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Remember: What Dave Taught Me About Memory

This is Dave. He’s a friend, even though Dave can’t remember my name.

But Dave doesn’t take his memory problems lying down. Which is why we might all take a few memory tips from Dave.

Because I, for one, know that I have memory problems too. Spiritual amnesia, mine’s called. You know, when you forget what you should remember and remember what you’d best forget

Take Care Lest You Forget

Dave was in a motorcycle accident 20 years ago, give or take. He can’t remember the date. But he knows his memory hasn’t been the same.

So Dave always carries a notepad. Always. He’ll pull it out, scratch out a line or two, then tuck it back in his pocket.

Because Dave knows he needs reminding.

1. Remember Your Commitments

Why do you keep you so many notes, Dave? I asked between services.

I can recall this, he said, holding up his little green 3×5 spiral. At the end of the day I look back to see if I have to follow through on any commitments.

Dave is vigilant to remember. He explained how he transfers his notes from his little green spiral to a larger book at home, I don’t want to disappoint them and let them down. I don’t want to commit something to the Lord and forget about it.

But the problem, Dave said with a grin, is remembering to look back at the dumb notes.

We too should keep our commitments to others, and our word should be gold. For Christians, this includes the commitment to love God and keep his commandments (2 John 1:6, John 15:10).

In the Old Testament book of Numbers (15:38-40), the Lord told Moses to have the Israelites make tassels for the corners of their garments, “and a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them.”

Little green notepad or corner blue tassel or iPhone reminder, no matter- just so we don’t forget our commitments. We just have to remember to look.

2. Remember Who You Were

Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. This command to remember who they were- slaves, namely- is repeated over and over after the exodus (Deuteronomy 15:15, 16:12, 24:18, 24:22). In these texts, the reason for bringing up former slave status seems to be either to urge generosity and compassion toward those who are impoverished like they were, or to encourage thankful celebration under God for who they are.

Because we can take that for granted. And when we fail to remember that we were once slaves to sin (Romans 6:16), we can more easily fall back to slavery. Would-be-slaves, I called this once.

This idea is in the New Testament, too: Remember that at one time you Gentiles . . . were without Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:1112).

Remembering who we were without Christ is so important because it can intensify our love and deepen our devotion to the God who saved us. When we remember our life would be without him, we can cherish his forgiveness.

Dave had to relearn even his own name after the accident. He thinks it took months. But he’s got it down now. And another thing he’s got down- without consulting his notepad- is his testimony.

He remembers who he was. He remembers his testimony. In fact, he says rehearses his testimony while he’s at his “1200 pieces a day, assembly job.” And he told me how before that day in 1970 he wasn’t born-again, and then after it he was.

In other words, Dave remembers being a slave in Egypt and hopeless.

3. Remember The Lord

God’s people have historically had a bad memory. They had selective memory right out of Egypt, remembering-and grumbling about- the “free food,” but forgetting who they were- the slave status bit. The food may have been free, but they were not. That’s in Numbers 11.

Then, at the end of Judges 8, after strong judge Gideon had died, spiritual amnesia set in again. The people did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side

But apart from selective memory, and probably worse, is this third memory problem: not remembering their God. In Deuteronomy 6:12 the God’s people are told, take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

They should have been taking notes. Papyrus pads anyone?

Dave told me that one of things he tries to remember while at his work center is- I quote- “the work of God. I consult my notebook to remember things of this sort.”

There are practical steps we can all take to overcome our spiritual amnesia- our forgetfulness of how God has been at work. Ben Reoach describes seven here. And guess what? One of his suggestions is keeping a journal.

Like I said, Dave definitely knows what he’s doing.

I Shall Remember

I don’t know all of Dave’s story but I that it’s not all rosy. Apart from the physical and mental impact of the accident, I gather that close relationships have been strained. I’ve had some nasty times, he sighed. But even there Dave sees the silver lining, “A blessing of having a bad memory is that when someone treats me like poop, I forget and when I see them again I treat them real nice.”

Which brings us to Psalm 77:7-9, where the Psalmist ponders: Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again-Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, Or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion?

Dave could ask those same questions. Maybe you could too. Living in the group home around the corner from the church wasn’t Dave’s dream. And despite years of prayers for his memory to be restored, he still can’t remember names without his notepad.

But Dave does what the Psalmist did, right after he wondered if His lovingkindness had ceased forever.

Remembering Is Effortful

I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God? 

John Piper says that this remembering is intentional and effortful.

