2016 was one of the hardest years we have had as a family. My husband had been laid off in the Spring and wasn’t finding new work. We were rapidly coming to the end of our savings and his unemployment payments, so I started to look for jobs in other areas of the country, thinking that maybe we should pack up and head out. But every time I thought about telling my kids we were considering a move, or contemplated leaving the neighborhood that I love, I would feel a mix of nausea and an overwhelming need to cry. I loved our life here and couldn’t imagine a new place.
And then came November and the multiple social media posts of gratitude and thankfulness. It felt hard to join in that year, even though I knew that being grateful shouldn’t depend on happiness with my circumstances. As we came closer to Thanksgiving, I wanted to do something to jump start our sense of gratitude.
I remembered a story from the Old Testament. In order for God’s people to escape from Egypt and move into a new land, they had to cross the Jordan River. To help them remember their deliverance and his provision of a way out of an impossible situation, God told them to gather stones from the riverbed they had just crossed to create a memorial. “In the future, when your children ask about these stones,” he said, “tell them what I did and how I brought you through on dry ground” (see Joshua 4 for the full story).
We would make our own memorial stones, I decided. We would remember what God brought us through.
The kids went out into the alley and collected rocks. I handed out Sharpies and asked people to write on their rock, focusing on something that they had seen as a gift from God in the past year. And even through the difficulties, we were able to see his work in our lives. My husband saw the gift that came through his unemployment in that he was able to coach our son’s soccer team. One daughter saw books as a gift from God, and my son focused on his soccer season. My rock was about the guidance I had seen: it became clear to us that Beaver Falls was our place. None of the other options we explored worked out. It was a meaningful way for us to reflect on the good gifts we experienced even in the midst of a hard year.
We piled the rocks on the dining room window sill, where they still sit. I see them from my place at the table every time we eat. I move them when I dust. I am still reminded of the way that God has worked in our lives, and the way that he continues to do so. This year we’ll add to our gratitude memorial; my daughter told me the other day that she had rocks all ready for us. And we’ll have the opportunity to pause and remember with gratitude once again.