Back in 2019 I wrote the blog “Fear Robs Us of Our Very Selves.” I mentioned in the blog that I had the opportunity to speak at the local homeschool (SCCHEA) commencement with one of my brothers (Jon). A few days ago, I came across what we shared with the graduates and their families. I enjoyed reminiscing and thought it would be fitting to share the end result of that original blog. Enjoy reading!
JON: Congratulations Class of 2019! And congratulations parents of the Class of 2019! Today is a celebration for you both.
As former homeschool graduates, my sister Caitlin and I understand what today means to you. We remember that overwhelming emotion of accomplishment. We remember being on the cusp of a new stage of life, high school in the past and now the unknown ahead.
Caitlin and I are sharing the same stage tonight. You’ve heard it said that there are two sides to every story. Well tonight, there’s two sides to a commencement speech. You’ve heard it said there are two sides of the same coin. Tonight, we’re talking about two sides of the same stone.
I have here a simple stone, one that I’ll refer to as my stone of remembrance. On the one side, I’ll be focusing on the past – remembering His faithfulness in the hard times. Caitlin will follow and focus on the future – remembering His promises as you move into adulthood.
So what is a stone of remembrance? Well, we can be a forgetful people. That’s why we take something and transform it into an agent of recall, a memorial of sorts. Souvenirs help you remember vacations to the beach. Trophies help you remember the games you won. Photographs memorialize a moment in time and a Suh-chee-uh (SCCHEA) yearbook commemorates special events and friendships as a homeschooler. As the years pass and memories fade, physical objects can help you remember.
We find this same idea in Scripture, as God calls his people to remember attributes of his character and to not forget his faithfulness. They built memorials and pillars; they named locations, they celebrated annual festivals and hung tassels from their clothing.
Today we commemorate your graduation from high school, from years of study, of sweat, and probably some tears. We celebrate today, this milestone in your life. After today, you will have so many other times of celebration. And when things are going well, it seems easy to feel God’s presence and to trust in His goodness.
But you will also have some dark days, times of difficulty, and moments when God feels so very, very far away. For the writer of Psalm 77, that’s exactly how he felt. The Psalmist felt anguish over God’s perceived inaction.
- Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?
- Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
- Are his promises at an end for all time?
- Has God forgotten to be gracious?
- Has he in anger shut up his compassion?
Several years ago, that’s how I felt. I’d reached a point where I didn’t want to answer the phone because I thought it might be more bad news. It didn’t feel like I could have any “regular” conversations because everything revolved around the next crisis. I was so tired of seeing sin/evil/darkness/Satan affect those I loved and twist this life into such sorrow and hardship.
Within 18 months: 1) my son had a seizure; 2) my youngest daughter was battling dangerously high fevers every few weeks, which prompted doctors to think she had a terminal disease; 3) at a time like this, I’d have turned to one of my closest friends, but he’d decided to openly live a lifestyle displeasing to God and walked away from friendship with me; 4) I watched my grandfather die in hospice; 5) and I struggled when members of my extended family became estranged from us or got caught in a cycle of self-destruction.
So what did our Psalmist do? He moves on from anguish to comforting recollection.
- Then I said, I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High
- I will remember the deeds of the Lord
- Yes, I will remember your wonders of old
- I will ponder all your work
- And meditate on your mighty deeds.
When the Psalmist had trouble seeing God during tough times, he remembers. It’s then that it is most important to remember, to ponder, and to meditate on the moments you witnessed the Lord’s kindness, felt his love, and saw him fulfil a promise.
During those tough 18 months, my wife and I learned how to trust God when He seemed far away and to rely on Him beyond our own vision or desires. We were broken and weary, but encouraged to look beyond the present troubles and to draw hope from God’s previous actions of love, mercy, and grace in our life.
