Can't Go Home Again" was the title of a novel by Thomas Wolfe. We say this sometimes, don't we? We mean it can be hard to go home once you've been out in the world a long time. It's often not the same place we remember. (In the novel, the protagonist George Webber writes a book about his hometown. The book is a best seller but the town people so dislike his portrait they send him death threats. Sweet [and familiar] yes?)
But I've come home twice in the last week. I am finally back in Kodiak and it is MORE beautiful than when I left. And this week my sister and brother are here with me. (We're half of the six siblings.)
Remember? we say to one another. Remember the long bus rides? Remember the mile long climb up the hill every day with books in our arms, no matter the weather?
Yes. I remember.
Remember all the houses, scything the hay field, cutting down the bamboo all day with machetes, the goats, the belt across our legs, the fish bake, the times we ran into the woods and stayed all day? Remember that school we hated, the mountain hikes, all the ways we ran away?
Yes. We remember.
I met a new friend last month whose childhood and early adulthood no one would believe, full of such isolation, violence and suffering. She said to me, "I'm not going to let the enemy have those years. I want to write about all that happened to bring light from that darkness. I want it used for God and for good."
She is right. We must remember. We must remember all of it: the beautiful, the heartbreaking, the sad, the infuriating, the wondrous.
Without remembering, we won't know who we are.
There are so many places God calls us to remember. When the Hebrews were about to enter the land God had promised them---a new life and land where milk and honey flowed from every ravine! So much anticipation! BUT even after wandering and longing and salivating for their new home for forty years, they're not ready to cross the threshold yet. They're not to cross over without these words:
“However, be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you don’t forget the things which you have seen with your own eyes. Don’t let them fade from your memory as long as you live. Teach them to your children and grandchildren.”
In many places God tells them specifically what they're to remember: “Tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson what signs I have done among the Egyptians, that you may know that I am Yahweh.” (Ex. 10:2)
They're to remember their own story: who they are and where they've come from and how they've gotten there. And their story is completely wrapped around God's story: who He is and all he's done with them, for them. Without this remembrance, they are lost.
And so they were! The whole history of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament is the story of the rise and fall of kings who did evil because they forgot God, and then occasionally a righteous man will emerge who "remembered" God.
I know I'm going all preachy here, forgive me, but this is monumental. (Yes, this is the book I’m writing now . … due in 6 weeks!) The past is not done. It lives on in us, no matter how cleverly we disguise ourselves, no matter how fast we try to run from it. When we don't turn and look behind we lose our way. Even our very selves. Renowned psychologist Dan Allender writes,
"Rather than living a life of freedom and creativity that finds meaning even in the meaningless places in our past, we purpose to forget. . . . Forgetting is a wager we all make on a daily basis, and it exacts a terrible price. The price of forgetting is a life of repetition, an insincere way of relating, a loss of self. "
But know this: we remember and write and speak of our memories not to be the heroes of our own story. Not just to offer up to the world our own gutteral howl and yelp to the moon. We’re after more than “our truth,” aren’t we?
We're after growth, yes? We're after a better understanding of this crazy human existence. We "remember" that we may find ourselves in God's story and He in ours. We remember the past to find our way into the future.
Friends, don't lose your way. You CAN go home again (I hope). Call a brother or your father. Go visit your sister. Have coffee with a childhood friend. Remember together. Listen to one another. Laugh. Don't be afraid of tears.
In recovering the past, no matter how dark, you get to live it again. But this time you are awake, alive, whole. This time you can remember with hope, with gratitude, with the brilliant presence of God, who can redeem anything.
Who already has.
What has God redeemed in Your Family and past?
BOOK WINNERS! (Books are on their way!)