A week ago when Amber invited us to join her on "Journey of Faith Friday"s, to set out memorial stones from the rivers of our lives for others to see and, hopefully, be encouraged and conclude that "God is great, God is good, God is faithful", I began sifting through my memories to see if I came across anything in my life that still, in my estimation, qualified as a "memorial stone to God's faithfulness and power" and which I was willing to, with much effort, lug out of the river and put out on the bank for anyone who happened by to see, walk around, kick, or stub their toe on.
I'd started piling up memorial stones in earnest in my twenties. I married at 20, immersed myself in theological, historical, and christian education studies at Asbury College and in practice of those studies within the Wilmore Free Methodist Church for two years. I gave birth to our first son when I was 23, and our second when I was 25. I thought a lot about setting up memorial stones in my life, which my sons would see or bump against and ask about, and which might remind me of God's faithfulness if ever I lost my way in the dark. I started gratitude lists in my journals while in college, and they spilled over to the walls of our small home when Kyle and Sam were small. For decades I kept recording my struggles with life as well as my pleas for help and the answers and guidance and help I felt God offered.
Perhaps after I have submitted to Amber's proposed discipline of writing testimonies of God's power, love and faithfulness for a few months, the stones from my river will come up easily, anxious to display their witness. But in this season of my life, they are not easily removed from their bed of gravel and rock, so it is probably good for me that Amber is assigning topics, this first being what we see as the beginning of our friendship with God.
Years ago I would have begun my "salvation story" at the point when I was eight years old, sitting in a Salvation Army "vacation bible school" story time one summer, paying close attention to a woman describing the construction that God was offering to do in my heart. If I remember correctly she held up a large heart-shaped black cut-out when she described the hearts of children who lied, or disobeyed their parents, or behaved meanly towards others. She showed us a large red heart cut-out to symbolize God's love for us which had been demonstrated in Jesus' physical death on the cross; and she held up a white heart as a picture of the heart of a person who invited Jesus to live within him and change him. The person who consented to that act and that process would have a changed heart, a clean heart, a white heart.
I wanted a white heart, a clean heart, a good heart. I knew I wasn't good through and through. I knew I had done some of those bad things she talked about, and I wanted a clean heart, a white heart. I wanted a good heart.
Thinking of my story now, within the puzzling context of Paul's words to the Athenians that God "determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17), I would probably begin my story of God's provision sooner.
My parents had love and energy to share with a wider family of foster children when my sister and I were young. As foster parents, they opened their home and arms and hearts to hurting children in the community whose families were fractured or breaking, and offered each child a safe place and space of his or her own, nourishing meals and honest, consistent discipline.
I learned early on that some parents did not keep their children. Our parents likely gave us simple answers meant to protect us from harsh realities as to why these children came to live with us. But what my 5-6 year old brain concluded was that some parents gave their children away to others. And if I wasn't good enough, might my parents give me away? That anguished question tumbled over my lips one day after my mother caught me in a lie. She assured me that she and my father would NEVER give me away. But still, I wondered at times.
It would be many years before I would realize and understand a greater factor in my compelling need to do right and be right, to be good. But when I was 8, listening to that VBS story of God's invitation to change dirty hearts to clean, my mind did not know what my deep heart knew. I knew only that I wanted a clean heart - I wanted to be GOOD.
So I invited Jesus to "come into my heart" and live with me. I believed he did. And for me it truly was the beginning of many choices that set me on a path of cultivating a vibrant inner relationship with "I AM" and making an earnest outward effort to follow God. It was the beginning of learning to look for God's handiwork, provision and power in my life, the beginning of gathering stones of remembering.
Photo #1 of the large boulders and walking stick and photo #2 of the rocks on the shore were both taken on the Homer Spit, Homer, Alaska.
Photo #3 was taken by Michelle at Indian Rocks Beach, Florida (the Gulf Coast) one evening this summer, while the oil was still gushing, capping attempts had failed, and we were grabbing memories of "our beach" before it was gone.