Here I Raise My Ebenezer

I was raised in the cessationist tradition, which means I was taught to never believe God was speaking to me other than through His words in the Bible. No seeing signs in the shapes in the clouds, no hearing calls from Jesus. I might feel like God was saying something specific about His love for me whenever I got the fitted sheet the right way on the mattress on the first try, but I knew better.  But last year, a remarkable providence (that’s cessationist code for “miracle”) reminded me of how God often tells us in His Word that He wants us to tells others how we’ve experienced that what He says about Himself is all gloriously true. He even leaves us tangible objects to stir our memories, and prompt our words. On the morning of our wedding, my husband gave me a diamond solitaire necklace, made from his grandmother’s engagement ring. For my birthday six months later, he gave me a small pair of platinum hoop earrings. I waited what I hoped was the right amount of time before our first anniversary to confess my lingering discomfort with owning or caring for expensive, sparkly things after growing up in a family who could barely afford the basics. But I thanked him for his generosity, and promised I’d do my best to take care of what he’d already so kindly given me.

I kept that promise for fifteen years. Then on one particularly hectic morning when I was late for work, I slipped the necklace and earrings into the inside pocket of a small, black purse, thinking I’d have time during my morning commute to put them on. But then I promptly forgot about them, and at the end of the day the purse went on its shelf with several others. When I next went to my jewelry box to get my necklace and earrings, and saw they weren’t there, I scoured the house with what felt like Luke 15:8 zeal. But several days of searching didn’t lead to finding. I quietly berated myself for my carelessness after so many years, and sat under what felt like the chastisement of the Lord for my bad stewardship.

One Saturday afternoon, my youngest daughter Kate burst through the back door after a morning running errands with her Dad. “Look what I found in the trunk of car, Mommy!” she said with delight.  In her hand was one, small, platinum hoop earring. Gasping, I asked her how she had found it. “We took those bags of giveaway things to Goodwill, and when Daddy was closing the trunk I saw it sparkling!” My heart sunk to the bottom of my stomach. A vague memory surfaced  of a recent closet purging, endin with my tossing my purse into the top of a garbage bag filled with clothes, then the bag into the trunk of my car. I thought I’d remembered to search all the pockets. I obviously hadn’t.

My middle daughter offered to ride with me to the Goodwill to make a last, surely impossible, attempt to find my jewelry.  Before I pulled out of the driveway, I prayed out loud, asking God to show me undeserved mercy in helping me find my jewelry, and to give me His peace if I didn’t. As I drove, I talked with my daughter about what God might be teaching us, almost certain that it had to do with things like trusting Him when hard things happen, the futility of valuing material things that can be so easily lost, the importance of being a good steward of the material blessings He gives us, and on. And in my heart, I spoke to God about what He was teaching my daughter as she watched events unfold, and prayed for His help to be faithful.

We pulled into the drop off area behind the Goodwill, and the sight of rows and rows of barrels overflowing with the discards of an entire city made my heart sink.  A worker named Bob heard my plea as I showed him the earring my littlest girl had found. He chatted away as my daughter and I walked amongst the barrels, desperate to catch a glimpse of a garbage bag that looked like ours. “We get someone like you here every week,” he said. They’re looking for prescription glasses, jewelry, money, a passport one time. They never find ‘em.”

With Bob’s encouraging words ringing in my ears, I decided our search was futile. I gave him my business card, with a note on the back promising a cash reward if the contents of the purse were ever found, and my daughter and I headed back to the car.  On the trip home, we talked some more. What had God meant by letting my little girl find one earring, but not the purse with the rest of it? With our question unresolved, I dropped her back home to finish homework, and then drove on the Container Store, suddenly inspired to pick up some decorative boxes I’d been thinking about buying to better organize my closet.

I was standing in line when my phone rang.

“Mrs. Starke, this is Bob. We found your purse, and your jewelry is in it. When do you want to come pick it up? I gotta tell ya, I’ve worked here five years and this is the first time this has ever happened.”

I burst into unashamed tears of gratefulness, and told him I’d come right away. I didn’t even wait for the people around me to ask what had happened. Filled with Luke 15:9 joy, I just told them. “I accidentally left the jewelry I wore on my wedding day in a purse I donated to GoodWill, and someone just found it! The man at the store said it was impossible, but I prayed, and God did it! Because that’s. what. God. does! “

The strangers made affirming noises of varying kinds at the crazy lady having a personal “praise Jesus” moment in the checkout line, and the checker hurried me through paying for my things, so I could be on my way and out of her store. Twenty minutes later, after stopping at an ATM for the promised reward, the diamond necklace and other earring were back in my hands. A few minutes after that, I opened the back door of my house, and stood in the entry way silently, waiting for my girls to see me and what hung, sparkling, around my neck and in ears once more. They squealed, and stared in amazement, questions and exclamations tumbling over each other.

That afternoon, my daughters and I lived out David’s exhortations in Psalm 105 and Psalm 145 - we commended God’s works to one another, and reminded each other of God’s goodness and mercy to us. We’ve done it every time I’ve worn my jewelry since then. My necklace has become my personal “Ebenezer”, a reminder of a day when God taught me to trust Him with circumstances totally beyond my control. My necklace holds no power in and of itself. But it points me to the One who has it all, Who upholds the universe with it, and who can and does work mightily on my behalf.

I learned that day how God works through ordinary circumstances and ordinary things, and that the ordinary objects in our lives can be used to bear witness to our extraordinary God, and the good things He has done.

Rachael Starke has lived and worked in Silicon Valley for over 18 years. She writes about the intersection of the gospel with technology, gender, food, and other cultural artifacts. You can connect with her on TwitterLinkedIn or her blog