A few weeks ago, the Kempf family gathered at 7433 Brightwood Dr. to say “Goodbye” to our old house. We were finally closing on the house we grew up in, with mom well established at Our Lady of Life Senior apartments. So, before the new owners moved in, my family all gathered there one last time and walked room to room through this tiny house, sharing the memories of our time in its walls.
We laughed a lot. We found a few tears in our remembering. And it was comforting to hear that I was not the only one who was frightened of the old pantry that used to be in corner of the basement. I would dread the times when mom asked me to get a can of tomatoes from the pantry. “You’ll stay at the top of the steps, won’t you?” We were sure that as soon as we turned our back, SOMETHING was going to come from the shadows and ‘get us’ before we got to the steps.
Then it was time for a toast. We toasted the memories and blessings of our time there. We said we were sorry for any ways we did not love each other well there. We prayed for those who would come after us, the new residents of 7433 Brightwood Dr. And then we adjourned to light a few bottle rockets OUTSIDE, just for old time’s sake. (We were really sorry for the ones that went off inside the house years ago.)
It was good to look back, to remember the ways that my years growing up there had shaped me: The love; the fighting with my brothers, the simple goodness and immeasurable blessings of that time and place. The countless elements that go towards who I am now… and who I will somehow be forever.
Do you ever look back? Do you stop from time to time and read through an old journal; look at old photos; reflect back on the days of your life past? There are some I know who refuse to look back at all. “I’m not going there. The past was just too painful; I’ve blocked all of that out of my consciousness.” Others look back perhaps TOO eagerly, too wistfully, with a nostalgia that paints the past as prettier than it really was.
Today Jesus speaks to us of the importance of a healthy looking back. It is a value to him because he knows that there is a way that we can look back that will help us live this day. Speaking at that final meal he shares with them, he promises his frightened disciples ‘Peace, not as the world gives it.” Knowing that his crucifixion is staring him in the face, and will be such a difficulty for the disciples – he invites them to look back to this moment, to all the moments he has been with them. He says, “You don’t have to be afraid. Remember my words. I promised that I would always be with you. Stop sometimes, look back and see: I WAS there, wasn’t I? So, you can trust that I am with you now. And always will be.
Jesus knows our tendency to get so worked up, frightened and anxious. He never pretends that life will be easy. He knows we will suffer. He does not want us living in any form of denial, including distracting ourselves from the pain of living. But he doesn’t want us to get too far down that road of fear and anxiety. “Peace” he says. “I’ve made a dwelling with you. I will be with you. Remember that I have promised that. So that you can trust that I am with you now, look back and see I’ve been true to that promise. You were never alone. You never will be.”
It is that promise – of a peace, not like the world gives – that helps me get through. When I pause, in the middle of the rough times to remember how Jesus HAS ALWAYS been there, (not always in the way that I might have wanted) that ‘looking back’ helps me to trust going forward. It is one of the tools that helps me through the tough times…
How about you? Didn’t you survive the fact that your brother broke your favorite toy in 3rd grade; or that the girl you liked in 6th grade had a crush on someone else? It broke your heart when you buried your grandpa, but don’t you now have an extra compassion for others who are sad? You’ve healed from that broken leg, finished the first round of chemo; or whatever – wasn’t God there? And not just in the tough times, but in the good ones? Can you see that? In whatever you face at this time in your life, can you remember His words today, and choose again to trust?
Our little house at 7433 Brightwood Dr. has been sold. But all those memories and history are a part of me now. God was there. I knew that in the looking back. And because I looked back, I can trust that God WILL be HERE… each step of the rest of my days. And God will be with you, each day of the rest of yours.