Last night I picked a handful of black-eyed Susan’s from our house that has yet to sell. A home that contains years of memories I will forever hold in my heart. The house belonged to my grandparents, and my husband and I bought it as a renovation project. It was healing to my grief to be able to restore it. A for sale sign has occupied the front yard for ten months now and counting. Our dreams and moving forward on temporary hold until the house sells. It’s a season that feels long and never-ending and has tested our patience to the limit.
My other set of grandparents used to have a long driveway paved with small and loose stones. I can still see myself as a young child crouched low in that driveway. The sun was warming my skin as I would comb patiently through the stones sifting for the ones I was looking for. They were small and light blue stones that looked like crystals. They were hidden beauties amongst the plain and ordinary ones. I would collect them as rare treasures found.
I have traveled a long way through life since then. So much beauty. So much heartache. So much mixture of the two that sometimes the grief is the easier one to remember. Like a default setting in my brain has that I don’t know how to restore to its proper setting. That’s how trauma works. It doesn’t time stamp a memory the way normal memories get coded. Your brain recognizes it as recurrent, instead of being able to differentiate that it was something that happened once and is over in the present here and now.
Even in the absence of a traumatic experience, sometimes our default setting as humans is to forget the good.
Sometimes as an adult, I still find myself collecting stones. But it’s no longer in childlike wonder and admiration of their beauty. It is no longer with palms open and to the sky as I hold them loosely. They are clinched tight in my fists and ready to throw as my heart rages.
Not all the time. Only in the challenging moments. The moments when I have more questions, then I have answers. When life feels as though it’s closing in from all sides and I feel trapped under the avalanche of it all.
There’s this part in the Bible where God tells the people to gather 12 stones from a riverbed as a remembrance. As a reminder that the thing that stood between them and where they were trying to go was removed before their very sight. As a reminder that the thing that threatened to drown them should they try to cross it, did not drown them. They made it safely to the other side.
You see, God knew that they would need to be reminded. He knew that you and I would need to be reminded. He knows our limitations and how prone we are to only see the circumstances in front of us and to forget where we’ve been.
It’s important not to forget the battles we’ve fought and have survived. To trace the scars of the moments we thought would kill us, but didn’t. The long sleepless nights with tear soaked pillows that we didn’t know if we would make it through, but morning came nonetheless.
The danger of forgetting is that it makes us weak. We lose heart in dark times. We get angry and embittered and start to tell ourselves untrue things. We rage against God and close loops and insert narratives into the gaps that are still being written. In doing so, we make the journey harder and longer than it has to be. We forfeit our peace and our hope.
If I could talk to that little girl version of myself crouched low in that driveway, I would tell her this…..
"You are going to go through some tough stuff in life. Collect the stones and whatever you do, don’t forget."
Don’t just collect lovely and smooth stones. Collect the jagged and rough-edged ones too. You will need to be reminded of them all.