Memories are an interesting thing. There are some memories that bring a smile to my face and warmth to my heart, and there are other memories that I can dredge up that make me sad or angry. Have you ever noticed that memories that are correlated with periods of intense emotion, like the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a significant achievement or failure, seem to be hardwired into our brains? I mean I can barely remember what I ate two days ago but I can tell you lots of details about the day that my daughter and son-in-law got married or about my little brother’s funeral.
Significant memories are usually correlated with strong emotion and recalling them still affects our emotions, even if the memories were formed years or decades ago. I’m a scientist and I could go into how memories are stored in the brain but I’m not writing as a scientist today. I’m writing as an ordinary guy who has a lot of great and painful memories in my bald head.
Memories are powerful. They can help us get through difficult times or they can hold us back from becoming all that God created us to be. It has been said that we like to play “tape recorders” back in our head all the time. If we screwed something up royally (I’ve done that too many times to count), we can choose to play the “I suck” tape over and over in our heads. This tape is not very productive and playing that tape all the time causes us to develop a “life sucks” attitude. We can also chose to play the “I’m awesome” tape over and over in our heads. That tape is better than the “I suck” tape, but if we dwell on this tape too long it starts to come out of our lives as arrogance and self-righteousness. There are a lot of different “tapes” that we can play in our mind that can either motivate us, depress us, hold us in bondage to fear, or cause us to think more highly of ourselves than we should.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I love that Bible verse. Imagine how we would view and live life if we remembered to actually follow the apostle Paul’s advice and think in this way.
The other day, my son-in-law pointed out something about my life that I had never considered. He said that I like to use totem’s to represent significant events in my life. A totem is a physical object that we transfer some significance to. For instance, a totem could be a wedding dress that we keep in our closet and take out once in a while to remember a very significant day in our lives. It could be an old classic car that we inherited from our father that we hold onto to keep our dad’s memory alive. It could be a huge pair of pants that we fail to donate to Good Will to remind us of how much weight we lost. I’ll stick my neck out to say that if we all thought long enough, we would realize that we all have totems that are connected to significant memories and events in our lives.
One recent totem in my life is a handmade, museum quality plasma ball. I am 49 years old, and when I bought this plasma ball I know that many of my friends and family were wondering if I’ve finally lost it and am in full-blown midlife crisis mode. It is true that I’m in midlife, but what I need to tell my friends and family is that this plasma ball is more than glass, gas, and wood to me. This plasma ball represents my late little brother Mike’s passion for creativity, science, technology and excellence. When I look at that plasma ball and turn it on, somehow my brother feels a little bit closer to me.
I’ve decided to pursue my passion for coffee by learning how to roast coffee beans from around the world. The plan is to teach others what I’ve learned, as I learn it. I’ve decided to keep my coffee roasting venture, that I’ve called Mad Scientist Coffee Co., as a hobby so that I can focus on the things that are truly important in my life… things like family, friends and my career as a research scientist. To roast for profit changes everything. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. I want to roast and serve Mad Scientist Coffee for friends and family and for fundraisers that I believe in. I’m currently praying and working on an opportunity to roast and serve coffee for the homeless in downtown Indianapolis.
Back to the plasma ball totem. The plasma ball is goofy I agree, but it is an important part of my mission. You see, the plasma ball represents my little brother to me and I miss him very, very much. In some small, weird way, if I take this plasma ball with me I’m keeping my bother’s memory alive. If he was still with us, he would have loved to roast and serve coffee with me to friends, family and the hurting. He was an awesome, funny, brilliant man. He had a lot of pain in his life because he cared deeply about people and life. He hurt when others hurt. He cried when others cried. He laughed when others laughed. I miss him. I miss him a lot.
So, go out there and create new memories. Think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. Don’t let those old, stale bad memories hold you back. Put those “tapes” that make you feel like a worm or a super hero in the trash where they belong and just be an ordinary weakling for Christ. That’s what I’m attempting to do and my prayer is that you will too.