Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My Ebenezer

I had originally planned to make my next blog post about our two weeks so far in South Korea.  There's so much to tell!  But first I need to take a minute to write about something that's been on my heart for quite a while, and especially lately, I need to write this as a reminder to myself, even if everyone else ignores it.

The past couple weeks -- in fact, as I've mentioned, this whole summer -- has been nothing short of amazing.  So many good things have happened, so many interesting things... And it's easy to talk about those things.


This has been an incredibly challenging time, too.  We left what was our home for over three years.  We left friends.  We said so many goodbyes.  We stepped into something that is unknown and feels, at times anyway, very strange and overwhelming.  We've wondered if and how things are going to work out.  We've felt lost. 

In my moments of grieving for family and friends far away, or feeling panicked about a problem I'm facing, when I'm scared to move forward, I find myself looking back.  These days especially, my thoughts go to a little plumeria tree outside our house in Hawaii. 

I've mentioned this before, but our first year in Hawaii was so hard.  I experienced an extreme loneliness, almost feeling abandoned.  My kids were sad.  We were all so tired of moving.  Then we had a health scare, and someone even tried to extort money from us and keep our kids in a terrible situation.  (I keep wondering if that's the right word for what happened.  I can't go into the details, but if there is a better word for someone using lies and deceitful business practices to get money from you, please let me know.) 

And then there was our house.  Finding affordable housing in Hawaii is no joke.  Homelessness there is a problem no one seems to talk about, but it's real and prevalent.  Of course, we weren't on the street, but we had such a hard time finding a place to live.  I would wake up every day searching Craigslist and rental sites, and even if I called at 7 a.m., often times the house was already rented.  If one was available, there was almost always a good reason.

We finally found a house that would work.  It had four bedrooms (they were all tiny, but there were four).  It had a pool (the deck was cracked and dangerous, but there was a safety fence, which most houses did not have and I felt it was crucial since Wyatt was a toddler).  It even had an extra room (the floor sloped so much that if you spilled some water at one end of the room, it turned into a flowing river).  AND, it was within our housing allowance, AND it was across the street from a nice park, plus Matt had an easy commute to work, so it was a GO!

Sure, there were more problems... The ceiling had no insulation; it was just the other side of the unshaded roof, making the house feel like the inside of a solar oven.  In the summer, temperatures were regularly in the 90s.  The tile floor in the living room was buckling when we moved in, and the management company fixed it, but it started buckling again.  We had what our neighbor called "the ugliest front door in Kailua" -- a security door that was bright orange with rust and had giant holes where the metal had coroded.  The kitchen counters were warped and falling apart, and sometimes when I was cooking, I got an electric shock from the stove.  The wooden window and door frames were completely rotted out, so that all sorts of critters could come in and out easily -- and they did so quite happily.  It wasn't uncommon to reach into my utensil drawer and have something move under my fingers.

And... Well, there's no good way to say this, but... critters poop. That's all I have to say about that.

While these problems were absolutely no fun, one thing just would not stop bothering me.  There was no plumeria tree on the property.

I know what that sounds like -- spoiled, petty, ridiculous.  I scolded myself constantly for being so bothered by such a silly matter.

But I LOVE plumeria trees.  Much of my childhood in Bangladesh was spent in plumeria trees; my happiest memories were there.  Here I was living in Hawaii, land of the plumeria, without one single plumeria tree! 

But actually, there had been one.  It was in the pictures posted on the property manager's website, but our crochety old neighbor insisted on having it cut down before we moved in because the leaves and flowers were falling into her pool.  Sometimes I looked at the stump where it had been, and as silly as it sounds, it just made me feel more lonely, more lost, more forgotten.

After ten months, we asked to terminate our lease, and to our surprise, the property management agreed in a flash!   (Turns out, they could ask for an increased rent every time someone moved out.)  Finally there was a house on base, and when we got the call telling us so, we said yes to it without even seeing where it was.  I remember driving onto the property with the kids, and then being so incredibly excited when I realized where our new house was -- facing a huge open area, steps from the (fenced) pool and community center.  There were two playgrounds right in front of my house.  It was spacious, clean, comfortable, safe, and beautiful.

And right outside the fence of our little backyard was a plumeria tree.  It wasn't huge, but it was there.  Just a small, beautiful message to me, like God was saying, "I didn't forget you."

If you've been reading my blog, you know the rest of the story (or you can read the short version here).  We made amazing, wonderful friends.  Our family grew.  The two years that followed kept getting better, and that's why saying goodbye was so hard.

One of my favorite hymns is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  I think I love every line in it, but "Here I raise my Ebenezer, here by Thy great help I come" has always stood out to me.  An Ebenezer is "a stone of help", a commemoration of a victory.  1 Samuel 7:12 says, "Then Samuel took a stone and he set it between Mizpah and Shen.  He named it Ebenezer saying, 'Thus far, the Lord has helped us.'" 

I've read about how some families have made "ebenezers" -- shelves or special cases that contain items that remind them of something God helped them through, and I want to have something like that too someday.  I know I have those sorts of things to out in it -- hospital bracelets, all my pregnancy tests (not as gross as it sounds! I promise!), stones picked up from the ground in special places -- but right now they are kept in a very ordinary shoebox labeled "Very Important Memorabilia".

And I have something to add to it.  While I couldn't take the plumeria tree outside our house with me, I did have Skyler snap my picture in it one day.  It's a little blurry, and taken at the end of a long, tiring day.  But as I look at that picture, I can feel the rough bark under my hands again and smell the scent of the plumeria perfuming the breeze.  

I may not know how the problems I face will turn out, but I know this, and draw peace from it: "Thus far, the Lord has helped us." 


  1. Thank you for such a beautiful story. I follow John Acuff and saw your post. Clicked on your name out of curiosity.
    I too am a mom of 5... but living in middle America. Because Come Thy Fount is also one of my fav. I loved the blog post. I have always fumbled through v2 because my heart gravitates to v3. However, as the sun was peeking over the horizon casting light into my almost empty house, I was reminded that God rescued His kids from the hands of the Philistines. So, He too will help me in the new chapter of our life and the giants that stand on the horizon are no match for my God.

    1. Thank you so much, Robyn, for tracking this down and reading AND commenting! :-) How fun that you have five kids too!

      Yes, so true. What a beautiful reminder with the sunrise. Thank you for sharing!


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