20140703_EmilyFreeman_Hope

A few weeks ago as I was visiting my sister, we were walking from her house to the barn when I saw a huge feather on the ground in front of us.

It was so large, so fake-like perfect that I thought she must have dropped it somehow from the collection of feathers I’ve seen in her office, the ones I assumed she bought as some kind of set from the craft store – because who could collect so many huge, perfect feathers unless they live in a bird zoo?

feathers

The Nester, that’s who. Of course she has feathers. When I leaned down to pick up this feather, I turned to her. “Look, one of your feathers from your collection got loose. You must have dropped it here.”

“No!” She says as I hold it up, “This is a new one!”

“You mean from a real bird?”

“Of course!” Turns out this is a normal part of her life, feathers presenting themselves to her.

She goes on to tell me how at different times when she’s questioning, struggling, or simply needs a reminder that she isn’t alone, a feather seems finds its way to her. She says its been this way for years and receives them as little gifts from God.

Aside from that one feather I found while I was with her, I don’t remember ever finding a feather like that in my whole life.

I love the way encouragement presents itself to her in the form of these lovely little gifts. While gifts don’t seem to float from the sky for me in the same way, the more I thought about it, I realized I have been collecting small reminders of hope for myself over the years. 

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emily p freeman
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emily p freeman

Part of me feels like maybe these don’t count since I had to go out and collect them.  I wish these reminders would fall at my feet the way those feathers do.

Sometimes hope presents itself to you in the clear light of day, while other times you have to dig for it.

While I’ve been collecting shells on pretty beaches for many years, more recently I’ve started to pick up rocks in not-so-obvious places as reminders of God’s faithfulness.

emily p freeman

After a conversation with a mentor who affirmed my calling, encouraged my spirit, and reminded me to carry on, I took a walk alone through a mountain path in Asheville. Thinking about what she said, I decided to pick up one of the many stones at my feet. It wasn’t particularly beautiful, but I brought it home where it sits on the lamp in my office, a reminder to have courage and continue to believe.

emily p freeman

After walking our kids to school last month, I found this pink one on the street in my neighborhood. I picked it up as a reminder of how the Lord is present with us locally, and how Greensboro is the city where we feel we are to stay and serve even though we don’t have a lot of answers right now as to what that looks like.

emily p freeman

During a recent visit back to my childhood hometown, I sat in the parking lot of the church where I was baptized and marveled at how nothing had changed in twenty years, down to the gravel parking lot.

Before pulling away from the church, I opened the rental car door, reached my hand down to the ground, and took a handful of gravel rocks to remember the simplicity of new belief and not let cynicism or resentment cloud the way.

I don’t think there is anything mystical about feathers or rocks or anything else, but I do think we can choose to let anything remind us to believe, to remember, to hope.

Maybe it isn’t so much that feathers present themselves to my sister and not to me. Maybe instead it’s that she has simply trained her eye to see them, to look for them, and to offer thanks when they appear. 

emily p freeman

Samuel took a single rock and set it upright between Mizpah and Shen. He named it “Ebenezer” (Rock of Help), saying, “This marks the place where God helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:11)

So we pick up rocks to lay down burdens, collect the feathers so hope will fly. We hold on to the gifts we find in the simple stuff of earth, the gifts that help us to see, to wonder, and to celebrate our smallness again.

Maybe today is the day for you to begin to see again, to choose what you’ll look for among natural things to help remind you of supernatural hope.

Or perhaps you already have a collection you’ve started of small things that remind you of the big picture. Or maybe it isn’t something you collect with your hands, but in your soul – a full moon, a sunset, a dolphin in the distance.

What are your eyes trained to look for? What are your Ebenezer stones?

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  1. 1

    Emily,
    Ever since I was a little girl, I have collected stones. I used to give the really pretty ones that I would find to my mother as gifts (just what every mom wants, right?). They have always reminded me of the places where God gave me life, hope, love. Many of my favorite childhood memories were to be had at my family’s summer place in the hills of West Virginia on a mountain lake. I hauled big flat stones back to my home (in Illinois) at the time to make a stepping stone walkway in my garden. When it came time to move from that home I almost wanted to take those stones with me, but sanity won out and I left them there as my Ebenezer. I have since set up many Ebenezer stones…I am currently trying to figure out what I can do with some gem stones my 80 year old mother and I dug from the NC mud. What fun we had together. I’m open to suggestions? Thanks for a beautiful post that reminds me to look for God’s little miracles every day!
    Blessings,
    Bev

  2. 5
    Sarah S says:

