“Do you have eyes but fail to see,
and ears but fail to hear?
And don’t you remember?”
In our living room sits a digital photo frame that, every few seconds, randomly displays one of more than a hundred digital family photos that are contained in it. Likewise, on our kitchen counter sits a small netbook computer that also randomly displays digital photos that we have stored in its screen saver. Although the two sets of photos are not identical, they do have a number of our more recent favorite family photos in common. Among those common photos are four particular ones that God has made into gifts of remembrance for me.
“Coincidentally,” each one of the four photos is a photo of a different one of our four young grandsons. (For the record, I have heard that the Hebrew language does not contain a word for coincidence. I don’t believe that God has one either. Neither do I.)
The first of the four photos was taken three Thanksgivings ago when our two grown sons, along with their wives and two sons each, were present at our home for the holiday. Following the meal, the ten of us took a walk through the woods, something that we rarely have the opportunity to do together. During the walk, the legs of our younger son’s younger son began to give out, so his daddy hoisted him up on his shoulders for a ride. My husband, with a camera ever ready, snapped a headshot of our son with his son contentedly riding on his shoulders.
From the time that my husband uploaded the batch of photos containing this photo into the two photo displays, this photo of my grandson riding on his daddy’s shoulders “coincidentally” would often appear as I passed by and took notice of it. Time after time, day after day, I would see this photo and smile in fond remembrance of the day that the photo was taken.
Then one day as I once again saw the photo, I was suddenly struck with the realization that this photo and its repetitious appearances were much more than reminders of that one special day. As the picture of my son and grandson flashed on the screen, I “saw” not them, but myself being carried by God. The photo immediately became my reminder that the strength of God is what holds me up and keeps me going when I have little strength of my own. I can relax knowing that God is the One doing the work in my life; and that I am the one who gets to go along for the ride.
From that day forward, the photo appeared even more often than it had previously. I estimate that, for years now, the photo has been on each of the two display screens as much as three-fourths of the times that I have taken notice of them. Though the displays contain a hundred or so different photos that could be seen, this one photo is the one that I continue to see repeatedly. The significance of the photo never escapes me, but rather fills me with relief as it reminds me of what I know: God will never let me down.
While this photo continues to appear to me with the greatest frequency, three others joined its rank the next summer to since monopolize the display screens. One of those three photos shows our oldest grandson and me holding hands as we stand in front of a mountaintop view of a valley below. The photo was taken during a hike that we, along with my husband, had made to the observation tower at Clingman’s Dome at Smokey Mountain National Park.
The walk to the tower is short, only half a mile, but arduously steep. That particular day, our walk was made more strenuous by high temperatures and the fact that we had forgotten to carry our water bottles with us. As we hiked up the pathway crowded with people doing likewise, we occasionally stopped to rest, catching our breath, until we finally reached the top.
Once there, we began walking up the long ramp that curls up to the top of the observation tower. But about three-fourths of the way up the ramp, something unexplainable happened. I stopped. For some unknown reason, I stopped walking, refusing to take another step. After half an hour of hiking, huffing and puffing, sweating and sheer determination to keep lifting my legs that felt like lead weights, I just plain stopped. I was a mere fifty feet from the top of the tower, and against all logic, I was quitting.
Leaning against the railing, I looked at my husband and said the words that seemed to make no sense. “That’s it. I can’t go another step. You two go on without me, and I’ll wait here.”
“What?” my husband asked in disbelief.
“Go ahead. I just can’t do it,” I replied.
I heard myself say the words, but it was like hearing someone else speaking them. I couldn’t comprehend why I would quit after investing so much effort into the journey when the goal was right in front of me. I could see it. Why would I stop when success was imminent?
The answer to that question had been given to me a couple of months earlier. One Monday evening at a prayer ministry of which I am a part, a gentleman, who I had never seen previous to then nor have ever seen again since then, came in to receive prayer. Assigned to the woman who was my prayer partner for the evening and me, the three of us entered one of the private offices and sat down. After talking briefly, my prayer partner and I prayed for the man’s need, according to the typical operation of the prayer ministry. God, however, deviating from the expected norm (as He often does) delivered a surprise that night.
As our prayer session wrapped up, the gentleman did something completely out of the norm. Looking first at my prayer partner, he said, “I am sorry, but I don’t have anything for you.”
Then he turned and, looking at me, said, “But when I came into the room, I heard a very specific message from God for you. I don’t know you, and I don’t know what your problem is, but you have been dealing with something for a long time. Whatever it is, you don’t think that what you want to happen is ever going to happen. But God is going to take you over the top.”
