The story goes like this, I tell Big Boy and Little Bear, Joshua and the people of Israel were getting ready to cross the Jordan River. Days away from entering the Promised Land after decades of wandering in the wilderness. And God tells them to build an altar, an Ebenezer, the altar is a monument to the faithfulness of God, it is Israel’s way of saying thank you.
Ohhhhh, the boys nod along in the car.
So today, we are are going to make our own Ebenezer, I tell them. We are standing at the steps leading up to the door of the Yellow House. Everything is finished inside, clean and gleaming, our things are gone. Our landlord comes in an hour to inspect and take the keys. Our little family of four gathers around this large rock and a permanent marker.
We will write down our thanksgiving on this rock, and it will stand as a monument to the faithfulness of God.
What are you thankful for, Josiah? I ask Big Boy.
I’m thankful for the Yellow House, he says.
And we write it down. Line upon line, here a little, there a little. Little Bear goes next, Husband, me. We cover this rock in what our eyes have seen, what our hearts have known. We write down the ways in which we were embraced by Love. In the throes of grief and sadness, it tells us the truth: He led us here, he provided for us here, he gave us everything that we need here, and he is the same yesterday, today and forevermore, he goes before us as we leave.
You cannot say goodbye without first saying thank you. Our gratitude drew us back to the truth, that we bore witness to the goodness of God the two years we lived in Sweden. Even though we were heartbroken to leave, even though we didn’t know the details of what comes next, we needed to remind ourselves of what is true. Look what God did. That’s what this rock says. We planted it in the bushes in the garden that is no longer ours, a monument to the faithfulness of God.
This was on a Monday, the day before we said goodbye to our little church in Stockholm. Our dearest friends gathered around us, laid their hands on us and prayed. Our pastor said he saw a picture of a snake shedding its skin, There are some things you are going to leave behind in Stockholm. And my soul knows it is true, there are habits that cannot continue, there are attitudes that will kill my soul, there is selfishness that will destroy my family. I can repent, I can say to myself: No more. It does not have to continue.
Leaving Sweden was an open door to me to draw a line, to take responsibility and to turn in a new direction. Leaving any place is that opportunity for all of us, the ending of one thing is the beginning of something else. We do not have to know what that thing is in the very real terms, I may not know what our life will look like in Australia, but we have ownership of our hearts, our souls, our minds, our actions. We can choose what those things will look like. We can choose how to think, what we will believe and how we will act. We are not helpless victims in difficult circumstances, we can choose what goes into our minds, we can choose the meditations of our hearts.
So that is what we do next at the Yellow House. I have scraps of paper in my handbag, and we each write down what we want to leave behind. What I wrote was personal, but I can tell you this, it felt powerful. Like I was owning my life instead of saying life is happening to me, like I was taking responsibility for my mistakes instead of saying someone else made me choose this.
The boys dug a tiny hole in a corner of the garden, and we buried those scraps of paper in the fresh earth. I can tell you that it felt like freedom even though the work is real, the failures daily are real, but there is a hope this moment writes on my heart. He makes all things new.
I was searching for the Ebenezer and Joshua story in the Bible while writing this post and couldn’t find it because it turns out, I got the story wrong. It is found in 1 Samuel 6-7 (chapter 7:12, for the specific verse). Israel is walking away from God, and in the beginning of chapter 7, they turn around and ask Samuel to intercede for them before God, turning away from their idols and promising to love God alone. As they gathered to repent, the Philistines come back to attack, but Samuel intercedes for them and God saves Israel.
Samuel then sets up a stone and calls it Ebenezer, Hebrew for, The Lord is my help. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, Thus far the Lord has helped us.
Thus far the Lord has helped us, he says. Because he helps us in all things, and we saw his help, his provision, his incredible grace in the Yellow House, and all we can say is, Thank you. Because he helps us see our mistakes and our weakness, and he says, Return to me. Always, always, his words are, Return.
I don’t know who you are or what your circumstances are, but perhaps he is asking you today, What do you need to give thanks for? What do you need to turn from? He is your help, and he can do it.