Saturday, June 23, 2012

Looking Back

Call it reflecting, remembering or ruminating, we all look back. Thinking back on our life and experience can either be a sweet stroll down memory lane or a terrorizing rollercoaster ride that makes us breakout in a cold sweat, the hair on the back of our neck standing-up.

We had just moved to Florida and were trying to get settled in our house. Boxes were everywhere, the walls were bare and the curtains were down in eager anticipation of repainting most of the house. We had finished the living room a couple of days earlier and were about to tackle the kitchen. Mary Ann and I ran to the grocery store to get some ground beef for hamburgers when we were stopped by a dear elderly woman. Since she talked like she knew us well, Mary Ann sweetly engaged her in conversation.

But not me, it bugged me that I could not think of her name and where we had met. Without use of keyboard, laptop, smartphone or wireless Internet connection I “Googled” her face in my brain, trying to come up with a match. Did she work at the law office where we signed the papers to buy the house? Had we met while visiting churches? Did she work at the company I came here to lead? Did she live down the street? My internal face recognition software was coming up empty. Where was access to NCIS, CSI, CIA, FBI, Interpol or other local, state, federal and global databases when I needed them?

After about 10-minutes of conversation, this petite, sweet, dear older woman commented that she really liked the color we had selected for the living room. How did she know that? Did she secretly work at Home-Depot where we bought the paint? Was my near-term memory fading that fast? I couldn’t stand it any longer. With all the gentleness and grace I could muster I asked, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude, but I just can’t remember you visiting our house. When did we meet?” She smiled that innocent little-old-lady smile and sweetly said, “Why no, we’ve never met before.” How in the world then did she know so much about us? Again, trying not to get upset I asked the all-important follow-up question. “Well, if we’ve never met before, how do you know what color we painted our living room?” Her answer is still burned into my memory though it took place nearly 15 years ago – “Why, it’s my hobby to drive around and look into people’s houses. I can’t wait to see what colors you have picked out for your kitchen and bedrooms.”

As we said our goodbye’s and walked away, Mary Ann tugged at my arm, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Before we eat or do anything else, the curtains are going up.” As I said, looking back can be an interesting journey.

Looking back…

Starting in first grade, I took public transportation to school. One day I was goofing off (no surprise there) after school, so I missed my bus. This was a great tragedy because waiting for the next bus would put me on the edge of missing that great theatrical and literary experience known as the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” TV show. I was deep into the latest epic sage and needed to see the next episode. Waiting for the next scheduled bus, my palms sweated wondering if Rocky would save the day. Looking intently over Parkville’s retail epicenter landscape, I strained to see the next bus. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the figure of a bus peered over the horizon. With breathless excitement I got my bus token ready so I could hop onto the bus, deposit the token and flop into a seat in record time.  Belching billows of diesel fumes, the great pale green hulking monster of a bus moved more slowly than ever. I anxiously jumped up and down in an uncontrollable mix of excitement and fear of being late.

Historical and cultural context: In some households; cleanliness is next to godliness. In my family; you were late if you were only on time. We were never “fashionably late” but always annoyingly early. This was drilled into me from my earliest memories. I remember going to my cousin Bobby’s wedding and the extreme consternation of not being able to get into the church early. We thought the flimsy excuse offered did not match our “inalienable right” to be early for every event. After all, just because they were wheeling the casket out of the church from a funeral didn’t seem like such a big reason for stopping us.

But I digress… back to the drama… as the bus crossed over from Parkville into Carney, my anxiety rose to even greater heights. I was so flustered that I forgot to “ring the bell” for my stop. Oh no, I was now going to have to wait till the next stop, making me even later. I frantically pulled the chord to ring the bell. I made my way up to the front door of the bus, crouching down into my sprinting position, getting ready for the race of my life. Like an Olympian waiting for the gold medal race to crown the world’s fastest human, every fast-twitch muscle was ready to explode. A hush came over the bus as it lumbered to a stop, expelling pent up air pressure and a blue-gray diesel cloud that had the undeniable whiff of petroleum. The bus driver reached to his left and pulled the lever, opening the doors that would release me to run home as fast as my two skinny legs would carry me. The doors were only a blur to me as I bolted out of the bus and made an immediate left turn in front of the bus to cross Harford Road.

The next few seconds are fuzzy followed by excruciating pain as I was hit by a car. For all you historians (or those with absolutely nothing better to do) "CLICK HERE" to see this significant, legendary site. The injuries sustained were not life threatening, but the retina of my right eye ruptured producing a really cool looking red spot in the middle of my pupil. This gave great rise to my popularity in school, as I would make girls scream as they looked into my “bloody eyeball” – how cool is that! Needless to say, since that day I carefully look both ways before crossing any street, road, parking lot.

Looking Back…

We often look back at our lives; decisions, words, actions and attitudes with considerably less laughter. I listen intently as people open their hearts, hanging their head as they describe the terrible things they did, or things done to them.  I see the terrible weight of guilt, embarrassment and shame scream through their hushed tones. And when I listen to someone brag about how they are afraid of nothing, everything in their life is great, full of success – I normally see a frightened child in an adult body, hiding from themselves and their own fears.

I have a friend that is crippled, but doesn’t use crutches or a wheelchair. He has a lame life, unable to move beyond his past. Stuck in the sewer of his thoughts, he continually slips back into old patterns, old habits and old choices.

Yes, God does want us to learn from our decisions and mistakes, but he does not want us to live under a condemned conscious. Step one of his plan starts with forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ. We bring him our brokenness and guilt; in exchange he offers forgiveness, restoration and peace[1]. Step two is becoming the person he wants us to be, looking forward and reaching towards his goal for us and our lives[2]. God has an “end game” in mind for us and it is not achieved by wallowing in shame or guilt.

Not that I have my life all together, but let me encourage you to take your past to Jesus. He came for people just like you and me, wounded and weary of pretending to have it all together. I am really comforted by Jesus when he says “For I came not to call and invite those who are upright and in right standing with God, but the erring ones and all those not free from sin[3].”

It’s time to transform from “Looking Back” into “Looking to Jesus.” And that’s really good news.

Blessings - Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] Martin Luther called this The Great Exchange – “by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.”
[2] Philippians 3:13-14 I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
[3] Matthew 9:13

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