The trickle of rain makes the grey clouds a little more meaningful. A candle dances, trying to cheer up the dim corner of my desk on another damp dull day. It’s a weird scent—“Grandma’s House”—but it brings me back to the cottage.
My childhood summers sparkle with the long evenings on Sunfish Bay. My family only spent one week each year at this cottage, but it might have been the whole summer for the way I can still recall the details.
But my memory is deceived: I do not remember the cottage as it ever existed. Instead, a montage of moments come together. I smell the cool freshness of the spruce, just as much as the hot plywood chemicals of the bunkie, even though the trees were chopped before the little shed was added. I catch hundreds of slippery fish in bamboo butterfly nets all at once, when there really would have only been one at a time, each held captive in a plastic bucket until someone dumped them back in the lake. I watch my great-uncle in his green motorboat on the lake, but if I mentally run up the wooden cottage stairs, I can find him napping on a sunny lounge chair at the same time. And when I peek through the window, he is also in the cool of the cottage doing one of his crosswords. My memories are layered, creating a reality that both exists and doesn’t exist simultaneously.
Trapped inside today, I reminisce. I hope there are still gulls that circle the bay, the ones who would cackle for us to share our meals, the starch-and-vinegar spreads that my great-aunt laboured over. As I imagine the hovering birds, I startle. God is leaning over my shoulder to observe these memories too. You’d think after all these years I’d stop being surprised by his presence.
But I like having him near. Especially since we can remember together: he was in all those moments too, after all. Looking through a photo album—or in this case, the short films of my memories—is better with friends.
The cottage was sold, so I can’t go back. I wonder if it still smells slightly musty from being shut up most of the year, yet also wildly fresh from the summer breeze. Then I gasp.
“Wait,” I ask God. “You’re still there, in the cottage, aren’t you?”
He just grins at me. Of course he’s still at the cottage. He’s everywhere. He gently flips the page of my mental album, pointing to all the hours we swam in the mucky lake, weeds wrapping our ankles, tickling our bellies as we dared to go as far as the buoys, sometimes touching them, if we didn’t mind the algae globs. We swam. Not just my cousins and siblings, but God was in the water with us, swirling and slipping all around, same as the water itself, except we could breathe him in without sputtering. How everywhere he is!
I sit back and survey my cramped room. I have memories here too. Happy thoughts are chronicled in the greeting cards now proudly displayed. Some ongoing stress is piled on my floor as books for that unfinished paper. Other memories make me blush. I know how much I’ve gossiped over the phone. How my bed has been a place of lust. How my closet is filled with thoughtless purchases.
God catches my eye. He knows what I’m thinking. I look away.
“Let’s go back to remembering the cottage,” I suggest.
He’s not going to let this moment go that easily. He knows more clearly than I do all that has taken place in this little room. My mind spins, looking for an evasion.
“How much do you pay attention to me while I’m sleeping?” I wonder aloud. “Most parents are all-too-happy when their kid finally goes to bed so they can have a break!”
His eyes remain steady. Oh! I suppose he is even right now attending to my lying down, my rising, and my questions, all at once. Time, attention, and energy are not commodities for him. He will watch me sleep my whole life, and wants to do so.
“Oh, okay,” I give in. “I confess that there have been mistakes in this room. But at least right now, I’m doing fine, aren’t I?”
The question echoes. Am I doing fine? What if there is some secret, unknown sin that is even at this moment haunting me? And maybe I will never really be “fine” unless I sell all of this junk, give up even the thought of cottaging, and plant a church in Nunavut.
Oh! If I do that in the future, I suppose God sees it now. So he doesn’t just love me because of this moment, but somehow he takes into account all my moments at once. Surely that must be how he sees me, with everything in balance.
But everything isn’t balanced. Relationships aren’t math equations. Sure, I do have a lot of good moments. But what friend, what parent, what partner, doesn’t feel an insult? My moments of disrespect can’t be downplayed. As in any relationship, one of the parties needs to absorb the cost of the harm. I remember breaking a shovel once at the cottage. I was forgiven. But the shovel was still broken. I wasn’t asked to purchase a new one, but someone would have paid for my carelessness.
“What have I cost you?” I whisper.
I have memories of Jesus’ life from reading his biographies a thousand times. But I only know of the cost; God has known it deeply. He lived it.
Oh no! I realize. God sees my mistakes and what they’ve cost him—all the time!
Unexpectedly God laughs. “What are you thinking of?” I demand.
Sometimes God’s hard to hear. Sometimes I’m not quite sure what he would say. In the hanging silence, I flip open the Bible on my desk. I’ve been reading Hebrews 7. Suddenly verse 25 is a lightning bolt: he always lives to intercede for them. Even now, Jesus is praying for me?
My Bible has a cross reference to 1 John 2:1. I jump over to read, If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
I can picture the scene: Jesus talking with the rest of the Trinity, advocating for me. I’m still not quite sure what he’d be saying. But look! He still has his scars. They aren’t hidden at all, but on display. “Oh no,” I groan. “Jesus, don’t bring up those awful memories.”
But Jesus turns to me. He smiles and simply states, “I endured for the joy before me.” And I knew in a flash that “the joy” in front of him was me. Somehow, I was a joy to God.
That was like Jesus, to quote a Bible verse. Hebrews 12:2, to be exact.
God sees me: past, present, and future. And sees Jesus: past, present, and future. Mysteriously, as these moments layer, it seems I’m invited in to know God. Whatever I’ve cost him, he’ll always know that it’s been made up for. I’ll forever be a joy to him.
“One day,” I sigh with a fresh satisfaction, “one day when I look through my memories, I’ll see you right with me, Jesus. You’re a joy to me too, here or at the cottage.”
Jesus just grins.
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