Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Precious Memories Are Present Reality in the Lord

My mother's parents owned a farm in the Ozark hills of Missouri. Mom grew up there, in a little house that began as a one room log cabin when her grandparents homesteaded the place in the mid 1800's. My grandma always said her little house "grew like Topsy" over the years, with rooms added as the family increased in number. Grandpa added a porch and enclosed it, then built a second story, a kitchen, a bedroom, a utility room, and finally in the late 1950's the crowning glory: a fully plumbed bathroom.

When Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer at age 90, Grandma could no longer take care of him, and it was time for them to move to town. Grandpa lived only a few months after that move, and my mother signed over her share of the farm to my uncle, since he had agreed to bear the burden of caregiving for Grandma.  This followed a family tradition; a generation earlier my grandparents had inherited the farm in exchange for providing care for my great grandmother.

The little house that "grew like Topsy." The green portion on the left in this photo was a originally a separate "granny house," the precursor of what we now would call "a mother-in-law" addition. The room that connects it to the main house was added later, after my great grandmother passed away. She was bedridden for three years and my grandparents provided 100% of her care with no respite caregivers or social services to ease the burden.
The little house sat on a hill surrounded by lush pastures and tree-covered bluffs that offered a thrilling, 360 degree panorama of soul-nurturing beauty. My cousins and I grew up picking plums and apples from Grandma's trees and exploring the secrets of Grandpa's shop where a forge and anvil bore testament to his years as a blacksmith before he became a mechanic who worked on Model T engines. Our parents called this farm "down home," and it remained my heart home even when my grandparents were gone. My uncle and aunt razed the old house and built their new home on the site, and although I didn't visit often, I had the security of knowing that the property was still in the family. I could still go "down home" if I chose.
Tree-covered bluff and pond to the east of the house.
Pasture southwest of the house site.

My uncle was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year, and a few days ago the sale of this property that had been in our family for 150 years was finalized.  This past Saturday I made one last journey "down home."

I was surprised at the intensity of my grief.  I felt embarrassed by my sorrow, as though it was somehow inappropriate. I knew that I should not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope in Christ (1 Thesalonians 4:13), but that Scripture passage refers to the loss of loved ones, not of a place.  How could an earthly location hold so much of my heart?  How could I, thirty years after any right of heredity had been signed away and over twenty years removed from the time Grandma's house was torn down, still manage to think of this earthly location as home, or believe it somehow provided me security? But I wept like a child over the final, irrevocable loss of this childhood place of happy safety, and a nightmarish sense of loss and homesickness settled over me.

In prayer, these thoughts came:

God is Spirit, and all times are "now" to Him. What was once real is still real in Him; all times belong to the Lord. I must not make an idol of this grief, take ownership of it, or label it as my own. To do so is to replace the reality of what exists in the past and replace it with a stone marked “my grief,” like Indiana Jones attempting to replace treasure with a worthless sack of equal weight.  His attempt did not work and neither would mine!  I can keep the precious memories--they are legitimately mine--but I can be rid of the grief.  My instinct is to hold onto the grief because it is in my present, and my access to the Missouri farm is in the past, out of my reach, but such an exchange replaces reality with sorrow.  Here is reality: I had grandparents who loved and provided for me, and I had beauty of the Missouri hills as my own. They will always belong to me because they once belonged to me.  No one can take them from me because there is no future or past in God; all is now! This goes beyond the platitude to "be comforted by your memories." It is more accurate to say, "Be comforted by your reality!" When I abide in the Lord, the glorious "now" of what was and is and is to be is mine.  All reality is "now" in Him. 

When we make our heart's home in Christ, we participate in the reality that encompasses all time and eternity. He keeps us grounded in Himself and does not allow us to find safe harbor elsewhere.  In God we are safe, and in Him all that was still is, and all that is will always be.   

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” --Revelation 1:8

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