I know God is loving; I know He is good; I believe He is big and powerful. But sometimes I wonder if He is really kind— really deeply always kind. Is He? Christians love to talk about how God is in control, but that’s harder to grasp when things aren’t going like you thought they would, when your life looks quite different than you imagined. For centuries, God’s people have been building altars to Him—to remind themselves and the people around them of His work. His goodness. His kindness. Stacks of stones. Altars. Temples. Cathedrals. Why? Because they believed God and wanted to remember Him. In the back of my mind, God reminds me that He is the same trustworthy God—the One who always finishes the stories he starts. And this is my story—of wrestling with our God who gives a limp and a blessing. A God who is always kind even when my circumstances feel the opposite. God is who He says He is. He is kinder than you imagine. In a world where it is easy to forget who He is, we will not. We will remember God.
|Publisher:||B&H Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||3 Months to 18 Years|
About the Author
Annie F. Downs is a bestselling author, nationally known speaker, and podcast host based in Nashville, Tennessee. An author of multiple bestselling books including 100 Days to Brave, Looking for Lovely, and Let’s All Be Brave, Annie also loves traveling around the country speaking at conferences, churches, and events. Annie hosts the weekly popular That Sounds Fun Podcast and is a huge fan of bands with banjos, glitter, her community of friends, boiled peanuts, and soccer. Read more at anniefdowns.com and follow her @anniefdowns.
Read an Excerpt
I'm at a new coffee shop today in Nashville, one I haven't visited before. It's Monday after a busy work weekend and I'm just exhausted. My brain wants to rest; my calendar says to write. I'm not only struggling to find the words, I'm struggling to find the pictures in my mind that I want to describe for you. So I've pulled out photographs today, to see with my eyes what I can't conjure up in my mind.
To see Notre Dame.
I was fourteen years old the first time I saw the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I remember the exterior as being lighter in color than I thought, this edifice of barely gray stone that traveled up into the sky higher than I imagined.
Seeing it was different than standing at the base of a skyscraper in New York City, because I knew the cathedral was built by hand. The height of the spires, the flying buttresses, the detailed statues, the gargoyles, all built and hand-carved hundreds of years ago. They first broke ground on it in 1163 and Notre Dame was completed in 1365. Yes, it took two hundred years to build that building. That's unfathomable to me. I can't envision anyone in our day starting any project knowing it likely wouldn't be completed until five generations into the future.
I have pictures of my high school best friends and I, sitting outside the cathedral, waiting on a bench. I'm wearing a pink sweater and purple hiking boots, which should just tell you everything you ever wanted to know about my teenage self. I also have a picture printed out and labeled in a scrapbook of the moment I walked inside.
The north rose stained glass window was like nothing I had ever seen. There it was, straight ahead, what seemed like miles away — the blues and pinks and yellows — a bright spot in a darker massive room. I couldn't stop staring at the light shining through it or marveling that someone had created every piece, stained it, sealed it in place, and then (and I seriously do not know how someone using thirteenth-century equipment could do this) raised it and positioned it so many stories up.
You can't get close enough to see this feature with your bare eyes, but the center of the north rose is Jesus as a baby and His mother, Mary. It's an incredible piece of art. The whole window is. The whole room is. The whole building is.
(To be fair, all of Paris is, isn't it?)
I've been back to Notre Dame a few times since. And every time I'm there, I can't help but think about the centuries of people who have sat in those pews before me. I think of all the people who have gathered there for one reason.
Because they believed in God. And wanted to remember Him.
My assistant, Eliza, and I travel together quite a bit, about three weekends a month for roughly eight months of the year. We rarely get tired of each other (separate hotel rooms is clutch), and we never run out of life stories or God stories to tell.
A few years ago, we realized that every city where we went for me to speak at a conference, church, or event began to look the same — just the inside of a plane, the inside of a hotel, the inside of a church or event space. It felt like we were wasting these opportunities a bit. We thought, hey — we're in ARGYLE, TEXAS, for heaven's sake. We should see it! We're in BOSTON. We're in INDIANA, PENNSYLVANIA. We're in LEWISTON, IDAHO. But we weren't seeing cities; we weren't experiencing culture; we weren't eating local. We were missing the best parts of the travel side of our jobs.
So we created a little something called Tour de Tastebuds. (Probably better known to some of you as #tourdetastebuds.) It started out simple. In every city where we traveled, Eliza and I would try to find the most hole-in-the-wall, local, delicious restaurant. We didn't want a chain; we didn't want fancy. We wanted the place we would pick on a Tuesday night with our family or friends if we lived in this particular city. And after eating, we would ask ourselves: Is this place in middle Alabama better than the meal we had last week in middle California? Up-or-down vote. On to the next place.
Then one fateful day, a few months into the competition, standing outside a barbecue restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we disagreed. I said the meal was the number-two restaurant experience of our fall season; she said it was number-one. I was floored and we were out of sync.
