When The Shadows Fall

It's been nearly a half-dozen years since I've set foot in my grandparents' house, but when we pull up to the curb in the middle of the afternoon, I wonder if I ever left at all.

This little red house with the white front steps and that tiny patch of grass, it's just the way I remember it from the time I was small.  The years, they've taken their toll.  But me, I'm walking right back into childhood when I step over that threshold, and I'm not expecting it to feel like this.

Like I've found a piece of who I used to be and there's nothing I can do to take it back into the life I live now.

My dad and his dad, they rummage in the shed for bicycles long unused, and my grandma and me, we wander the house and recount the past.  I trace my hand over wallpaper and curtains and I smile to myself at things still hanging on the walls after all these years.

We make our way to the basement in search of the puzzles my grandma once loved, because her eyesight's slipping away and there's no more use in trying to see what she can't.  She pulls them out from all the places they've been stashed and I look them over slow, choosing a handful to carry back to my side of the state.

And we're standing in that room where my whole family used to sleep when she points to a photograph on the wall and tells me a story I didn't know.  My grandma, she's not quite 80, but the years--they haven't been kind.  She's forgotten how to cook an egg and she's forgotten how to use the microwave and she's starting to forget her own grandchildren.

She's starting to forget me.

But she remembers that morning decades ago when she left the house before dawn, my grandpa already off to work.  And it was only 5 am when she made her way to that bridge across town and snapped a photo for a newspaper contest.  Grandma won second place for her efforts and she still smiles big when she tells me the story.

And that's the moment when I feel my heart break open just a bit, all these pieces of the past weighing me right down.  Because there are too many things I've forgotten, too many things I've never known about my own family, all our history slipping away in the unkind river of time.  And I know it now, how it's too late and some things really are lost and, oh, the longing to get it all back?  It leaves me broken and grieving.

I don't want to re-live the growing-up years, so heavy with pain and loss.  But there's this one thing I wish I'd known from the start--that counting all the moments and giving thanks for what's here and now, it's the only way to remember what shouldn't be forgotten.  It's the only way to carry the heritage of a family into all the years to come.

Maybe it's the only way to build a heritage at all.

Because there are stories told in photographs and mementos and there are stories told from one person to another, but what does it really matter without the story of God's goodness running right through all our days, all our generations?

And isn't that what the listing of His gifts is really all about--telling the story of His goodness?

It's two days later when we're driving home across the mountains and I hear the echo of my soul in the words of a songLife is full of light and shadow.  Oh, the joy and oh, the sorrow.  Because I'm still aching a bit over what's been lost and what can't be found again and yet I'm whispering thanks with every breath, desperately grateful for even one more day with the grandparents who birthed our family.

And it's the chorus that shouts loud the truth I'm trying to learn:
When shadows fall on us
we will not fear
we will remember.
When the darkness falls on us
we will not fear
we will remember.
When we're thrown and we're tossed
we'll remember the cost.
We're resting in the shadow of the cross.
~~David Crowder, Shadows
There's no going back to all the years before.  Before I started counting His Graces, counting on Him.  There's no retrieving what's been lost and uncounted and unremembered, but there's the giving thanks for what is and there's the remembering of Him right here and now.

Because maybe there's only one thing that needs remembering in all our lives--Christ on the cross, God redeeming us out of every shadow that will ever fall, us never forgotten by the One Who holds the whole world together.

When the shadows fall on us, we will remember.  When time steals our eyesight, our memories, our loved ones, we will remember.   When we've forgotten everything and everyone else, we will remember.

Because the record of God's goodness?  We're writing it down, carving Him into the story of our lives, choosing to remember Him when all else is slipping away.

The grief over what's been lost and what's slipping away, it breathes life into the gratitude for what is and what has been and what might still be.  And the shadow of the cross?  It leads us right to the Light of the World.

Recording the story of His goodness...

