Here I Raise My Ebenezer

The rocks.

I showed one in a prior post, saying that someday I’d talk about them.  Since the time I wrote that post I realized I need a new rock, and I thought this would make a good time to explain my eclectic collection.

It started simultaneously in two facets of my life.  First was a small group Bible study on the topic of faith, and second was a sermon series by my father on the same topic.

Let me back up.

Faith has never been my strong suit.  Habit? Yes.  What has carried me through some of my most difficult periods of life has been the fact that I’ve grown up developing the habit of a relationship with God.  I go to church.  I pray (not always enough, but I do).  I read my Bible (definitely not enough, but sometimes).  I had the habit of belief, slightly tested and owned as my own.  But faith?  No, I’ve never been a person of astounding faith.  I think this is due in part to the fact that I haven’t had a difficult life, and also to the fact that one of my earliest childhood memories is of choosing to give my life (at least what I knew of it then) to Jesus.  Some people say children can’t make those sorts of decisions, but I don’t agree.  I understood what I was doing and wanted to do it.  In fact, I did it on my own with no one prompting or watching me, only telling my parents about it after the fact.  This decision, the beginnings of my faith journey, came at such a young age that I could never really say my life was drastically changed because of my decision.  I mean, how changed can a young child’s life be?  It was still fluid and hardly formed!  But I don’t doubt that the onset of my personal spiritual journey began in that moment, with that decision.

I say faith has never been my strong suit because I’ve always had a lot of questions.  How does this whole “Heaven” thing work?  Was it really necessary for someone to die?  Was Jesus really who he said he was?  Is there really a God?  If God is real does he really care about the minutiae of my life?  How can one being – supernatural or not – possibly be omniscient and omnipresent?  How literal is Hell?  Is there really only “one way” to Heaven?  How much of the Bible is allegory and how much of it is literal?  What about free will versus predestination?  I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling through these questions and then wrestling with them again.  The answers never come easily and I always seem to come back around to asking the same questions over and over.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  You know the drill.

It hasn’t helped that it has seemed like the other shoe has always dropped.  Up until our infertility experience and Mara it has never been truly awful, but nothing ever seemed to work out.  Jobs were all wrong.  We struggled in our marriage.  Our finances have never been even close to what they should or could have been.  I’ve been depressed, sick, and depressed again.  It hasn’t always been easy to see the hand of a loving, concerned God working directly in my life.

But back to the sermon and the Bible study.

It was at the very beginning of our infertility journey – just around the time I was being diagnosed and beginning to undergo some tests – that I found myself surrounded by lessons about faith.  The small group we were in at the time was going through Beth Moore’s study “Believing God.”  If you haven’t done it (either the study or just reading the book) I’d recommend it.  That is, I’d recommend it if you’re a woman.  Our small group was a mixed group, and although the wives enjoyed it the husbands thought Beth Moore and her antics were hysterical!  They were so distracted that we never actually finished the study – we stopped around session 7.

Stick with me here.  I’m going to try to break this down as quickly as possible.

During that study, Beth gave particular attention to a section of Joshua, a section in which the Israelites cross the Jordan River.  At the time of year when they crossed, the Jordan River would have been raging at flood level with currents swift enough to cause instant distress to anyone entering the water.  Yet, the children of Israel had no choice but to cross this river if they wanted to reach their Promised Land.  As they stepped out in faith, God parted the waters of the Jordan River and the Children of Israel passed through, unharmed, on dry land.  This is what God says immediately after the children of Israel completed their journey.

When the whole nation was finally across, God spoke to Joshua: “Select twelve men from the people, a man from each tribe, and tell them, ‘From right here, the middle of the Jordan where the feet of the priests are standing firm, take twelve stones. Carry them across with you and set them down in the place where you camp tonight.'”

Joshua called out the twelve men whom he selected from the People of Israel, one man from each tribe. Joshua directed them, “Cross to the middle of the Jordan and take your place in front of the Chest of God, your God. Each of you heft a stone to your shoulder, a stone for each of the tribes of the People of Israel, so you’ll have something later to mark the occasion. When your children ask you, ‘What are these stones to you?’ you’ll say, ‘The flow of the Jordan was stopped in front of the Chest of the Covenant of God as it crossed the Jordan—stopped in its tracks. These stones are a permanent memorial for the People of Israel.'”

There are several other passages in the Bible that talk about memorial stones, one in particular.  If I remember correctly, it was from this passage that my father preached in the sermon I mentioned earlier.  It revolved around a story in Samuel where the Israelites were protected by God from destruction by the Philistines.  1 Samuel 7:12 says

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, [b] saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.”

