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Thom Hunter

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What Would You Do if I Sang Out of Tune?
8/24/2011 6:13:10 AM

By Thom Hunter --

What would you do if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
-- The Beatles

Memory is a curious thing. We all -- making an assumption here -- have things we would like to forget, to prescribe back to the unreachable nether-lands of the gray matter. Poor choices, regrettable actions, misspoken words, pain --self-inflicted or otherwise -- times of loneliness and rejection, missed opportunities, experiments gone awry, painful partings, dumb days and blind nights.

At the same time, most of us fear the loss of memory. It's unnerving to pry open a box of "precious" mementos too long in the attic and sift through, wondering where something came from and why it was elevated to keepsake level. It's baffling to look at photos of people and wonder who they were and why you posed, clicked, developed and kept.

We don't have a very effective sifter, do we? Wouldn't it be nice if memory were like panning for gold? All the gritty sand would slide through and all that remains would be the gold and the good, the valued and treasured times. Of course . . . not only is it true that not all that glitters is gold, it's also true that not all that is gritty is bad. It's the mix of our memories that gives us both hope and wariness to keep us climbing and to remind us of the pain of falling.

When we're little, and as we grow, great attention is paid to pinning deeds to reminders:

Don't forget to brush.
Don't forget to put the seat down.
Don't forget your lunch.
Don't forget to call.
Don't forget to write.
Don't forget me.

Some of us who go through periods of separation from others in retribution for our sins -- perhaps forgiven but not forgotten or maybe neither -- may spend a bit more time sorting through the memories, finding that the gold and the grit are inseparable and oddly-balanced to bring us through to where we are and to make us who we are, as well as building a foundation on which we now build what we will be. It's a mixed-up matter of then and when.

Probe your emotions and you'll find your most valuable memories. I think my earliest memory of all may be a violent thunderstorm on a summer night during a family vacation in Yellowstone National Park. The lightning turned the night sky white and the thunder shook the ground beneath the small khaki tent where I lay paralyzed ready to meet the Maker I didn't even really know about yet. I was a tiny boy in pajamas and a sleeping bag and couldn't find enough voice to scream. This then is my first real memory of fear. Suddenly, my father's frame is silhouetted against the flaps of the tent as he reaches in and then climbs in. My first memory of security.

When I was in elementary school, the teacher told us all to bring a towel to class which we would spread out on the floor to take midday naps. A ways into the school year I awoke at home one morning to find my towel had never made it from the washing machine to the clothesline to dry. I draped it over a furnace and the heat burned it brown down the middle. I begged for another towel, but instead had to take the damaged one. I spread it out on the floor and the kids laughed at me. That's my earliest memory of shame.

Love is a little harder to pin down in the memory banks because, if life is as it should be, love begins amid squeals and grunts with teary kisses on tiny feet. But who remembers all that? Oddly enough, though, it seems to me that one of my earliest memories of knowing I was loved was again on a vacation. This time in Galveston. All I remember really is that it was 1960 and my mother decided to cut our vacation short because Carla was coming. I didn't know who Carla was, much less that Carla was a hurricane. I just remember sitting on an outside patio at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, drumstick in hand, watching the clouds coming in and thinking, for some reason, that I was the most important thing in my mother's life. She must have said something -- now sifted away -- that made me feel that way. The details are gone, but the memory remains.

My first real memory of loneliness? A mixture of the day my father drove away and the day he broke his promise to return.

My first real memory of acceptance? The day a molester put his arm around my shoulder and told me I was a special boy.

My first real memory of rejection? The day a molester put his arm around another little boy's shoulder and looked me coldly in the eyes.

My first real memory of accomplishment? The day a teacher told me God had given me a gift and that I would always be a writer. (Teachers were allowed to talk like that back then.) I don't remember being told I was good at anything before that day.

My first real memory of guilt? That's a tough one. I think we work pretty hard to bury those memories, though they form a path like broken glass beneath bare feet, piercing into us whenever we try to move forward on heel and toe. I think maybe the earlier memories of guilt have been so buried beneath more recent ones that they're like splinters over which hard callouses grow. I can't always feel them, but I can see the bump.

My first real memory of helplessness? I think perhaps the ups and downs of my upbringing gave me a false sense that I would always be able to find a way out of every situation, that there would always be an answer, a solution, a repair. I would find a way and make it work. So . . . the memories of helplessness are fresher for me. The day my sexual sin of acting out on unwanted same-sex attraction was undeniably revealed . . . and then again . . . and I realized only God had the answer to that. And, even more fresh? The day my children walked away . . . and stayed away . . . and I realize only God has the answer to that.

Some memories are recalled for chuckles. Like the time I took the stage with a group of guys who suffered an epidemic of stage fright, and in a collective spell of voice-tightening and lyric-forgetting, left me to solo on, an unforgettable moment everyone who was present can share in forever. The audience reaction answered the age-old question, "What would you do if I sang out of tune?"


Ahh . . . memories, not all so precious.

I think my largest cache of memories comes from searching, a jumble of being lost in total darkness on occasion and of emerging into the light on others, of falling deeper into and of struggling further out of, of trying to find out who I am . . . and of trying to forget who I am, the latter of which we cannot ever really do.

Fortunately, even though some people will pin us forever to the memories they have of us, we don't have to do that to ourselves. Even if we can't get rid of the memory of the been-theres and done-thats, the regrets and the head-scratching, we don't have to lay them out as markers to keep us on predictable paths, as if Memory Lane were a permanent address. Not all memories beckon us back. I may think some memories just should not be kept at all and I may try to bury them -- or, in more politically-correct terms -- suppress them, but instead, I just need to trust that, if they're there and can't be prayed away then they are likely there to stay, for my good. Maybe it's a good thing I have been gifted with a good memory.

One thing I will always remember are those who remembered all the good about me and did not let the revelation of the bad eclipse it. One thing I may have trouble forgetting is that so many embraced my faults so mightily that they reinvented me in their minds, measured me by my darkest deeds and walked away. According to my memory . . . none have returned. Maybe in those cases it is better to rebuild with those who have no memories of you at all.

Memories can haunt you, or they can help you. But, whatever you remember about yourself and what you have done, don't forget that God also has memories.

Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me,
for You, Lord, are good. -- Psalm 25:6-7.

Mercy . . . love . . . the goodness of God. When you are entrenched in remembering who you were, remember who He is.

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. -- Hebrews 8:12

Remember the time that you sang out of tune? He did not stand up and walk out on you. Maybe we can't choose what we remember and every sin at some point comes back to wander around in our minds and hearts . . . but God can choose and does choose to remember them no more.

Don't forget . . . He is God after all.

God Bless,


(Do you own a Kindle or a Nook? Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do is available for either one for only $7.99. Here are the links to and Barnes& Thank you. I hope you find the book encouraging and helpful.)

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