Over the top…what did that mean? I was speechless.
So a few months later, I was again speechless as I stood on the ramp watching my husband and grandson, tired but enthusiastic, complete the climb. Dumbfounded by my words and actions, I stood watching them, when suddenly the words spoken to me months earlier returned to my memory. When I didn’t think that I could go any further, God would take me, not to the top, but over the top, beyond where I could even see. With renewed hope, I completed the climb the only way possible: one step at a time.
Before we left the mountain that day, my husband took a picture of my grandson and me as we stood together with the world below us. With a frequency of appearance second only to that of the first photo described, this photo of my grandson and me fills me with renewed hope every time that I see it. It is my reminder that God is taking me where I cannot go by my own strength – over the top.
“Over the top” may mean different things at different times. But with enablement by God to persevere, He will take me to wherever it refers, according to His promise at work in me. Every Word of God is a promise fulfilled, as the third photo would affirm.
Our youngest grandson, while attending his brother’s baseball game that same summer, busied himself by amusing his parents, his other grandparents and me as we watched both him and the ballgame. Just two years old at the time and not very interested in sitting still, he did the kinds of things that two-year-olds do for whatever reasons they do them.
At one point in his playing, our grandson walked over to his dad, our older son, and removed his dad’s sandal from his foot. Overly proud of his own comedic talent, he then placed his dad’s sandal upside down atop his own head, making a face as he did so. At that moment, my husband snapped a picture, catching the expression on our grandson’s face.
The picture is humorous, especially to those of us who witnessed my grandson’s antics that day. There he stands with his dad’s sandal perched upside down on his head and his eyes cast downward at the ground, his mouth frozen in the shape of a big “o,” expressing great surprise.
But the picture is more than funny. It is a poignant reminder to me of our Father’s steadfastness. Why? Because in the Old Testament days, the practiced tradition used to complete a transaction was to remove one’s sandal and give it to the other party. (See Ruth 4:7)
Every time that the photo appears in the displays, I see my son’s sandal covering his child, knowing that my son will do everything in his power to care for his son, attempting to never let him down. But symbolically, I see my Heavenly Father’s covenant promise covering me, knowing that He is incapable of not doing what He has said that He will do. Sometimes in looking at the photo, I wonder if I appear to be as surprised by that realization as my grandson appears to be in the picture. But in looking at photo number four, I am reminded of a moment with our fourth grandson when I was most definitely surprised by God.
The photo shows me walking hand-in-hand with our older son’s older son across a dark parking lot toward our vehicle. The two of us, along with my husband, had just returned from a trip that we had made by train from Charlotte to Durham, where we had attended a Durham Bull’s baseball game and visited the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science.
Thirty minutes outside of Charlotte on the return trip, my last regularly scheduled dose of medication for the day wore off, leaving me very shaky. As the train pulled into the station, the final destination of its trip, all of the remaining passengers on the crowded train stood in the aisle, waiting for their turns to detrain. Explaining the need for my grandson to hold my hand due to the crowd of people and the darkness outside, I took hold of his hand, and we waited our turn to get off the train.
Suddenly, with exasperation in his voice, my grandson asked, “Why do you make your hand shake so much?”
Without thinking about what I was saying, I honestly responded, “I don’t make my hand shake. It shakes all by itself. It doesn’t feel good, and I don’t like it. We’re just going to ask God to stop it.”
I stood staring down at my grandson as he stared at my hand, a most serious expression on his face. Whether he prayed or whether he just stared, I don’t know. But all at once, every bit of shaking in my body stopped. As it did, I watched my grandson break out in an ear-to-ear grin.
For the next fifteen minutes, not a single tremor shook any part of my body. We stepped down off the train, made our way through the crowded train station, stopped at the restrooms, and walked to our vehicle with my body and mind in perfect stillness. The shaking did later return, but the photo that has become my reminder shows the two us walking steadily in God’s promise.
So there they are, my four remembrance photos, reminding me repeatedly of not only good times but also of a Good God. By His Word, God holds me up, carrying me beyond my own ability into the miracle of life with Him. How could I ever forget?
2016 POSTSCRIPT: The above piece was written in 2011. Since then the four photos continue regularly appearing on the screens for me to see each day. The words that I say each time that I see one of the four photos are these:
“Thank you, God, for carrying me… over the top, beyond where I can see, think or imagine… into my present and future with you… according to your promises at work in me.“
[from The Promise of the Cross © 2011]