At the end of the service, there were stations set up across the auditorium at which we could all select a stone, a stone we could use as a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness to us and how far God had brought us through our trials.  I still have that stone.  It’s in a teacup in my dining room.

When we decided to do ivf last year, I was in a different small group – a women’s group this time 🙂 – and we happened to be doing the “Believing God” study once again.  The months preceding our ivf had been fragile, months during which I had only begun to work through some of my faith issues in a meaningful way.  I didn’t want the ivf to derail me, a risk I thought especially probably if the procedure failed.  With the hope that it would protect my delicate heart in the event of a failed ivf, I decided to create my own Ebenezer, a visual reminder of how far the Lord had brought me.  Each time we had a doctor’s appointment, I found a rock to serve as a tangible reminder of the fact that God had brought us from one appointment to the next, through countless shots, difficult hormone swings, and a cycle of hope and fear that vacillated wildly.

I love those stone, some of them in particular.

The big rock – the large one in the middle?  I picked up that rock after the whole “low-responding” fiasco.  In spite of high dosages of medication, I had very few follicles developing and my devastation overwhelmed me.  I could hardly believe the investment we made – both financial and emotional – was producing such poor results.  Discouragement began to set in.  But this rock changed that.   The mottling on the rock was unique and made me think of an ovary with many follicles.  When I found it I knew instantly that it should become my next rock, and when I looked at it I remembered that the same God who had walked us through the prior surgeries, the dark days and all the shots would continue to walk me through the rest of the ivf process, no matter how many eggs I produced.

On the day of our egg retrieval the doctor got 6 eggs instead of the 3 I was expecting, and on the day of the embryo transfer we put back 3 embryos – beautiful cell clusters full of hope and possibility.  When it was over I crept gingerly to the car, hoping not to disturb any of the precious cargo I was carrying, and I sent Tahd to the ditch to scour up a rock.  What he came back with disappointed me.  It was broken!  Broken!  He had picked up a rock in two pieces!  Then he explained why.  When he looked down at the ground and saw a rock in two pieces – one larger piece with a smaller fragment to the side – it seemed obvious to him the pieces went together, and it caught his eye and heart.  When he brought it back to the car he could see my bewilderment, and he explained that the rock made him think of our ivf process and how what started out as broken and difficult was ending as hopeful and repaired.  That rock came to be one of my favorites.

I didn’t pick up any stones when I got pregnant with Mara, not even when I miscarried her.  I would love to have a rock from the parking lot of the emergency room that Mother’s Day morning, but I left the hospital in such shock that it never occurred to me.  Honestly, I was too fixated on the sunrise to look at the ground.  It took many days for the stun to wear off, and when I crested the boardwalk at the beach in Naples, I knew it was gone and I knew what I needed to do.  I needed to collect rocks, lots and lots of rocks. I collected a whole pile of rocks and shells, the ones I used to create Mara’s heart on the beach, and have since put them on my mantle in a small container beside her picture and ashes.  When I look at them, I know.  God was there.  God is here.  God will be.  I can keep walking through today and tomorrow with that assurance.

The same principle was in play when I picked up the rock on Gabe’s second day of school.  I had sent him on his way through the halls, all the while choking back my tears.  When he was out of sight I let them flow, and as I walked to the car I knew I needed another stone, another Ebenezer to be a permanent marker for my heart.  I needed to remember God was there.  God was with him.  God would continue to be with him.  Although he looked little and out of place, it was okay to send him out into the world and it was okay to leave him at school and it was okay to keep walking with the assurance only my faith could offer.

I’m going to be picking up another stone sometime this week.

At our Saturday night church service, the children leave during the message to explore the same passage of the Bible being taught in “big church,” but to explore it in a way that allows them to access the truths at their levels.  Sometime in February while we were all learning from the book of Nehemiah, Gabe came home with a doorknob sign.  On the front were stickers signifying the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah built, and on the back, in charming preschool scrypt, were these words:

I’m in love with the dashes!

I spent most of my pregnancy on the couch, too afraid to move more than necessary in case I somehow jiggled the pregnancy loose.  The irony of the fact that I’m a former health teacher who is fully aware that you can’t “jiggle” a baby loose, especially by getting up off the couch, is not lost on me.  But I used to look across the couch to the entryway at that sign and feel a sense of comfort and encouragement.  Look, I’d think!  God does keep His promises!  Here is the baby He promised me.  All I have to do is wait a few more months and the promise will be completely fulfilled!

When I arrived home from the emergency room on Mother’s Day morning, that sign taunted me.  It taunted me while I recovered from surgery.  It taunted me when I got home from Florida.  It taunted me all the way through the summer, all the way through our travels, all the way through my sadness.  Why I didn’t throw it away I don’t know.  At first it made me almost physically ill, but as I worked through some of my pain I felt mostly content to ignore it and refuse its torture.