Start building up for yourself a reserve of moments when God has shown you His faithfulness, His kindness, and His love. You’ll surely need them. Take a stone of Remembrance and mark it with today’s date or with an identifying word like SCCHEA, for He has seen you through these years to tonight’s graduation. And the next time a friend betrays you, when there isn’t money in the bank, when your faith is hanging by a thread, you squeeze that rock in your hand and know that although it’s hard to see God in this moment, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. As He has shown His unfailing love in the past, remember and know that He is faithful and trustworthy to see you through again.
CAITLIN: I want to talk about the other side of the stone. When I flip it over, it shows a blank slate, or rather a blank stone. It holds the unknown. It holds promise of the future.
Before we look towards the future, I want us to look at the beginning of Joshua. In the first few chapters of Joshua, the people of Israel are getting ready to FINALLY enter the promised land. The first thing they have to do is cross the Jordan River. In order to cross, the Lord had to walk before them. LITERALLY. I’m going to read a section from Joshua 3 & 4. About 10 verses that perfectly illustrate Stones of Remembrance.
And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.”
And as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap…and those flowing down…were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground.
When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”
And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the people of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Those 12 stones had two purposes. The first purpose, like Jon has already shared, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). The 2nd purpose was a promise of what He was going to do. “The hand of the Lord is mighty” and He walked before them. Their next stop was Jericho. They could step out in trust and faith that their mighty God was going to do what He promised.
I didn’t fully understand Stones of Remembrance until I was about 26. I had been out of college working as a nurse for 3-4 years. I knew I had been called to be a nurse, but wasn’t passionate about it. I loved my patients, but at the end of the day it ended up being a way of paying my bills.
I had many talks with Jon about passion in the workforce, calling, and vocation. You name it, we probably talked about it. I remember asking the Lord to either make me more passionate about nursing or to set my heart on fire for a ministry at my church or in my community.
Enter Colorado vacation 2011. I was out visiting another bother and his family. While there, I was contacted by a friend who worked at a study abroad institute through Focus on the Family. They were in need of someone to be a resident supervisor and to start within two weeks. I laughed. It was so out of the blue and not anything that I felt I knew how to do. I hadn’t even been an RA in college! I didn’t have any experience in residence life. My patients were tiny and didn’t talk back and college students are MUCH bigger and DO talk back! But I did feel the Lord walking before me. Remember the Ark of the Covenant in the Jordan River?? I put in an application and had an interview.
Later that week, after being offered the position, I was on the phone with Jon, talking through all the options. I’m a planner so I like feeling prepared. Moving from Arkansas to Colorado to a job I had no idea if I could do, didn’t sound comfortable. But there was something about the opportunity that intrigued and excited me. As I wrestled through a decision, I remember hearing the Lord say, “I have equipped you in ways that you don’t even know.” I remember having immense peace after that. I could use that simple statement to remind me of all that God had done in my life prior. And I could stand on that promise that He was the one preparing and equipping me to step into the future. Even if there was very little planning time…I was told about the job on Sunday, applied on Wednesday, Interviewed Thursday, accepted the job Friday, and was moved and working two weeks later.
I can tell you the rest of my story another time. It’s a longer story then I have time for today. But what I want you to hear is that my Stones of Remembrance won’t be the same as yours. Jon and I don’t even have the same. And that’s part of the beauty of them! The Lord reveals them to us when we need them. They don’t even have to be stones! I have two personal examples up here, actual stones in a vase and a journal. They can be whatever has meaning in your life and will help you remember. The point of Stones of Remembrance isn’t the actual object but rather that it brings you face-to-face with the Lord.
The Lord has given each of you Stones of Remembrance to anchor you in the storms of your life and to help you step into the future. Each serve the purpose of reminding you who God is and what He has done and will do in your life. Your job is to remember.
As Jon and I were preparing to be with you tonight, he pointed out that just like Joshua used 12 stones after crossing the Jordan, there are 12 of you graduating. And each of you will be crossing your own Jordan River tonight. This will have a different meaning for each of you. So we’ve brought you each a stone to start you off. We’ll leave one on each of your memory tables. Congratulations class of 2019! May your lives be filled with many Stones of Remembrance!