In May of 2009, I found myself on Bolivian soil. Two times in six months, I had gotten there on nightly prayers and less than average cookies sold in the male dorm on campus. I was eighteen years old, a year into college, and standing at 15,000 feet in the Andes Mountains. The sky that day reminded me of still water. Blue and deep. Full of something I could not see.
I could hear it though. The stirring whisper in the great expanse.
Cradling stones in my arms, I bent down and laid them on top of a small mound. It overlooked a valley of rocks and hills. And I wondered what it must be like to leap and fly over it all. If only I had wings to try.
I kneeled, and dust began mixing with the fibers of my holy blue jeans. My spirit was quiet within me; my arms hung limp, heavy with a haunting emotion. Limp and heavy from holding a newborn baby in a cold, dark room in a local women’s prison. These are the things we carry with us. The things that hopefully change us for the good.
My companions walked up beside me and one by one, we stacked stones upon the mound; we stacked them carefully so that they would not fall. One man stood up, the setting sun casting a long, dark shadow behind him. “It is important to build altars of remembrance. Of gratefulness. Of promise. Building altars should always be a part of our life. Here, we stack stones to remember what we are learning and who we are in relation to He who is greater.”
And my dusty hands kept stacking; each stone represented a prayer of hope, repentance, and remembrance.
I’ve been reflecting lately on the journey of the Israelites. Poor guys—they had a rough time of it. Trudging through the desert for decades, they so often lost sight of where God had taken them. He led them in a cloud. He was found in a glowing, ball of fire. He provided for their every need, yet time after time they forgot. It was not their disobedience that caught my attention though. In all truthfulness, I relate. The Lord has provided for me over and over again; I still somehow cry out in complaint, tired of manna and quail.
What grabbed at me was their journey across the Jordan River. Once the water was parted, as the priests stood on a mound of dry earth in the center of the river, the Lord instructed for a man from each tribe to go and take from the stones surrounding the priests. [Joshua 4]. “These stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”
I think it is important to remember. It is important to designate moments as sacred. It is necessary to let dust fill our eyes as we get on our knees and stack the stones we’ve been given. And as necessary as it is for our walk to include the stacking of stones, it is equally as necessary to go back and revisit those altars. To revisit those moments of provision and forgiveness and freedom and purpose. Because, in revisiting those moments, discontentment, doubt, questioning, and bitterness seem so much easier to let go of.
For in remembering what I have been given, surely I am better able to extinguish any doubt of what lies ahead for me.