I was 10 and my older sisters were 12 and 18 when we took a trip up to South Dakota with my Grandpa Smith. He was to preach for a little campmeeting in Tuthill and my sisters and I were to sing. 958 miles from home and in the middle of nowhere, I walked the gravel road that ran in front of the broken-down camp ground. The gravel in South Dakota was different; it contained a lot of what I thought were rare and precious stones. Purple, pink, green, and blue, I gathered the treasures for days. I filled plastic bags with them and carried them home and put them away in boxes and saved them for years. They weren’t worth more than… well… gravel. But they spoke of memories we made with Grandpa… of him preaching too long, and Jeffrey driving too fast, and Grandpa swerving too much around the road until a police officer in the Black Hills pulled him over. They lingered in the box in my closet until the day came when I decided they were worth their monetary value and I discarded them to supply space for something else.
Today I sit in front of my bookshelf and look at more stacks of stones I’ve gathered along the way. This jar holds the ones I gathered from the waters of the Pacific and hid in my suitcase to fly them all the way home. That pile was retrieved near a river in the Rockies. These were removed from a lake up north. I know the stones well. Their shapes and features speak of the bodies of water from which they were selected. Their place within my shelves reminds me of the moments I savored with others when I discovered them. They serve as a tribute to where I’ve been.
When the children of Israel crossed over the Jordan River on solid soil, they quarried twelve boulders from the dry riverbed to set up as a tribute to the God Who had proved Himself faithful. These stones would become pillars and pivotal points to which the sons of Israel could return in coming days. “Tell me about this heap of rocks, Grandpa. What do they mean to you?” And again, they would hear the story for the thousandth time — how God had held the waters of Jordan with one hand and led Israel across the dry sand with the other hand. And the sons would hear again how they were a chosen, set apart people, destined by God to be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.
Not a one of us can escape the fact that our lives are built on stones. Our very essence is settled on the bedrock of our beliefs, on the slabs of our experiences. When certain foundations we once felt were secure begin to shift and subside it is easy to censure the entirety of our infrastructure. Stone by cemented stone, we look for cracks in ideology, theology, philosophy, or spirituality. We can become quick to dismiss or dismantle any one of them for perceived contraventions or inconsistencies. For each of us the crisis comes in dissimilar ways and at disparate times.
I look back at the stones in my own life, both the ones on my shelves and the ones in my past and I remember the places from which I pulled them. Not unlike many young people my age, I have inspected and scoured the structures to which those who have gone before me have given their lives. I’ve been the one with a magnifying glass looking for minuscule things to distend and significant things to shrink. The resulting transitions are inescapable. It is in this fervor for correctness and scrutiny that moorings and anchor points can be effortlessly lost. In the incertitude of a shipwreck, we are susceptible to saving what’s significant at the expense of losing what is essential. Sometimes those disconnected to the wreckage are better able to help us distinguish what must be salvaged.
The challenge will always be to preserve the structures with which we are entrusted while simultaneously selecting our own stones to set in place. The sands of time and the winds of change will tenaciously stream against the stones that guard us with strength and stability. May we conserve the barriers which have served us in good stead. May we leave behind safer walls and better bridges than our fathers left us. May we surround ourselves with saints that can see past the present as we sort stones for the generations to follow.
In a surge of cursory purging, I dispensed of the colored rocks from the trip with Grandpa. In my moment of shortsightedness, I was unable to see their significance in the days to come. If someone with sharper vision than myself had spoken to me I may have reconsidered my decision.
May we be that voice of what is solid and secure and tested and safe to those struggling with life-changing decisions. May we seek out those whose presence and influence are Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. May we each strive to gather and preserve precious stones.
Images courtesy of Jonelle Hill with Backyard Studios.