While we were away, I started writing.  I started writing my story and Mara’s story and the story of my life and how it all fits together.  I don’t know if it will ever become anything other than a private story for me to treasure, but it marked a turning point in the journey of my faith.  Two chapters in and I could see the forest through the trees.  Maybe not all of it.  I certainly don’t know how the story is going to end.  But I could see the plot.  I could see the character development.  I could see purpose.  What had seemed so random and purposeless and painful and cruel began to seem beautiful and relevant and sweet, even though not preferred.  Knowing the pain and loss we’ve experienced I would never have chosen to tell this story with my life.  But it is the story we’ve been given and through my writing I began to see my Ebenezer stones come to life – marking my road, showing me God’s faithfulness around every turn and through every valley.

Throughout our entire married life, finances have never been something we’ve mastered with ease.  There have been times we’ve made wise financial decisions, but there have also been times we’ve been boneheaded, frivolous, or uninformed.  Add with that infertility and the excessive expenses it entails along with several surgeries and an emergency D&C?  Our balance sheet doesn’t look pretty.  There has been a particular financial issue – our car – with which we’ve been wrestling for several years, a need we have that we’ve put on hold because we haven’t been able to work out the financial details.  It has inconvenienced us, stressed me out, and caused embarrassment.  But we’ve made due because we’ve seen no other alternative.

The last few weeks have been very discouraging for me.  Gabe’s new “career” as a student has been experienced in my life as another loss, and I feel like I’ve had my fill of loss over the last few years.  On the other hand, I’ve been somewhat befuddled because underneath it all, I’ve been noticing a sense of calm that is foreign to me.  I had been calling it the Prozac until I read this post by a mother who recently lost her newborn babe to a rare and heartbreaking heart defect they had hoped their son would overcome.  In her post, Katie explains that the important phrase in the famous Phillipians 4:7 (And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus) may not be “peace of God” as much as it is “passesth all understanding.”

Suddenly, I knew.  I knew how I could lose my baby and still survive.  I knew how I could wake up every morning with chaos on my surface and quietness in my heart.  I’m not saying I haven’t been anxious or broken-hearted, because I have.  I’ve been grieving and grieving hard.  But I’m surviving, which is much more than I thought I’d be able to do.  And sometimes I’m even thriving, which is practically unthinkable to me.  I’m sure the Prozac helps – as do my generous and attentive friends and family – but for the first time I clearly saw the ever-present and very obvious hand of God in our circumstances, walking me through my storm, passing all my understanding

How do my stones, my finances, and my grief all relate?  Here it is!

On Friday morning it became clear that our pressing financial need was going to be okay.  The way it happened totally surprised us and has brought us to tears – good tears – several times since then.  But throughout the weekend it has become obvious to me that fulfillment of this need – a 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix in excellent shape with 89,000 miles – is going to serve as the largest memorial stone I’ve collected yet.  The car was like a giant punctuation mark on my realization of the hand of God in my life.  My circumstances are weaving a story that has meaning, and God doesn’t want me to forget it.

Of course, this doesn’t solve all my life problems.  It doesn’t bring back my baby.  My heart still feels tender and my grief hasn’t been wiped away.  I’m sure there will come a day when I ask the hard questions again, the ones about if God is real and what He’s trying to accomplish.  But right now I’m raising my very own Ebenezer – the one that says to me “thus far the Lord has helped me” – and feeling encouraged about tomorrow and all the tomorrows to follow.

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Comments

  1. a beautiful post, Heidi.

    In all honesty, I don’t know that grief is never wiped away completely on earth. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my babies. It doesn’t sufficate me anymore, but that longing to “know” them and the missing them is a daily deal. But, it also reminds me how precious and fragile the children I have on earth really are. Which, hopefully, makes me a better mother. Or, at least one who appreciates her children.
    .-= Tracy´s last blog ..un solicited advice =-.

  2. Porsche Nut says:

    Thank you. Your post rings true no matter what the grief, what the struggles. You touched my heart.

  3. I am at a loss for words. I read your precious post about the delicate situation you are going through and I am touched! Thank you SO much for sharing this story. It is beautiful! It’s a testimony to God’s faithfulness through the rocks he has provided for you. It also shows that God is using Mara’s life to bring you to this place, to share her story and to touch other’s through her short little life. I’m so thankful I read this today! I, too, have gone through the loss of a baby 3 times. This post is one I will save because it is a good reminder that, even through terrible loss, God is still there and showing his faithfulness at every turn. Thank you!!!

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  1. […] times when she learns something or wants to remember something significant.  She collects a rock from that place.  I love that.  I thought of her as I was walking around the park and wanting to […]

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