Four years ago, we moved our family to SE Asia. With kids aged nine, six and three, we boarded a snow covered plane in Raleigh, North Carolina and landed twenty-four hours later in the equatorial heat of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. While our luggage took a detour to Geneva, our courage arrived intact and our overseas adventure began.
Our first stop was the hotel with its 30 foot ceilings, giant silk carpets, and bright, hand-painted tiles. Most of the guests wore burkas or head scarves that elegantly flowed as they walked down garden pathways of potted palm trees. The Muslim Call to Prayer from mosques all over the city and the smells from spicy foods and sweet, milky teas filled our room and called us onward. We enthusiastically stepped into the hotel lobby only to find ourselves sitting in a restaurant ten minutes later with 3 jetlagged kids snoring into their plates of noodles.
At some point during the first two months, our eyes cleared. We were sufficiently rested and our fridge was stocked with more than restaurant takeaway containers. Our grocery carts were no longer filled with apples, pears and bagels, but with dragon fruit, Taiwan Jujube and lentils. We drank teh tarik, rather than coffee. Our son, Sam, bought a “kit” for rugby, rather than pads for football. Our daughter, Molly, learned the rules of cricket and our youngest, Annie, preferred chicken and squid satay to a hamburger and fries. Food no longer tasted exotic but just different, the locals seemed less like National Geographic characters, and we started learning the language beyond currency and directions.
With this clarity, arrived a desire to preserve and commemorate moments from this new life. Our children were young enough to forget most of what they were experiencing but the ground under our feet was rich in growth and perspective. We knew that we needed to be intentional about memorializing significant events if we were to capture their profundity, but how.
One of the best examples of this intentionality is from ancient times when people created cairns, or stone piles. Perhaps the most well-known stone pile was erected after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. After forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were finally prepared to enter the land that God had promised them since the time of Abraham. As the priests walked into the Jordan River carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the waters receded around them and all of the Israelites were able to cross the river walking on dry land.
While they were crossing, Joshua told the Israelites to choose one man from each tribe to pick up a stone from the riverbed. He then instructed them to place the stones in a pile on the other side of the river as an altar to our Lord to serve as a remembrance to future generations of God’s magnificent power and His sovereignty. In Joshua 4:6-7, Joshua says to the Israelites, “Someday, when your children ask you about these stones that we have piled up here saying “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “This is where we crossed the Jordan on dry ground.”
For us, it was not realistic to think that we could leave stone piles throughout SE Asia and expect that they would still be there should our children return. In its place, we have become storytellers to recount the times when God’s power and grace met us during both our difficulties and achievements.
Along with stories, we have collected mementos, like a rock from the Himalayas to remind us of when we slipped through Maoist protesters in Nepal, a painting from Indonesia where I fought off an attacker on the street and a teapot from Malaysia to tell about the sweet friends who sustained us. In doing this, we are reminded and able to show our children that God has faithfully met us in the past and so, he will faithfully meet us again in the present and the future.
As you reflect on your walk with the Lord, are there “stone piles” that you would like to set up to remind yourself, your children and your grandchildren of God’s presence and the significant events that have taken place in your life?