In recent weeks I have picked up an unfinished project that has been waiting for me to return for more years than I even want to say. Perhaps you have some of those as well. I have had a growing desire to handle unfinished projects and restart the process of trying to complete this one.
Both of my parents died in 1995 just three months apart. To say it was a challenging year would be an understatement due to many other things related to that including my need to care for a younger adult brother with mental, emotional, and physical handicaps while handling care of my parents, visiting hospitals, and more.
It was my task to sort through the pieces of their lives left behind and dispose of their possessions and home while working full-time, caring for my brother, and handling roles of wife and mother (among others). The task I could not begin then was sorting all the photographs my parents had accumulated after nearly 56 years of marriage. I filled assorted boxes and bags with them and brought them home with a plan to handle that task “later.” I knew the volume of photos would make that difficult, but additionally many of the photos were not dated or marked to identify who was in the photo. (Some of you have been there and had similar tasks.)
The containers of photos were piled and stacked under a long narrow table behind the couch in our family room. I had no other place to put them and they were largely out of the way and out of my sight, but I knew I needed to sort through all of them.
Our daughter gave me a special photography album she called a “heritage album” to begin to place the photos and accompanying stories in sometime after that. I was still working full-time, but on several occasions we spent some time scrapbooking together to get started. There was never enough time to make much progress so all the photos and pages I completed would be restacked for another time and place.
When I retired five years ago, this project was one I said I would tackle. Sadly, it felt as overwhelming as it had at the outset and other projects that had been set aside and were easier got handled first. There was a nagging awareness, however, that I needed to return to this album project. For whatever things I didn’t know about the photos, I still knew more than my children or grandchildren about those in the photos and the stories these pictures conveyed.
A few weeks ago I unloaded all the boxes and began to reestablish whatever order I thought I had in mind. Scrapbooking tools and pages as well as all the photos remaining (most of them) got spread over beds in guest bedrooms as well as other assorted places I could find on furniture and the living room floor to try to find some sense in how to order them.
It was one thing to make some semblance of order to the photos, but another to try to determine the stories, the stories of my family that the photos told. My dad died first and he was the one who could have answered all of my questions with his love of dates and history.
As I dug in I started researching names online and seeking out information in the local library. There is some progress, but there are (as Robert Frost might say) “miles to go before I sleep.”
Working on this unfinished project has reminded me of the significance and value of memories. We hear a lot about that in an era where dementia and Alzheimer’s is ravaging the minds of so many and robbing those diagnosed of memories that also rob their families of them.
In Out of the Silent Planet C.S. Lewis wrote: “A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.”
Memories are fascinating things and may resemble a patchwork quilt of different pieces that can form a lovely pattern and yet not represent where each piece came from or its significance.
Memories (even those we believe are completely intact) are not truly movies showing everything without gaps. Our minds are amazing, but they do not work that way. Gaps can happen because we cannot capture all the information coming into our senses at one time as well as the emotional impact of what we are experiencing. Yet they seem to create a frame for our lives.
In Patty Callahan Henry’s newest book, The Favorite Daughter, she writes:
“Memories are alive, and they can take over; they have their own life apart from us. But what are they really?
Just some amorphous, dreamy things that shift with time, almost like ghosts. Still they cause us pain or happiness or they keep us from doing things or cause us to shiver inside and wake us up in the middle of the night.”
God gave us the gift of memory and therein is a paradox since scripture sometimes admonishes us on the value of remembering and other times tells us not to remember.
One example in Deuteronomy 8:1-2 (NIV) serves as an example:
“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2 Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”
Another is found in Paul’s writing to the church at Philippi:
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)
The Lord is the one who can help us sift through memories and determine which are ones He would have us keep for our benefit and those we are to set aside. Only He knows those that serve us and his purposes well and produce wisdom, discernment, faith, and those that torment us and keep us stuck.
“Faith is a stalwart ship, carrying us through the gale, not destroyed by the ocean, but strengthened by it. Even the fiercest of life’s trials are no match for her sails. Trials pass like a storm. The day rises anew and we rise with the day.”
Lisa Wingate in Good Hope Road