Setting up reminders of what God has done in our lives is an important part of our faith and spiritual walk that helps us get through tough times. When we remember what God has done, we can more easily summon the faith and trust in God needed to persevere in present hardships and sufferings. Faith is not blind but based on evidence of what God has done. Today, I would like to share some of the reminders from my own life and the moments when they got me through difficulty.
You might have heard the Christianese term “stone of remembrance,” which is a tangible item that helps you remember those times you saw God do something amazing in your life. That term comes from Bible days when stones were set up as reminders of important events, like this story in Joshua 4:1-7:
Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’ ” So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; and Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”
This story describes the moment when Israel had finally crossed into the Promised Land it had waited forty years to enter. They were able to cross a river at flood stage (young, old, short, hydrophobic, all of Israel) because God stopped the flow of water as the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence back in that day, came into the river to lead the way. Joshua then set up a memorial out of stones to remind the nation that God had brought them out of the wilderness in a miraculous way, not just to make it memorable, but to put an exclamation point on the end of this part of Israel’s history. They had spent hundreds of years in slavery and forty more wandering in the desert. Now they were finally home!
For me, my “stones of remembrance” look less like stones and more like challenge coins.
My first one is my Airman’s coin, and it reminds me of my initial calling to the military chaplaincy. I was reflecting on that journey this summer as I was on my first tour with the Chaplain Corps as a candidate.
I felt the call the be a chaplain in high school. God had already put the burden of ministry in my heart at that point, but then he showed me the need for spiritual leadership in the military. However, I knew nothing about chaplaincy at that point in my life, and all I knew about the military came from my involvement in the AFJROTC program at school.
In fact, my mother had made me promise I would never join the real military before she would sign my AFJROTC paperwork to let me participate. Now that I felt the call to military ministry, this meant that I not only had to tell her I wanted to go back on that promise, but I had to pull the “God card” and say that God was telling me to do it! I was not looking forward to this conversation, so I avoided it like the plague. I waited for months to be sure it was not just in my head.
When I did eventually tell her, her response was, “Well, I will just have to have a talk with God about that!” In all of my growing up years I had never gotten such a strong negative response from her about anything.
The topic dropped, and life went on until a couple weeks later I visited the college I wanted to go to and one of the professors there was a retired Air Force chaplain. His advice to me was to join the Reserves to prove I could successfully operate in the culture and to establish connections, which was more bad news for my mom! From there, I started looking for a recruiter with the pretense of just getting information, and I asked all my questions. I knew this was what I needed to do to set myself up for success as a future chaplain.
At the next meeting with the recruiter, my parents came. Little did I know, the day of this meeting my mother had put a fleece before God to test to see if this is really what God wanted me to do. She asked God for what I would have considered the impossible: absolute peace in her heart when we got to the recruiter’s office. Anything less than that would lead to a tearful and impassioned plea not to sign on the dotted line. If I had known about this little deal then, I wouldn’t have been hopeful. I knew my mom’s natural inclinations towards recruiters was similar to those of snakes and rats and a peaceful heart would be no coincidence. However, I didn’t hear anything but positive comments from her the whole time. Later she told me that God had given her a great peace about everything as she walked into the recruiter’s office. When have you ever heard that sentence from a mother, “I relaxed in the recruiter’s office as my son enlisted”? I considered it a miracle!
I didn’t receive it in until later, but my Airman’s coin always brings me back to that moment in the recruiter’s office when I decided to become an Airman. I never would have done this if God had not called me to it and confirmed it by speaking to my mom. In the past few years as I’ve had moments of doubting whether I had heard God correctly or was really cut out for chaplaincy, I remember that time, that God has been with me from the very beginning of the process and He won’t abandon me now.
My second “coin of remembrance” is my BMT Honor Graduate coin. After I signed my enlistment paperwork, I did my second full year of college before leaving for BMT in Texas. I had the goal of blending in and being the guy that my Training Instructor (TI) would lock eyes with in the final weeks and training and exclaim “Who the @&$% are you?!” This would mean that I would have gotten through the whole thing without being thrust into the limelight, and it would also mean I didn’t royally screw anything up.
