This side of eternity, irrespective of who you are, where you live, what you do or what you believe, recalling memories can be an incredibly wonderful privilege. Just the ability to do such a thing I think is probably better described as a power, more than it is a privilege or a natural function of the human mind.
A past memory can be so powerful that its recalling or retelling can tangibly – even profoundly – affect a person, a crowd or even nations in the present moment. What is more – and unique to the memory of one whose life was transformed by trusting in the righteousness of Jesus Christ – God attaches promises to the memory of His people. The memory of His saints is armed with a particular, peculiar, potency. He promises that the memory of His precious children will bring blessing from Him to those who recall, retell or receive it.
Of course, memories can be very painful too. Some people live their lives imprisoned and enslaved by past memories; things they find irresistible to recall, regret, resent but equally impossible to erase. And I guess the same can be applied to both crowds and nations.
In the collection and recollection of my memories of Annie, there are some very painful ones. Sometimes the emotional punch they pack feels physical. Sometimes I feel that gut wrenching dull thud in my stomach; the one that forces me to a deep breath and a hollow sigh as I realise again that I am powerless to touch or hold or protect the Annie in that past moment. And it’s not like I have a choice when and when not to recall and replay those kinds of memories.
Yesterday was a beautiful bank holiday Monday and I spent the day with some folk from my church family in a breathtaking part of our country roughly an hour and a half away. Although I had never been to the place where we were headed, I learned that I had clearly travelled some of the route before. Driving along, hidden memories would appear along the road like hitchhikers or hijackers. Yesterday, I must have had over the legal limit of those ‘passengers’ with me in the car; just as well they were transparent. I did have a physical passenger in the car with me yesterday which meant that I wasn’t really able to deal with those other intruders and invaders; but eventually, when I was alone, that time came.
In the distance we passed at least a couple of schools where my Annie used to serve as a supply (substitute) teacher. One of those schools housed a rare memory from when Annie and I were engaged; a small country school tucked away in the hillside of Wilden in Worcestershire, where she first (unsuccessfully) applied for a job she hoped to commence once we were married. She really wanted that job and put together a very persuasive and exciting CV and covering letter! I even went with her to meet the head-teacher (a man whom I remember thinking looked uncannily like Noddy Holder, the lead singer of glam rock band, Slade!) It felt right; it felt like she was made for that job but the Lord taught us to wait and trust and He provided – even something better! I remember exactly where I was on that Friday afternoon when she received the news that a nearby school, Northwick Manor Primary, had offered her the job of reception class teacher. Ironically, she was in Worcester and I was in London following the end of a week at bible college. Leading up to that news, she was doubtful that she would get the job as there were so many candidates in the chain. It was just a couple of months away from our wedding day and we still were waiting on the seller to exchange contracts for the house we had made an offer on six months prior, wondering – with a degree of anxiety – whether we’d have to resort to renting at the last minute. But the Lord provided both the house and the job – just in perfect time (His, that is, not ours!)
On my drive, the location of some memories were less specific; nonchalantly wondering along roadsides, lay-bys and at junctions leading to places where I was not heading – but had once headed, with my Annie. And whether hitchhiker or hijacker, they were all impossible to resist picking up.
At other times, memories make me feel like I’m just the passenger.
After a great day out yesterday, within an hour of returning home I was back on the motorway, this time on a much more familiar trip headed south for Hayes, joining family to watch a broadcast of another funeral and thanksgiving service that took place earlier today. Before the journey down I grabbed a handful of CDs – something I find myself doing far less often these days as I enjoy filling the silence with prayer and conversation with God. These CDs had the sole purpose of keeping me awake for the two hours of driving that lay before me.
