How History Feels

To their credit, my two little girls sat patiently as the Cherokee peace chief explained his slit ears, metal breastplate, and high-heeled shoes. On the table in front of him sat a rifle, swan feathers, a clay mug, and other shards of the past. He only stumbled once in his recreation of what happened nearly 300 years ago on this peninsula of land jutting out into the Tellico Reservoir.

I love the way history feels, and I can easily become a nostalgia junky. The narratives that draw together people, locations, and wars latch onto me. The connections that run through mountains, rivers, and small towns dig under my skin. The history of grace absorbs me.

I have to be careful. Otherwise, I’d spend too much time living back there and not paying attention to grace here and now.

There’s something in history that we often overlook. Sure, learning about the past supposedly keeps people from repeating mistakes (though I’ve yet to see that be the case). And we need to see where we’ve come from, to understand the ebbs and cycles in the story of civilization. But it’s more than that.

History—much more than just a learning tool—is the story of human failure. If that sounds morbid, it is. It’s how humans have failed to love, failed to live up to God’s standards, failed to even head in that direction. There are tiny currents that push back against the raging waters (and those are some great stories to focus on), but the direction has been clear.

What we learn, if we care to glance back, is that humanity has no chance—apart from grace. Our history lays bare the need for a raw, relentless love. We’ve stumbled and scrambled, fought and exiled. And yet no amount of human effort has ever satisfied the searching, the wanderlust. We’ve pushed on, pressed on, killed on. And never reached our goal.

But always there is God. The history we have points to the sparks He created in the darkness, the fires He kindled in the tragedies. Always there is God, appearing where you least expect. Always there is God breaking through.

I love history because He’s there in the midst of our failures. He never lets go; He never disappears.

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