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This past spring a dear friend of mine asked how we would be celebrating our youngest baby’s first birthday. Pearl–the hard-won jewel in my crown. Her name implies her preciousness, and her cost.

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:45-46

My unfortunate response to my friend’s question was something along the lines of, “Celebrate? I’m just trying to get through it without being traumatized.” For six months I had been subject to frequent flashbacks, uncontrollable crying and depression. It would come from no where, catch me off guard, and leave me feeling like I’d just been knocked off my feet by a hit-and-run policeman with a water cannon. I saw a teeny tiny newborn at the craft store, and started sobbing. I passed an ambulance on the road and couldn’t breathe. I visited a friend and her newborn in the hospital and didn’t make eye contact with anyone, including my friend.

With the approach of Pearl’s first birthday, I wasn’t thinking of celebrating. I was bracing for impact. When it’s taking everything you have to just stay on your feet, you don’t really feel like dancing.

Because my friend is a good friend, she rightfully called me on my apathetic response. We named it “Fear”. And together we know that choosing Fear is the same as choosing Death. Why would I choose Death, when the occasion was one of celebrating Life? And such a fragile life, a life that for so long was nursed with death looking over my shoulder.

My dear friend gently suggested that I find some way of marking the occasion of Pearl’s first birthday. An ebenezer.

Not familiar with an ebenezer (other than the one that shows up with Mickey Mouse around Christmas time)? In the book of First Samuel, the story is told of how the Philistines are coming to attack the Israelites. The Israelites beg Samuel to intercede for them to God, who answers Samuel’s prayers. The Philistines are turned away and the Israelites are victorious. Samuel responded by setting up a stone at the site and naming it “Ebenezer” which means “Stone of Help”. It was a memorial, a tribute, in remembrance of what God had done for His people.

I needed to create an ebenezer. Not only as a reminder of what God had done for me, but also to remind me of what He promises to do. I had spent many weeks in Hosea, wandering mostly alone in my wilderness. The prickle of the thornbushes that hemmed me in had dug deep. I was sore-wounded and I was weary. I felt desperate for a word of Hope. And all of a sudden, there it was.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

Isaiah 55:12-13a

Here was the verse from which I would raise my Ebenezer. On this promise, I could stand and say “Thank You, God, for this wilderness, these thornbushes. Thank You, because You promise to bring me out of my wilderness and into a verdant field. Thank You, because You promise to give me songs for sighing. And because you promise to turn this mess into something glorious.”

My ebenezers though, pale in comparison to God’s. Did you know God creates ebenezers, too?

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

Isaiah 49:15-16a

He does not forget us. Even when we feel forgotten. He can’t forget us. Because He has raised His own ebenezer. He has us engraved on His hands.

It is shockingly easy to allow myself to live with with my hands, my head and my heart closed tight because I’m afraid of what will drop into them, because I’m afraid of having something very painful engraved there. Because I look around me and all I see is wilderness and thornbushes and a big, throbbing mess.

But in living that closed-fisted, closed-minded, closed-hearted life I am shutting myself off to the very Source of the Life I seek. And I shut myself off from the Hope that He will give me songs for sighing.

Lord, may You find in me open hands ready to receive whatever You have to give me. May You find an open mind ready to hear whatever You have to say. And may You find an open heart, ready to trust in the Hope of Your promises.