Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Stones of Remembrance

Years ago, a dear friend invited me to lunch. We sat at the river's edge, our picnic table adorned with a simple cloth and bag lunches. In the breezeless August heat, we were oblivious to the future, basking only in the noonday sun. She placed a pile of stones on the table and asked me to choose one. Each of them had a word engraved on it: Forgive, Love, Cherish, Dream, Remember. I liked them all. "Pick one," she encouraged. "Pick one, and keep it - my gift to you," she said. 
Forgive. Amongst the pretty stones, that's the one that called to me, not with urgency, but with a quiet nudge. 
I knew that was my stone. Struggling with a recent move across the country and all the tangled adjustments our family had had to endure, I was kind of upset. Mad, really. Okay, I was really mad: rage with a forced smile; wrath under a thin veneer of contentment. The simple word, "forgive," would start me on a journey that day. 
I put the small stone in my pocket and we talked. There was no judgement at that table, no accusation. Only grace. My friend didn't even ask why I chose that particular stone, but I would tell her later. In that moment, I only needed to feel the heft of it in my pocket, to feel the weight of the word in my heart. 
In the Bible, Joshua 4, there is the story of the "Stones of Remembrance." Twelve stones served as a monument to God's faithful provision -- a reminder of the cutting off of the Jordan River so Israel could cross on dry ground. That pile of stones served as a visual reminder of what God did for His people and the story filtered down to all generations.
My "forgive" stone, on a personal scale, has done much the same: It traveled with me in my pocket, my purse, my palm, on my bed stand. There were times I'd hold it and my heart felt as cold as that little stone. But I knew the word, and wanted the word to belong to me. 
It was something that had to happen before I could move on and embrace our family's new life. It was time to let go of my old job, a job I'd loved. I had to release my out-West friends and grieve my beloved, silhouetted Rocky Mountains and the jagged majesty of them at sunset. 
With the squeezing, sometimes, of the little rock, I had to open the hand that held the past; I had to release it in order to receive and hold onto the present. Mostly, I had to relinquish my resentment toward the man that brought us back to the home front -- my husband. Slowly, steadily, and with much prayer, I was able to forgive. And it was a great relief. The rage subsided. The realities around me did not change, but my heart did. The struggles did not go away, but now I had the strength to face them. Happily, I was able to talk with my husband, my hard working, frugal, tractor-driving, cop-turned-farmer-husband. We talked, we remembered our love, we reclaimed lost territory that had come between us. 
I remember the summer night I laughed at everything and nothing while the two of us gathered up hay bales in the back field. I drove the tractor while he threw the hay onto the wagon. The sun was setting, and silhouetted against an orange sky I saw, maybe for the first time, the rolling green of the Allegheny Mountains. The view was stunning. We couldn't see the future but we could take in the view, and for that moment it was enough. The word "forgive" had followed me around until I yielded to its gentle call. 
How could I know that a few months later my frugal German farmer husband would die unexpectedly of a heart attack? 
How could I possibly understand that later, much later, I would rediscover the little rock with the big word? Yes, and it would find its way into the pocket of another person I needed desperately to forgive.
I don't know where the stone is now; maybe it's been passed along to remind another soul of God's love in the middle of the mess. All I know is, my friend's ministry of the stones is sending ripples of grace into the community, and now I'm a stone-giver too. I find them in little gift shops, and sometimes I find them on the Lake Erie shore and write my own words on them with a Sharpie marker. I give them to my friends. I say, "Keep this for as long as you need to, then pass it on." I have no idea where the stones might go, but my prayer is they will serve as little reminders in a world filled with uncertainty. May they anchor fragile hearts. May they become stones of remembrance.
A week ago I found the stone that says "Strength" and carried it to a funeral. In the receiving line, I slipped it into the hand of a newly-minted widow. She looked at me. "Something to hold onto," I whispered. 

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