“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?” (John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.) History is like a teacher’s answer key for upcoming tests in our lifetime, yet, the truth is ignored or questioned as it’s laid on top of our lives today. We experience something traumatic; we weep and say, “I will never forget this day.” But we do.
The Oklahoma City, Oklahoma federal building bombing was 21 years ago this week. My husband and I lived in the OKC area and pastored a church nearby at the time this happened. I felt the impact of the bomb inside my house 22 miles away from the site. I thought we’d had an earthquake until I got a horrible phone call with the real news. It was a very up-close and personal experience for us. It deeply impacted our minds and hearts to watch this happen to our people and our city. It seemed we were now walking on a tight rope 10 floors high without a net. We felt broken and in shock. We weren’t, after all, living in New York City or Los Angeles! We were Oklahoma City; a place that could be best defined as what was left of the belt buckle of the Bible belt of conservative America.
We call Oklahoma City “the city.” We were hometown, neighborly, pickup truck driving, two fingers on the steering wheel waving, saying “hello” to the people we passed, kind of people. Who would do this to us? Where will this happen next? It was a fearful, sobering time. The years clicked by and things settled down to the new normal around us. Had America forgotten? Did it change anything? It forever changed Oklahoma City and the ones who lost people that day. There are some things that never dim. Our city became stronger through the struggle. Hardship and pain has a way of making the cream rise to the top. It didn’t weaken us – it strengthened us.
My family roots are in Oklahoma. I am one-sixteenth Cherokee Native American. I believe in living an honest life. I am proud of my family heritage. I’m grateful for every one of the “kinfolks” who came before me and all God has blessed us with. Our people weren’t wealthy — in fact, they struggled to get by, as many did in that time. They were smart, industrious, hard working individuals with the will to succeed. They were mostly educators, farmers, and small business owners who paid the price for everything they had.
The circumstances and hardships each generation endured served to keep them tied to their deep roots, and for many, it reinforced their belief in God as Creator and Savior. They fought in both world wars, went through the great depression, and survived the “dust bowl.” They lived at a level of poverty most of us can’t understand. Yet, I’ve heard my Mom and Dad both say, “we didn’t know how poor we were, cause everybody else was just as poor. We worked hard from sun up till sun down, but didn’t know there was another option. We appreciated everything we had and knew to thank God for it, and for this country our folks died for.” The past is what makes us who we are today and it will serve us well to remember. History is remembered to help us today.
Our daughter and her family live in Washington D.C. in the Capital Hill neighborhood. I’ve seen bus loads of students unload and fill the mall. I’ve watched students interviewed near these memorials who couldn’t answer one historical question concerning our country correctly but when asked about celebrity’s lives they correctly answered every question. The memorials in Washington D.C. are memorials to real men and real historic events, but mostly we use them as backdrops for ‘selfies’ and couldn’t clearly articulate the reason they are there, or even what the word ‘memorial’ actually means, for that matter. It would be an embarrassment to the men these memorials were erected for. My challenge today is to read more and think for yourself about what you believe is important and true.
Throughout Joshua we read how God instructed His people to set up stones as memorials to never forget the things God had brought them through. Joshua 4:20-24 “….and those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Photography credit: kirkcameron.com
So when your children come to you and ask you, “what do these stones mean?” I hope you have read enough of the Word of God to teach them the truth. When they ask you what the memorials mean in your capital and in your town, I hope you know enough to tell them the truth. Yes, I believe John Steinbeck was right when he said, “How can we live without our lives, How will we know it’s us without our past?”