I can remember it like it was yesterday… If you’re like me, there are lots of things in your memory that begin with that phrase.
Memory is a tricky thing. It can represent some of our most precious thoughts, or our most haunting inner ghosts. Here’s one of mine.
I was about ten years old and my sister Elizabeth was five or six (If you don’t know, I have an older brother, Nathaniel, and two younger sisters, Elizabeth and Rebecca. At the time of this story, the youngest wasn’t born yet). Our neighbors behind us had a small pond in their front yard with an island in the middle, and my brother and I used to play with the neighbor kids doing anything from fishing to building dams. The pond experienced quite a variation of water levels throughout the summer, and on this particular day it was low, not much more than a creek surrounding a hill in the middle.
The earlier details of the day are hazy, but I remember going to the thrift store and convincing my mom to buy me a ridiculous pair of greenish woven leather loafer-style dress shoes. They were very inexpensive, probably because they were stiff and smelled like mildew, but something in my ten-year-old brain had to have them. And you better believe I was wearing them the rest of the day.
Later in the evening we were walking in the neighbors’ yard and my parents were talking to the other adults, while I was standing near the edge of the creek. It was a warm summer night in the twilight hours just before it got dark. This is the part I really remember. With the adults a short ways away talking, my little sister suddenly leaned too far over the edge and fell about two feet into one of the deeper sections of the creek. Now this section of the creek was only about two or three feet deep, but that’s a dangerous depth for a little person. The adults noticed immediately and ran over and, since I was closest, told me in no uncertain terms to help her up out of the water. I hopped down over the water to the sandy soil below and, instead of getting right to the task, began to search for a rock or something to stand on while I retrieved my floating sister. Amazingly, the urgency of the situation failed to strike me. I was more concerned about my shoes.
My dad, seeing my hesitation, rushed over and jumped into the creek in full tennis shoes and jeans and lifted my coughing sister out of the water. I’ll never forget the way everyone looked at me. It was a less-than-approving look let me assure you. But they had every right to be angry with me. Yes I was young but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what to do in that situation. I was either displaying my selfishness or my indecisiveness in that moment, I’m not sure which but neither would surprise me. Both are still lurking around inside me.
This whole scene happened in a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds, but it has been blazed into my memory for my entire life. I will never forget my sister’s bright red hair fanned out across the muddy surface of the water. I will (unfortunately) never forget those moldy shoes or the looks on their faces.
The fact that this memory has stuck with me so long intrigues me. I think that it has had huge impact on my development as a person and my tendencies and weaknesses. A prime example is my desire to please people: I have a huge desire to be the hero. I want to be the rescuer, the one to save the day, and to have the best idea. I want to be the one who gets patted on the back and congratulated for making things happen and for avoiding disaster. Maybe it’s because of my failure that day to step in and take action. Maybe a part of me is still trying to catch up to that and make it right.
I know you can’t change the past and I don’t think I would want to. But I do want to learn from it and what I always come back to is that only Christ can be the hero and never let us down. It requires a shift in our thinking that allows God to work through us to others. I don’t have to be a hero for my company, my friends, or a complete stranger. I simply yield myself to God to allow Him to work through me. He’s the hero, I‘m not.
This is humbling because I can never be anyone’s savior; I’m imperfect and will never measure up. I point people to the perfect savior, the one who rescues us from our past, present, and future failures. This applies to me, to you, and to everyone else, and in every area of life.