A Good Memory

I remember.

Not everything. I’m not that good at faces and names. I’m also not as good at rote memory–memorizing lists, passages, or poems–as I once was.

But I remember well places, scenes, roads, words, sensations, textures, experiences, tastes.

I remember far too much.

Eating ice cream at midnight when I was 2. Riding piggyback on my dad’s bike to Kindergarten in Legaspi City when I was 4. Mum making sauerkraut in a bucket in her office. The mango tree behind our house blowing over in the storm and the taste of unripe mangoes with a sprinkle of salt. The words of Filipino Sunday School songs. Getting my arm stuck in the washing machine wringer. Wading and swimming in flood waters in Lupagon. Playing with Gardiner Improsso on the IGBI basketball court. Visiting the Andersons in Tagbalaran. The look on the man’s face that I mistook for my Uncle at the airport in 1972. Where I was when my sister told me Mr Wright died (I had only met him once but he took our family to Disneyland.) The smell of the musty basement at my uncle’s church in Madison, Wisconsin. My first breath of Australian air after stepping off the plane in Sydney. How sausage rolls and strawberry milk really didn’t mix well in Grade 4.

1971-05-01 Burning the Clubouse
When we left the Philippines in 1971, our parents allowed us to have a bonfire with our old ‘clubhouse. I’m third from the left.

 

It might not seem so bad, but that’s only a small fraction of my mind’s inner workings. I also remember almost every unkind word I said, every failure, wrong decision, mistake. The lie I told in 1985. The rules I broke in 1986. The car accident of 1987. The wrong song I sang in church in 1996. The embarrassing joke of 1998. The brain snap of 1999. . . Many times my excellent memory feels like a curse.

It condemns me.

It beats me up. It makes me feel inadequate, foolish and, like Cher, wishing I could turn back time.

But I can’t wind the clock back. I can’t take back those hurtful words, unwrite that nasty letter, or undo that wrong move.

People are kind. They forget—or at least they don’t mention it again. I doubt there would be a handful of folks who would immediately call to mind that failed speech I gave, or that embarrassing joke I told.

People also give me advice on how to deal with my memory problems: “It is what it is.” “Accept it and move on.” “We all make mistakes.” “You wouldn’t be where you are today if you didn’t make the mistakes you made.”

While all these are true, it does nothing to mitigate the feelings of regret, remorse, or sadness over the past.

I find it easy to forgive others. I find it incredibly hard to forgive myself.

Memory is like that.

I recall the words of a song from First Call (Yes, I am a CCM tragic straight outa the 80s!) called God is Greater. Not a hugely memorable song and, despite my outstanding knack of remembering useless stuff, I can’t remember anything except this one line: “And even if your heart condemns you, God is greater . . . than your heart.”

God, the Divine Presence, the ever-loving, always forgiving, Eternal One is greater than anything that might condemn me.

I’m not discounting the reality of the regret I feel when I remember the bad things I have done or the pain I have caused the people that I have trodden on. That is still with me every day and, quite frankly, sucks. Big time.

What I hold on to is that no matter what my perception is, or has been, the reality of God’s love overpowers all.

Sure, I messed up and, if memory serves me correctly, still do.

But my life lies open before me and I can’t let those moments pass in vain. There are lessons I have learned and I need to move forward knowing that every mistake is redeemable, every wrong path can lead to healing, and every trespass is forgiven. Love wins, always.

 

Embracing Imperfection

One of the often-sung hymns in my early life was one entitled, ‘Yield Not to Temptation.’ The driven-in thought pattern which accompanied such singing went something like this:

‘You cannot be a good Christian if you sin.’

You cannot expect other people to want to become Christians if you don’t show you have victory over the world, the flesh and the devil.’ (or, ‘You can sin as much as you want, but don’t you dare let it be known.’)

‘Your number one aim in life is to avoid doing whatever may even appear to be evil so you can maintain a good testimony in the world.’

The words of the song provided the perfect backdrop for such a lifelong drama:

Yield not to temptation
For yielding is sin
Each victory will help you
Some other to win

Sin avoidance was the key to a successful and ‘victorious’ life, and, through this seemingly-successful life, others would be drawn to Christ.Sometimes God chooses to shine forgiveness and love through the broknness and imperfections in our life.*

Yet, the more I understand Jesus, and the more I am exposed to people who are sincere followers of his way, the more I see imperfection as being the cracks through which the love of God can shine–windows through which God’s forgiveness can be seen.

