Nine months ago a seventeen-year-old gal hauled all of her belongings into the dorms. She hugged her Mum good-bye, and stared at her barren, empty room. She told herself she'd settle. She told herself she'd unpack. She told herself she'd "home-ify" the place. She told herself she'd cover the walls with posters and photos and artwork.
And now, here I am, 9 months later. The walls are still bare. The boxes are still unpacked. Some, I haven't even glanced at since September. I learned something about myself this year: I'm not a settler. I'm a nomad. And that's okay. Although I imagined I would eventually feel "moved in," it never happened. Every night I went to sleep feeling like I had just arrived, and would be immediately leaving. It feels like Day 1 and Day Infinity all at once, and I'm alright with that. Because this was my year.
This was my year to grow. To come to a deeper understanding of God. To cry myself to sleep from anxiety and stress. To learn what fear and panic really are. To pray more in a week than all the rest of my life. To make defining decisions. To go on heart-changing trips. To figure out who I am, and what I'm gonna do about it. This was my year.
And today as I stared at my blank walls and thought about putting up some posters, I realized that it was the first day of June, and I would be kicked out of this home before the month is out. And just like that, the nostalgia hit.
I've been looking back over this past year and trying to grasp how defining it truly has been in both my life, and the lives of my parents and siblings. So much growth has happened, and none of us will ever be the same because of it. But realizing that my stay here is almost up, I felt like I needed to commemorate this segment of my life in some way. I felt like I needed to give myself some kind of reminder so that I can look back on this time of transition in my life.
And I was reminded of another nomad, like me. His name was Abraham.
Abraham traversed a huge expanse of land. He took his household with him. He traveled and traveled. He moved forward and backward, explored new territory, and backtracked. He was led by God all across the Mediterranean.
Abraham understood transition. He left his family, his home, his gods, his friends, and his culture to obey the voice of the Most High. Abraham understood transition. Walking with blind faith was something he became very familiar with. And as I delved into his journey, I was struck by his method of remembrance.
Genesis 12:7 - "The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him."
Genesis 12:9 - "After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the LORD, and he worshiped the LORD."
Genesis 13:18 - "So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the LORD."
Notice a pattern? Abraham was constantly moving. Constantly changing. Constantly learning. Constantly growing. And everywhere he went, he built an altar to the Lord. I'm not planning on adopting this practice of piling stones at every turning point in my life, but at the same time, this struck a chord within me.
I've heard it said that "Faith is rehearsing the victories of the past." While I believe there is much more to faith than this, I also believe this is a tried and true statement. In my life, when I am doubtful of God's existence or skeptical of God's goodness, I look to the past. I remember all the times that He has shown Himself faithful. I reflect on His goodness to me and the miracles He has shown to me. I call to mind the times He has rescued friends and family. I look to the Bible and read of His faithfulness and unfailing love. I rehearse the victories of the past.
Again and again, He proves His perfection and goodness to us. And while He may lavish His love on us time and time again throughout our lives, it is still so easy to forget those victories when we face a new trial. We turn to fear and disbelief. We turn to manmade fixes and our own devices.
This is why I think Abraham had the right idea. Every time God proved himself faithful to him and his household, he would build an altar to symbolize the victory of God. He would build a memorial to remind himself, should he ever return, of the great goodness of God. He would build a milestone to remind himself and his descendants that God's faithfulness does not fade over time. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
And when God had Abraham backtrack, Genesis 13 shows what he did with these altars:
Genesis 13:4 - "From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the LORD again."
How beautiful is that picture? He goes full circle and ends up coming back to where they had been before. I'm sure at many points in the journey Abraham or those he traveled with experienced uncertainty. I'm sure they questioned the hand of God in their endeavors. None of them knew the destination, they simply followed the commands of God. And being the humans that they were, I'm sure there was more than a little doubt, confusion, and fear.
But Abraham returned to where he had been before, and he saw the altar he had built. And therefore, he worshiped the Lord, again. Whatever he may have been thinking, whatever doubts he may have been entertaining were extinguished when he caught sight of the altar. The altar was the visual reminder saying, "Last time you were here, God came through for you BIG TIME!"
I need that. I want that. I want to build altars wherever I go. To honour the victories, the hard lessons, the joys, the gifts, the blessings, and the changes. I want to build an altar, so that if I ever come back to this town, I'll be struck with the memory of the work that God did in my life during my time here.
But what will I build it with?
I've got a lot to say. I'm a person who goes deaf due to the sound of all the speeches and thoughts buzzing in her brain. I've got something to say, but not always a place to say it. But here, standing at the end of the year looking back on nine months of insanity, chaos, clarity, and definition, I've got a lot to say about my God.
So I will write it down. All of it. Some I will publish, and some I will hold to my heart, for my eyes only. I will scribble it in my journal in the middle of the night if I have to. I'll write it nicely, or I'll allow it to be chicken scratch on an old receipt. But I will write it down, because that's what I do. That way, every time I flip through my tattered journal in search of inspiration, my altar will be there.
And I will rehearse the victories of the past.