Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Raising my Ebenezer

This past Sunday, we sang one of my favorite hymns at church, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Here it is being performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I'm fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love. 

Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood."*

Oh, to grace, how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be.
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

In the third verse of this song, I recognize my tendency to wander. My heart has wandered from the God I love every day of my life, wandered from my husband and my children,wandered from my church and friends, and wandered from my own inner wisdom and what I know to be true.
My heart, my mind, my body have all wandered. Often. I desperately need and want my heart to be sealed for and by the God I love, sealed and seared by the love and grace and mercy of God, strengthened and emboldened to love deeply, to laugh loudly, and to live joyfully.

But it is the first line of the second verse that causes me to sob quietly whenever I hear or sing this beautiful song. "Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come." 

What is an Ebenezer? The word comes from an Old Testament story found in the book of 1 Samuel. The people of Israel have been doing their own thing, worshipping other gods and idols, and have lost control of the Ark of the Lord, the place where they carried reminders of God's presence among them. It was captured by their enemies, and they longed for its return. They confess their wrongdoing before God and their leader, Samuel, prayed for deliverance from their enemies. They were delivered. They eventually recovered the Ark. 

1 Samuel 7:12 says this: Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it, Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." 

Ebenezer means "Stone of help." To me, it is a stone of help that causes us to remember the goodness of God. Ebenezer is also the name of the place where the Israelites lost their battle with one of their archenemies, the Philistines, the people from whom the giant, Goliath, emerged. So that name wouldn't have brought up great memories for those who heard it. 

But that's why it is important to me about naming the places and times where and when I have faced the giants in my life. That's why I keep a journal and keep a blog of "My Life's Journey." I need to be reminded of the battle grounds in my life, the dark times, the deepest pits of my life. I need to be reminded of how and when I emerged victorious from each of those difficult times. Sometimes I must recall and name the defeats in order to bask in the subsequent victories. It proves too easy not only to forget the darkness when I find my self in the light, but also to forget the light when my soul is lost in the shadows. That's why I write it all down and then I raise it all up in the form of my own Ebenezers in order to return to a place of gratitude and joy. Sometimes it seems like my dark valleys stretch farther than my bright plateaus and mountain highs. Even then, especially then, I need to take up a stone of remembrance, a stone of help, so that at some future time, I can retell, to myself and others, stories of God's gracious providence and boundless love in the valley of the shadow of death, of fear, of illness, of every sorrow, great and small.

So on this Thankful Thursday, I want to raise a few of my own Ebenezers, my stones of help and remembrance. Some of them represent the worst moments of my life; some of them the best. But I can honestly say that where each of them exists in my memory, it is surrounded by memories of prayer, of love, of laughter, of support, of the gentle, quiet presence of God, and the noisy, physical presence of people I love.

* 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.

* going through my kanswer journey - the love and encouragement still flows from family and loved ones. I remain grateful for the doctors, nurses, chiropractor, technicians, receptionists, breast kanswer navigator, family, church members, sisters of my heart and soul who walked with me then and continue to walk with me now on this journey towards wholeness and healing.

* 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.

I am perpetually and profoundly thankful. 
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful
gratefulness - is flowing from my heart.


*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.

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