Our family has a very personal Ebenezer.
Ebenezer. It certainly isn’t a common word in contemporary language. Every time I try to type “Ebenezer” into my phone, predictive text wants to change the word to Ebook, which is further proof that it is uncommon terminology. Perhaps the word first brings to mind the famous book, A Christmas Carol and the memorable protagonist of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge. Maybe you sang the familiar hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, as soon as you saw the title of this post. But rarely do we think of the word Ebenezer or it’s purpose. I now think of this word often, as our family has a very personal Ebenezer.
The origin of Ebenezer is Hebrew and it means “Stone of Help”. 1 Samuel 7 tells the story of the Israelites returning to the Lord and forsaking their foreign gods. While Samuel is crying out to the Lord on behalf of the Israelites the Philistines came up to attack them. Verse 9 says that Samuel cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf and “the Lord answered him.” Verse 12 says “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.'” The stone was set up as a memorial, to remember what God had done.
Remember who you were, remember what God has done, remember who God is and who you are called to be.
A few days ago my friends and I were discussing all the good we hoped would come from this crazy and hard time of Covid-19. Being the natural pessimist that I am, I mentioned my concern that we would in fact forget and probably not learn much. If history has taught us anything, it is that humans are prone to forgetfulness. Countless times in Scripture God’s people are told to remember. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there.” (Deuteronomy 24:18) “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24) These are only three of countless admonitions to remember. Remember who you were, remember what God has done, remember who God is and who you are called to be.
I’ve always felt that, in hindsight, we tend to be critical of the Israelites. We ask, “how could they forget the plagues, the parting of the sea and immediately make an idol?” But how often I forget. In the same conversation with my friends, about all we hoped would change and the good that would come out of this time, I mentioned our family’s own personal Ebenezer.
Our personal Ebenezer is not a literal stone, but rather a memorial of gratitude. Just a couple of days after Jane passed away, I started making a list of ways I had seen the Lord work. I wrote down ways the Lord had been our help. I wrote down seemingly small blessings in disguise. I did this because I wanted to remember, even staring in the face of tragedy, how good God is and the help He had given us.
Our personal Ebenezer is not a literal stone, but rather a memorial of gratitude.
Here are a just four entries from my personal list. The ways I am thankful actually fill many pages of a notebook.
- I’m thankful that Jane broke her leg at the beginning of the year, because I have so many more pictures and videos from that time. She was still and I had many more sweet moments to hold her. In the moment, I was sad for Jane and it seemed inconvenient, now I see the Lord’s blessing.
- I’m thankful for our church family and community, who literally surrounded our house, praying and singing over us the day after Jane passed away. I didn’t even like our home town when we moved here six years ago, but now I see how graciously God provided this specific community.
- I’m thankful that the gospel has been shared with many and is still being shared with many, all over the world, through Jane’s story. God is a God of redemption and I’m grateful He is allowing us to see small gifts of His redemptive plan.
- I’m thankful that God’s timing is gracious. As much as I wanted more time with Jane, had she died just three weeks later, because of the pandemic we wouldn’t have been able to have a funeral. No one would have been able to come to our home. Robert and I wouldn’t have even been allowed to go into the hospital to see Jane one last time.
In the midst of joy and blessings, I want to offer a song of thanksgiving. But I also want to meet heartache and grief with gratitude. Hear me say, gratitude is not an attempt to be dismissive. Gratitude does not change the facts, but it does change my heart.
Gratitude does not change the facts, but it does change my heart.
On a rainy night in February, Robert and I were ushered into a room at a hospital to wait and see a doctor who would pronounce Jane’s fate. I remember the exchange perfectly. The doctor, clearly burdened, walked into the room and introduced himself. He bent down in order to be eye to eye with us and said, “I’m sorry, it isn’t good news.” That was a fact. Jane’s death was not and is not good news. This terrible tragedy is a fact, but it does not change the fact that the gospel is good news. I don’t have to be thankful for Jane’s death. I am thankful that, when I repeatedly whispered a quiet prayer, “Jesus please be near”, He was near. Psalm 46:1 says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” God doesn’t promise us an exemption of trouble, but He promises to be our refuge, strength and help. I know that and I’m thankful for that.
This is our personal story. Our gratitude is our Ebenezer. I still pray that we won’t forget the goodness of God. I pray that we won’t be complacent, prone to forgetfulness and tempted to be bitter. As a community, I hope that good will come out of this scary and uncertain time of Covid-19. I hope that even when the facts are bleak and the news isn’t good, we will remember the good news of the gospel. I pray that we will clearly see the faithfulness of God and His ever present help in times of trouble. I hope that we will remember. While the facts might not change, I hope that our hearts do.
“Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by Thy help I 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.”