So we created a scoring system: 1–5 in three different categories.
1. Atmosphere. How's the decor? How's the service? What kind of experience do the other patrons seem to be having? Does the look and feel of the place match the food being served?
2. Taste. Simply, how is the food?
3. How do you feel? Do you feel satisfied? Full? Dizzy? (Yes. Dizzy. It happened once after some fried pies in Oklahoma.)
We now had a system, and suddenly felt like we'd accidentally started an Instagram version of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Which was fine with me because I love that show. It just meant that in addition to all the other ways we prep before heading out on a trip, we now have another line item to check off: finding the right restaurant for the tour. We want variety and local, so we ask online or ask friends from the city. Fairly often the host of the event has a Tour de Tastebuds recommendation for us, but only about half the time is that the one we actually judge.
Last spring we were speaking outside of Pittsburgh, and multiple people had told us the same place — Pamela's — for breakfast. It is also President Obama's favorite breakfast, so that said something to us as well. We arrived in town the night before and didn't need to be at the event until the next afternoon, so Eliza and I got up that morning, put Pamela's into our GPS, and headed out.
As we drove, part of what we were talking about was a really sad text conversation of mine from earlier that weekend, a miscommunication with a man who mattered to me. "It feels like things are falling apart, Eliza," I said to her, "and I'm fine if that's what happens. I really am. It just makes me worry that I've missed God somehow in this." It's that train track thing again, you know? I thought I had some good direction from the Lord of where these tracks were going to go, until things went way off the rails and I was confused.
We turned left to head up a hill, and there, at the top, sat a cathedral. We both gasped and tears came to our eyes. I pulled over on Elm Street and stopped the car right there on the incline, and we stared in silence.
"A cathedral," I whispered to Eliza.
"I know, I know," she said back. "And I know what it means."
For months, God kept putting me in the path of cathedrals. I've loved them my whole life actually, but in recent months I couldn't seem to get away from them. In other countries, like Scotland, this is pretty normal. Old churches built centuries ago are around every corner. But in America, not so much. I love them because, more than anything else, they remind me of the history of God.
Here's a confession: I am easily awed. Which is both a gift and a curse. Sometimes it makes me look like a country bumpkin who's never left home for the big city because, "Wow, y'all, look at that!" It means I'm too easily entertained and probably shouldn't be quite so impressed with our planet as I am. "A BUTTERFLY! THAT'S AMAZING!" says no normal person who has ever seen butterflies before. But I do. Often. I mean, did you know during their transformation inside the cocoon, they actually become sort of like goo before emerging? Mind-blowing.
I actually don't mind being awed. I like that I really like life. I like how often I'm just happy to be here and can look for lovely all around me. If you're familiar with the Enneagram, I'm a 7, and we 7s pretty much just love life most of the time ... or are trying to love it so we can avoid pain.
But cathedrals, for any of us, are awe-inspiring.
Churches are great. I go to one. But my church is a cement box with cement floors. Though it's been our church home for a while, it used to be a storage facility for Goodwill. Cathedrals, on the other hand, never used to be anything else. They were built with a purpose. They continue with that purpose. You never look at a cathedral and wonder what it used to be or what it is now. "Is that a cathedral I see in the distance or an Ikea?"
Cathedrals are monster buildings with minute details around every corner. Tall ornate ceilings, tiled floors, pews, pillars, Latin words inscribed across the walls. Designed in the massive shape of a cross, cathedrals are the way humans have always offered sanctuary and a place to gather to worship an invisible God. They're how we've invited others to come here and believe that there is more to this life than what any of us can see.
They're monuments to God's presence with His people.
People build monuments all the time, to a variety of different things. They all exist to mark a place or a time that doesn't need to be forgotten by the human race. And typically they're accompanied by some kind of historical marker that describes what this statue or building is commemorating.
I LOVE reading historical markers. In fact, walking from my house to my local coffee shop, I pass two historical markers on the sidewalk, and I read both of them word for word every time. It feels mildly insane because DIDN'T I JUST READ THOSE YESTERDAY? But it also matters to me. Someone carved letters out of cement so that the people who lived and did something important in this spot, in this little corner of the universe, would not be forgotten.
It happened in the Bible too. Repeatedly when God rescued His people or healed them or restored them, the Israelites would mark it. Whether with a stack of stones or an altar or a name, they would make a place of remembrance so that God's power and work would not be forgotten. Think of Jacob, for instance — Genesis 32:30 — giving a name to the place where he wrestled all night with God. (We'll come back to him later. Mark that too.)
And throughout time, at least throughout the modern ages, the most prominent marking has become cathedrals, which people built to remember God.
I walked into Frothy Monkey, a little eatery in the 12 South area of Nashville, to meet our former intern, Sarah, for breakfast. You just cannot go wrong eating breakfast at Frothy. I usually get "The California" — toast and sprouts and avocado slices and two over-medium eggs. I go a little diva and ask for gluten-free toast and a side of crispy bacon. And seriously, it is the breakfast of my dreams.
