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Grace Notes – On being remembered

A few weeks ago I interviewed the executive director at the Sanctuary Mission, a place where broken lives are restored.

For some, it’s a place of last resort.

Many come from weeks or months of living on the street. Most suffer from various addictions.

The director, Joe, went there years ago for restoration. I wrote about him in 2020 when he first became the director.

The most recent interview was about the Sanctuary’s plans to expand their facilities, and before I wrote that story for the paper I reread the story I had written in 2020.

In it, something Joe said caught my attention.

No, it didn’t merely catch my attention; it grabbed my attention in such a way that even now, weeks later, I can’t stop thinking about it.

Joe was telling me about how he had once had everything and then he had nothing and ended up at the Sanctuary.

“When I first walked through the door I felt shameful and hopeless,” he said.

After about 45 days into the program he started to see a glimmer of hope and began getting up before dawn, walking outside and talking to God, hoping to rekindle his prayer life.

What grabbed and gripped me was when he said he would ask God, “Do you remember me?”

It’s such a raw question: “Do you remember me?”

He said he felt he had failed, that he had let his family and God down.

“The person inside of me was close to death,” he said.

If God had forgotten him, he believed he deserved it.

But God hadn’t forgotten him. God remembered him.

God remembers.

Not in a “I remember what you did, what you’ve done. I remember all the ways you’ve failed.”

But in the way a parent can never not remember a child, despite, or maybe because of, estrangement and separation.

The ancient prophet Isaiah, speaking the words of God to the Israelites who were captives of the Babylonians, told them to rejoice and be glad “for the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.”

But the Israelites thought God had forgotten and forsaken them.

To that God said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she had borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:13-15).

Last week I went to California to visit my mother who has dementia. It had been many years since I had seen her, and I wasn’t sure she would remember me — she and I never had a close relationship to begin with and I had not stayed in touch with her as I should have.

So, when I walked into her room at the hospice house and said hello, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was prepared to be a stranger to her. 

That’s when I saw in her eyes that she did, indeed, remember me.

I showed her a baby picture of me that I had brought and said, “This is your baby. This is me.”

She just said, “Oh! OK.”

My sister had told her it was my birthday, and she told my sister that she thought I was 12.

Soon she will forget, but God will never forget. He will always remember.

God always remembers his own and welcomes us even when we’ve stayed away. He remembers even when we think maybe he won’t.

Nancy Kennedy can be reached at 352-564-2927 or by email at