Miracles and Monuments
Have you ever had one of those moments where you felt like you finally got what life was all about? Not just life in general, but your own specific life. Have you ever seen, just for a minute, what might be going on behind that miraculous curtain of purpose, and afterward, you knew exactly what to do next, and why? Maybe it sounds too good to be true, but I think I’ve had a few of these revelations in my life. Thing is, I don’t always recognize them while they’re happening. Like those winding mazes we used to solve on the back of a kids’ menu, sometimes the path is easier to see once we’ve made it to the end.
The first of my moments happened in the eighth grade, thanks to an English teacher named Ms. Kittrell. Having spent most of my young life in conservative Christian circles, I’d never met a woman like her. She had the raspy voice of a chain smoker, along with a short, spiky haircut, and several pairs of gray slacks. It was in Ms. Kittrell’s class that I first read real works of literature, books like To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, and The Count of Monte Cristo. I was captivated by the worlds inside those books. Like Ms. Kittrell, they were unique and mysterious, filled with characters I could’ve never imagined on my own. The lives in these books were so different from my own, yet somehow we all knew the same things. I felt what they felt, I saw what they saw, and through their imaginary stories, I began to make sense of my own real life.
But Ms. Kittrell wasn’t content with just having well read students, she also had a passion for teaching us to write. I’ll never forget the day we came into class and she had drawn five shapes on the board. The first was an inverted triangle. Underneath it were three rectangular boxes, and below them was a final, regular triangle. She told us these shapes represented a five-point essay; then she went on to explain the introduction, body (with three main points), and conclusion. Something in my brain clicked that day. I imagine it’s the same feeling a future mathematician has when he discovers the quadratic equation, or the thrill of a future scientist the first time she combines an acid and a base. These tools made sense to me, more than anything else I’d learned in school, and I was excited to work with them.
I began writing more often, and looked forward to exams featuring essay questions, but I never thought of myself as a writer. Later, I experimented with writing poetry and short stories, but I never considered pursuing writing as a career. Truthfully, I didn’t think much about careers at all. Although I admired women like Ms. Kittrell, my sights were set on finding true love and a man to marry who would chase after his own career. I imagined my handsome husband working while I stayed home and raised our four beautiful children—two boys and two girls. This was what my mom had done, and I figured her way of life would make me happy as well. It wasn’t until I was a full-time mom with two small children at home that I realized Mom’s recipe for happiness tasted sour in my mouth. I loved spending time with my kids, but it wasn’t all I ever wanted to do with my life. I needed something more. This was my second clue.
I didn’t know what my “more” was yet, but I had a hunger to be someplace where I wasn’t “wife” or “mom” for awhile, so I decided to look for a part time job. Something to get me out of the house and bring in a little extra spending money. I worked at the mall for about three months, then after that I found a job at a historic mansion, recently refurbished as a fancy French restaurant. There was a festive, outdoor tent on the grounds, which hosted weddings and private parties on evenings and weekends. I worked as a server, alternating between the mansion and the tent, for nearly three years, until I got pregnant for the fourth time. We ended up losing that baby, just like we had the second time I got pregnant. Only this time I’d been three and a half months along, and the loss was much harder than what I’d experienced before. I ended up in a deep depression and eventually had to get professional help, as well as medication. I’d been to counseling after our first son was born, and my therapist at that time taught me to write down my feelings, rather than ignore them. So when I ended up in therapy a second time, I decided to start a blog.
On the anniversary of our baby’s death I wrote about what it had been like to lose him, but it was more than just another journal entry this time, this was a memorial. For the first time in my life, I felt like I’d created something meaningful. There were powerful metaphors and stark images in my story; and people responded to my words differently than anything I’d shared before. That’s when I first thought writing might be something I wanted to pursue seriously, but it still felt like a pipe dream, something I could never achieve without divine intervention. Enter Jesus and the book of Joshua, signpost number 3.
So, Joshua had just taken over for Moses, and one of his first jobs was to lead the people of Israel across the Jordan river. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as that time when Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea—with the entire Egyptian army in pursuit—but it was still a miracle that the waters of the Jordan stopped just short of the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant. So when they got to the other side, God told Joshua to send one man from each tribe back into the dry riverbed, where the priests were still standing, in order to gather twelve stones. Then he told them to bring the stones to their camp for the night, and the next day they built a memorial so future generations would remember this passing.
Why? Because we’re prone to forget the things of God. Those moments of revelation he shares with us, those talents he equips us with, even those paths made by walls of water begin to seem like figments of our imagination once we find ourselves wandering around in the wilderness of everyday life. And like the generation who never made it to the promised land, without concrete reminders, we often lose sight of our true purpose.
In 2010, I studied the book of Joshua with a group of women at church, and I was struck by this idea of building monuments to remember what God has done. In time I came to realize that the three tattoos I have were altars I’d built during times of remembrance. I got the first one to honor the two babies we lost, and it reminds me that God is good even when life doesn’t feel that way. The second one was inspired by my three living children, and it reminds me that every good gift comes from this same God—one I can trust no matter what. And the last one I got was to remind me of how much this God loves me, even though I still forget.
Not long after the Joshua study I got the idea to write a book where each chapter would tell a story that honored a miracle God had performed in my life. I’ve yet to finish the book, but I’m much more comfortable calling myself a writer these days, and when I think of all the ways God has blessed me with words (from others as well as my own) I know they’re part of his purpose for my life here on earth. So today I’m setting up another memorial with this essay. Whether or not the world ever sees all my little piles of stone, they help me remember to believe in miracles.