I knew today would be a hard day. It has been two years today since my Mom died, going into the hospital for a routine surgery, and never leaving again. With this being the time of year that it is, I have been thinking a lot about the last few days I was with her. One thing that we talked about a lot during that last few weeks when she was scared and anxious and worried was her study of Joshua 1-7. It was one of the last messages that she prepared and taught, one that was carrying her through the difficult times.
I haven’t read a lot of philosophy, but I have been reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He quotes Nietzsche often, who said “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.” I think that’s what my mom was finding in Joshua. She was finding a why. A why for my my dad’s sickness, and for her mom’s death. A why for the way her ministry career at one place came to an end and started somewhere else. A reason for my father-in-law’s illness, and my grandpa’s brain tumor, and my kids slowly losing the people they loved one by one. A reason why was allowing her to survive the how.
Here’s what was going on in Joshua— Moses, the leader of the Israelite people, had died, and Joshua had been “filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses laid his hands on him.” He was to lead the people into the land that had been promised to them since their Exodus from Egypt, 40 years before. They were camped by the Jordan River, and right across from them was the city of Jericho, surrounded by a wall to protect it. In order to cross into that land, they had to cross the Jordan River at a time when it was in flood stage. God had parted the Red Sea for the Israelites in the past, prior to their wandering, but now Moses was gone, and this was a new generation of Israelites. The priests were to carry the Ark of the Covenant and stand in the center of the river, and when they set foot in the Jordan, the waters stopped flowing, and the people were able to cross over to the other side. After the crossing, Joshua 4 says that the Lord instructed Joshua to select 12 men from among the people, one from each tribe, and have them take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests had stood and carry them over to the other side and put them down in the place where they would stay for the night (v. 2-3, NIV). So he did. The purpose of this was to serve as a reminder to the future generations of what God had done for them, because future generations would be looking to them as they raise their own children and faced their own struggles.
She told me over and over again, as painful things came into her life, “I just keep telling myself, ‘I’m setting up stones.’” For every obstacle that God brought her through, for every heavy thing she carried, for every time the impossible somehow became reality, she was taking a stone from the middle of the Jordan and putting it somewhere that her family could see it. Somewhere that her youth group could see it. This was the why that allowed her to suffer the how. And this is the legacy she left with us.
Today I have felt so much like running away, as if physical running could somehow take me away from the grief that I feel. But that’s not what she would tell me to do. I wasn’t taught to run. Mom didn’t run away. She stood in the middle of the Jordan, and she collected her stones. She set them up so that when she was gone, I would know what to do. Every weight that she carried was used to build an altar, so that her kids would remember. I remember, Mom. You did good.