    The thing that reminds me to believe is this strange phenomenon everywhere I go, just when I least expect it a complete stranger will go out of his or her way to help me. This spring I was really struggling physically and spiritually. I went to stay with my parents for a month. My husband came too. While we were out and about, my mom mentioned how much people go out of their way to help me. She thought it was because they could see the love of Christ in me. I’m not sure if that’s the reason…but, I have noticed that the more I struggle the more complete strangers reach out to offer help in small ways. Earlier this week at the store, one lady handed me a bag to put my vegetables in. I thanked her, then another lady rushed up to offer to hold the bag open for me. I am perfectly able bodied. I didn’t think I needed any help. I would have been happy to wait my turn to take a bag. But, they helped and it reminded me to believe that there is goodness, that God is working and caring for me even as He cares for the sparrow. This is just one occurrence, it really happens often. Thanks for sharing your story of digging for hope and collecting rocks to remember it by.

    • 6

      What a beautiful way hope shows up – through people. I love that so much. And I love even more that you shared it here – that you noticed how this is true for you. What a gift.

  3. 7

    I loved this, Emily. As I thought about what I collect that reminds me about hope, I realized I collect sunsets. Or pictures of them. I can’t get enough of watching God pull out His color palette each night and paint the sky with His hopeful colors. I take pictures to remember them. Each one so unique reminds me that God loves me passionately. And He shows it in the colors He picks in the evenings. They remind me of His steadfastness toward His children. This gives me hope during the dark times of my life. Or even those bad mommy days.

    I loved your post. It’s got me thinking about other ways I might be able to dig for hope.

  4. 8

    Thanks for the post–your writing is beautiful! I love how God made us both spiritual and physical, and that he encourages us to make physical reminders of spiritual realities.
    My own blog is called “A Pile of Pebbles” after the little rocks that a character called Much Afraid collected on her journey to the High Places with the Shepherd in the story “Hinds Feet on High Places.” Each blog I post is a little reminder to me of what God was doing at that time. :)

  5. 9

    What a beautiful post! So beautifully written Emily. Hope reveals itself to me through this bird that comes only during the times when I feel week or sad or discouraged. Birds don’t usually let you get too close to them, but this one is always about a foot away from my presence. It came to me during my first few months after having my daughter and moving to a new town all around the same time. The second reoccurrence happened just last week. I heard a loud bang on the kitchen window and there he was just sitting there as if he was looking and waiting for me. He didn’t move or get scared when I came to the window less than a foot away. I knew it was God right then and there giving me hope, peace and love. I love the way he speaks to each of us. So personal and unique and beautiful. Many would dismiss this, but only those who are sensitive and open to the way God works will be able to notice these amazing signs that He is always with us.

  6. 10

    What is my Ebenezer stone? It can be different if I am looking for it, its usually a cardinal bird, a butterfly, or something out of the blue like this morning with my children we saw a new born colt and mother.
    More importantly my Ebenezer stone is with me wherever I go and no one can see but me and my husband, its a scar on my one breast from surgery that was done to remove a cancerous lump. Its a reminder of what the Lord brought us though.
    So again this acticle is a great reminder for me to remember the hope and raise the Ebenezer high as a thank offering and praise.
    Thank you.

  7. 11

    {Melinda} I love this, Emily. And I love how God speaks to us each in such different unique ways. God has always spoken to me through books. He’ll put one in my hands at just the right moment when I’m struggling with a certain issue and it will give me an extra dose of encouragement and direction. And He’ll often work in “themes” with me, as well. Lately, He keeps bringing the message of “provision” to me over and over again. And that’s exactly at the heart of what I’ve been struggling with lately — trusting in God’s provision. It makes me feel very hopeful and loved. I’m always amazed at how very personally He speaks to me and loves me.

  8. 12

    I love this post. Nodding my head, yes, yes, YES.

    I see Ys. That’s how hope reveals itself. In the letter Y.

    In 2009, I was in a head-on collision and came away with only a minor injury on my left leg. Right before the crash, I was listening to a song by Chris Tomlin, a song that repeats the name Yahweh, over and over again.

    Well, when the doctor sewed up the wound in ER, it was in the shape of a Y. I thought… of course. Y for Yahweh. It moved me to tears.

    It felt like he had marked me with his signature. It was a miracle that I had gotten out of the van with so few injuries. So I have always looked at the Y as “Yahweh.” My settlement after the accident included plastic surgery to remove the scar, but I declined the surgery. I wanted to keep my Y. Sadly, the Y scar has faded over time. But I still see Ys everywhere — hope finding me right where I am.

    In sidewalk cracks. Tree branches reaching heavenward. Airplane contrails and clouds. A branch on the ground. In the weeds. In the raised arms of a worshipper.

