Every time I read through the Torah, I am struck by the emphasis on remembering. God admonishes Israel again and again to remember what God has done. This intentional remembering is meant to ground Israel both in times of prosperity and in times of trial. When you are prosperous, God says, “be careful that you don’t forget” that it was I that provided for you. And when you stand at the edge of what seem like impossible or just discouraging odds, be sure to remember that I’ve superseded the odds many times before. The reminder to actively remember comes so many times that it’s clear God knows how unfailingly forgetful the Israelites—and we—can be. And so the Israelites are commanded to tell and retell the stories to their children and one another, making active memory a part of their daily lives. As a person of faith, facing discouraging odds, I’ve been particularly challenged by this lately. It’s easy to sit in the silence of waiting for news and forget. It’s hard to invest energy into active memory, but we need it. So if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you some stories (each has a lot more detail, but for the sake of your eyes, I’ll hit the main points). If this looks excessively long, feel free to skip to the end 🙂
There was the time many years ago (I was a sophomore in college) when unforeseen circumstances completely emptied my college account. As I walked down a hallway in Thurmond Hall, a moment I can still picture in my mind, I sensed clearly that I was not supposed to apply for loans, that there was something better in store. It might as well have been an audible voice at that moment. Shortly thereafter, a mentor from home contacted me to let me know that an anonymous donor wanted to cover whatever was missing in my funding. This person, who is still anonymous to me 20 years later, covered those gaps every semester until I graduated and allowed me to finish college debt free.
There was the time when I was entering my last few months of living in Hawaii and so badly needed some joy. Despite incredible students and some beautiful friends, my year there had knocked me to my knees and worn me thinner than I know how to describe. The summer weeks ahead (in a house emptied of those students) looked dismal and long, and I prayed desperately for encouragement. Totally unexpectedly (to me), some folks came over from the mainland to do ministry, just for those summer weeks. The connection was immediate, and those final weeks were among the best I had in Hawaii. By the time I left, I wished I could stay.
There was the time when I was working at a homeless shelter, and though I loved my clients, I was exhausted and unhappy, and I longed to return to the kids I had spent the previous couple years working with. I had committed to remain at the shelter for several years though, and didn’t feel free to leave after only a year. It also seemed unwise, since I didn’t exactly have a new job waiting for me if I did move and this one paid well. I talked to my boss about how we could at least make some changes to my role, and when he called me in to talk it over once more, he told me he had been praying about it as well. “Let me tell you what I feel like God has said to me,” he said. “I believe that we are robbing those kids of you, and that you need to feel the freedom to go. Also, you need to not worry about not having a job lined up.” I was back with those kids two months later. (I also met Tim before I had even unpacked my car.)
There was the time when Tim and I took a trip to Cairo, IL, carrying a literal jar of money, and crazy weather forced us out of our tent and into a motel room we couldn’t really afford. Feeling totally discouraged the next day and trying to decide if we could pull off another night, we sort of ambled through our day and ended up visiting a small church. As we drove away after the service, an older man ran toward our car (we were a tad confused by the scene), and out of the blue asked if we’d like to stay at the church for a couple of nights. Later that evening, when a man came to show us around the building, he handed us an envelope. The church had taken up an offering. It was almost exactly the amount we had paid for our motel the night before.
There was the time that my computer completely died totally unexpectedly, days before I was to start my qualifying exam (a two-week take home test). A new computer was not exactly in the budget, but wasn’t really optional for me as a PhD student. Through circumstances we could never have guessed at, both of us separately reminded of the same verse about refusing worry, God provided a new computer within days, completely free. The new computer was also much lighter, alleviating some of the back pain I was experiencing from carrying the previous digi-brick around.
There was the time that we had been trying for months to find a way to move from Lexington to Harrodsburg, hoping to break the stress and exhaustion the distance had caused for several months. We were fried. One morning I felt challenged to pray more specifically, and so with a touch of trepidation, I said, “God, we really need you to give us a place to live in Harrodsburg…today.” By 7:00 that evening, we had an apartment, ready for almost immediate move-in. The stress reduction that followed was beyond what we could have expected. We could breathe again.
And of course, there was that time we found out that there was a little boy in Ethiopia who could be our son, but we needed $20,000 in one week in order to make it happen. If you’ve been following this blog, you know how that one turned out 🙂
I could go on and on with these stories, but you get the idea. “Be careful that you don’t forget,” God tells his people. I have no idea what lies ahead for us in this season. I don’t know what lies ahead for Daniel, and that breaks my heart many days. But as I tell and retell these stories, I remember that we have been cared for again and again and again when the outlook seemed dismal or the odds overwhelming. In these days of holding our breath, of feeling exhausted and irritated by uncertainty, that’s enough to hold me up.