Here I raise mine ebenezer; hither by Thy help I'm come. I never really got that when I was in my high school hymn-hating days. The idea of ebenezer is a "remembrance stone," a memorial to God, but to me, the lyrics conjured up images of Dickens' Scrooge swigging a cup of grape juice with old Father Abraham. This was the best you could do, Robert Robinson? Israelites in the desert, raising cane and ebenezer?
Still, thirteen years ago, I came home from camp with a styrofoam cup filled with sand from the volleyball court. "Miracle debris," Todd had called it. He asked us to pick something--a twig, a rock, a flower--any physical reminder of all God had done that week. I carried that scoopful of sand home with care before stashing it in my desk. There I raised mine ebenezer. Perhaps the first deliberate one.
I turned 27 with a list of virtues in hand, of disciplines I wanted to work on during the coming year, of characteristics I was going to develop. Then the calendar flipped to the most stressful month of my life, a September that yanked me from bed at 7.30am and refused to let me collapse until the lesson plans were wrapped up at 9pm. I was too hot to exercise, too tired to read, too exhausted to care that I hadn't been as generous or encouraging as I'd intended. I took inventory during Christmas break, figured out all the things I hadn't done. Hadn't written a book, hadn't cleaned out my file cabinet, hadn't made one school lunch the night before, hadn't saved the world, hadn't lost weight, hadn't figured out how to make my impulse haircut look presentable. Oh, but I had watched two full seasons of The Office in the course of one week. So, basically, at 27, I was still the same, disappointing me I'd been at 26. I'd tried to lead her into the forest without a trail of breadcrumbs to bring her out, but she kept managing to follow me home.
On my last night of 27, I plunked my legs on the table underneath a tree, just Sophia and I still awake on our staff retreat. We'd overlapped life in Spain for only two weeks last spring, but she was back now, asking if the past year had been good. I'm not good with that question unless you're good with long answers. I'm always tacking a caveat somewhere. It was a good movie, but... I loved the book, except... I think I said something like, "Well, overall, it was a good year," but what I really meant was, "The year was good, but I still suck."
The things I hadn't accomplished had been spinning like laundry in my brain, wringing out disappointments in dishwater colors. But Sophia asked, and the thoughts untangled, arranged themselves in a straight line, and leapt straight out of my mouth: "I know that I've needed to be here, because God has me in a position that is forcing me to see something I couldn't see from any other vantage point." I'd been testing out those words for months, but suddenly they tasted true.
That's when I saw my past year--my past ten years, even--all burned up and burned out like a row of scorched trees waiting for the ax. I've carved the charred branches into planks just so I can shove them in my own eye; I've searched the crevasses of the bark for rot and ash, never noticing the tiniest of leaves uncurling. Or the stacks of stones glinting between the piles of broken branches.
I've built them with my own hands, I guess. Stacked stone upon stone and cemented them together with criticism and self-loathing, the prodigal daughter carving a shrine from pig waste. Here stands the row of ebenezers left to become ruins. Ebenezers to self.
Oh, dear Lord, that's it.
The night flipped past midnight and into 28, and I had to be sitting under that tree at that moment, at that angle, answering that question, if only so I could see clearly this one thing: I'd been ignoring a path lined with miracle debris because I wanted God to notice my ebenezers. Hoped this would be the year I'd check everything off the list. Looked so intently at myself that I forgot whom I was building for and began to loathe what was being built.
It's been two months. It's still so easy to look at myself and see only the lack. But I know this: I know on an August night, I felt Him yanking the plank out of the place I'd so firmly lodged it. It could take another 28 years, but I'm certain he is removing this chunk of wood, planting it, watering it, transforming it, miraculously, back into new life.