    I think that is so generous of God, to give us feathers and rocks and Ys and more.

    A candle flame, a favorite hymn, a loaf of bread, a pillar of cloud, an olive branch, a crown, a purple cloth, a gold band around the finger. They are visible markers of an invisible God. Symbols and triggers that point to something greater.

    Thank you, Emily. This post was so affirming for me.

  9. 13

    Smiling so much right now. I’m a collector of stones too. Grateful for your analogy to dig deep for hope when it seems scarce.

  10. 14

    When I was in Israel, I was rebaptised in the Sea of Galalee. When I stepped back on the shore is found a heart shaped rock. Ever since then, I’ve collected heart shapped rocks and taken pictures of heart shapes in nature. I find them everywhere!

  11. 15

    You have made me think and I realize that I collect sounds. My soul is filled when I hear the sounds of nature. Birds tweeting, singing, or rustling in the leaves under the bushes; wind blowing through the trees and grasses; rain falling on the rooftop, sidewalks and yard; water flowing down river, over rocks and stumps; cows mooing, roosters crowing, horses whinnying. Ahh, just remembering makes me smile.

  12. 16

    Wow, everyone’s stories are so comforting. I didn’t think I had an Ebenezer until it hit me. Butterflies. I will see the most beautiful butterflies when I am walking somewhere. They seem to be around in the strangest and most beautiful weather. They always come close and fly around me so that I can see their shape and color, and then they are gone. I never see them coming or going and I never see them with groups of people on a regular basis. I’m usually alone or with my husband and I always feel comforted, like it’s the Spirit of God reminding me that He is with me. In 2008, my grandmother, who discipled me, was a strong woman of faith, and filled with God’s love went to be with the Lord. I didn’t understand God’s plan in losing her during that time in my life because I had just graduated from college and thought I needed her to guide me in my new chapter of adulthood. Right before graduation and her passing, I saw the first butterfly flutter closely around me, strangely. Ever since then, God has been showing me that He is the One who will guide me on my way, and whew, He has. He has.

  13. 17
    Susan (SJG) says:

    I was almost a bit shocked today to read this post…..you see feathers have been coming to me during times of struggle, indecision and during times of celebrations for many years now. They arrive when least expected and in some very unusual places. Too much to be coincidence! They most definitely are God signs for me. So happy to read about your sisters experiences. Thanks for the smiles and a wonderful post Emily.

  14. 18

    FEATHERS – I have a collection of them at home and at work. I asked specifically for a feather once and on the third day I found it. A large white one, part of a set of wings from my daughter’s angel costume from many years past. I just happened to be sitting on the floor and it was wedged in the frame at the floor. I never really sat in that spot before. The next day I found the most tiny delicate feather and the next day a medium sized one. These feathers are a sign of hope to me and because I spread these stories to others, when people see feathers they think of me. They know that these feather are a reminder that when i’m struggling He is always with me. People even buy me things with feathers on them :) so this story hits very close to home with me. They come to me when I ask for God to remind me that He is there for me and He always does. Love to know that others realize there are other ways God presents hope to us.

  15. 19
    Sherry Harrington says:

    What is my Ebenezer stone? It would be a cardinal. When I was very young girl my mother would point out cardinals to me and my sister; and tell us to say a wish when we saw one. Now with both my mother and sister gone; when I see a cardinal I say a prayer and I am reminded how wonderfully and mysteriously God works. I see it has an encouragement from God. And just maybe, they are saying a prayer for me

  16. 20

    Your post revealed to me that we need reminders in our life to point us to God’s provision of Jesus to give us the hope and peace we seek. A stone or shell and even a feather can point out how God has provided and He will meet all our needs. I have a collection of shells serving as my Ebenezer, keeping me focused on living for the Lord and thanking Him for all things in my life.

  17. 21

    I love this, Emily. Such a beautiful reminder of God’s faithfulness, whether in stones or feathers. There are so many creatures and pictures of God’s paintbrush in nature that are Ebenezers to me. When I open my eyes and heart to it, nature grounds me to see God is in control of everything. Just as He cares for His creation, He cares for me and is with me always.

  18. 22

    My eye is trained to look at the sun…what it shines through, what it lights up, what it doesn’t light up. As a photographer, this has become even more of an obsession for me and used by God to draw me closer to Him. By always looking for the light, I see the world in a different light. I see things I didn’t used to see. My mom was infatuated with sunrises and sunsets and took hundreds of pictures of them before she died. They also hold a significance for me. I don’t know how anyone can see a beautiful sunrise or sunset and deny God. They are such beautiful displays of His handiwork. I appreciate your words today, Emily. Always love the way you express your heart!

