Where, in the wake of tragedy and loss, do we find the strength to press on as people of hope? The answer is in remembering… and stones, or diplomas, or pictures, or even a door, can help.
There’s a front door in our house, of course. Without much thought at all it became the place where pictures were taken on those monumental days: first days of school – graduations – proms – our youngest heading out the door to dance and sing in a musical. For 19 years this door has been the equivalent of the stones about which we read in Joshua. When Israel miraculously crosses the Jordan river, they’re told to make a pile of stones, told that these stones will become the reminder of God’s faithfulness, and so they should take a peek at them every once in a while, because there will be days, weeks, months, when memories will be our most precious asset in carrying us forward.
What a year it’s been! Santa Barbara, and SPU, and Las Vegas, and friendly fire, and NSA, and politcal polarization, and corporate corruption; daily news coupled with personal loss create a deadly cocktail in which many of us are at risk of losing hope. And if hope dies, we’ve nothing to build on, nothing to offer, no reason to continue. Our worlds will shrink to purely private pursuits of pleasure, prosperity, security. When that happens, it matters not if we go to church, read our Bibles, or play at religion. We’re dead already, even while we live. I’ve seen it often.
How God has been faithful – You graduated; or got the job; or moved from single to married, or renting to owning, or brought a life into your home through birth, or adoption, or foster care. You finished a marathon, or summited Mt. Rainier. The days these things happen aren’t “just another Tuesday”, they’re significant because they represent either the completion of something, or the start of something else, or usually both at the same time.
It’s important to periodically celebrate, and remind ourselves how far we’ve come by looking at our remembering stones and recalling what we’ve done. As Paul reminds us, the lives we enjoy are the fruit of God’s faithfulness, because they’re built on the raw material of God’s gifts: health, education, opportunity, intimacy, adventure? Think of anything that brings you joy, and then ask yourself where the raw materials of that experience came from? God’s the source, always, of “every good and perfect gift” as the scriptures remind us. My diploma, my coffee, the mountains I love, the family that saturates with me joy – none of them are mine because of me. They’re gifts. So fifteen years from now, when I look at this picture by our “door of remembrance” as my wife goes out the door to finish her 13 years of working at Seattle Pacific University, I’ll say “Thanks be to God, who provided for our family every step of the way.” And, “Thanks be to God for a wife who has been willing, over and over again, to set aside her personal goals in pursuit of family goals – she’s been the greatest gift of all.”
This past summer I stood beside an ampi-theater in what was once the moat of Edinburgh castle. This picture from there is a form of remembrance stone, because the last time I stood in that spot was 41 years earlier as an awkard 16 year old who, because he could play drums well, was invited to travel in Europe with his high school’s concert band. Now I’m back in that same spot, this time, enjoying a brief holiday before heading off to be with my theological family and speak at the gathered community of leaders in the Torchbearer Missionary Fellowship in England. I stood there thinking about the past 41 years and how, in spite of loss, and bad choices, and failure, and doubt, and melancholy – God has been faithful to me. Wow! Just the act of remembering became a reminder that I, we, rest entirely in the faithfulness of God, and this is liberating.
Similarly, all our events: graduations, weddings, children, next steps, will matter more, I hope, twenty years from now than they do today, because they become reminders of a gift God gave you, and by then there’ll be more gifts too. Instead of saying, “Wow. I’m awesome. Look what I’ve done” your stones of remembering will give you a profound humility that will make yours a life of gratitude, not grumbling; worship, not boasting. I could wish nothing more for any of you.