It happened every Friday morning. With steaming thermoses in hand, a few university friends and I would hike up a nearby hill to eat breakfast outside, watch the sunrise, and talk about life. One such morning, as we observed the city awaking below, I remember posing a question which I’d been asking different people lately:
“If you could have a million dollars now, or an extra year of quality life — like, if God were to take the number of years He’s prepared for you and add a bonus one — which option would you choose? How would you spend a million dollars worth a year of life or a year of life worth a million dollars?”
It was one of those questions with no right answer; it just lent a little insight into what people [value]. So many people I’d talked with earlier had gone for the million, I began second-guessing my own inclination to choose the year.
“If I did choose the year,” I reasoned aloud to my hiking friends, however, “I would value time more for the rest of my life. I’d set better priorities.”
The hikers opted for the year too. So did my parents, who are so in love that they just wanted more time together. They said a million dollars wouldn’t make them any richer.
Soon after these conversations, I started wondering: if this year were my extra one, worth a million dollars, how would I live differently?
For starters, I’d pray more.
And I’d worry less.
I’d get up earlier, watch more sunrises, spend more time with people, and make more memories.
So — why not?
The New Year was rocketing towards me, and graduation with it. I had no idea what the year would hold, but wherever God placed me — even if only back at my usual summer job — I wanted to make sure I’d be living intentionally.
So, I set a goal to write down 1000 memories in one year.
It sounded easy enough. At an average rate of just three memories a day, 1000 memories should be possible to capture through a little creativity, a few tweaks to my daily routine, and a bit more attention to the moments which make up life. Right?
Determined to find out, I started searching for every day’s ‘moments.’ Most mornings, I’d set an alarm for six, catch the early bus, take my ukulele to a hill or beach, and spend time outside with God before class.
“To think that I almost missed this by hitting snooze!” I remember thinking on more than one such occasion, when a brilliant sunrise transformed the ocean to molten gold.
Later in the afternoons, I’d pack a load of textbooks and go study on a beach, under a tree, or at a fancy hotel lobby instead of just working at a desk. Then if I met friends in the evening, I’d often tell them about the 1000 memory goal, to become more openly intentional about spending time together.
And so, day by day, moment by moment, the memories started accumulating.
Some memories were really little things: studying in my [favorite] coffee shop, running into an old friend, or feeling great about finishing an assignment. A few were fabulous, flashbulb-blinded memories, like crossing the graduation stage or riding a limo for the first time [at] a friend’s wedding. And some memories were downright epic, like when I boarded a one-way flight in autumn to backpack and blog about Christian students’ experiences at secular universities around the world. From the unbearable ticklishness of koala toes in my side, to the glimmering splendor of Tokyo’s lights after dark, to the exhilaration of leaping into a waterfall in the Philippines, the following days brought memories I never want to forget.
Three Ingredients for Great Memories:
Whether at home or abroad, however, I learned that many of the best memories include at least one of three simple ingredients. Spending quality time with others, whether humans or God, is the first ingredient. The second is taking more notice of life’s everyday wonders, like starlight or soap bubbles or the [color] of sunlight on grass. It’s about experiencing our Father’s world the way a kid might, unwrapping the joy latent in everything from dandelion seeds to bubble wrap. Finally, the third ingredient for creating ‘keeper’ memories is to add novel twists to normal life.
For example, my roommate and I combined these ingredients to cook up dozens of golden memories at the year’s beginning. We went stargazing in the front yard, rated sunsets from the local pier, and pooled our snack stashes for movie nights. One time, we even spent a whole day of “subway hopping,” riding a distant city’s entire train line and disembarking at every station to snap a picture.
Then, later in the summer, my dad and I mixed some memory-making ingredients by assigning ourselves a mission to explore as many new lakes as possible by kayak. We toured small towns wherever we found them along the way, following curvy backroads and discovering country stores which Norman Rockwell could have painted. Always, we’d be certain to nab some chocolate for the road.
Another summer night, when the weather forecast predicted a meteorite shower, my whole family and whatever guests were present popped popcorn, bundled up, and drove towards the country. We eventually pulled over by a grassy ditch, where we stretched out a blanket to enjoy the show. Between all the clouds and light pollution, we only saw about three stars — but we were laughing so hard that it really didn’t matter.
My [favorite] triple-ingredient memory of all, however, might just be the night a few friends and I arrived late at my house after a camp event. Instead of just crashing in the basement, we agreed it would be way more interesting to sleep on the garage roof. So, armed with blankets, pillows, a ladder, and nachos, we sneaked atop the garage, enjoyed a rooftop nacho party at midnight, and slept soundly until squirrels started pelting pinecones down from their nests at 6:00 a.m.
Three NON-essentials for Great Memories:
Interestingly, these golden memories had three other things in common too — or rather, they didn’t have three things. First, none of the memories I just mentioned required much money — just a little creativity. No one, after all, needs to buy a national park pass to camp on a roof. Meteorite showers don’t charge admission. And even when other great medicines bear a sickening price tag, laughter is free.
Second, I’ll gently point out that, except for some travel highlights and outdoor textbook reading, none of the memories I’ve listed wound up on social media. Social media can be a great tool to digitally scrapbook our memories and inspire others to create their own. But, at least in my experience, it can also become a trap for unhealthy self-glorification, false image cultivation, and social comparison. Furthermore, social media attention can too-easily become our focus for making memories. In the past, for instance, I’ve caught myself living in the middle of a great memory while thinking only about how to best frame it for social media. I’m not at all condemning posting great memories online — especially because I do it too! But it’s nice to go out and make memories WITH people we like rather than FOR people to “like.”
Third, few of the memories I’ve mentioned involved ‘glamourous’ experiences, like distant travel. While I did rally hundreds of incredible memories after starting my DIY missions/blogging trip, all the moments I wrote down from everyday life beforehand were enough to fill my 1000 memories quota three months early. My 1000th memory, in fact, ended up being one of my usual Sunday morning walks up a local hill on the day before I left for my global backpacking mission.
Now, at the end of the year, that number has grown to total 1541 memories.
Those are 1541 reasons to be thankful.
1541 reasons to smile.
1541 reasons to praise God for His faithfulness, through the hard moments and the good.
The Meaning of Memories:
The point that memories are reasons to worship is so important because, in all this memory-making business, there lurks a certain danger. That’s the temptation to start living for earthly memories, pouring forth our lives to advance a bucket list which will pass away when we do, rather than to advance the everlasting kingdom of God. To live in pursuit of experiences that make us happy is to miss the grand, eternal purpose for which we were created.
Making feel-good memories is not the ultimate goal of life. Glorifying God with all our lives, resources, and beings, walking with God and bringing others along — that’s life’s ultimate goal.
But what if we could glorify God by making memories? What if we recognized those memories as reasons to rejoice in His goodness, to be thankful, and to bless His name? What if the moments when we noticed life’s little wonders became moments of worship? Imagine the ways we could bless people by putting novel twists on normal life. Think of how spending quality time with others might translate to better loving, serving and appreciating the people around us.
Imagine the value of 365 days filled with those kinds of moments!
Maybe a year like that would be worth a million dollars.
Or maybe, it would be priceless.