Memorial Stones

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up

between Mizpah and Shen,

and called its name Ebenezer, saying,

“Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

~ 1 Samuel 7:12


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From the very first moment I could imagine hosting or facilitating a group for bereaved families I’ve pictured a place for healing, for remembering and for giving honor and glory to God.

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I began women’s ministry in Fall 2003. Our second study that season was Beth Moore’s “A Heart Like His” which is a study of the life of David. In that study, she taught on the passage that includes 1 Samuel 7:12 and I handed out small, smooth black stones as reminders of the lesson. While I was cleaning up, God brought to mind my son and his continual struggles. I wanted so desparately to help him and had not the first clue how. When I arrived home, I pulled out one of the heavy, black stones and handed it to him. It was just large enough to be noticable and just small enough to fit in his pocket.

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He kind of stared at the stone for a minute and I told him the story of the Israelites and the Philistines at Mizpah. Then I read 1 Samuel 7:12 to him.

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“Justin, this stone is to serve as a reminder to you of how the Lord helps you. It is because of the Lord that you are still here, that you are okay and that you have hope. So, the next times someone asks you to do something foolish, the next time that you are tempted to do the wrong thing… Reach down in your pocket, hold onto this stone and tell them that Ebenezer says no.”

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He laughed when I shared this with him, but I could tell it really made him stop and think. Sometime later I had occasion to ask him about the stone. He informed me he didn’t know what he had done with it. I quickly provided him another. After he died, I was going through his things and found those smooth, black stones in a drawer near his bed. They now rest in my jewelry box as a reminder of how far the Lord has brought us.

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Throughout the Bible, stones are prevalent in the history of Israel and the founding of the church. Rocks have both a physical and a spiritual meaning to us as Christians. Stones were used to build altars before the desert tabernacle was built by the Israelites. Stones marked the places where God showed up big time in the lives of the Israelites, all the way back to Abraham.

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Stones were used to build walls, strongholds and stones were used in battle to slay giants. God has seemingly had a purpose and a plan that included stones throughout the story of mankind. Stones are solid, often times heavy and they are not easily moved. These days we use stones to build walls and line our gardens. We displace stones in favor of lush green lawns and trees, and we use stones to mark the graves of those we love. Stones are still serving a purpose in this day and age. And so, I wanted to write about a special vision God has given me about stones in the ministry of Heart to Heart.

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As I said, stones have been used to mark out places where God has shown up big time in the lives of His people. In Joshua 4:1-10, we read the account of the Israelites finally crossing the Jordan into the promised land. God had finally delivered them from the desert under Joshua’s leadership and now they were preparing to do battle with the inhabitants of the land.

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Still, God wanted the Israelites to make a special memorial to this occasion when He delivered on His promise to bring them into a land of their own. Let’s read what God instructed them to do:

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“”Take for yourselves twelve men from

the people, one man from every tribe,

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3 and command them, saying, ‘Take for

yourselves twelve stones from here, out

of the midst of the Jordan, from the place

where the priests’ feet stood firm.

You shall carry them over with you and

leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.’ “

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4 Then Joshua called the twelve men whom

he had appointed from the children of Israel,

one man from every tribe;

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5 and Joshua said to them:

“Cross over before the ark of the Lord

your God into the midst of the Jordan,

and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder,

according to the number of the tribes of the children

of Israel,

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6 that this may be a sign among you when

your children ask in time to come, saying,

‘What do these stones mean to you?’

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7 Then you shall answer them that the waters

of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the

covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan,

the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones

shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”
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Joshua 4:2-7 (NKJV)

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God instructed the Israelites to erect memorial stones so they would remember what God had done for them, just as Samuel did many years later after Israel battled with the Philistines.

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The question now becomes: How do we apply the spiritual journey markers in our grief journey? And I think for some the answer is, we already have. We place our child’s body in the cemetery and mark that grave with a stone as a memorial to the gift God gave us in our child. And so begins the process of marking out grief with memorial stones.

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As I prayed and developed a vision for Heart to Heart, God gave me the picture of a key shaped garden. A garden where the borders are in place, the sidewalks paved, and the plots of ground left sodded, but not planted. In this garden there would be a fountain in the entrance, and trees – live oaks planted throughout, but no flowers, no ground plants of any kind. This garden would have benches and would become a memorial garden – “The Key to Healing” memorial garden. A place where families could come and plant flowers and small plants in memory of their loved ones, a garden the families themselves would tend. A garden to represent life and not death. A garden that would be an integral part of the healing process.
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This garden would not become a place to worship our children, but instead a place to remember them. A place where we can honor the gift of God that is our child. I used to sit upon Justin’s grace in those early days of grief begging God not to allow me to make an idol of my child. I did not want to be in a position where my grief and love for my child would stand between God and I. So I ask Him to make this garden of sorts, a place of remembrance where He is the focus and not just what we have lost.

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And placed there among the trees and the flowers, the sidewalks and the benches I see large smooth stones engraved with the names of the children we have sent ahead to His safe keeping. Beneath those names on the individual stones I see dates, not the dates of birth and death so common on memorial stones. But, the dates of realized healing for the parents and family. A new date, a new beginning – a time when God is praised for the work He has done in restoring our lives in the aftermath of loss.
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While this garden does not yet exist, it will. God has a plan for it and I know it will be the blessing in full measure that God has allowed me to dream it would be. So, don’t forget while we are marking out the memories of the lives lived before us in our children – let us also mark out a path of remembrance that leads others to hope and healing in God alone. After all, He is our refuge, our strong tower – our Rock who will not be shaken. “Jesus is the rock, and He rolled my blues away.” (“Why Should the Devil,” Larry Norman (???)

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