I am not a Pinterest parent. I have never made my children’s snack food into the shape of a Disney princess, I have never taken a castoff sweater and repurposed it into a tote bag, and I’ve never made anything out of a mason jar or pallet. I’m just not the arts and crafty type. But for the last couple years at Thanksgiving I have gotten out the box of art supplies, pulled out some yarn, construction paper, and a sharpie and then sent my kids out to gather sticks from the yard. While this may seem like the makings of a craft project, in my mind it’s something different. It’s an Ebenezer.
1 Samuel 7:11-13
The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.
When we think of the word Ebenezer the picture it most likely brings to mind is of a grumpy, greedy old man who can’t grasp the true meaning of Christmas. You can thank Charles Dickens for that mental image, but before Ebenezer was associated with Scrooge, it had a different connotation. Samuel created a visual reminder of what God had done for his people. Whenever they saw that stone called “Ebenezer”, they would remember how God had helped them conquer their enemies.
The Israelites needed this reminder. The Bible shows us over and over that they were a people prone to forgetting. But I’m prone to forgetting, too. We don’t live in a culture that puts a high priority on setting stones in your yard to remember major life events, but sometimes I wish we did. I need a physical, tangible reminder of what God has done in my life so I continue to trust him with my future.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you focus on your daily struggles and don’t see the big picture of how God is moving both in your own life, and in the history of the generations who came before you. I imagine that stone was probably big enough and important enough that it stuck around for awhile. People could take their grandkids to it and talk about God’s faithfulness. I need those kind of reminders, too. God’s care and concern for humanity didn’t just start with me. He has been on a path of redemption for those in my own genealogy and I trust he will continue to move on behalf of my kids and grandkids. So I want to make a habit of remembering all we have to be thankful for, and what better time to do that than Thanksgiving?
For any of you who (like me) aren’t so great at the arts and crafts side of life, you can either get yourself a large stone and make a formal declaration of what God has done this year by giving your stone a name, or you can go the slightly more simple route and try making a family Thanksgiving Tree. Since Thanksgiving is a couple weeks away, you’ve got time to hunt down your rock or collect some craft supplies for your tree. Here are my super simplified instructions so even the most artistically challenged can make this happen.
You will need:
Cut construction paper into the general shape of a leaf. Have each member of your family write something they’re thankful for on a leaf. Make a hole in the leaf and tie yarn into a loop through the hole. Put the sticks into a vase. Put the leaves you made on the sticks.
We do our Thanksgiving Tree as part of our Thanksgiving celebration with our extended family, so it has been great to see my kids, my nieces and nephews, and even my siblings and parents embrace this project as a way to think about what matters. There are many times where we prompt our kids to say “thank you”, but this is a time where they can be thankful for what they think is important. I have seen favorite foods, treasured stuffed animals, and their most recently watched movies end up on gratitude leaves along with the names of their special relatives, thankful words about God’s love for them, and acknowledgment of the many ways God has provided for them over the past year. Last year we were thankful for a baby foster daughter who had just entered our home, never imagining that this year we’d be thanking God for her adoption as a forever part of our family. And we never would have guessed we’d be thanking God for another biological child this year, too! This is truly a year we want to thank God for what he has done and when the hard times come (as they always do), we want to look back and remember God’s faithfulness. These tangible Ebenezers keep the reality of God’s presence ever before us.
“Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at Home
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wand’ring from the fold of God;
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood.”
-Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing