The late pastor Eugene Peterson said,
“When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”
I now know my suffering wasn’t proof of God’s punishment or absence. Instead, each impossibility provided a backdrop against which I could experience a new depth of God’s reality. Although I still don’t understand all the whys, His love for me cannot be denied. Now, moved by such a love, I pull these stones from the murky bottom of my Jordan River and set them up on the other side. The scars. The flawed speech. The tender emotions. The family that fights to be together. The fear of death. The longing for death.
Altar stones. Every one. And each testifies to the one who continues to carry me from the pain to the promised land. The altar of my life, as fragile and flawed as it is, bears witness. Not to my strength and determination to save myself. The dark nights that threatened to swallow me prove I lack both. Instead, the stones shout of a presence that pushes toward me when I no longer have the strength to reach toward Him. Then rather than walk a girl around her Jordan, He sometimes walks her through the middle of it. Because only then does she know how to enter into suffering with someone else.
I’ll be stark-naked honest: I wish it weren’t so hard.
I wish I always felt God’s presence and affection. I wish the pain would end, the struggle would stop. And I wish the joy of living always outweighed the grief of it. This is now the miracle I pray for, that I will become a woman who laughs—big and loud—no matter what comes.
But I suspect this belly-jiggling joy will come only to the degree that I push in with Him. And to the degree that I remember His relentless love more than my dogged doubts.
The disciple Peter, the one so full of flaws and so full of Jesus- love, toward the end of his story said this:
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of dark- ness into his wonderful light.” —1 Peter 2:4–5, 9
Living stones that you may declare.
My friend, this is our mission. Not to work ourselves to death trying to be good enough to be loved. Not to get all of our religion right and hopefully win heaven. But to open our arms wide to the only love big enough to heal. Then when He pulls us from the darkness we thought we’d never escape, we stand as witnesses to Him.
God’s presence, not our performance, is our glory.
We are recipients of grace, not manipulators of it. And our choosing to trust Him, to believe in His nearness no matter what comes, shines a light far brighter than any bootstrapped righteousness. This is when our stories find redemption, when those of us who nearly drowned in our Jordans reach out a hand to those still caught in the grip of theirs. There, in the dark middle of another’s suffering, our stones cast light, pointing to the relentless nearness of the one who is able to carry us through. Just as Joshua’s stones became a memorial for generations to follow, our altar stones will help point the way for pilgrims who walk past us long after we’re gone.
This is the truth and the grace.
Nothing but God with us.