* the implosion of the church of my youth, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. A disagreement between my parents and the senior pastor resulted in us being expelled from the church. I listened to adults yelling at each other, speaking ill of each other, and accusing one another of heresy. All I wanted was for all of them, all of us, to get along, to forgive each other and move on. I burst into one of those meetings, at the tender age of 12 years old, tears cascading down my cheeks, planning to plead for peace and reconciliation. I was so broken-hearted, so choked with grief, that I couldn't utter a single word. I was immediately shushed and ushered into another room. Was that the first time I was silenced by the church? Was that heart-rending church crisis the first step in helping me understand that pastors, adults, and those who claim to love Jesus aren't perfect, not even close?
* the affair I had with a married man when I was in college. That was undeniably one of the worst decisions I have ever made. The miracle that came out of that debacle was that his wife forgave me and considers me a dear friend even now. If she could forgive me for that abysmal, inexcusable breach of trust, who am I to not forgive anyone for anything they could do to me?
* the gift, the wonder of Spain. I arrived in Madrid for the first time twenty-eight years ago this month, in August of 1986. I didn't speak Spanish fluently when I arrived. I didn't speak it fluently when I left. Within days of unpacking my backpack in my home away from home, I knew that I had found the place where my soul was most at peace. I was impressed by the architecture. I was enthralled by the history, bloody and brutal, though it was. I stayed out as late as I could as often as I could. And with each outing, each visit to the Prado Museum, each viewing of my favorite painting of all, to El Corte Ingles, each class and lecture, each field trip, my heart grew more attached to this new place, to this ancient country. I have returned more than twenty times, and I fall deeper in love with Spain - and also with my Spanish friends - each time.
* the death of my father. I stood at his bedside at Brookdale Hospital, holding his hand, looking at his handsome face when he suddenly took in a deep breath, opened his eyes wide, looked out the window, and slipped away. I remember leaving my home in Connecticut for the drive to the hospital in the early morning hours, praying that I would get there before he left us. I also wondered how I would talk my way past the hospital security guard at 2 in the morning. I needn't have worried - why do I ever worry? When I arrived at the hospital, the security guard at the main entrance was sound asleep. I tip-toed past his slumbering form and ran down the hallway to the elevator. Four hours later, the best man I have ever known passed from this life to the next.
* giving birth to my two children, safely, painfully, with awe and gratitude at being chosen to be the channel by which two people with souls of their own entered the world.
* moving to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2002, finding a home we loved, neighbors who welcomed us warmly, and a church where I met and befriended some of the most beautiful, courageous, funny, warm, generous women I've ever known.
* my first trip to Italy in October 2001. Solo trip. Less than one month after September 11th. Many concerned friends told me that I shouldn't go, that the world was so dangerous, that it was selfish of me to put my life at risk at such a time. My husband and I agreed that I could be killed while walking across a supermarket parking lot by a woman who is distractedly handing a juice box to her kid while driving her Suburban. Off I went. The fact that there was a gaggle of nuns on my flight from New York to Rome did a lot to calm my nerves; I was sure that flight was "prayed up." I don't think I've ever felt the presence of God more acutely on any trip in my life. Churches, Cathedrals. Museums. Galleries. Restaurants. Fortresses. The Vatican. Rome, Siena. Orvieto. Florence. I wept my way through Italy - but then again, it doesn't take much to make me cry.
* the gift, the stone of remembrance, that is my daily life. There are countless ordinary events of life - doing laundry, putting food in the crockpot, hugging a courageous and terrified thirty year old mother of three young children who is embarking on her own breast kanswer journey, laughing with my husband and son about the college application process, preparing to go on college visits with the aforementioned son of mine, looking down into the eager, sparkly eyes of my teeny tiny doggie, having to deal with ants and spiders in the house, watching a friend grow to be "great with child," talking my daughter through a tough moment in college, failed sewing projects, gathering groceries at the supermarket, falling asleep, drinking a green juice in the morning, forgetting to pay bills, going to Cardio Craze class, babysitting a precious little almost-two-year-old boy - that remind me to be grateful I am still alive. To remember that in the simplest moments I can find hope and joy. In this moment, right here, right now, on a hot August afternoon in Charlotte, I know hope and joy, peace and grace, love and mercy.
"Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come."
It is with help of God, the peace of God, the guidance of the Spirit of God that I have come this far. It is with the help of my husband, my children, my friends, my mother, my brothers, my sisters-in-law, my nieces and nephews, my neighbors, and all my other co-travelers on this life journey that I have come this far. I live surrounded by Ebenezers. I am committed to raising Ebenezers for as long as I live. Further, I want to be an Ebenezer in the lives of those I know and love.
*Here are two explanations about this second stanza that I found helpful.
This one is from an online discussion.
This one was written by a pastor.