Letting Go of The Past

The wooden posts were firmly embedded in the dirt. They were joined together by another beam of wood across the top of the posts. But the sign that should have hung to these posts was missing. The sign that should have been advertising the business to the traveler along the roadside. The car moved quickly past the barren sign post and on to the next view; the torn and tattered awning, now fallen in front of the door. The windows were dingy and the outline of a florescent sign “pizza” could be found through the dirty glass. I turned my head and saw another view across the street as a freshly painted building gave hope that there was still life in this town. It was a familiar town to visit as I had grown up here. But it had changed; I had changed.

I smirked a bit, not in a bad way, but just to acknowledge the irony of the situation. Death had brought me here on this trip and it was the death, or near death, of my hometown that I saw all around me. Someone once wrote that you can’t go back again and I now realize that they were right.

At least partially. YOU can go back, but it will never be the place you left. It always changes. Sometimes there is growth as a town expands and becomes a small city. But at other locations, like my hometown, there is death. The town once had a fundraiser to fix up the town park. Families were invited to purchase a brick that would form a pathway to the refurbished gazebo in the center of the park. Now, the bricks are faded, names on the bricks barely able to be read. There are weeds between the bricks and areas that have been heaved and shifted as the trees and their roots disturbed the once straight, smooth path.

I often consider finding our named brick and digging it out, now that we no longer live here. But, I never can seem to find it. The name must have faded too. And as we moved further away, the connections to the town faded as well. Until death brings us back.

This trip would be a trip to see family that remained in the town and to retrieve a small desk that preserved my memories of my Aunt who had passed away. This little desk had been a piece by her front door, that for as long as I could remember was always by her front door, even in her previous house, a house I often visited as a child. It kept things in order for me. And I guess having this little desk would keep a little piece of her, or at least a memory of her close to me. She had been an important and inspiring part of my childhood. She was a world traveler and a university professor. I loved visiting her classroom on campus and walking around this huge school. She would always send me postcards on her travels and bring back souvenirs for me from all these neat places. She inspired my own love of travel.

Since we were in town, we also learned of the death of a young man, that through marriage had been our niece’s husband. The calling hours would be when we were visiting, so we went. Once again death seemed to be all around this trip. The young man had lived in our town and many of the people he had grown up with; classmates and school teachers, were all there. Our old neighbors were there as well.

Just for a moment as we struck up conversations and reunited with our neighbors, our children’s teachers, and family there, the gap of time seemed to have disappeared. It was like we had time traveled. Some had changed, with more gray hair and more wrinkles than I had remembered, but they all recognized my husband and I. It was both reassuring, yet different. We were not a part of their town anymore; we had moved and moved on. But it was still nice to hold on to this piece of nostalgia of neighbors, friends, and community. The community that can be missing now that we live in a larger city.

But things change. No matter how much I want them to stay the same, everything seems to change. Businesses close, businesses are bought, names fade, memories fade, paint chips and fades on buildings, people we love pass away. And through it all, we must move on, moving forward.

Moving forward is not a bad thing if we realize the growth we can find in the process. The past is full of memories of people, places and events that have shaped us. They have made a difference in our life and of whom we have become. Life is a journey and our faith grows in the journey.

But what makes the most difference is how we let our circumstances affect us in this faith journey.There can be pain in the past, or joy that we can learn from. We will make mistakes as we travel on this journey of faith and growth, as we are not perfect people.

When I think about moving past the past, as growing in our faith, I think about the apostle Paul who said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” (Philippians 3:12-13, NIV).

So, even an Apostle, who wrote most of the New Testament, admitted his own need to keep pressing on past the past to grow in faith. Growing in his relationship with God. And he had quite a bit to move past, as a former persecutor of the church. He was himself responsible for the imprisonments and deaths of early church Christians, even women. On one of his rounding up of Christians,he met Jesus, and his life was forever changed. He would no longer attempt to stop a movement that he once considered blasphemous, but actually grow the church. His past was in the past, as Jesus called him to move forward into his new role as evangelist to the Gentiles.

And after several years of preaching the Gospel, he still realized he had more growth to go as he wrote to the church in Philippi to encourage them. He realized that his faith journey was not an instant perfection, there would be growth and a need to move forward. Straining forward as he writes, similar to a runner reaching out to the finish line of a race. He couldn’t stay attached to the past, whether to mull over all the terrible things he had done to Christians in the past, or to bask in his own accomplishments of planting churches and preaching. There was more to look forward to.

And as much as I would like the landmarks of my own hometown to remain untouched, so I can go back a visit with everything remaining intact, I know it is impossible. It makes me sad to see the death of the past, a past that brings happy memories, but I trust God has even more new memories that I can make. Someday, I too will be a part of someone’s memory. I hope I will affect others and point them to Christ so that they will will remember me. Maybe they will remember a desk by my front door. God bless you – Nancy

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A Christian writer and teacher who loves to encourage and challenge believers in their walk with Christ. I am a graduate of Liberty University and the proud wife of an Air Force veteran and the mom of three grown adults.

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