  19. 23

    Look again at your pink rock. The dark pink is in the shape of a heart. God was sending you a reminder of his love! (I also like to collect rocks.) : ) And sunrises and sunsets and bird songs-Oh the gifts God gives us if we only open our eyes and heart to see them!

  20. 24

    I forget that God speaks to me too and not just everyone around me. His HOPE nuggets in my life consist of making me antsy right before He picks me up and puts me into a new adventure. In that process I call out to Him like no other and It’s like He does it on purpose because He knows I have neglected spending time with Him.
    I loved this.

  21. 25

    I so did not realize that you lived so close to me. I live like 20 minutes from Greensboro, and when I saw that I had to go back and read it again, because I thought it was so unlikely that you would be so close!! :)

    As for me I notice butterflies. They hold a symbolism for me and usually if I am seeking direction I see now that usually when I get that I see a butterfly nearby. Usually not when I can get a picture, but it is a knowing that God sees me and He hears me.

  22. 26

    for me it is rocks/stones. Especially on the anniversaries of my siblings’ deaths. I go Lake Michigan and always come away with a stone/rock for a symbol of how God spoke to me there that day as I remember.

  23. 27

    Countless times, God has used you to help me look and see and offer thanks for what I find. Truly.

    Love this post, friend. Beautiful.

  24. 28
    Karen Strong says:

    I take pictures of the sky – clouds, sunset, sunrise, storms. They remind me that my God is huge and never-ending!

  25. 29
    Patricia. Kaye McKee says:

    I had a brother that died at 39 yrs old and when he was little he always collected penny’s and saved them and would always have penny’s under his bed until he got a 100.00 dollars and was always a saver. When he was sick in New York City we didn’t know our way around and he always would worry about us getting to the hospital. We did get loss after riding the subway to the hospital and as we were looking around we to find the way to go right or left , I looked down and saw a penny and I said we must be going right because here’s a penny. After that block we found another and this happen for 5 blocks until we got to the door of the hospital. And yes one was their as the door opened and one as we left out of the door when we left. I told him ever time I see a penny I’ll think of you. And I say a Hi Bob ever time I see one on the ground today. God is good. My Mom called my daughter little Miss Lady Bug. After she died my daughter and I would always have Lady Buds landing on us and after my Daughter got married came home to her new Home finished and saw it done for the first time it was full of Lady bugs and still has lady bugs one or two ever time we go to Ohio to visit them. God lets us know not only Angles watch over us but our loved ones do too.

  26. 30
    Lori Johnson says:

    Thank you for this. My husband died in January. People encouraged me to look for something that would “let me know he was still with me”. That just didn’t feel right to me, as I know he’s perfect and rejoicing in heaven. Even so, I was in a gift shop a short while after his death and saw a small frog. I immediately thought of a tiny stone with 2 tinier frogs on it that he had given me when we were dating. Since that time, I see frogs in many places, from the power point in church to a stuffed animal in a shop. I’ve always taken it as encouragement from God that He is with me and walking me through this widow’s road I am on. You confirmed that for me today. I will continue to look at frogs to remind me that God is my husband now, that I am in His hands, that He encourages me on my way, that He sees me, that I have reason for praise, worship, and hope!

  27. 31

    Rainbows! Sometimes double rainbows. Sometimes on a beautiful day no rain in sight. He also sends birds. One morning on my way to work I saw a few birds flying in the air. I started thanking Him for the reminder that He cares for those birds and He cares for me. Before I could even finish thanking Him, a flock of birds, biggest I had ever seen, came flying out from behind the trees. They just kept coming! There had to be hundreds. It’s like He was saying “Let me show how great My love is for you “

  28. 32

    I always gather a small amount of sand from any beach we visit. I put them in tiny glass jars and write the name on the bottom. I also think God is smiling on me when I see a “lucky penny”. Our middle daughter loved spotting them, but her policy was to be delighted and then LEAVE it….for someone else to find and be delighted by. Many times now when I see one, I take a picture on my phone and send it to her. And then last of all…when there is a rainbow in the sky on a day with no rain…I truly take that as a sign from God that He keeps His covenants!
    Thanks for such a sweet story to help me remember how much God lets me know He loves me if I will just open my eyes <3

  29. 33

    We have always collected shells from the beaches we visit. This past year, we went as a family to the beach on Spring Break, my husband and I, our 4 kids, plus one extra. One morning, we all went out for a long walk. All of the family wanted to walk at a much faster pace. I lagged behind with Joshua, our 28 year old son who has Down Syndrome. He cannot move at that fast pace, especially in the sand. He was getting more and more frustrated. I said, “hey, let’s let them go on ahead, and we’ll just go slower and look for shells.” I had brought a couple of baggies, and we were each putting shells in our bags. My bag had very few shells in it. I was looking for the “pretty” shells…the “unique” looking ones…the ones that were not chipped or damaged in any way. I would pick up a shell and examine it closely, and throw it down if it didn’t meet my standards. At some point, I noticed Joshua. He was looking intently at a pile of shells on the ground. He would choose one and put it in his bag. His bag was nearly full. When we got back to our condo, we spread out all the shells. The ones that I would’ve discarded, he saw as beautiful and worthy.