Richard Rohr writes of this ‘losing’ lifestyle thus:

One reason why I am so attracted to Jesus and then to Francis is that they found God in disorder, in imperfection, in the ordinary, and in the real world—not in any idealized concepts. They were more into losing than winning. But the ego does not like that, so we rearranged much of Christianity to fit our egoic pattern of achievement and climbing.

Isn’t it strange that Christians worship a God figure, Jesus, who appears to be clearly losing by every criterion imaginable? And then we spend so much time trying to “win,” succeed, and perform. We even call Jesus’ “losing” the very redemption of the world—yet we run from it. I think Christians have yet to learn the pattern of redemption. It is evil undone much more than evil ever perfectly avoided. It is disorder reconfigured in our hearts and minds—much more than demanding any perfect order to our universe.

St Paul well said, ‘[God’s] strength is made perfect in weakness.’ In our imperfection, in our humanity, in our losing, God’s grace–the one perfect constant in our life–is seen for what it truly is: fully unconditional, all-encompassing and imperfection-embracing love.

So I embrace my imperfection. It’s part of who I am as a human being. I will not and cannot be perfect. I cannot keep up a ‘victory’ front, appear to be squeaky-clean, look like Jesus. But I can trust, humbly live my life in my humanness, and believe that, through the imperfections, God’s glory will shine.

____________________

* The irony of this scenario seemed to me to be that one would put on a facade so they would attract others to Jesus. The new convert then would be taight that they too must put on a similar appearance to draw in others into this vicious cycle of hypocrisy and deception. In hindsight, I should have seen how unlike Jesus this really was.

Me and My GPS

HookTurnI am so grateful for the invention of the GPS.

I was even more appreciative of this on a recent visit to Melbourne where everything was unfamiliar and strange (Is this the only city in the world where you have to go to the far left hand lane in order to turn right?)

What I discovered, apart from the most direct route to get anywhere, were a few telling things that I can’t help but relate to life in general.

I love the way my GPS is forgiving.

It doesn’t hassle me when I make a wrong turn. It doesn’t declare in it’s soft, feminine (North American) voice, “You stupid idiot! Why didn’t you follow my commands?” Likewise, it doesn’t stop showing me the way because I made a wrong turn. It quietly, quickly, recalculates  where I’m headed and adjusts directions so I still arrive at my destination.

Life’s like that. God’s like that. No love lost. No refusal or turning the back on me. Just gentle forgiveness… and recalculating so I still get where I need to go. Grace.

But my GPS can still be wrong. At least in my opinion.

We were driving towards Mt. Dandenong and I could very clearly see the summit was to the right of the road on which we were travelling. The GPS, however, didn’t agree with me. Over and again it said (in a patient, peaceful voice), “Turn  left on Wombat Road.” I knew Wombat Road led downhill and away from the summit, so my response (to my wife’s amusement) was simply, “Whatever.” And I let the GPS keep harassing me. Passing Wombat Road, my artificially-intelligent friend recalculated and told me to take the  next left turn to get me to what ‘she’ thought was my destination. Only when I turned right and arrived at the summit of Mt. Dandenong did I realise the GPS was right–as far as its maps showed. While were standing on top of Mt. Dandenong, the township  of Mt. Dandenong was showing on the map as being downhill to the east a few kilometres.

Truth is, I need to be precise when inputting information so I get to the right destination. I also need to make room to get it wrong. Based on the best technology and the latest maps, the turn-by-turn navigation will always be as accurate as I ask it to be. If I tell it to take me to Melbourne Airport, it may direct me across the ocean to Melbourne, Florida. I  need  to state clearly, “Melbourne Airport, Victoria,” or, more specifically, “Rental Car Returns, Melbourne Airport,  Victoria.” (Doing so may prevent the embarrassment of ending up in the parking lane only to have to reverse and cross three lanes to get to the correct entrance. Grrrr…)

I would not have survived  Melbourne without a guide that knew the way around. Sure, we had a few “Drive around the block a few more times” moments, and a GPS can’t tell you the food will be OK at that restaurant it directed you to. But, overall, it was calming  knowing that somebody (OK, I did attach personhood to my GPS) knew the way.

And that, my friends, is also reassuring in my life. Call it “God,” “The Universe,” “The Great Spirit,” or “Cosmic GPS,” but it always good to know that, no matter how many wrong turns and dead ends you encounter, recalculations will be made, forgiveness is not an issue, and you will arrive at your destination safely.

(And to cap this all off nicely, I believe The Universe just sent me a sign because where I typed “destination,” autocorrect changed it to “detonation.” Well,  that is one way to come to an end. . . .)