Nostalgia, Gratitude, and Moving Forward...

I should begin by confessing: I am not a nostalgic person. 

I think there are several reasons…
  1. I don’t remember enjoying being a kid. I just wanted to grow up…
  2. I grew up in a legalistic, controlling, cultish church where I was forbidden from doing a lot of normal things that kids and teens later feel nostalgia for, while being told that nobody went to heaven unless they attained perfection (which I was pretty sure I could never do), and...
  3. I entered into an abusive marriage at the age of 16, which I did not break free from until I was 43.
It’s not that I don’t have any good memories from all those years. I do. But not much causes me to experience (by definition): 

a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: aka nostalgia.

I had to read that definition twice to realize that nostalgia can be a moment of desire to return “in thought” and not a desire to go back TO a time. And it got me thinking about the little things that repeatedly spark, even in me, a desire to return “in thought” to the past.

Any time I clean glass (whether a window or a mirror or a table), I think of my mom. There are other things that bring her to my mind, of course. But I have this mental image of her constantly cleaning our sliding glass doors in California. If she saw the tiniest smudge anywhere, she had paper towels and Windex in her hands before you could blink. The memory makes me smile. And I think that would make her smile. 

I was only 28 when she died and, as a younger girl and woman, I was pretty focused on what she did wrong in our relationship (prior to her cancer diagnosis). But from the perspective of today’s wisdom and understanding, I see her in a much more flattering light. I see her as a human being with flaws just like me. I look back and see struggles and challenges she met head on that I couldn’t comprehend, let alone appreciate, while she was alive. 

Today I am thankful for many things about her that I took for granted or overlooked at a younger age. 

When I think of her, I smile, I feel a few tears well in my eyes, and then I think about what it will be like to see her again and tell HER these things face to face. I want to stay here as long as I can, but when I get to the other side, that’s a conversation I can’t wait to have with her.

My mom is very much alive in my heart and mind, especially around the holidays. She made holidays so special. She really was Martha Stewart in so many ways. I am in awe of how she cooked and presented the entire Thanksgiving meal with the kitchen fully cleaned before we were all seated at the impeccably set table of fine china and crystal stemware; every item in a china or crystal serving dish. I, on the other hand, serve from the stove buffet style and neglect my china because it has to be hand washed, which is just too much work. 

Every Christmas, she bought a pile of gifts for each of us and our spouses. She loved Christmas and threw her heart into gift giving and baking. But she took a tree down faster than anyone I've ever met. It was gone by Christmas night. With both my tears and my chuckles, I do love to return in thought to those moments and days. I think I love my mom even more now than I did when she was alive and I long to tell her that.

Any time I hear a trombone, I am flooded with memories of my dad. My favorite memories with him are when I was in my tweens and early teens. We played duets; him on the trombone or banjo and me on the piano. We played Stardust and Sentimental Over You. But my favorite was Mame. We played and sang, with Dad on the banjo instead of the trombone. And we even performed it at a school talent show. I think I was in eighth or ninth grade. 

I’m thankful for those sweet memories. I have no desire to actually go back in time, but I do wistfully return there in thought.

Any time I hear “The Stranger” by Billy Joel, I think of my brother Todd. For a couple of reasons. I have a mental image of Todd in his first car, a purple MG, with Billy Joel’s album “The Stranger” playing on the tape deck. But also, for most of our adult years, Todd and I were kind of strangers. We loved each other but we didn’t really know or understand each other on so many levels. This has changed drastically in recent years. We have come a long way and I feel like we are close now. We even talked recently about writing a book together. (I don’t know if my writing ability is enough to tell the big story he’s carrying in his imagination. But it would be fun to try.) 

His ringtone on my cell phone is still “The Stranger” because of my teenage association between him and the song. When I hear it now, though, I think, I should probably change this.

But I don’t. 

And I think it’s partly because it’s a warm and funny reminder of how far we've such a good way.