    OF COURSE HE WOULD.

    This summer, I read the Nester’s book. Her sub-title, “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful” is the philosophy of my life.

    Thank you for sharing this. :)

  30. 34

    Hearts! God shows me hearts all over the place in varying (sometimes downright odd) places. He’s shown me hearts since I was a kid but when I was younger I didn’t understand what they meant. It’s actually just been in the past few years that I realized that seeing hearts in the way that I do was from God and not just some weird coincidental thing that happens to me. I’m thankful for it because every time I see one, I thank Him that He loves me the way that He does. Somehow, I get the feeling that there is more to them though. Something deeper that I am missing currently. Thank you for this! It has awoken me to the fact that I may need to look deeper!

    • 35

      Oh and sometimes birds or bird songs. Nature is my passion…it is what God has called me to make a career in, as a nature writer…I just haven’t quite found my voice yet. Just today I saw a male Eastern bluebird, on Ohio State’s campus no less! I’ve never seen a bluebird that close to campus, especially with all the House sparrows we have around here. Needless to say it was beautiful and exciting to me. It was His reminder to me that even in adverse circumstances, beauty arises and can thrive. What a blessing!

  31. 36

    I am a little late in reading this post but the timing could not have been more…on time. I have on several occasions attended a ‘Reflective Retreat’ in the beautiful California redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains. Part of our Saturday is spent in nature listening for God and looking for any objects that will help us ‘hear’. The Lord used an ant to speak to me about striving during my first time in nature. Over the years, I have collected leaves, twigs, etc. I recently visited the coast to catch a sunset. After saying goodbye to the setting sun, the praise song, “From the rising of the sun till the time that it goes down the name of the Lord shall be praised” came to mind. At that moment I realized I wanted to have something to take home with me as a reminder of this special time. The bench I was sitting on was surrounded by wild coastal flowers. I made a small bouquet of two purple daisies and two yellow flowers. These will be placed in a small plastic bag to dry and marked, Sunset #1 Summer 2014. Psalm 113:3 The name of the LORD is to be praised!!!

  32. 37

    “So we pick up rocks to lay down burdens, collect the feathers so hope will fly”. Love this!

    I’ve always had a fondness for rocks, especially those found in the mountains where I feel closest to the Lord.

    My first article published at InCourage was written about them as well, “A Pocket Full of Rocks”.

    Thanks for reminding me of how we can look for God in the little things in life.

  33. 38
    Beth WIlliams says:

    Emily,

    Nature. I just go outside and look at beautiful mountains and great scenery that God created. Love taking pictures of His glorious nature!

    Right now I can use many many reminders of the Hope that God gives us. This has been a hard year for me and when one problem is solved it appears another pops up. So wishing and hoping this year will end and next year is much better!

    Blessings :)

  34. 39

    God shows His enduring and endearing love to me through rainbows. Just when I really need to know He is near and He has got me, Jesus paints the sky in a bow of color. And I know He is with me.

    He even gave Hubby and I a double bow during our wedding reception!

  35. 40

    Four-leaf clovers! The Lord only shows them to me (and, then they almost pop out of the grass) when I need a new dose of HOPE, HIS HOPE. Love this post!

  36. 41
    kristin M says:

    I am a feather-finder too……..or they find me. I have always considered them gifts….from the birds, from God, from the universe, so they always come inside with me. Some people are nest finders. i have never found a nest. i am so grateful for the feathers.

  37. 42
    Jackie Z says:

    God sends me feathers! After the sudden death of our precious son, I needed comfort….Psalm 91:3. You wouldn’t believe the places, occasions, and types of feathers He sends me. Some make me cry and some make me laugh. I am so thankful for God’s gifts that give us hope and comfort.

  38. 43

    Thank you for speaking from your soul, I collect people in my soul. People who have made a me laugh, inspired, cried with, make me grow, challenge me, tought me, carried me through rough waters. People young and old, who I met in all stages of my life from child hood to the present. They did all of these things and weren’t aware how they impacted my life. I carry them in my soul.

  39. 44

    Rainbows for me too :-)

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