“Historical Marker Ahead”.
It is not uncommon to be driving along a road in Texas and see a sign like that. It means you are coming up on a site where something happened of significance that somebody determined was of importance to not be forgotten. A metal marker often stands at the place of a historic building, or a duel, or a birthplace, or if you’re a Dave Barry fan, “someone famous slept here”. Of course, Texas may have gotten a little carried away, as there are over 16,000 of these markers in existence, with many more being added each year. Hey, it is Texas!
For the curious, and those who are historically inclined, it is an invitation to pull over (or depending on your speed, turn around and go back) and immerse yourself in a story that was substantial enough to have a sign posted about it. While they vary in interest and importance (think a town’s corn-shucking spot versus a civil war battlefield), they were important enough to some people to let others know about it. And while most people just hurry on by, there are those who pause and read. Some, to be sure, will have you leaving thinking “How am I ever going to get those three minutes back?”, but others will have you contemplating, appreciating, and even connecting your own story with the one you just read.
And you’ll be glad you did.
I think conversations can hold the same opportunities for us. While most of our talking may be about countless lesser things like the weather, prices of cantaloupes, number of calories in a cupcake, Taylor Swift’s latest spat, and what you did at CrossFit this morning (uh oh, did I just go there?), there are other things said that if we’re listening close enough, demand we slow down, take a U-turn, and revisit. A passing statement about sickness, loneliness, loss, or fear can carry a weightiness, a significance to the teller’s story, that is too often missed in the blur of our busy and rushed conversations, and sometimes we’re so far down the road or onto new avenues of thought that we missed it all together.
Its times like those that I wish we had markers that said “Historical Statement Two Sentences Ahead” in the midst of our conversations, so we could slow down and not miss it.
Barbie and I were recently at a rooftop restaurant in another state that had a strange mixture of being named after a train station in London, a theme honoring Johnny Cash, and a menu that was primarily TexMex. Confusing, but fun. We were with some dear friends, catching up on each other’s lives having not seen each other in a while, and the conversation was deeply personal with tears and laughter, memories and dreams, the kind where you could be excused for missing other stories going on around you.
But the waitress was engaging, and was willing to speak to us with an English accent after some joking around about the name of the restaurant. As I often do, I asked about the significance of her tattoo, and she shared it was the name of her daughter, and how as a single mom she was going to miss her as she goes off to college in another state in a few weeks, but would enjoy the cleanliness of their home as a trade off without the messiness of a teenager throwing clothes all over the place.
Did you see the “historical marker”?
If you blinked you might miss it. It might read like this: “Here is a Single Mother, having experienced love in a relationship with someone enough to give herself to fully, experiencing the joy of intimacy, of motherhood, and of family. But that all changed at some point for this woman, where betrayal, abandonment, and fear became part of the story. She has worked hard to make ends meet, providing for her daughter in every way possible. She has established a close friendship with her daughter who is now an adult, but who is now also leaving, though for better reasons than others have left. There is loneliness and fear in this place.”
But who slows down enough to read that marker? I’ve got enough markers of my own, how can I read them all? I suppose we can’t. But we could some of them. Thankfully, I read hers. After our meal, I called her over as I was walking out. I said “Barbie and I are going to pray for you and your daughter tonight. You said something in passing that I recognize has a weighty story behind it. You said you were a single mother, and that your daughter was leaving for college, which means you’ve experienced loss before of someone you were close to, and her leaving is happening in the shadows of that. I want you to know that God sees you, and He wants to meet you in the midst of your loss, and to carry you. He loves you, and is pursuing you. Look for Him in the coming days to see how He brings hope and healing into your story.”
I wasn’t halfway through what I was saying before she broke out in tears. She told me I had no idea how much she needed to hear that today, and she hugged me in appreciation for seeing her story. I left. We prayed. And I’m hoping some good friends of mine who live in the area will be able to connect with her and invite her into a community that will connect her with the ultimate historical marker, the cross. It was there that the words of the prophet were fulfilled when he said “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Look for the historical markers in peoples’ stories. There is rarely a sign telling you its coming up in a few sentences, but be willing to circle back.
You’ll be glad you did.
Since there was a Johnny Cash tribute in the restaurant, I thought I would share this video of one of the last songs he offered before he died. It’s a hard one to get through as he talks about loss and regrets in life, but it offers hope in the ultimate Historical Marker in the midst of our Hurt.