Memory and Imagination

Whenever I hear Matt Redman’s “Blessed be Your Name” I am on I-84 headed east through the Columbia Gorge, past the giant windmills, towards our favorite eastern Oregon camping spot. Our kids are all small, all strapped to booster seats, all packed in with snacks and blankets and books. Though the drive is excruciatingly long, these are the best of times. 

That song is a soundtrack to a memory. 

Our youngest son wasn’t on those trips. Born almost four years after his nearest sibling, he missed out on some of the memory-making of those summers when we camped a lot. We try to be careful when we remember. Sensitive. 

None of us have memories specific to his first year and a half of life. He spent them in an orphanage in India, surrounded by other babies and rotating staff. A great deal of that time he also spent in the hospital with recurring bronchial infections and pneumonia. Our first sighting of him was on a DVD, narrated by a lovely woman who gave us the phrase, “Shashwat is feeling sleepy” in her heavily accented english, and who told us Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was his favorite song. 

But he came with no birth story, minimal history, and no shared memories from 17 months of his life. 


Memories are so pliable. My husband and I both have stories from childhood that we remember a certain way, while those around us have a differing version. Grievances can seem larger and punishments more harsh than they were in reality—we've learned this from our own children's memories. Likewise, the joys of certain events can grow over time and repetition, making a small act of kindness or privilege seem like an extravagance in our minds. This is the power we have, in shaping memories.

Our solution has been to make memories for our son, using our own experiences of India and its culture, and threading in the emotions and trauma common to any young woman giving birth. We tell him how loved he was by his tummy mom, how hard it must have been to give birth at sixteen in a tiny hut in a tiny village, and how, for eight days, she and his grandma struggled to keep him alive. He was tiny and frail when he arrived at the orphanage. We tell him how so many people worked to sustain him and get him healthy. 

We tell him he was wanted, because there are ways to “do without” a pregnancy, and we pray for his tummy mom together on Mother’s Day and on random nights when questions arise. They are hard questions—ones we can’t answer without imagination—and we tell the best and truest version we can. 

Some might call this lying. I prefer to call it Imaginative Redemption, because remembering is redemption, and the past lives in the stories we tell about it. We can tell any kind of story, avoid all kinds of truth, or settle for answering all the questions with “I don’t know"—but a child needs to know. We’ve chosen to make the best memories we can imagine for our son. 

God commanded Israel to set up memorial stones and called them to imagine a day when their children would ask, “What do these stones mean to you?”—a day when they would be far removed from the crossing of the Jordan and they would help their children imagine all the ways God cares and will care for them, by remembering all the ways he’d done so in the past. He unites curiosity with remembering, giving us an open-door for telling a good story.

I don’t remember anyone ever warning us about the questions our son would have when we were in the cumbersome process of adopting. I’m sure it came up in our training classes or our home visits, in the reams of paperwork we read and videos we watched; but until you are in the thick of the moment, until you have context for something, you don’t fully grasp it. We tell his story and answer his questions with all the redemption we honestly can. We try to create the healthiest memories for each of our children by telling them the truth—bad things have happened, mistakes have been and will continue to be made. But here is the redemptive imagination that keeps us going: God slipped on skin and flesh to buy back your memories and do more than you could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). When circumstances are beyond any we can control, God asks Is anything too hard for the LORD? and then delights in blowing our minds. 

A "true story”—which is not always the one we tell ourselves—roots us in a past experience of God’s goodness, because he is always behind, and gives us an imagination of his future goodness, because he is always ahead. We live in the moment with these memories and this imagination, and for every pleasure remembered, every memory forgotten, every blank space in a life we know was full of goodness, there is a redemptive story to be told.  Our kids will develop their own soundtrack to their memories and they'll exaggerate the stories and miss some details, but we hope a redemptive imagination will help them with the lyrics. 

How to Double Your Investments {Spending Time on Memories}

Harvest of time, vineyard, making memories

Time is one of those things you can't really manipulate.  You can manage it and be accountable for it, but you can never stop its progress or speed its momentum.

It's un-manipulative-able and deaf to all our pleas.

But imagine if time were a natural resource we mined or harvested or could synthetically re-create in a lab - if it were our currency.

Imagine if we could get time in 5 minute increments.  How much would you buy?

We could invest it and trade it, hoard it in pantries and hide it in the underwear drawer, and we'd never-ever-ever have enough.  Never.

Instead of "buying on time" we'd buy with time and all our homes would be worth their time in hours, or we'd be upside down and the banks would foreclose while we asked for more time, just a little more.

The fancy-pants would buy imported time and the purists would buy locally-harvested, organic time. Corn wouldn't drive the cost of everything this winter - a weak harvest of time would.

Our kids would ask for some extra time.  We'd argue with our spouses about how we spend our time and we'd work out budgets and cut out those time-suckers and really pare down the wasted minutes.

Because time would be money and that would make it valuable.  Right?

But we don't buy time.  We only spend it and there's no choice in how much, only in how well.  

She asks for a little time last night before bed and I stress, all emphatic and motherly, how late it is and how tired I am and how much is left to do downstairs and...

I give in.  I flop on her bed and just disappear for awhile, time ticking by and standing still at once. The roof doesn't cave in and the world keeps spinning.  Amazing. Why do I always resist this slowing down, and then complain about how fast they grow up?

Soon the whole family has gathered upstairs, sprawled on the floor and hanging over the edge of the bed.  They've found us wasting time together and it's irresistible indulgence, like chocolate chip cookie dough and spoons for everyone.

Together, all six of us.  Laughing and harvesting time for this moment, because we will remember this moment, we'll cherish it and live off of it when times are lean. 

Tim and I play 'Dead Cockroach' at Jacob's request and our knees shake.  I lose, the first one to wear out, but this is a winning kind of lose because we're all together.

We wrestle and tickle and these kids are stronger than they should be, aren't they? They're all toothy grins.

The phones don't ring and I can't see the laundry piles from up here.  Nothing is urgent. Everything can wait except the people we love.

Memories are a harvest of time, stored up as they are shared and multiplied in their extravagant spending sprees.  Worth every minute.

She smiled this morning at the remembrance, and it was like we doubled our money.

Linking up with Imperfect Prose, Getting Down with Jesus, and Scribing the Journey.