The million steps to 35 years ago is literally just a few blocks away.
I live one street over from a house I grew up in. Sometimes I take my children down that dead-end road. We walk down the gravel road where I remember…like yesterday…playing in the puddles with my brother. Running his green Tonka truck through the brown sludge.
It was a dream home for our family. A house in town but in the woods. We could walk to school by taking a trail through the woods. There was also a cave we could hike to. My dad would always stop at a persimmon tree along the way to see if it’s orange fruit was sweet yet. We built log cabins with some neighborhood kids out of fallen trees. I kissed frogs and believed they really might turn into princes. There was a giant rock shaped like an owl. We would outline it with chalk. I remember one time, my sister stepped on a giant thorn near the rock, so owl rock was always tainted in my mind as being a bit dangerous. It went right through her shoe and I can still see the thorn and the mustard yellow sock drenched with red.
We only lived there for about four years but they were my elementary school years. The beginning of my vivid memories. It turns out that these memories are what I think of when I think of my childhood.
So this walk to the old house that I take with my kids every so often…it’s…magical. I’m flooded with all of these memories and more. I cry too because there is some pain in these memories. After four years of living in that house, we had to sell it and move. It was a loss of a dream for my parents and it was a loss of the magical child-world for me.
So I bring my kids back for a taste of it. What is it that I’m searching for? Innocence? A memory? An adventure lost in the woods at the age of 8? My cat…the one I never saw again after moving?
This past weekend my husband had the idea. We’d talked about it for years but have never done it. “Everybody put long pants on!” He announced where we were going and I ran to the basement to grab a box of sidewalk chalk. I stuffed four pieces in my husband’s pants. Two in each pocket.
We parked at the beginning of the gravel road and walked down. My feet settling into indentations where puddles grow. Thoughts of little brother and the Tonka truck. This time we didn’t just walk down the gravel road and back as I’d done since moving back to my hometown eight years ago. This time we went beyond the gravel road. We walked up to the deserted house. We peeked in the windows. I strained my eyes to see things I may have seen as a child and touch things I may have touched. My kids rolled down the hill…just like I did.
I touched the wood on the deck…the same wood I touched as a child. A tear came as I saw the remains of the wood that used to hold up my dad’s herb garden. I’m sure he made it himself. I saw the shape of the rooms, but so much had changed. The paint, the wallpaper, the floors. The one that looked the least changed was the workshop where I remember “working” with my dad. Making the wood curls with the wood shaver. All of the rooms were so much smaller than they seemed as a child. The house itself was rotting on the outside. My husband had warned me that it wouldn’t be good. That the ruins of this house would be shocking for my soul. It was. He made a suggestion that we move on so we did.
We set out to accomplish what we had really came there for. To discover, once again for me and once anew for my kids…owl rock. It felt like Christmas morning to me. To discover, once again, this special place I had only seen in pictures since my childhood.
I knew just where to go. Like the million steps to 35 years ago had vanished. I was there. We tromped over junk. Old fences and appliances and even a refrigerator that was there when we moved in. Crazy how my memory got us back to it. It was so easy. But as I got closer to it, I grew greatly disappointed. It was covered by small trees. And it was almost as if the trees were intentionally grown over it. It wasn’t just brush that could be pulled away. Two to three inch in diameter trees were growing…as if they bent over backwards to make it impossible for me to re-connect with my childhood. I began grabbing them and trying to pull them away. But it was useless. The tree with thorns on the trunk and branches was the first I was to grab. As I pulled it away with frantic force to get to my past, a thorn drug through my finger and the trunk stayed put. Blood ran. Just like on my sister’s sock. I felt a bit rejected by my past. I’ve wondered in the past week, what the Lord might be telling me about looking into my past.
My children couldn’t quite grasp what the excitement of owl rock was all about. They couldn’t quite make out the owl shape. The chalk…stayed inside my husbands pocket. I remained desparate to change the situation, but no change could be made. I took sad pictures of my kids on the tree-covered rock. No longer owl rock.
“I’ll come back up here and clear it out before we come back again,” said my husband. It was a nice thought but, my desire to re-discover owl rock was vanishing quickly.
With less enthusiasm than before, we left the woods and walked into the clearing of my childhood backyard. The kids rolled down the hill while I looked on with a sad heart.
Sometimes…revisiting the past can be thorny. It seems good at the time, but the reality of it can be painful…bloody…soul sickening. Although sad, God is using this wasteland of a once magical place to remind me of some glorious truths about grace. He renews me…even in this place.
The same week that I experienced this disappointment of the owl rock overgrowth, I experienced the reality of an overgrowth of disappointment and pain on my own heart over a matter of the past. Stuff that happened, not 35 years ago, but just one year ago. A long drawn out evil battle that keeps waging against me and rearing it’s ugly head. Some of the most evil, shocking and disappointing circumstances in my life have happened within the past year.
What do we do with these past experiences. Ones we either willingly revisit or ones that require us to revisit them? Sometimes it’s both. We are forced to revisit it and, perhaps, we stay too long when the Lord clearly tells us to not dwell on certain aspects of it. Or we willingly visit (innocently or not) thorny places that we didn’t realize how dangerous they were. Or we sinfully dwell on a conversation or gossip about a situation. We tell our story…bring it up again…to be sure others know what really happened. The bloody battles…like thorns that pierce us. If I had my choice, I’d choose to run away from this one. I’d choose not to peek into the windows to try to find something to remember because I don’t want to remember. Yet in the midst of this past trial and the memories of it and the continuing saga…I am tempted. I am tempted toward gossip, defending, anger, bitterness, worry, control, vengeance and even…distrusting God.
Sometimes we innocently revisit the past with joy and find that it isn’t as sweet of a place to revisit as we thought.
Sometimes the past is sinfully revisited and we find that it sours our soul.
Sometimes the past is thrust upon us and we can’t seem to get away from it. It pierces our soul and bleeds us dry.
Sometimes, it’s a surprising mixture of all these things.
And in all these things, we must turn toward the Lord:
If we are sad, turn toward Him.
If we are bitter, turn toward Him. If angered, turn toward Him. If feeling anxiety, turn toward Him. If distrusting, turn toward Him.
If we are tortured, turn toward Him.
There is no twelve step program. Can we really manage the sin and pain? Is there any way to keep these times from coming?
I don’t think so. But we can live the surprisingly abundant life that the Lord provides in the midst of it all.
The solution is to turn toward Him.
To simply (not always easily) turn toward Him in prayer and repentance (if needed) is the answer. To be reminded of who He is and who we are in Him through His Word is the answer.
In all of these situations, I find these verses to be helpful, convicting and comforting…
1 Peter 5:6-11
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Linking up with these ladies this week: