By Bethany Beams
Several years ago, my family sat around the dining room table reminiscing, and someone asked me what my worst vacation memory was.
“Oh, boy,” I replied. “It’s a doozy.” And, indeed, it is.
I was in elementary school, and the trip was to a cavern somewhere. I was excited to see it. We had to drive quite a distance to get there, and our minivan had—in family tradition—been packed around my sister and me. We settled in first, and then my parents loaded in everything after us.
One item was a giant cooler containing our road trip snacks. It was positioned so I had to crawl over it to get out of the vehicle. At one gas station stop, I decided to jump off it rather than do the usual, slightly less graceful scoot-and-flop. The cooler tipped forward ever so slightly, and I landed on my knee on the hard pavement.
It hurt. A lot. I burst into tears, hobbled into the bathroom, cleaned up the scrape as best I could and limped back to the car. We drove a bit further down the road, my knee throbbing all the while, until it was time for lunch.
We stopped at a German buffet because it was the only real option on the back roads we were traveling. I’ve always been a picky eater, and aside from any kind of strudel, I’m not up for the traditional German menu. My knee hurt, I was hungry, and my parents wouldn’t let me have dessert for lunch. Being that I was a pre-teen girl, this led to more tears in yet another bathroom.
To top this off, the only pain medicine we had with us were pills, which I couldn’t swallow. So I stood in front of the bathroom mirror with an entire bottle of Advil, attempting time and time again to get even one down my gullet without gagging. It turns out crying makes this harder, if not impossible.
After this debacle, we were back on the road to the cavern, which I now had to navigate on a bum knee without the aid of medication. It was wet and slippery for the mile-long underground hike, and I was far beyond unhappy. I don’t believe I’ve ever grumbled so much.
I finished telling this story, laughed a little at the memory, and looked around to see my parents’ incredulous faces staring back at me.
“You know that didn’t happen, right?” my dad said. “Those three things—the cooler/knee incident, the German restaurant, and the cavern—were on three separate trips.”
I was completely aghast.
“No, it was one terrible day! I remember it!” I sputtered back, disbelieving. But my parents kindly dug out the family photo albums and proved it to me: my memory was wrong.
This knowledge—that my brain had concocted an odd, inaccurate slurry of my past—has made me wonder what else I don’t remember correctly. Why did my mind create a Greatest Hits of Terrible Vacations record instead of leaving those singles on the initial albums where they belonged? What important memories are gone altogether? What’s been pushed out of my mind to make room for true essentials, like all the lyrics to Hamilton and the entire script of The Princess Bride?
That’s the rub, which is, of course, rather obvious: I have no idea because I’ve forgotten.
But amid so many questions and concerns, I do recognize that, while the mind is ever-changing, God is constant. His truth—the truth—is steady when I am not. He stays alongside me to show me I am precious and loved, even, and especially, when my memories fail me. God pours grace down upon me both when I remember his gifts and when I rewrite history.
On days when I wonder what is real, I cling to his promises: that I will find rest for my soul, that he will never leave me nor forsake me, that I will soar on wings like eagles, that nothing can separate me from his love…These promises and more are waiting for me when I forget and desperately need to remember.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV).
Bethany Beams is a certified doula who can’t get enough of storytelling, which she pursues through website design, photography, and freelance editing. Her many loves include her son, napping, libraries, ice cream, singing, snow leopards, Bagel Bites, 75° weather, the color turquoise, and lists. She blogs very occasionally at bethanybeams.com.
Photograph © Alexis Brown, used with permission