The central Biblical strategy for coming out of darkness and discouragement and doubt is a conscious effort of the mind. Notice these strong words of intentionality: “I shall remember . . . Surely I will remember” (verse 11); “I will meditate . . . and [I will] muse” (verse 12). These are conscious acts that he chooses to do. This is the fight of faith. This is the fight for delight. It is the opposite of passivity and resignation. This is a strategy of life.

Sermon, “I Will Meditate On Your Works And Muse On Your Deeds

This is what Dave does, what he consciously chooses to do. He carries that notepad and jots it down and gets it out. He makes sure to keep his commitments. And he rehearses over and over his testimony and who he was- not before the accident- but before he came to faith. And Dave remembers the Lord. He ponders the ways of his God.

Who Remember You In Your Ways

This morning and last Sunday, I asked Dave if I could take his picture and tell about him and his memory trouble and how he still remembers. Of course, he said. God gave this to me. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

And then, at the end of both little interviews, he chimed in, because he’s put it to memory, probably by writing it over and over and over in his little notepads, then transcribing it at home into his bigger book, Romans 8:28.

All things work together for good, he quoted. No matter how nasty it gets- it all works together for good if you love God.

So as Dave waits for the Day when he’ll again remember his friends’ names, he clearly remembers God’s ways.

And there’s a promise or two in Isaiah 64 for my friend Dave.

From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
    those who remember you in your ways.

Isaiah 64:4-5a

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The Mysterious Appearance of Big Bills in the Pews

Hey, look at this! I just found a $50 dollar bill,” Ted yelled, waving it overhead.

We’re all dumbfounded.

From the giddy third graders to the sensible adult leaders, no one can make heads or tails of it.

Big bucks- $5’s and $10’s and $20’s and, last night a $50- have been mysteriously tucked in church Bibles. They’ve been showing up Wednesday nights at AWANA. No notes, not envelopes, no rhyme or reason- just fresh, dreamy cash.

The first $5 was laid bare a couple months ago during the group devotion. Lucky little Dominick got that one. It happens like this: kids crack the Bible to lookup a verse and, lo and behold, there appears cash. Every Wednesday, a $5 or $10 or $20 shows up.

Last night, it was a $50 bill.

Expectation, Hope and a Sense of Urgency

Part of me wishes I was the Mystery Bill Filler who tucks big bucks into pew Bibles.

Because those hidden bills are making kids open the God’s Word with glee. With expectation and hope and a sense of urgency.

I know, I know. The third grade treasure hunters scrambling over, under, around and through the pews last night were not desiring the pure milk of the Word. They just wanted the cash.

But the sight of those kids practically somersaulting over pews to open the Word show us how all God’s children should go after the Bible.

“The Bible,” Patrick Henry said, “is worth all other books which have ever been printed.” That’s because in it, God reveals God. The Creator shows himself to the creation for what he is a glorious, good God.

And calls us to seek Him- for forgiveness and life and fullness of joy- just to name a few (Isaiah 55:6-7, Psalm 17:3, Psalm 16:11). And we find Him by seeking him in his Word.

It’s one thing I resolve to do till the day I die.

More to be Desired than Gold

I haven’t a clue who’s been tucking the big bucks in the pew Bibles or why.

But I can’t miss the metaphor. With just a little imagination, there’s a beautiful truth here to behold.

The bills in the Bibles – and the way the kids raced to get to a Bible and open it up to find the bills- make a spiritual truth plain: God’s word is “more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold,” (Psalm 19:10).

Last night, the leaders made Ted put the $50 bill in the offering box. But I pray that one day Teddy and the others will remember back. Back to third grade when all those big bills mysteriously appeared and that when they do, they’ll rejoice.

Because in that day, they’ll realize that the Word of God is all that.

And so much more.

….My heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your Word like one who finds a great spoil.”

Psalm 119: 161-162

“I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He has written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be: “A man of one book.”

John Wesley

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The Infamous Stanley Park Incident

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC- 6/19/04
 

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.

W. H. Auden

Hurry Hon! I think we can catch it if we run.

So we cinched up our backpacks and off we ran to the free summer Stanley Park shuttle bus that offered “free shuttle service around the park stopping at 14 popular locations.” Oh, and “The shuttle stops are easily identified.” And sure enough, right on cue, as we raced into the Rose Garden, the bus squealed to a stop. We looked , smiled at the driver and climbed on. And took off our packs and sat down. Because after a few hours hiking the Park’s walkway and seawall and North Creek and Beaver Lake and South Creek Path, our feet were sore. So we caught our breath and enjoyed the view. First, Rhodendron Garden, and the Rowing Club. Then the Salmon Stream and Lost Lagoon. Isn’t this great? Jim asked.

