Faith, Family, Parenting

Memorial Stones

Family trip to the Appalachians, 2004

Like a great black snake, the narrow serpentine road cut through a lush carpet of green in the Tennessee hollow cradling the ghost settlement of Cades Cove.

Like faithful sentinels, primitive log structures dotted the miles that gently conveyed us from the present into the past.  Time worn and leaning wearily in the dancing sunlight, chinking long forsaking the spaces between the logs, they were both familiar and mysterious. Relics of Early American frontier life, each was a storehouse of memories.

In my youth, our car full of four giggling sisters and one adventurous mom made the pilgrimage to this hidden gem in the Appalachian Mountains several times. Some great childhood memories were forged in that place. Still I hadn’t given it a single thought in many years until recently when my faith journey took me back.

It began with a single word: Cancer —not an actual diagnosis, just a possibility based on an iffy thermograph report indicating the need for further diagnostics.

Logically the possibility of cancer was relatively remote, but the mere mention of it sent my emotions spinning.  Reason took flight as terror and dread stormed the gates of my mind. That one small word held me prisoner in a dungeon of anxiety and fear.

Adding to my panic was the fact that a dear friend recently completed a horrific year of breast cancer treatment, complete with chemotherapy and a double mastectomy with all the trimmings. Determined to starve out any cancer cell residing in my body, I launched full throttle into a juice fast and whole body cleanse, unleashing every detox side effect imaginable: adding to the toll neurotic fear was already taking on my body.

The fear of breast cancer and the thought of dying consumed me.  Two weeks of waiting for medical tests felt like an eternity.  I occupied my time obsessing, pouring over material on alternative cancer therapies and out-of-country treatment centers.  Night after night I lay awake into the wee hours despite a plethora of herbal sleep remedies, countless prayers and back-rubs from my husband, and a playlist of soothing Christian music.  Even a night light could not chase away the shadow of fear.

Adding to my anxiety was the shame of knowing that, try as I may, I could not dredge up an ounce of faith to hold on to. Even scripture failed to penetrate the dark fog that encompassed my mind. Despite what I professed with my mouth about trusting in the Lord, my time of testing had arrived and peace, hope, and faith were nowhere to be found.

If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!  Psalm 24:10

Staring at the ceiling one night, exhausted by my vigil against an invisible enemy, the Lord spoke to my heart. In the midst of confusion my thoughts drifted back to Cades Cove and the old log structures on that winding road. “Retrace your journey, Tabitha. Look for the stones; the memorials of My faithfulness.”

Going as far back as my memories would take me I began retracing the path of my life.  As though from a bird’s eye view one memory led to the next.  As real in my mind as those pioneer relics, memorial stones stood at each crisis point along my journey. Each of them marked the faithfulness of my Father.

It was a powerful reminder of what God has done – His incredible faithfulness through it all.  How easily I forget.

How could I walk with Him so many years and still not know Him as He desires to be known?   How could I have believed He would ever abandon me? That He had somehow fallen into a slumber when the path of my life was dotted with evidence to the contrary?

Trouble came and my faith faltered. My weakness was revealed.  But His strength was, once again, made perfect.


Scripture Reference: Under Joshua’s leadership, the nation of Israel was required to cross the River Jordan; a perilous undertaking. Upon safely reaching the other shore, as directed by the Lord, memorial stones were placed in the bank of the river as a reminder to future generations of God’s faithfulness.

…take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan… and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight…to serve as a sign among you.

In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’  tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”  Joshua 4:2-7 (excerpt)

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