Annie and I loved one another, loved music and loved one another’s music. When we were married, among our combined possessions Annie brought with her a large black case of CDs filled with albums and artists I had never heard of. Most often, new music has to grow on you, but not if you’re married. The bible tells us that there’s a profound mystery to marriage: the two become one flesh. It’s probably stretching the doctrine of marriage a little, but once we were married, we amalgamated our senses – at least our sense of hearing! I instantly loved every CD she had in that black case. Bands and artists I had once never really heard of – from the The Dixie Chicks to The O.C. Supertones – they became personal anthems from the moment I first pushed the play button. Among last night’s fistful of CDs I took James Taylor’s ‘Gorilla’ (interestingly, I was one day old when he began recording that album!) I was behind the wheel but for the duration of that album, my mind became Mr. Taylor’s passenger as each song and ballad narrated an unordered story of happy memories from various chapters in the history of my life with Annie. That particular album was one of the many soundtracks that accompanied the very early years of our married life – long before cancer. The only problems we faced then were related to DIY and where to get lunch; we spent many hours fixing up our home with that album – and many others – filling the air as we wielded paintbrushes and power tools with enough ambition, creativity and excitement to drown out our inexperience!
The memory of the righteous will be a blessing. – Proverbs 10:7
I am surprised that those old CDs still play; the amount of times we played them they’re almost worn out. They just about play, but now they play differently. Yes, they skip and jump but that’s not the ‘different’ I’m describing. It’s hard to sing “How sweet it is to be loved by you!” to your sweetheart when she is not there to look at and smile at as you sing to her; when she’s not even at the other end of a phone-call. With Proverbs 10:7 in mind I found myself singing joyfully, “How sweet it was to be loved by Annie!”
Music is a powerful thing. Music has the most wonderful ability to transport you to another time and place. Music is able to both arouse and soothe the emotions. But recently I’m finding that music sometimes has the power to take you to places where it cannot comfort you. Halfway into my car journey, my mind’s journey had reached an abrupt and painful end. After a while, no matter how many joyful memories, you’re always left with the reality that these memories cannot replace or compensate for the absence. Crying on the motorway was a first for me. I was overwhelmed with tears almost to the point of it being dangerous. Evasive action included drying my eyes and turning off the CD player!
When I think of God’s promise in Proverbs 10:7, I am learning that God is promising me more than a temporary smile or a momentary warm feeling in the pit of my stomach. He’s giving me more than alternative lyrics to love songs. I am learning that the real blessing comes through craving a greater reality than the sum of my memories. On this earth, Annie loved her Lord Jesus more than anyone or anything else. Every day she drew nearer to death, she drew nearer to Jesus. He and His Word was increasingly more real and more precious than the world she physically lived in. I read her journals and letters; I carry her bible with me and see the verses she underlined and highlighted and wrote out; I recall her questions and tears and her requests of me in her last years and months and weeks and they are beginning to make more sense to me now than they did when she was here. As she let go of life she filled her arms and heart and mind with more and more of Jesus.
I may be stripped of my Annie for now, but I am not stripped of my Jesus. As I remember my Annie, I desire Him more and more with every passing breath and hour. I need Him more. I want Him more. He is more to me than what He gives to me. He is more to me than music. His Name is sweeter than any song.
To me, it sounds sweeter than the song of a bird
The word is Jesus and Jesus is The Word!
– Excerpt from ‘How?’ by Annie Muliette
A week or so ago on April 26th, Grandpop Kolb – Annie’s Grandpop – was suddenly called home to be with His Lord and Saviour, Jesus, following a good stretch of 90 years on this earth. Annie used to tell me that even before we were married, she’d return from family vacations in the US wondering if it was going to be the last time she’d see her Grandparents. In between the passing of Annie and Grandpop I was thinking how strange it would be that next time I see Grammy and Grandpop it would be without my Annie. My greatest comfort is knowing that Jesus promises that Annie is with Him which is incomparably better than anything and intrinsic to my joy; however, there is something that blesses my heart to know that somehow, Annie will have seen Grandpop before me.
As each day passes since Annie’s passing I ask the Lord something that bends the fabric of time and space. I ask Him to help me to remember where Annie is right now. It’s not a place that I have ever been. But it is a place. And in that place He has prepared a place for me. And as I think about that – as I remember that – I ask Him to fulfil in me what He taught me to pray:
May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10
In His Arms,