I had a great meeting with a close friend this past week. We meet regularly to encourage one another, share our faith together and simply talk about life. But something struck me in a significant way during our last talk, and I feel that I want to use that to shape this post.
My friend is an ex-NFL player named Ben Utecht, who’s been one of my best friends now for over 20 years. Ben is a former Super Bowl Champion Tight End for the Indianapolis Colts, and also spent time with Cincinnati Bengals where his career was cut short due to concussions and some traumatic brain injuries. Ben shares about his life candidly in his new book entitled Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away. This book began as a love letter to his family when he was realizing that due to the brain injuries he’d suffered, he was experiencing memory loss.
Ben journaled his memories as a way to keep them alive should he forget them in the future and these memories turned into a song that he wrote for his wife and four girls. The powerful video for “You Will Always Be My Girls,” can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOX-kSJ7PI4
I know much of Ben’s journey and I know his heart, and what struck me this time while we were talking was this idea that he was being so intentional about documenting memories that encapsulate who his is, so that his loved ones can have as much of him as they can get before an uncertain future. The memory loss has already started for Ben, and even as we spoke I had reminded him of a significant high school hockey injury that kept him out of the State Tournament his senior year that he’d forgotten about. It’s because of this intentionality that he seeks fullness of life through his faith and for his family. It’s admirable and encouraging to watch that kind of pre-emptive perseverance in such a God-honoring man.
Here’s the part that messed me up… As we talked about memories, brain-injuries and brain diseases, my mom obviously came up. If you don’t know, she’s suffering and in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s difficult (yet appreciated), when people ask about my mom. Appreciated because I know they care, but difficult since the response isn’t ever going to be positive and each time gets worse. This horrible disease doesn’t have a remission or a “turn around” and there are hardly any if at all what we used to call “good days” anymore. And even those aren’t good. When Ben asked, I shared with him how my mom’s days, still being at home with my dad at their house in Tucson, are spent pacing, confused and sobbing for hours at a time until she wears herself out and then sleeps for a couple hours. Only to wake up and repeat it. Regularly throughout the day she’ll ask my dad “When are we leaving?” and she’s telling him daily, multiple times that she “Just wants to go home now.” She’ll go so far as to carry her purse around as she’s ready to go and ask my dad “Why he’s keeping her here…” I speak to my dad regularly and I have no idea how he can live a life like this, only to witness that he’s got a truly unconditional love and heart for serving and loving my mom well.
After I shared that with Ben, which is unfortunately the reality these days, it struck me. I had spent the past 8 years or so, trying to make light of what has turned out to be a tragic situation. So much so, that we used to call it CRS (Can’t Remember Stuff) when my mom would forget little things. We’d chalk it up to, the “you’re just getting older in your 60s” mentality and shrug it off, often using humor to disguise what we didn’t want to notice. However, it stopped being funny a few years ago as there was no more denying what was going on. And before I had time to realize it or come to terms with it, it was too late. I realized that during those years, much like Ben is doing now, I failed to download all of who my mom is and was. I missed so many chances to hear stories about her childhood, dreams she held and experiences I’d never known about and now never will. The memories and who she is, are still present in her, but the access to it isn’t there anymore. I’m thankful to still be able to hear her voice and to see her as much as I can, but I regret not seeking to know more about her when I still had the chance.
The urgency here, and the learning for me translates very well to the Gospel and who Jesus was and is. Have I been spending all of my time continuing to learn more about Him and letting that shape, grow and transform my life? Or, did I feel like I knew enough, knew that He loved me and then just stop learning or seeking. At the end of our lives all that matters are our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. Those are the things that last and those are the things that matter.
So, I have three things that I would like you to think about regarding memories and remembering God in your life. The first one is this…
Remember How it Felt. This can be on both ends of the spectrum. Whether it was when you surrendered to the Lord, where God picked you up at your worst time or when you experienced the incomparable joy in a moment that could only have been explained as supernatural love. We tend to let both of these types of moments wear off. We get to a point where we essentially lie to ourselves because we forget how powerful or hurtful those times were when we desperately needed rescue or felt fully embraced by our created. We’ll start believing “Oh, it really wasn’t that bad” because we’ve come through to the other side of it, or else “I couldn’t have felt that elated, and I probably couldn’t again, so why try” etc.
What was that time for you? How did it feel? I have to force myself to remember those times in my life where I felt that there was no way I could make it through, and I didn’t want to face tomorrow, and realize that I did! Most of us are really good at asking God to help us get through things, but yet once He does, we forget that He did and start believing it was all our strength that did it. And over time that thought can get dangerously more obscured.
So, remember how it felt. Write down every emotion good and bad you’re feeling in situations that matter to you, because if they matter to you, they matter to God and they’ll matter to those who love you. Reference those often and build on the great path God has you on. Again, how easy it can be to forget…
Remember His Promises. This can be easy to forget as well. God makes promises all throughout Scripture, and even if we’ve read it 100 times, we sometimes still don’t remember or act as if it’s true! What if we truly lived in a way that we not only remembered the promises of God, but let those promises direct our life every single day. This isn’t a new and profound thought, but one that I feel very few Christians adhere to. What if we actually believed in His power and lived it out? What if, these words spoken in scripture took authority in our lives in every situation:
2 Peter 1:4
And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Philippians 4:19 And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
But whoever listens to me will live in safety
and be at ease, without fear of harm.
REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. Some of you are living with labels, things you’ve been called or falsely believed about yourself since you were little. Release that! How often do we buy into the world’s lies that tell us we aren’t good enough, smart enough, worthy enough, cool enough or wealthy enough to experience certain things or to be happy? Even as adults or especially as adults! As we grow older physically, we still keep the same mind. Forgetting what you once heard to be true about your life and knowing who you are in Him, can lead to a frustrating, burden-some and unfulfilled life.
If you need a reminder, or are maybe seeking to hear it for the first time, here’s what the creator of the universe (and you!) thinks about you, and quite honestly that’s all that matters. If we live our lives according to this knowledge and truth, others around us will be transformed. Don’t forget who you actually ARE.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
At the end of the day, and at the end of our lives it’s our memories that truly encapsulate a life. I believe that our lives are the sum total of all of our choices, and believe that to be true as far as our memories go as well. I’m thankful for friends in my life like Ben, who are helping to keep that into perspective. Life is too short and too unfulfilling to not learn as much about the ones we love as we can, and to not bless them with sharing our lives with them as well. This goes the same with God, because when it’s all said and done, this is what matters most. I encourage you all to take some time to share stories about your life with someone you love this week and to journal thoughts and memories that might get lost and not be around some day for your loved ones to enjoy. Don’t assume that just because you may see your family every single day that they even have the slightest clue about who you really are! And don’t deprive them of that.
And through it all may you never forget that you are loved by a God who’s bigger than our circumstances, regrets and our understanding. Something I’ve been hit hard with this week.
*Special Note: If you’re interested in checking out Ben’s book, it’s available everywhere from Barnes and Noble to Amazon or directly from his website; www.ben-utecht.com