This February marks living in Canada for seven years and my son’s twenty-first birthday. Around these celebrations and anniversaries many conversations round the dinner table start, ‘Do you remember when…’ We recount the memories surrounding previous birthdays and the stories surrounding our move to Canada.
In fact, all year round we do this. ‘Do you remember…’ is a natural part of our family conversation. We remember fun family vacations, Christmases, times with family in England, friends, places, milestones, church events, parties, embarrassing moments and endless memories we have together. A lot of it is ordinary stuff, the things that every family does. Some of them are favourites – told over and over again. A lot of them make us laugh – and I’m thankful for that. Some of them are memories of challenges we’ve faced and tough times lived through.
When it’s the middle of winter as it is now (though we’ve had plus temperatures in the afternoon for a few days now!), we muse about spring flowers in England, talk about swimming in outdoor pools and lakes in the summer, remember the beaches on Prince Edward Island and remind ourselves that spring and summer will come eventually.
There are times when there are stories from before we were married or had children (shock, horror). I like to see the kids piecing our history together as I remember my parents’ pasts being a fascinating puzzle when I was growing up. Sometimes they’re outraged that we didn’t wait until we had kids to travel to this or that place so that they could go too! (‘You went to Greece?!!!’)
Of course there are photo and video reminders of a lot of these things, but I think the best thing is to hear how each member of the family remembers an event. Sometimes the stories get embellished over time and someone will shout, ‘No! That’s not how it happened, it was like this…’
This morning, glad to be out of Numbers and into Deuteronomy, I read this. Moses is talking to the people of Israel before they go into the promised land,
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Deuteronomy 6:4-12 ESV
Remembering was very important to the Hebrews. Moses commanded them to teach the commands to their children, to talk about these things all the time. The many days and feasts the Jews observed were designed to remind them that God had done great things for them, so that they wouldn’t forget, wander off and start serving other gods and doing things their own way. Reading through the Old Testament again, as I am now, it’s plain to see this is in fact what they did do over and over again, with disastrous results. Yet God still sticks to his promise to bless them. He is faithful when they are faithless.
I don’t think it’s any different with us – we need things repeated over and over. Certainly in our family, among all the silly stories there are stories of God’s faithfulness. We need to remind each other of those. From our own stories of salvation to the tales of how Jesus works in our lives every day. The tale of us ending up in Canada is full of stops and starts, doors apparently closing and then being flung wide, down to the tiniest detail things worked out. We’ve experienced the God who heals our bodies and our minds, who brings peace where there is turmoil, who provides in unexpected ways, who guides and directs us.
Not all of these things are dramatic, maybe just knowing Jesus’ presence in the middle of a difficult situation, but they are the real God stories of our lives. In the darker times they remind us that God will always come through, and in the good times they remind us that we always need Him.
Likewise, when we meet new or older believers it is great to hear their stories. All kinds of people from all different backgrounds – hearing how God has worked in others’ lives is always amazing and exciting. Our stories aren’t for nostalgia, just as the re-telling of our memories as a family build us together, hearing stories from other believers builds a church family bond and builds faith in our loving God. We also have stories not just as individuals, but together with our church family of prayers answered, miraculous provision, people sent out, healing, amazing worship times along with many lighthearted family moments too.
Let’s keep telling our stories. Ultimately, they’re not just for ourselves, but for a world that needs to know the goodness, love, faithfulness, forgiveness and grace of Jesus. Now that is the best story ever.