And it’s free, I sighed, sinking into my window seat, about halfway back, driver’s side, admiring the totem poles.

Hey- there’s our car! Jim said. And sure enough, it was. And seconds later this sign, “Leaving Stanley Park.” Little did we know.  

 

Leaving Stanley Park

Next stop, the driver piped, Vanier Park. Then Granville Island. Enjoy three of the city’s best attractions all in scenic Vanier Park. What? Vanier Park? What happened to Stanley Park? I whispered to Jim. Maybe he’s giving us a little bonus ride, he said with that grin. I was none too sure. And as riders got on at the Vanier stop, the driver started asking for tickets. That’s funny, I whispered again. We didn’t show any ticket when we got on. Maybe that’s because we raced right on, Jim said, his eyes growing wide. Riders piled in at Granville Island and my anxiety was rising mile high.  No, you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or Stanley Park. We were probably only 5 miles away, but it felt 500 miles away. I slumped deeper into my seat and resisted looking up for fear of meeting the driver’s eyes. Sure enough, at each stop the driver- or his assistant- punched tickets. But he hadn’t punched ours. Or, by the matchless grace of God, even asked to see them.  

 

The Radio

We didn’t have tickets. We were free riders. And with each stop, my misery grew. Then the bus driver looked back, ominously, I thought. I avoided his gaze and trembled slightly as he grabbed his radio. By now the din of the riders drowned out the driver’s voice.  But I thought I knew why he made that call. Jim, do you think he knows? I felt like a mouse hiding on top of a carpet cat tower. He might. Maybe he was calling the authorities. Then, Be prepared to show your tickets at the next stop in Gastown. A new driver will be stepping on board. I squirmed. And tried to look invisible. What are we going to do, Hon? I almost cried. We have no money. Should we just go up and confess? Nah. Just pray it goes back to Stanley Park, Jim assured.   I did. And the bus filled and a new very crisp, capable looking driver stepped in at the Starbucks in Gastown. I curled into a ball and heard nothing whatsoever about the sights in Gastown. The driver took his place and the old driver got off. I exhaled, Now our secret was safe.  

 

Don’t Look Now

Abigail, whatever you do, don’t look up, Jim said staring down into his book. The new driver’s looking our way. I grimaced, and slunk a little lower. I could barely see out the window.  Oh no! He just picked up his radio. He’s talking and he just looked at us again. This was unbearable. I think I’d have preferred a night in the Vancouver clink to this. I heard something about Grouse Mountain off to the right but I dared not lift my head to peek. Abigail, I think they might get us at the next stop. Get ready to run. I turned my head the slightest inch to see another grin. But despite myself, his grin made me grin. Then, the driver’s voice broke in.  

 

Next Stop, Stanley Park

And after our nearly 90 minute (free) tour of Vancouver proper, the loop had closed. We spotted our car again. Then the Rose Garden. Now the bus slowed.  As soon as it stops, just run as fast as you can, Jim whispered. I almost laughed as we grabbed our packs and rose. And with the most grateful and innocent smile I could muster, but without eye contact,  I said, Thanks for the tour. I couldn’t, and didn’t, say then that I enjoyed the tour.  But 15 years and plenty of retellings of the Infamous Stanley Park Incident hence, I realize that I did. I did enjoy that undercover, high-stress Vancouver loop. I enjoyed it because of Jim. 

 

Joy, Because Of Jim

He makes me sweat and makes me laugh. He knows me pretty well and still loves me. Jim  knows I don’t laugh enough and I’m prone to introspection.  So Jim makes me laugh. Moral of the story: Marry someone who makes you laugh. And if you can’t do that, find a friend who makes you smile. Because life is full of inconvenience. And, after all, adventures are only inconveniences rightly considered. And rightly considered the Vancouver loop was edge-of-my-seat, or slink-deep-in-my seat adventure. Because I was with my husband, my friend Jim.  

 

“With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” 
William Shakespeare

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The Best Advice Mom Gave

He can crush me, exalt me, or do anything else He chooses. He simply asks me to have absolute faith in Him and His goodness. Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world.

My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers

Good 

It wasn’t teaching me to whip up apple pie in a flash, and always from scratchReal butter for crust, and always topped with cream, fresh-whipped in a frost-covered bowl. But that know-how has come in handy.