1573.  Days without work
1574.  Car loaded down, us all tucked in for the drive
1575.  Safe travels over the mountain, clouds following us all the way
1576.  Road trip snacks and backseat catnaps
1577.  Pulling into the campground at last, sun starting to break through
1578.  Setting up camp while the sun sets across the river
1579.  Hot drinks before bed
1580.  Me tucked into the teardrop trailer for the night
1581.  4 am trip to the bathroom, horizon already on fire and everything perfectly still
1582.  Cinnamon french toast for breakfast, broken fork and laughter to start the day
1583.  Setting up lawn games in the grass
1584.  Practicing, practicing, practicing before anyone else arrives
1585.  Me and Dad traipsing around the pond looking for dragon flies
1586.  Day already hot before lunchtime
1587.  Grandpa and Grandma pulling in, their old station wagon recognized from afar
1588.  Grandparent hugs and hellos
1589.  Grandma and me moving our chairs from sun to shade and back again
1590.  Hot dogs and pasta salad for lunch, quiet conversations before the whole gang arrives
1591.  Camp stove malfunction, propane leaking when we're nearby and awake
1592.  Trip to the store to fix what's broken, finding a makeshift part
1593.  Dad and me making our way to the house where he was born
1594.  Pulling up to the house and finding everything just the same
1595.  Honking the horns on old bicycles dug out of storage
1596.  Grandma and me wandering the house in search of puzzles
1597.  Memories and feelings from the past, a childhood forgotten and remembered
1598.  Grandma recounting stories, me grieving and giving thanks
1599.  The sound of her voice, her laughter
1600.  The woman she once was
1601.  Arriving back at the campground to find cousins here at last
1602.  Hamburgers on the grill
1603.  More cousins finding their way, and a brother, too, unloading cars and setting up tents
1604.  All of us gathered around the campfire, laughing loud and late
1605.  First morning with all of us together, more french toast, and sausage falling in the grass
1606.  Playing games with cousins, me still bad at them all
1607.  Crocheting in the shade when it's time for a little quiet
1608.  Heading down to the water after lunch, carrying my chair and crochet
1609.  Hanging out with a cousin, chatting and sharing life
1610.  Day hot and sticky but all of us thankful for the sun
1611.  Bratwursts on the grill for dinner
1612.  All of us sitting 6 feet from the campfire because the day's still hot
1613.  Wind coming up at last, cooling us down just enough
1614.  Laughter and s'mores and silliness late into the night
1615.  Good sleep on the last night
1616.  Packing up after breakfast, a million trips back and forth across the grass
1617.  Everything loaded at long last
1618.  Goodbye hugs and well wishes
1619.  Protection when the cargo comes undone and we're standing on the side of the freeway
1620.  Makeshift tie-down, us making it to the next rest stop in one piece
1621.  Dad figuring out how to get us home, us grateful for Him watching over us
1622.  Rain greeting us as soon as we reach the mountains
1623.  Home, home, home
1624.  Him, Him, Him.  Yes.  This most of all.


  1. hi Courtney,

    as ever, much to sustain! i liked the (unobvious) idea that gratitude can be for things yet to come, as well as for things in the past or present.

    no question, loss is a desperately hard thing. perhaps, though, there is a sense in which nothing good is ever lost. i remember reading somewhere that one of the extraordinary things about love is that when we give it away, we get to keep it. perhaps it's like that with God and goodness. Every good and perfect thing comes from God; but maybe every good and perfect thing also stays in God, so that, when we know as we are known, we'll find that all those things we thought of as lost were instead being kept safe for us to love forever...

    i'm sorry about your grandma's memory loss, and will pray for her (and your grandad). so pleased they've given you some time off at work!


    1. @Chris: As always, you encourage my heart with your deeply generous words. The very thought that my meager words here might offer a bit of sustenance to a fellow traveler, it humbles me greatly. Thank you.

      I think when we are grateful for things yet to come we are really giving thanks for hope, giving thanks for the possibility of good--because even that possibility is something we haven't earned, something only God's grace bestows on us. And, oh, how grateful I am for possibility, for hope, for the beauty of what might be!

      I love what you are saying here about all the good and perfect things staying with God even as He gives them and, thus, they are never really lost. I think I was feeling that as I worked through my writing here, that when we focus on Christ, the One Good Thing above all else, all the other things are really encompassed in Him and we don't need to feel as if they are lost forever. Dreaming of the day when God will recount my family's story to me in full...

      Thank you, Friend, for prayers and friendship across the miles. Grace upon grace to you!

  2. "There's no retrieving what's been lost and uncounted and unremembered, but there's the giving thanks for what is and there's the remembering of Him right here and now." I agree with Chris that nothing is really lost in the mercies of God. Besides, if something forgotten or unknown is needful for your journey, He will not fail to bring it to light somehow. His hand is not too short to reach lost memories and family history. And once you know it, you can give thanks for it then. (Plus, who's to say we can't thank Him for the things forgotten, too? Even while they are still forgotten to us, He knows what they are.)

    Your story and list amaze me with the strength and energy God provided. I'm glad with you for that. Grace and deep healing, inside and out, to you, my friend.

    1. @tinuviel: My apologies for such a late reply...strength has been low of late and discouragement a bit higher than normal. Thank you for your words here, Friend. They are always a gift. You are right to point everything back to Him, the God Who never forgets and can always bring to mind what we think has been lost forever. Much grace and much healing to you, too, Dear One. Thankful for the chance to walk to the road with you, even from afar.

  3. So grateful to read your list and hear your voice. I've been gone for two weeks, and am trying to find my feet again. Just...really wanted to reach for your hand and get close to your light. Thanks so much for your words. Love to you, friend.

    1. @Bernadette: I've been missing you, Friend. Feeling that same longing to reach out and hold tight across the miles. You are always in my heart and prayers. Sending love right back at you, Dear Friend!

  4. You've been on my mind lately. I have been meaning to email you and check in, but time and energy have been needed elsewhere. It cheers me to see happy Twitter updates here, so I know all is well. Your time and energy have been needed elsewhere, too, it seems.

    Just wanted you to know you're not forgotten, lovely one. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!


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