Last week, I stood in front of a barn in the woods in Alabama that no animals have ever lived in, but I lived in it. I was a child then, and my family lived there while our house was being built on the same property and that worked out pretty well for us. I hadn’t seen it for several years, but it still looks like a barn. At least, that’s all you would see. When I look at it, I see more. I see so much that my mind can hardly keep up. I could stand there all day and look around at the barn and the house and the trees and I could watch the river of scenes pass by for hours and hours because this is my place, this is where my life took root and grew up with the pecan trees that my father and grandfather planted. When I go back there now, I feel like I have to walk slowly because the place is so crowded with memories. The sweet and bitter and happy and sad and embarrassing are all jumbled up together—every step, every sight, every sound and smell is full of them.
I remember when I was a child, some of our older neighbours would tell me stories about the things that happened in our little corner of the world (they called it “possum holler”) long before we came there. I remember when someone found a human bone in the little cave beside the lake, and it turned out to be really old. Does that mean Native Americans once lived in the corner I grew up in? Probably. Did they lay down their own crowded memories there, like I did so many years later? Probably.
As many memories as I have of that little corner of earth, I can only scratch the surface of everything that has happened there. Can you imagine knowing the true and full history of even one single spot on this wide world of ours? It would be overwhelming, to say the least. If you walk anywhere at all, you could be stepping on the locations of someone’s triumph or tragedy, someone’s lifetime of daily living or working, or maybe the battlefield they died on, and you could step on all of this and still know nothing about it. The air is so thick with history, everywhere you go. The stones are so full of stories, more than we can know. And yet, there is someone who does know. There is someone who actually sees every layer of every memory in every place. We might build new cities and parking lots on top of the past, but we can never erase even one old memory from his mind. We may forget, and we may be forgotten, but the God who made us remembers everything, and everyone. He knows the story of history from beginning to end, including the accumulated memories in every single corner of his creation. He knows my story, too—all the good and bad and all the pain and joy of it—and he knows how it fits in with all the other stories before and after.
Just like he remembers the full history of every place, he also remembers the full history of every person. When he remembers me, he doesn’t only remember the me I am today—he remembers the boy on the log in front of the barn, grinning for the camera with his front teeth missing, and he remembers the moments I hope everyone else has forgotten, and he remembers every other day I’ve ever had and every day I haven’t had yet and every trouble and every victory I’ve ever seen. When God remembers history, he remembers it all. When God remembers me, he remembers the whole me, through the whole of my life. He knows me inside out, in every detail, better than I know myself. Better than I know my favourite places. My best moments can’t earn his love, but my worst can’t stop it. He knows. And still, in Christ, he welcomes me.