I was at a campground north of Spokane, WA outside the dining hall, freshly covered in bug spray. Various aunts, uncles, cousins, and their small children were playing all over. A group of them played music in the chapel, a competitive basketball game was underway, and a few of my cousins were chasing their toddlers up and down the hill, with coffee in hand. Our annual family reunion trips are a big part of kicking off our summer Memorial Day weekend.
I was headed to the chapel and crossed paths with my Aunt Billie. We squeezed each other tight–a quick hello in passing turned into meaningful conversation instantly, as is inevitable with us. I asked how she was holding up as she’s been doing a lot of care taking for her parents; my grandparents. My grandparents live in their own cozy house on shared property with Billie and her family. The daily care my aunt and uncle, cousins, and extended family offer make it possible for them to live at home much longer than they would’ve been able to otherwise. We talked a moment about the deteriorating health and memory, the struggle and fatigue of care taking, and also the grief involved.
Then came a pause and the intense look Billie gives that means, “Hear this. This is important. Track with me.” She tilted her head to indicate a story was coming. “Sometimes I don’t know why they’re still holding on. I asked my mom if God has told her why she’s still here. I was wondering what He still has for her."
Perhaps a daughter essentially asking her mom, “Why haven’t you died yet?” sounds morbid and strange, but Billie is direct and cuts to the core; and Beppe isn't scared to ask God big questions and wrestle with the answers. These types of conversations are quite normal for the two of them.
“Do you know what my mom answered, Shilo?”
I shook my head.
“She said to me, "God is giving us this time to remember. This is our season to look back on His faithfulness in our lives.’”
I had started to chuckle–the irony of this season being for remembering when my beautiful Beppe can’t remember if she took her medicine each morning and often she and my Pake laugh about not remembering if they had breakfast or not.
But the chuckle unexpectedly turned into tears as Billie continued, “She said to me that some days God reminds them of Nigeria and then He shows them how He was faithful in their years as missionaries there. They talk about the miracles and memories. Then another day God might remind them of starting Acres of Diamonds and the women who were changed.” Billie’s tears had started, which intensified my own. “So that’s what they’re doing. Sometimes in the middle of the night because they get confused and start a pot of coffee. There they are talking about more things God has done. God is walking them through all the seasons of their lives and showing them new things.”
Billie and I were both a mess of tears in that space where sweet beauty meets sad grief and it turns into a half laugh-half sob.
Many powerful conversations, sweet memories, and late night s’mores were had over the family reunion weekend that year, but as we drove home over the mountains when it was all said and done, Billie’s words about remembering stirred in me.
I read Joshua 24 recently. It comes at the end of Joshua’s life. Joshua gathers all the tribes of Israel, elders, judges, and officers. They present themselves before God to renew their covenant as they are settling into the Promised Land. Joshua spends verses 2-13 speaking God’s words–reminding the Israelites of God’s faithfulness; things He had done to set them apart as His people.
It was the end of Joshua’s life and they could’ve focused on his leadership, his military accomplishments, their appreciation for him stepping in when Moses died. But the focus wasn’t on Joshua’s awesomeness. The focus was on God’s faithfulness. Future generations didn't need to validate Joshua, they needed to hang their hats on how God had been faithful to their family, their nation, in the years prior. They needed it as fuel for what was yet to come.
I’ve seen many people come to the last seasons of their life with regrets, bitterness, and fear. I’ve seen others come to the end of their lives with satisfaction at their accomplishments or good relationships. I have not seen many people take the time to walk with God through the events of their life while He reveals in hindsight how He did deep work they couldn't see at the time, how He used them to make His glory known.
Only God can show my grandparents how He was there during World War II when my Pake nearly starved to death while helping the Dutch Underground save Jews. Only God can reveal His work in the lives of their eight children, or where He was in times of running ragged in ministry. Only God can remind them of the healings He brought when they had the guts to pray for big things over people who had no hope. Only God's design would bring two complete opposites together in marriage and sharpen them (often uncomfortably) as they grow together. This is not a, "thanks for a rosy life, God" type of remembering. This is a "God is close and God changed us in the terrifying hard and in the joy" type of remembering.
The last couple times I’ve talked with my Pake and Beppe, they’ve struggle to remember much about what’s happening today and couldn’t name my kids. At the reunion they came for an evening. During worship they were completely tuned in. They sang clear and loud. My Pake prayed over his grandsons with conviction and clarity. They watched some of their great-grandkids lead worship on various instruments, with tears in their eyes. They spoke about the inheritance of having great-grandchildren who love the Lord and a new generation bringing the hope of Christ to hurting people. I listened to their words with tears streaming down my face.
How quick we are to forget God’s past faithfulness. It would be easy for my grandparents to focus on the frustrations of slipping minds, the excruciating pain of arthritis in an achy body, the helplessness of needing a grandkid to administer medications. They’re teaching me that you don’t need to remember if you ate breakfast to remember that God has had His hand in every aspect of your life. You don’t need to have a healed body to see God’s deep, healing work in decades of dependence on Him. You don’t have to have a perfect memory to sit with Jesus and a cup of coffee at 3am; joyfully listening while He reminds you how He met your needs when paychecks couldn’t be stretched anymore, when you were faced with counseling someone beyond what you were equipped for, or how He showed grace as you imperfectly parented a houseful of kids.
This isn’t the “good ol’ days” kind of remembering. None of that will ever be good enough or big enough. In fact, we aren't good enough or big enough to make that celebration last. Instead, God can give us these little glimpses of how He’s used our lives for His big purpose (which does last). He’s been faithful, even when we've been fickle and failed. THAT is the remembering to pass down to future generations. It's essential in the growing of our faith. We need it for what's to come.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...