ebenezers & permanent ink
Life update: I got a tattoo. It’s the word “ebenezer,” it didn’t hurt as bad as I expected and it’s in my wildly creative friend’s handwriting.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – Ebenezer?! isn’t that the grumpy old guy from “A Christmas Carrol?” Yes (great movie btw) but no. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but I promise you’ll have a definition in a minute. Before getting there, we’ve gotta chat about something else: journals.
I keep all my old journals. A collection of tattered, brown backed books with scripture verses doodled on the cover watch over my childhood room like historians. Now and then, I’ll pick up a journal and smile as I relive the moments deemed worthy enough to make it into its pages. I flip through and find old movie tickets, Wednesday night RUF half sheets, and kind notes from friends reminding me of the sweetness of doing ordinary life with extraordinary people. Every inch of ink scrawled in between the lines serve as a testament of God’s goodness – answered prayers call out from every entry as past uncertainties turn into today’s blessings. Praises rise from the words on the pages documenting daily gratitude, excitement, and lessons learned. Some journals tell tales from the joyous mountain tops, while others are pleas from the valley of hard seasons that seemed to have no end.
My journal from the summer of 2017 tells tales of the walking in between. I had just finished my freshman year at Vanderbilt – a time that was equal parts confusing and exciting, and more lonely than I probably let on. Recently, I pulled it out and flipped to the first page:
Yay for sweet summertime and new journals!!
Here are some things I am praying for right now:
1. Friends at Vanderbilt - Lord, I pray that you will surround me with Godly friendship next year. People who point me back to you, and remind me of who I am.
2. I also pray for my tattoo - I don’t want to make any rash decisions, but I reaallllyy want one. So maybe I will just keep that on the back burner for now…lol
Despite the fact that it’s a bit girlish and cheesy, it’s one of those pages that so clearly represents a season of calling upon and being answered by the Lord. I finished Freshman year without roots in Nashville. I lacked community, I knew it was something I’d need sophomore year, and something I would never find it without the providence of God. That summer was filled with prayer, and planting seeds. I started writing letters to Vandy friends at camp and quickly became pen pals with a gal who would grow into my best friend the following fall. We credit our friendship to that faithful summer of snail mail, the hallowed halls of Branscomb and Fido chocolate cake, but mostly Jesus.
From here, it’s easy to see that journal page as a reminder of God’s love for me. I called upon the Lord and he answered me – a pattern of faith that has been written in journals and letters, and scripture dating back to the Old Testament.
In fact, my favorite bible story is one of such faithfulness; In first Samuel chapter seven, Samuel is sent to bring the Israelites back to the Lord amid a tumultuous season. The house of Israel was under the hands of the Philistines, and they ached for liberation. While Samuel was leading the Israelites back to God, the Philistines heard and scheduled an attack. They were very afraid and said to Samuel:
Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that he may save us from the hands of the Philistines. 1 Samuel 7:8
So Samuel cried out to the Lord
And the Lord answered him.
By the power of God, the Philistines were sent into a confusion, drawn out of the city, and chased off by the Israelites’ defenses.
And all lived happily ever after… right? When we think of being in a relationship with God, too often we end the story once our prayers are answered.
Maybe you see God as someone to be bargained with, so you make promises to always go to church and never say anything mean to your siblings again if he could just do this one teeeeennyy tiny favor for you.
Perhaps your God is a spiritual ATM - not a part of your life until you need him, at which point you seek him out, get what you need, and take all the credit for receiving the blessings you’ve withdrawn from the big old bank in the sky.
Or maybe you think God will only bless you if you’re good enough. That Christian life is about measuring up to a moral standard in effort to avoid punishments and get rewards, so you go around being the best you can be and feeling awful when you mess up.
Any of those sound familiar? I know I can relate. Our response to God’s goodness is usually to want more. We are never satisfied. Addicted to God’s grace, so incapable of filling that desire ourselves and so unable to wrap our heads around the fact that God’s goodness has nothing to do with the actions of the recipient and everything to do with the heart of the giver.
But Samuel changes the narrative. In response to the Lord’s goodness, he turns back to God; not to plead for more, but to thank him. The chapter goes on:
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “ Till now the Lord has helped us. 1 Samuel 7:12
 Yes finally the moment you’ve been waiting for… Ebenenzer is Hebrew for “stone of help”
Every time I read this story I am amazed. Not because of God’s goodness, or Samuel’s successful ministry, or the liberation of the Israelites but because of Samuels response to all of it. Samuel gets it, where I too often miss the point.
God gives us good things and answers our prayers not because we deserve it, but because he loves us. We are screw ups, we are broken and deceitful and more interested in ourselves than we would like to admit but God loves us anyway. He loved us before we ever did anything that could earn his love, and he loves us after everything we thought would screw it up. Samuel gets it – and the only thing he can do in response to such a powerful love is say thank you.
What if we looked more like Samuel? What if instead of forgetting the gifts we have been giving and always focusing on what’s missing, we stopped to notice all the good things God has done for us. This simple practice of turning back to God in thankfulness and gratitude reminds us that, although we can’t see the path ahead of us, that when we walk with God – although we might venture through some dark and shady stuff – the path will always lead us to good places.
I am too quick to forget God’s goodness, and I tend to focus on what’s lacking in myself, instead of noticing the abundance that I have inherited in Christ. I need need to be reminded of the character of God, that he’s the one who has lead this far, and that he has planned good good things for my life. I wanted something to point me back to this truth and thought a sticky note would fall off too often, so I decided to inject my skin with permanent ink instead - logical right? My mom thinks so too…
It’s a little thing. It only took three minutes to tattoo, and it’s just a few inches long, but it’s a reminder to return in thankfulness to God - a God who doesn’t give us all the answers, but leaves us with ebenezers. Stones of Help; stakes in the ground marking moments of fulfillment, and winks to the blessings to come.