August of 2016 marked our 15th wedding anniversary and we took a trip to Michigan in the fall to celebrate. At the same time we found ourselves beginning to grieve a loss. As we walked the beach, we began collecting these beautiful stones, which quickly became a conversation piece. As we reflected on our marriage—full of blessings for sure, but trials, uncertainty and tumultuous times as well—most of what we could remember were stones of remembrance; the times when God showed Himself good, strong and faithful. Through every hard season, we could look back and see God with us…even though while IN the season this was often hard to grasp.
If you’ve spent time with us there is a good chance you’ve heard us talk about these stones of remembrance. So where does this idea come from?
In Joshua 4, God commands Israel to set stones as monuments of reminder to all generations of the great things the Lord had done—specifically His miracles at the Red Sea and the Jordan. God, in the same way, commands us to remember His faithfulness in our life. This is for His glory and our own good as we find comfort and confidence in His steadfastness to His children through ALL generations.
21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Then in 1 Samuel 7, where we get the line from Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, “Here I raise my Ebeneezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come…” it provides the account of SamuelThat we can raise up that stone and see how He had brought us through—that He who began a good work in us won’t stop until it is finished!
1 Samuel 7
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
We also realized that on our honeymoon, we collected shells. Shells are pretty…and empty. In those early days of marriage we couldn’t possibly predict what was beyond the horizon of these first fifteen years, but now, fifteen years later we remember. We will continue to remember because unlike the investment industry phrase “past performance is no guarantee of future results,” with God his past faithfulness is absolutely assurance of future faithfulness. This is why we collect these stones. Whether it has been the need of a specific season or our GREATEST need, to be rescued from sin and living for only ourselves, God has been our provider. His faithfulness hasn’t always looked like what we’d expect or even want, but it’s always been better than our own plans and paths to provision. A faithfulness that is certainly worth remembering with an object of weight and permanence like these stones.
We walked into that anniversary trip in a hard place. To be honest, we are not out of it yet. A church plant in a community we love, where our heart and hands had been worn in service to God and the vision and people He’d placed on our hearts came to an end. A place we suspected that God was preparing us to live, serve and grow for the rest of our lives ceased to exist. But we are choosing to pick up the stones of His past faithfulness. It’s good exercise in order to be prepared to see and put in place the new stones that we are certain will come from this season.
There has been so much on social media about how 2016 has been such a horrible year and that 2017 could not start soon enough. It’s interesting how we tend to look for something to CHANGE to make our circumstances better, like something as relatively and realistically inconsequential as the “clean slate” of a new year. Maybe it’s time for us to look for something that is UNCHANGING to give us hope. Maybe it’s time to for us to rely on what has been the same yesterday, today and forever to give us this great hope we are looking for.
So as you reflect on 2016, whatever trials and joys you have encountered, I hope you can work on the discipline, along with us, of setting aside those stones of remembrance and recalling how God has been good and faithful. This is the root of hope for things to come in 2017 and for all eternity. We certainly can’t imagine living without it.
If we can encourage you in this Hope or even help you explore it for the first time we’d love to have those discussions. Sometimes we have to borrow each other’s stones of remembrance when we are struggling to find our own.
In a season where we hear and even sing so much about Peace and Hope, maybe the portion of this letter from the Apostle Paul can help guide us into a new year…
Romans 5.1-5 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Happy and hopeful new year!
Ryan & Harper