Here I Raise My Ebenezer

Ebenezer is one of my favorite words. I love it because it's weird and rare. It's fun to say, and fun to spell, and fun to see if people actually know what it means. It's not every day you hear that word thrown around, and when you do it's often in reference to a Charles Dickens character. Even in the Bible it's only used in one book. In 1 Samuel 7 the Israelites achieve victory over the Philistines. At the end of the battle Samuel takes a stone and sets it up as a monument to the victory. He called the monument Ebenezer, which means stone of help. As he placed the stone he declared, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."

I love that. Thus far the Lord has helped us.

My favorite story of an ebenezer doesn't actually include the word anywhere, but that's what it is nonetheless. The dictionary definition of the word is commemoration of divine assistance. In the book of Joshua, the tribe of Israel needs to cross the Jordan river with the ark of the covenant. In the story God cuts off the flow of water from both sides, and the people walk safely on dry land in the midst of a river that is normally overflowing. Before they leave the banks of the river, God tells the leaders of the nation to take 12 stones from out of the middle of the riverbed, from the place where their feet stood firmly against all odds. The leaders gathered the 12 stones and stacked them up into a monument. God told them, "This will be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, 'What do those stones mean to you?' then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever."

During my high school depression I discovered To Write Love On Her Arms. If you don't know about TWLOHA, you should look into it. It's a nonprofit organization built around helping people who struggle with depression, self harm, and suicide. Many who feel connected to this movement have gotten tattoos on their arms, most of which say "Love" in some form or fashion. The tattoos are meant to serve as a reminder, before you choose to harm yourself, that you are loved.

When I stopped cutting and had dealt with my anorexia, I decided that I would get a TWLOHA tattoo. I chose the Greek word for unconditional love, agape. I preferred it to the English word for love since in English you can love God, love skiing, and love tacos, and never need a different word. I knew that if I was to truly overcome my desire to harm myself, I would need to love myself the way God loves me - unconditionally. The way I love tacos just wasn't going to be enough. 

By the time my 18th birthday rolled around and I could legally get a tattoo, I had gone six months without cutting and I was closer to God than ever before. I felt rescued, finally pulled out of the mire. I wanted to honor the blessing of the peace I had finally been afforded by walking away from the experience changed. The mark on my skin was to serve as an ebenezer, a reminder for for the rest of my life of the deep waters God had carried me through, how I had survived, how pain always comes to an end, and how I could make choices moving forward that honored the life God has given me. I wanted to make a promise in permanent ink. My tattoo was my promise to myself and to God that I would never harm my own body again.

I kept that promise for 8 years, 4 months, and 2 days.

Seconds after I broke my promise I hated myself for it. I felt like an idiot with a meaningless symbol on my wrist. Actually, not a meaningless symbol, a symbol of the promise I failed to keep. My agape morphed into a black reminder of my shortcomings and how in a split second I managed to trash 8 years of sobriety. I was ashamed that I hadn't remembered what I swore I would remember forever. Somehow, in spite of all of the evidence, I had forgotten about the deep waters God had previously carried me through, how I was a survivor, and how pain eventually does come to an end. I had ignored the fact that I had committed to making different choices. Instead, almost every day for over a month I made the same destructive choice, sometimes using the hand that I wear my promise on. For a while I thought that there was no point in making a new promise. A person incabable of keeping the first surely can't keep the second. The whole point of an ebenezer, or a tattoo, is that it's FOREVER, not for eight years.

Then I remembered where I got the idea of an ebenezer in the first place - God's people.

The Israelites are notoriously bad at remembering previous cases of divine assistance. It's interesting that in the story from Joshua the leaders of Israel don't decide to commemorate God's help - God commands them to. He tells them to build a monument. He tells them what the monument means. He tells them what they are supposed to say to future generations that inquire about the strange stack of stones. God knows they are going to forget! He knows this because he knows our nature. He knows this because the Jordan river isn't the first or largest body of water He's helped this group of people cross! Almost immediately after God parts the Red Sea and millions of people cross over on dry land, the people start to feel unprovided for. It's easy for us to read the stories and say, "Israel! Are you joking?" but I think those stories exist to remind us of just how alike we are to God's people of the past. The entire history of God's people can be summed up in this: God provides, God's people celebrate and commemorate, God's people forget, God provides. Repeat for several thousands of years.

Enter me.

I was ashamed for forgetting, but it's honestly not surprising at all that I did. I'm human, just like Abraham, and Job, and Peter, who all forgot. Depression and Anxiety also have a truly remarkable way of doing a memory wipe. With these afflictions I sometimes can't remember the good from 30 seconds ago. Every single moment is a battle to remember. God has helped me through deep waters. I have survived. Pain ends.

Since I'm afflicted with the same humanity of the people of Israel, I've decided to raise another ebenezer. Sometimes you have to do that. 

I decided a long time ago that if I was ever "ok again" I would get another tattoo. I wanted a new one to represent a new promise, a new before and after. I've been waiting until I finally felt absolved of my guilt, and no longer had any desire to hurt myself. I didn't want to enter into a promise that I wasn't prepared to keep. You can't create your stack of stones until you're out of the riverbed and on the shore. 

This is my new tattoo. My new memorial. My new ebenezer. 

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Though I've known I wanted a new tattoo for a while, I had no idea at all what I wanted it to be. I designed this after randomly turning to the book of Joshua several months ago. There I read the wonderful story of people in need, treacherous waters, God's providence, and a stack of stones. I decided I wanted my new tattoo to represent a stack of stones and include the words "Here by Thy great help I've come". I've always been against the idea of a tattoo on my back because I wouldn't be able to see it well, but suddenly I loved the idea. Part of the trouble with the ebenezer raised in Joshua is that the Israelites walked away from it. Far away from it. The farther they got from that moment, and from that sacred space, the more the memory faded. My ebenezer will follow RIGHT behind me. Every step I take is only one step in front of the monument I've erected. Each step is a reminder that I can walk away from this place better than I was before. Each step is a testament to exactly how far God has carried me.

Thus far the Lord has helped me.

Thus far the Lord has helped me.

Thus far the Lord has helped me.

When asked, "What does that mean to you?" I will tell of the dangerous journey made safe by a God who parts waters. This is my commemoration of divine assistance. This is my ebenezer.

If you are interested in reading other blog posts about my journey with mental health, you can find them here. 

The Raging Wind and Tempest

Congratulations! You're Mentally Ill

Why Is Everything So Heavy

The Greatest Commandment

Me, Too.