“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Stone of Help; for he said, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us.'” – 1 Samuel 7:12
I sort of fell apart during my first semester of college. In retrospect, it was normal stuff: small town kid in a big school, first generation to go to college, too many course credits, too little sleep, the grand lie that calculus is understandable. Nevertheless, I was well and truly harrowed. Empty, it felt like, but for a little pile of dust where my sense of self used to be.
Late one night I stumbled out of the library at a million o-clock and burst into tears. I slumped onto a stone bench and sat there wetly coming undone. Never in my life had I felt such despair. Eventually, I noticed an inscription carved into the backrest of the bench:
“To those who shall sit here rejoicing,
“To those who shall sit here mourning,
“Sympathy and greeting;
“So have we done in our time.” It was signed by the school’s first president and his wife.
Twenty-whatever years later, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the kid crying white-boy tears on a hundred-year-old bench in the middle of a perfectly-kept quad in the middle of a fancy university. And yet I can still literally, physically, feel the relief that washed through me as I read those words that night, a gift from ancestors who thought I was worth leaving a message for. Who knew that I’d need a little companionship and sympathy in the middle of some future night. Who were willing, with weary and loving patience, to put my problems into a century or so of much-needed perspective. I got up, headed home, and started putting myself back together (after dropping calculus, obvs).
Soon you’ll be an ancestor. What stones will you raise as gifts to the descendants? God knows that one day, some broke-down kid is going to come wandering this same way; before you go, what lasting true thing will you leave for them to find?
Here I raise my Ebenezer*, giving thanks for having come. Amen.
*Don’t give me that look; Google it yourself!
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.