I’m not sure exactly how it began or why I started doing it, but 22 years ago I began a little tradition. At the time, I don’t think I even knew it was something that would become significant…it was just something that happened once, and then again, and then again. When we were young newlyweds, and everything seemed like an incredible new adventure, every time we went somewhere together, I would secretly grab a little “souvenir.” Not the sweatshirt, keychain, coffee mug or magnet kind. This was something different, all together. If we went on a little weekend getaway, a family trip, or to camp or on a mission trip, I always came home with a pocket full of small pebbles, or sand from the beach, rocks from a mountain path, or a small bottle of water from the ocean. I’d pick flowers, and leaves, and tuck my little treasures away in my suitcase to bring back home. Soon I began to put each of my little souvenirs in vintage glass bottles and labeled where each particular little treasure came from.
Sometimes, when you start something, you have no intention of doing it forever… but without realizing it, you just sort of keep doing it. Throughout the last 22 years, I’ve been known to bring home water bottles filled with small samples of lake or river water, or little ziplock baggies full of dirt or sand or driftwood. My family doesn’t even blink anymore when I sheepishly bend down to grab a few leaves. They’ve gotten used to how I hang on to my empty water bottle so I can fill it with less than 4 ounces of water from the ocean we’ve just visited, so it can make it safely through TSA, and home to join the collection. None of these little creation bits cost a single penny, but I’ve come to treasure these small handfuls of significant places and special moments I want to mark, forever, in my mind.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to somehow always remember.
So now, we have shelves full of antique bottles and small glass jars of creation souvenirs marking significant moments of our journey through the years.
Admittedly, it’s a quirky little collection we’ve got, but I love that it helps me remember.
This summer I got out an old box of journals from my years in college. I spent a few weeks, waking up each morning and thumbing through the journals and reading them like novels, one by one.
The pages took me on a journey that walked me straight down memory lane. It was like going to coffee with my 18-year-old self, and it was fascinating! Half of the words written in them, in my very own handwriting, are things I literally have no memory of today, and other pages were filled with significant moments I remember like they were just yesterday. Dreams, prayers, heartaches, worries, failures, and second chances. Years of my heart, poured out on the pages, reminding me now, of who I was then. Prayers recorded then that only now, I can see answered, in full. I’d arranged the journals in chronological order, and as I read them I could see evidence of growth… the beautiful result of painful pruning that would so often bear fruit in the next season’s journal. Reading my own words, from what seems now like lifetimes ago, was like getting to stand outside myself, and watch as the Lord would gently call out to my heart, tenderly correct my attitude, lovingly bind my wounds, challenge my thoughts, and fill my soul with His Truth and His Promises. So many pages filled with deep questions, as I pondered God’s will for my life and walked alongside friends as we stepped into the great unknown. Sometimes my adult self would laugh out loud reading the words, from my college-age self. (Was I really this dramatic? Insecure? Unsure of my future? And oh my word…how did I have time to write all this down?)
My overwhelming takeaway, as I closed the last journal in the stack, was that there may be nothing more powerful than taking a moment to stop and remember all that God has done.
Sometimes, we don’t even need to remember all the details, just that God was right there with us, every step of the journey, just like He said He would be. Sometimes the most powerful thing I can do today is to stop and remember all the steps that have led me to where I stand now. All God’s provision, all His protection, all the ways His plans were weaving together a better story than I could have ever imagined. How even the heartbreaks served to create a more whole and tender heart. How even the failures served to bring humility and understanding. How all the questions, and unknowns brought a hard-earned trust in a God who keeps His promises.
There is something in all of us that wants to remember.
It’s why we love watching home movies, and making scrapbooks, and telling stories around the campfire or the table.
I made my way through college and graduate school by making stacks and stacks (and more stacks!) of flashcards. Over time, I figured out that making flashcards was the way that engaged my learning style the most effectively. It’s like my mind just needed a hint…the slightest visual reminder, and then, all of a sudden, I could recall everything that I’d already learned.
Sometimes we just need a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness.
We need something that helps us to remember what is already true when feel like we might forget.
In the Bible, God gives the command to remember literally hundreds and hundreds of times. God calls us to remember, because He knows how easily we forget. We are not the first to have this soul amnesia that tempts us to forget the road we’ve already traveled of God’s faithfulness. The way His provision came that time, at just the right moment…the way He taught us about Himself and who we are in Him, in new ways, over and over. The way He called us each by name, made all things new, and set our feet to walk a different road, covered by His grace and mercy.
The heart of man is not only prone to wander but prone to forget. Having fashioned us Himself, this is no surprise to our Creator, so it makes sense that all throughout His Word, there is a familiar command…a prompting over and over “to remember” God and all that He has done.
If we find ourselves in a season that feels dry or stale, maybe the remedy is to simply look back. If we’re feeling stuck or just unsure about where we stand on our journey today, maybe it’s worth looking back at where our feet have already been. When we feel alone in the dark, maybe it’s worth remembering, that we’ve seen with our own eyes, how each new day, morning dawns, and the light breaks in and His faithfulness preaches a sermon we didn’t even know our hearts needed to hear.
The thing is…we are usually pretty diligent historians, but sometimes we remember and keep playing back the wrong parts of the story.
When we feel afraid of the days to come or unsure of where to take our next step, sometimes the surest way to decipher the road ahead is to look back and see how His guiding hand has charted our course all the days of our lives, including today. If we find ourselves not sure what the future might look like, maybe it’s worth stopping to re-read the last few chapters of our story.
For you, it might not look like vintage glass bottles full of sand or pebbles or shells, and it might not be a stack of old journals, either.
But what if it looks like simply stopping to remember.
What if it means today, that you make a list of prayers that have been answered, or share or story of lessons learned, or recall a promise that only in the last season, you’ve come to see fulfilled.
“To remember” translated in French is literally, “se souvenir.”
Maybe we’ve been collecting our memories, our answered prayers, our Ebenezers, and our souvenirs all along, and we just simply need to take a minute today to go back and look through our own collection.
Looking back at the past creates assurance for the present, and trust for the future.
Sometimes, to build our faith, and to remember who God is, we need to remember who He has always been so we can trust who He’ll always be.
We need to remember that we were made to remember.
He set the longing deep within us so that we’d remember when we are tempted to forget.
When we allow our souls to remember, we allow our souls to rest.
“Think about this. Wrap your minds around it.
This is serious business, rebels.
Take it to heart.
Remember your history, your long and rich history.
I am God, the only God you’ve had or ever will have—
From the very beginning telling you what the ending will be,
All along letting you in on what is going to happen,
Assuring you, ‘I’m in this for the long haul,
I’ll do exactly what I set out to do,’……….
I’ve said it, and I’ll most certainly do it.
I’ve planned it, so it’s as good as done."
Isaiah 46:8-11 MSG