It wasn’t showing a sulky furrowed-brow little lass that A smile is the prettiest thing a girl can wear. Surely, no one was more qualified to teach that than a girl nicknamed Mary Sunshine. Some friends call me Smiles.

It wasn’t explaining that A quality product doesn’t need cheap advertising. Mom gave that sage advice on Sunday in May when I chopped half my new blue jean skirt off and wore my new mini to church. Dad was our pastor there.

 

Which taught some even better lessons.

 

Better

Like, Better to bend than to break. My mom lives like a willow. She bends with the wind and rolls with the punches. With mud on a fresh-mopped hardwood floor and with a thirteen year-old’s mini. I can’t bend half so low.

And as vital as it was to instruct me and rest of her honest-to-a-fault brood, If you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all- this wasn’t the best. Though that wisdom from Mom has maintain the unity of the Spirit so many times.

Nor was it her steadfast prayer, her constant refrain, God, give me a pure heart. Which was, I think, as crucial for a preacher’s wife as for a farmer’s wife as for a teacher and mother and friend. I pray this now, too-for Mom and me.

As valuable as these lessons are, they’re not the best.

 

Best

The most precious advice mom gave is this: To have a friend, be one. Although she didn’t say just this way, I knew what she meant: Stop thinking of yourself, Abigail. Look around and love others. 

To an introspective, insecure ten-year old in a brand new school in a brand new town, her words hit home. She didn’t let me pine away the weekend, feeling left out and alone. Let’s have a hayride and invite your class. Be a friend, she said.

To a still introspective, somewhat more secure fourteen year-old in a brand new high school in a brand new town, her advice still struck a chord. So without knowing a soul, two weeks before school began, joined the brass and met Tom and Chris and Pete and Angie in marching band.

Then, as a still introspective, and slightly lonely newlywed, I remembered what Mom said and a dinner group was forged with Shelly and Jay and Jen and Steve. Fifteen years and oodles of grace later, the group still gathers one Friday night each month.

When alone and unknown in a new church and alone and unknown in new job and more often now, well-known and let-down, Mom’s words to her introspective ten-year old, still echo through, her words about being a friend.

Plus these other two.

 

The Words That Blow My Self-Pity Away

To have a friend, be one is first. Then these two join forces with that advice. Together, they’re my Three Self-pity-busting Musketeers.

Don’t wait to be served, serve. Don’t wait for thanks, thank. To have a friend, be one.Those three are all for one and one for all. And the one they’re for is healthy, happy, humble me. Because self-pity is the weak side of pride- wounded ego, not-getting-what-I-deserve- pride. And this self-pitying pride cannot abide humility.

It cannot abide the God-Man Christ, who took on the form of a servant. Self-pitying pride can’t believe he really said, It’s more blessed to give than receiveAnd that truly blessed is happy. And happy is what a giving, serving, befriending me is bound to be. 

So when Mom’s words come to me, by grace, I go. They come when I feel left out and I go invite a friend. They come when I start to feel unvalued and I go send a thank-you note. The woe-is-me monsters still come and want to throw me a pity party. But I’m learning to look outside of me and go. 

I don’t wait. I can’t. Because if I do, I know melancholic me will join that party. So I don’t wait for someone to comfort or reach out or thank me. I’m learning that when I want thanks, the best thing to do is give it. And when I want to be served, the best thing to do is serve. Because I know it’s more blessed to give than receive.


Four days ago, an introspective eight year-old burst in the front door and burst into tears. Between massive, shoulder-shaking sobs, I gathered that a bump on his nose garnered teaching on the bus ride home and that he missed recess because of late work and-horror of horrors- outdoor gym class.

The world conspired against Gabe Thursday.

Imagine my surprise when my wounded second-grade warrior entered the kitchen ten minutes later, hands full of comb and brush and spray and gel. And with “One pass to the barbar.”

Mom, I know you like me to do your hair. Can I fix it for you now? 

And so I was blessed by the best 40 minute barbar job any girl could ever get.

But the bigger blessing was knowing that this regal treatment came from a son who was learning to look outside of his pain.

Who was somehow learning that focusing away from his pain to show others love is the best way to brush a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad, day away.

So thanks, Mom, for all your good advice. And for the way you lived it. We’re learning to live like you.

She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 

Proverbs 31:26

*This post was first published on Mother’s Day, 2018. But it’s as true today, on mom’s 70th birthday, as it was then.