Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” I Samuel 7:12
It’s Monday morning, April 26th, and my time in ICU feels a bit like a dream: That time when I saw the Lord, high and exalted, when my entire body shook, when the brightness of His radiance made me shield my eyes, when weeping, I asked for Him to back up just a bit. It was only a month ago; not quite a month; just two days short.
That day that changed everything. For weeks, I walked around trembling, and not because I had just recently been discharged from the ICU. I was trembling because the glory of the Lord had overshadowed me, and I could not contain the majesty I beheld.
A nagging voice reminds me that I might “lose the glory,” and over the past week, I have experienced a crippling grief as I can’t seem to find the overwhelming strangeness of the glory cloud any more. But that would be worship of signs and wonders; And I am reminded that my God is present, ever and always, when signs and wonders are visible and when they are hidden. It is easy to cultivate relationship with God, to pursue Him relentlessly, when we are overshadowed by the glory cloud of His undeniable presence. But the challenge comes when the cloud seems to lift, when we feel abandoned, and when life no longer holds the holy shine that we carry down from the mountain top.
It feels strange and contradictory: My physical valley of the shadow of death became my spiritual mountain top. When memories of my horrific ICU experience surface, I am met with great trauma as well as great delight. Try to assimilate that into some sort of coherent schema. I certainly don’t know how to. In many ways, it is a beautiful grace. Without the sweet presence of the Lord in that deep dark valley, I would crumble at the memories of pain and suffering.
Memories still pop up occasionally. On Good Friday, as I read the story of Jesus on the cross to my children, chills went up my spine. The explicit account of Jesus’ suffering and passion led me directly back to that ICU bed. As we read together the Jesus Storybook Bible account of the day the sun stopped shining, the phrase, “Jesus stayed” echoed in my mind. He stayed on that cross, in that place of unfathomable suffering when at any point, He could have set Himself free and struck the officials with sudden death. He stayed. As I was transported back to that ICU bed of torture, I could feel the overwhelming desire to end it all, to feel sudden relief.
While I did not have the power to transport myself, I yielded to the power of the Almighty to transform my heart. And that changed everything.
But the dust has settled, and while life is anything but normal in this crazy pandemic, I find myself losing sight of the miracle. I hasn’t even been a month, and I am already forgetting.
And that’s why I am writing about it. I want to be changed by God’s power that manifested in that ICU room in March 2020. I want to be overshadowed by the glory cloud that settled over that hospital bed and came home with me as March bled into April less than a month ago. I don’t want to forget the uncanny sense of Holiness that walked with me for weeks, as I could only repeat the phrase, “It’s so strange” over and over again. I cannot construct the signs and wonders of God. I do not worship the manifestations of God’s presence. I do, however, want to steward the gifts of God’s manifest presence in ways that declare His glory and His holiness.
As I take a step back from the fog that has settled upon my heart and mind under this stay at home issue, in the aftermath of my own near-death experience, I am reminded of the “Ebenezer stones” that God uses to mark my personal experiences with him. Each encounter, large or small, is accompanied by a marker or flag that triggers my memory and stirs my spirit, placing my heart and mind back in that time and place of experiencing God. These markers are always in the form of song. Anyone who journeyed with me through my ICU experience in the end of March probably noticed my continual reference to The McClure’s song, Reign Above it All. That song, that starts with the phrase, “The reign of darkness now has ended…”, arose as my theme song for God’s healing and redemptive work in my place of deep suffering during Lent this year.
After I wrote the first section of this piece of lament, I stepped away from the document and my computer. It was time for me to put on my teacher hat, and I had come to an impasse in my place of processing the liminal space of uncertainty in which I found myself.
Later that day, as I was preparing worship for my zoom meeting that evening, I played Reign Above it All repeatedly on my guitar, weeping as I entered back into the space which I had occupied in that ICU bed a month earlier. God whispered in my ear, “Beloved, you have not lost the Spirit that was released in that ICU bed. I placed this song in that space as a transcendent reminder for your heart.”
Music transports us. I have a dear friend who stated recently that few things are eternal, but music is one of them. I believe that he must be right. We were made with music in our spirits, and often, music serves as spiritual signposts for our moments when life creates a thin space in which we encounter heaven close-up and personal. At least, that is always the case for me.
In 1996, when I was ripped from the 11th grade and sent several states away for my first official residential eating disorder treatment: God met me and reminded me of His faithfulness throughout my childhood. The songs of Watermark kept me afloat, particularly, Take me to Delaware.
In the year 2000 and throughout the following five and a half years as I limped through the promised land of Asbury College, I was sustained by our class hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, even when I struggled to be faithful in my battle with anorexia and exercise addiction.
In 2007, when I endured three suicide attempts under the influence of a medication that made me helpless to the impulses of my mind: God whispered His promises into my heart through the song, Our Hope Endures by Natalie Grant.
The list goes on. Each crisis, each victory, carries with it an anthem of triumph, a song of hope or comfort, or a reminder of God’s faithfulness in my chaos. And when one of those songs pops up, God carries me back to that landmark, and He dances with me on the altar of sacrifice erected in that space. He, the Lamb, slain and laid on the altar, to take away the sins of the world, reaches down, takes my hand, and helps me up to that same altar, on which He at some point in the journey, summoned me to die to myself in a new way. And we dance to the melody of one of His eternal songs from my life’s soundtrack.
Each time He turns on that soundtrack and beckons me to dance, He rebirths in me the joy, the grief, the sacrifice, and the triumph of this beautiful life that He has redeemed for me and for the healing of the world.
And so, to the Megan who started to write this journal entry about 36 hours ago, I can say with confidence that you have not lost the joy and delight of the healing and awakening that took place last month. All you need to do is hit play on the songs that stand as musical Ebenezer stones, and let God do the rest.