Every time we sing certain songs in church, I’m taken back to a pivotal time in my life and the emotions I was feeling, along with gratitude for God’s deliverance in my life. I have a specific memory of the first time I sang "Amazing Love" in a congregation. I had recently left the cult I grew up in and was visiting churches with my son and his wife. I was in an emotionally fragile condition because I had just filed for divorce from my abusive husband. I was scared. It felt like I was completely starting over in life at 43. I thought I was old. I was living with my dad so I could go to school full time. And it sometimes felt like I had wasted a lot of my “best” years trying not to bail out of a bad marriage or the church I had spent my life in.

Every time I sing, "I'm forgiven...because You were forsaken...I'm accepted...You were condemned..." I go back in my mind to a little community church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where I sang that song for the first time and was in my infancy of understanding the Gospel. I have a mental image of my sweet daughter-in-law holding her hand over her heart as she sang "You are my King...Jesus...You are my King." That is a moment I will always want to return to in thought, even though I would never want to go back in time to the pain and anxiety I was in the middle of.

There are several songs that especially take me back to chapel at Lipscomb University during this same difficult time in my life. One is "The Heart of Worship." 

"I'm coming back to the heart of worship...and it's all about You...It's all about You Jesus...I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it...when it's all about You...It's all about You Jesus..."

And perhaps the most emotion-packed-time-travel song for me is, "He Knows My Name." 

I remember how the tears of anxiety, followed by tears of comfort and gratitude, would fill my eyes every time we'd sing:

"I have a Maker...He formed my heart...Before even time began...My life was in His hands...He knows my name...He knows my every thought...He sees each tear that falls...and hears me when I call...I have a Father...He calls me His own...He'll never leave me...No matter where I go..."

That song was SO powerful and personal for me; especially "He sees each tear that falls..." because I was crying so much of the time back then. There were days on campus that I could hardly get through without anti-anxiety medication. I didn't understand how my life could have gone so far off track from what I desired and had tried so hard to achieve. It felt like an ending much more than a beginning of something good. But I learned through experience that God has a sunrise for every dark night. And my life was truly just beginning with those painful days, weeks and months.

Tim Keller gave a sermon once that I listened to over and over again. In it, he talks about how the deepest joy is birthed out of the deepest sorrow. And I am living proof of that. I am so grateful for all that God has done in my life. But my capacity to appreciate the joys of my life today are much greater because of the adversity that brought me to them. 

I was much more broken and damaged, back then, than I knew. I still carry some scars and post traumatic stress, which bleed into my mind and heart when someone unknowingly triggers a wound. But I am in awe of the healing and restoration God has brought to me over the last 13 years.

Finally (for this blog post), any time I hear or read a reference to Joel 2:25, I am taken back to a day in August 2003, when I showed one of my psychology professors my engagement ring. He knew my history because I was very open in all my classes and shared my experiences with faculty and students alike. This verse of scripture hadn't been one I had ever focused on, so it caught me by surprise when he looked at my ring, then smiled into my beaming face, and said these words to me:

"I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten."

I have moved forward with my life and I don't spend much time focused on the past, as I once did. I'm more blessed than I could ever deserve if I spent every day of the rest of my life doing good deeds for everyone in my path. I don't want to go back to any other time in my life. I'm savoring the moments that will become sweet memories I want to revisit down the road. But as I wrote this post, which started out with the admission that I am not nostalgic, I realized how many moments I do appreciate going back to in thought and in gratitude. And I have only listed a few.

As we approach the end of another year, I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for all I have been given. And I am not thinking of material things. I'm thinking of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, healing, restoration, redemption, friendship, family...all the stuff that makes life so worthwhile.

I was asked recently what my favorite Christmas song was and I said probably "My Grown Up Christmas List" by Amy Grant along with "Sweet Little Jesus Boy/We didn't know it was You" by Trisha Yearwood. My friend said, "You like depressing songs!" Which made me laugh very hard. I like the fun, happy songs too. But I'm drawn to more deeply meaningful messages, for sure.

I will close with the words to this chorus because they move me every year and these truly are my wishes for a world in pain (because at some point or another, we will all know pain)...

No more lives torn apart,
That wars would never start,
And time would heal all hearts.
And every one would have a friend,
And right would always win,
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list.