Someday we can talk about how I used to think runny eggs were the grossest thing in the world until I had these runny eggs at Flat White Kitchen in Durham, England, and they changed my life and I've never been the same. Scrambled eggs are legitimately a memory for me because why would you eat those when you could have eggs over medium? That's where I stand on eggs.
I'd gotten back just a few days before from that trip to Pittsburgh with Eliza. I couldn't wait to tell Sarah how God had shown up, right there on a hill in Pennsylvania. I came in the back door of Frothy and walked up the stairs. The walls inside are decorated with local art which they change out randomly. (Well, it may not be random to them, but it is certainly random to me.) And get this. EVERY picture on the wall was a drawing of a cathedral. YES. FOR REAL. Big regal buildings from around the world.
Sarah was sitting at a table for two along the wall, where a church pew runs the length of the room, creating about seven "tables for two." Sarah looked up at me as I walked toward her. My hand was over my mouth.
"Sarah ..." I said, almost more a gasp than actually talking. "Look at the walls. It's all cathedrals. How long have these been here? Are they new? Who made them? Is this a joke?"
I didn't sit down. I just walked all around the coffee shop and looked at every picture. A few were labeled "churches" instead of cathedrals, but they had the same look. The same regal build. The same hard-as-stone, not moving, not shaking, survived-fire-and-doubt-and-wind-and-pain look.
God did not want me to miss this. Clearly. He was saying something to me ... because the heart of this book and the heart of cathedrals seem to be about the same. This may be why God brought the theme to me in the first place. The heart of my struggles involves holding tight to what cathedrals have always meant.
God is who He says He is. Kinder than you imagine. And people have gathered together in cathedrals fordecades to be reminded of who He is. That's the only reason those cross-shaped buildings were even created. To remember Him.
When Eliza and I turned that corner in Pittsburgh, and the cathedral rose over the hill, we both burst into tears. And days later, as I sat down with Sarah and looked at the cathedrals lining the walls of Frothy Monkey, tears came to my eyes again.
Because there He was. Again and again. Reminding me to remember Him.CHAPTER 2
I was playing Chutes and Ladders with my five-year-old friend Troy. It's a game I've played for the majority of my life, but knowing how to play doesn't help at all as far as winning goes. There is zero correlation between the time you've put into the game and your chances of winning. Because it is all up to chance.
If it's been a while since you played, here's a quick recap. The game board is a grid of one hundred boxes, ten rows of ten, with each square numbered in order — 1 at the bottom right corner, 100 at the top left. All the game pieces start at 1, and the goal of each player is to reach 100 first. Each turn begins with the roll of a single die (or the flick of a spinner), and the number determines how many spaces you move. Throughout the board are ladders that allow you to skip ahead a few boxes if you land at the base of them. But plenty of chutes also appear, causing you to slide back down the board if you're unlucky enough to land on those.
Troy was slaughtering me in the game. I would roll a six and land right on top of a chute, sending me sliding back to the start. Troy would roll a one and get to climb a ladder up ten or fifteen spaces. He was giggling like crazy and trash-talking just as much. I was laughing on the outside, playing along with him, having a great attitude about it. But on the inside? NOT HAPPY ONE BIT. I was super mad, like the kind of mad that almost gives you goose bumps. Anger goose bumps. Yes, they are a thing. How was this kid beating me? I have a college education and my own home and I know how to multiply. (He has NONE of those things, can do NONE of those things.) And yet he was killing me.
Webb, Troy's older brother, was across the room from us, doing a Star Wars puzzle. Looked like a good plan to me. I caught sight of Molly, their mom, walking in. She could instantly see how badly I was losing.
"Oh, Annie," she said, "what's happened here?"
Looking up to her from the floor, my face said it all. We've been friends for about twenty-five years, so she knows how to interpret my many and varied faces. "Things are not going so well for me over here," I responded through gritted teeth.
She laughed. That's what best friends do. They laugh at your pain, especially when it's brought on by children and board games.
The game took longer than I wanted — one of those slow, painful board game deaths with lots of twists and turns (eh, chutes and ladders). It ended with him landing on the 100 and then running laps around me, pumping his fists in the air. That's when I decided to write him out of my will.
Troy beat me. It was official.
I immediately started cleaning up the game while he protested that we should go again. I would not. I suggested (insisted) we switch to reading books because, guess what, kid, I know how to read ALL the words. Boom. Sucker.
Later that night as I was falling asleep, I reflected a bit on the afternoon and asked myself a few questions. What had happened there? Why the competitive fire? Why did losing make me legitimately angry when it was all just luck of the roll? Who cares? And what will you do next time, Annie, to ensure victory? (Just kidding about that last one ... sorta.)(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Remember God"
Copyright © 2018 Annie F. Downs.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Publishing Group.
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