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FIRST-PERSON: Looking in the rearview mirror

Helpful equipment. The close up of a black-rimmed rear-view mirror being adjusted to the clean windshield of a car

CORDOVA, Tenn. (BP) – A few years ago, a church member’s mother from North Carolina visited our church in Tennessee. When I introduced myself, she asked, “Pastor, do you remember a woman named Lois Pendley?” I replied, “Yes, I do. She was a member of my first pastorate.”

“Well,” the lady continued, “she is now in a nursing home severely challenged with dementia. However, she speaks often of her pastor, Richard Hipps. I thought you’d want to know that.”

Forty-four years ago, as a college student, I became this precious woman’s pastor. Lois Pendley and 200 other brave souls risked calling a ministerial student with no experience as their pastor. For five years, they helped shape my life and ministry.

Being humbled by the fact that Lois Pendley, in her challenged state, was remembering me as her pastor, I sat down, got comfortable and relived as many memories as possible.

I took my time and not only remembered people and places but also asked the Holy Spirit to help me interpret what I was remembering. It was truly amazing, a deeply spiritual exercise.

One thought rose to the top of all these memories – God loves me and is always faithful.

I have no idea how God has used my life and ministry over the years, but hearing about Lois Pendley gave me a glimpse. I think one of the joys – and surprises – of heaven will be seeing how our small stories help enrich God’s Big Story.

Perhaps it will be just a paragraph or a sentence, but just the same, God’s Big Story is incomplete without God’s working in our small stories.

Even though it is heartbreaking to watch age or dementia claim a loved one’s mind, it is a mistake to think that disease destroys a person’s desire or ability to worship. I have known many individuals who lose their ability to recall facts and events but remember such matters of faith as a pastor’s name, the Lord’s Prayer or a favorite hymn.

Although our loved ones and friends may forget many things, God has not forgotten them. I do not have dementia, but there are not many of us who do not struggle with memory problems. Most of us have selective memory, especially when it suits our needs.

We also have memory problems constrained by time and interest. We are too busy to sift through our past and remember the prints left on our hearts by others and be grateful.

We are too often absorbed in other things to remember the people who gave us chances and were living models of God’s faithfulness to us.

As I thought of all the people who allowed me to share in the sacred places of their lives, I recall the words of an old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – especially this line: “Here I raise mine Ebenezer.” An Ebenezer is a memorial stone, like the one raised by God’s people in Joshua 4 to remember God’s presence and participation in their lives.

One of the greatest enemies of faith is forgetfulness. Holy Spirit-inspired remembrances of the past encourage attitudes and behavior in the present.

When we discipline ourselves to remember – deeply remember – it can remind us of our many blessings, spur us on and keep us focused. The remembering can form our hearts and help us live and tell the story of God’s love.

What would happen if we raise our own Ebenezer by recalling year by year as many memories as possible and the ways we witnessed God present and participating in and through our lives?

The look in the rearview mirror would probably encourage each of us to trust God more and declare God’s faithfulness daily.

Richard Hipps is the retired pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. This article appeared in the Baptist and Reflector.

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