Thursday, January 8, 2015

Photographic Memories

Swans at Barnsley Gardens near Atlanta provide a "Kodak moment."

When I was young, if someone kept staring at you for an inordinate amount of time, we’d say something like, “Take a picture – it lasts longer.” It was a snide way of telling someone to mind their own business, but there’s truth in that old rebuke.

Whenever we travel to interesting places I’m rarely without my camera, Next to writing, photography is my second-favorite activity, but taking photos of sights we see is more than a simple hobby. As the saying goes, if I take a picture then the experience lasts longer.

Last year we did a fair amount of traveling and I have hundreds of photos to prove it. No, we didn’t go to exotic venues like Hawaii, Alaska, Europe or Asia, but I have photographic evidence to prove there are many visual delights in places like Orlando, Florida (and not just Walt Disney World), Asheville, N.C., Columbus, Ohio (yes, the land of the Buckeyes), Atlanta, and even Nebraska.

Fireworks at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
leave an indelible memory on visitors.
Long after we’ve returned from our trips, I can review my collection of photos from those times and relive some of our experiences, using them to jog my memory. As I review images from those trips I also can take note of details I might have missed when I saw them originally.

When I find myself caught in the humdrum tedium of daily work and responsibilities, it’s fun to remind myself of special times my family and I have enjoyed as we've ventured outside the mundane moments of everyday life.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something similar along our individual spiritual journeys? Actually we can, although not by using a digital camera or smart phone camera. We have to rely on our memories, the mental images of key moments in our lives when God intervened in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.

It’s important to make a point to do this regularly because if we don’t, we fall into the trap of the ancient Israelites when they would forget their miraculous deliverance from Egypt and start asking God, “What have You done for us lately?”

After witnessing the numerous plagues God brought upon the Egyptians – none of which affected the people of Israel – they were served an eviction notice by the frustrated Pharaoh. Then, when Egyptian forces pursued the Israelites after Pharaoh had yet another change of heart, God parted the Red Sea and led Moses and the men, women and children of Israel to the safety of the opposite shore.

As they traveled, whenever the Israelites grew thirsty or hungry, God made miraculous provision for them. Still, their “photographic” memories often failed them. “The Israelites said to (Moses and Aaron), ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into the desert to starve…” (Exodus 16:3). Later they grumbled, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (Exodus 17:3).

Even though the Lord brought both quail and manna for the Israelites to eat, they still found reasons to complain. Instead of “don’t worry, be happy,” their theme song was “don’t be happy, be worried.” Maybe it would have helped if they had been able to look at Kodak scrapbooks of the times when God bailed them out, but they chose instead to forget what He had done. Instead, they sugarcoated their centuries of enslavement in Egypt and longed for them as if they were “the good old days.”

Who could guess these pandas displayed at
the Grove Park Inn are made of gingerbread?
Don’t we do that sometimes? We pray and God answers, often in ways far beyond anything we could have hoped and imagined. Yet months or weeks or even days later, we fret and worry, acting as if God had never done a single kind thing for us.

So I make a point of reminding myself of wonderful things He has done. Can you remember the first time you sensed God is really there? Was there a special moment – perhaps in church, at a spiritual retreat, even an in-depth conversation with a friend – when God revealed Himself and His truth in a way He had not done before?

Has there been a time when a family member or friend was in dire straits and you prayed for them, clueless about how God could possibly resolve the crisis – and yet He did? Was there a personal struggle you were dealing with, possibly involving finances or illness, and you turned to God only as a last resort – and yet He came through in an amazing way?

One of the wonderful things about the Bible is the honesty of its writers. They weren’t much different from us. For instance, the psalmist writes, “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted” (Psalm 77:1-2). Does this sound like anything you’ve experienced?

How did the author of this psalm find comfort? He remembered. “I will remember the deeds of the Lord, yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11-12).

The psalm writer might not have had a handy stack of photos to sift through, but his vivid memories – both from his own life and from those of his people – served as reminders, helping him to remember and continue to trust in God’s faithful presence and provision.

Is it time that you pulled some out of the “photos” from your spiritual journey, reminding yourself of what the Lord has done in your life, perhaps even some things you haven’t thought about for a long time? As the psalmist urges us – remember.

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