My plan to be a chameleon didn’t last long. It was destroyed in a moment of absentmindedness on the third day of training when they asked if anyone had any JROTC experience. In a moment of thoughtless reaction, my hand shot up and I found myself marching everywhere we went in front of the flight with a guidon in my hand. (If you are not familiar with what that is, just know my plans of being incognito were blown to smithereens.) With that new job came a new name, too: Guidon Bearer. (Clever, I know.)
The job came with a lot of attention as I learned to march with a flag in my hand, and the TIs took great pleasure in pointing out any mistake I made. Despite my strategy for success being blown to pieces so early, I graduated with honors. Honor graduates get one of these bad boys:
[Insert Honor grad coin]
Joining the reserves was not in my five year plan when I graduated high school. It was a little unnerving for me when I was initially advised to join the military because I didn’t think I was going to need to sign up for several years. I had no aspirations of graduating with honors or carrying the guidon for my flight, but I did. I also didn’t know that six years later to the day, I would be back at Lackland AFB with the Chaplain Corps as a candidate. This “stone” is particularly meaningful to me today in reminding me that my successes thus far have been a result of God’s help, but it was especially important in the years right after my graduation from technical training.
After tech school I went back to college and reported to my reserve unit. I did seasoning training with the active duty, enrolled in my career development courses (CDCs), won “Airman of the Month” for my first ADT tour, and got promoted to Senior Airman (E-4).
Then I took my end of course exam for my CDCs to earn my next level of professional proficiency… and I failed.
I definitely did not see that one coming. I studied the books I got when I was enrolled and I felt ready, but I didn’t know that–long story short–my career field was consolidated with another one right before I attended tech training. The CDC books for the old career field had three books and the new one had five. I was given the old version with three books to study, but I took the new test over the five books. No one figured this out until I had taken the test again and failed it for the second time. (You only get two tries, and then they show you the door.) I sat in my car after having reviewed all the material over the past month, devastated. How could this be?!
I got promoted before any of my friends from BMT and my supervisor had gone out of her way to help me succeed in so many ways, but here I sat. I out processed my base later that day, and I prematurely began my four hour trip back to school. My superiors went to bat for me and I was honorably discharged, but my enlisted career was over after only two years. When I got back to my dorm room, I picked up my honor graduate coin and just looked at it. I re-experienced the surprise and pride I felt when I heard my name called to receive it, and the peace I felt when I realized that the success confirmed God had brought me to the Air Force…. But where was that now?
Did God really call me just so I could fail now? How could I go forward in a military career with this level of failure so early on?! What do I do now? It did not fix how I was feeling in the moment, but my “stone of remembrance” helped me remember that God’s plan does not always look like my plan, successes and failures both included.
My plan would have looked like me pinning on staff sergeant as my enlistment ran out just in time for me to go to Commissioned Officer Training as a chaplain candidate, a deployment under my belt and a couple of good EPRs to establish a strong record. Even though that did not happen, I can say with certainty as a 2nd Lieutenant chaplain candidate that God was as much with me when I stood to receive that Honor Graduate coin as he was when I failed the test for the second time and wondered what my future held. I was certain of his calling and his help in a high point of success, and I would not forget those when I faced obstacles. He had been faithful then, and he is faithful now. I was able to remind myself of this truth and move on with confidence toward the future.
Here are some ways to tangibly remind yourself of the goodness of God in your life:
1) When God comes through for you in big or little ways, don’t just kiss the cross around your neck; write it down or record it somehow as a reminder of what God has done when you need encouragement.
2) Keep a prayer journal of the needs and people you pray for and record when there is an answer. Then, when you pray for something that you really need Him to intervene in, you have a record of prayers to remind you that God hears and answers.
3) If you are in a difficult place now and don’t have any “stones of remembrance” set up yet, take a moment to focus on and record items from your past that God did for you. Read his promises to you in the Bible and hold on to their truth. When the God of the universe promises something to you, he never goes back on it.
What “stones of remembrance” do you have? What events in your life encouraged you later when you were struggling?