“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” This is one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes. And it means so much more to me as I close the chapter on 2016 and start anew in 2017.
If you have been reading AT THE CROSSROADS for the past year or more, you may have gotten some hints that 2016 was a rough year for me. I struggled professionally and personally, and I know that as hard as I tried to keep it from seeping into my writing, it did. At first that really bothered me. I felt I had let my readers down by being too real, honest, raw, and vulnerable. But you are a tough and compassionate bunch and you totally amazed me with your empathy, care, and concern. You reached out to me and shared your own stories of pain, rejection, loneliness, and struggle. When we both took the masks off, we connected on a much deeper level. And for that I am so very grateful.
I have spent some time reflecting on 2016 even though it has been painful process. I reread my journal…and I am so very thankful that I chose not to publish most it! God may use it some day, but for now it helps me not only remember, but allows me to leave some of those hurtful things behind.
The photo of the stacked stones was taken this past year on trip to California with my family. It is actually Pebble Beach. You often see these stacked stones on trails, hills or mountains, or near waterways such as this one. These mini stone towers actually have a name (something I did not know!)…they are called cairns.
Here is Wikipedia’s definition: A cairn is a human-made pile (or stack) of stones. Cairns have been and are used for a broad variety of purposes, from prehistoric times to the present.
Webster’s Dictionary adds: a heap of stones piled up as a memorial or as a landmark.
But, do you know what I think of when I see stones stacked like that? A story from the Bible. Yes, God told His people to erect a cairn to memorialize and remember. Here is the account in Joshua 4: 1-7 (ESV):
Twelve Memorial Stones from the Jordan
4 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
To fully understand this story and what God was asking the Israelites to do, we need to put it in context. The Israelites had had a tough road. Since leaving Egypt by way of the Red Sea, they had spent forty years wandering in the desert to reach the Promised Land. There were many bumps, roadblocks, and detours along the way, mainly due to their stubbornness and disobedience. At the Jordan River, they are set to cross and finally inherit the land God had promised to them, but just like the Red Sea, the banks are overflowing and passage seems impossible. God intervenes and parts the waters again so they can cross on dry land. Moses is dead and they must look to their new leaders, Joshua and Caleb, as they now must take the land by conquest. And in the midst of all of this, God asks them to stop and remember.
Really? They were both anxious and fearful to get to the Promised Land. Finally. They had made it. And now God was asking them to go back to the river, gather stones, and set them up as some kind of memorial.
So that they would remember. And tell their children. And when their children grew up and saw those stones, they would pass on the story to their children.
There was probably a lot that the Israelites wanted to forget about their journey to the Promised Land. But God wanted them to remember what He had done for them. How he provided, protected, and fulfilled His promises.
I confess that as I relive some of the events of 2016, I want to forget, banish, and close the book forever. The last thing I want to do is recall, reflect, or recollect. I would rather pretend some things never happened and move on…no stones of remembrance for me.
But I know God is calling me to go to the river and pick up my stones.
Does He want me to memorialize each instance of despair, each moment of pain, each feeling of isolation and confusion? Does He want me to commemorate all my losses, failures, and struggles?
No, I don’t think so.
I think He wants me to choose stones that reflect His presence, His comfort and care, and His peace amidst the storm.
When I choose my stones they will represent a kind word spoken at a difficult time, a Bible verse illuminating truth, or a friend who reached out to sit with me and just listen.
Those are the things I want to remember. Need to remember.
Because forgetting might be easy and safe, but it also produces nothing. I cannot learn and grow from the things I forget. In fact, I may even be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
So as I begin 2017, I am taking the time to go back and gather some stones from 2016. Stones of remembrance. Stones of God’s faithfulness and goodness to me. Stones of those who came alongside of me during some dark and difficult days and helped me get to the other side.
Does 2017 represent the Promised Land for me? I think it does in some ways. Just like the Israelites, reaching the Promised Land was only the beginning. They still had many battles to fight to claim what God had promised them. I know I do too, but as I move forward, full of anticipation, expectancy, and a little fear, I will look back at my cairn and remember how the Lord brought me through the desert wilderness of 2016.
My challenge to you today before you run headlong into 2017 full of hope and expectation is to take a moment to gather your stones, focus on the good, let go of the bad, and use your cairn to remind you of God’s faithfulness.