On a Friday, I sat at my computer, doing my last checks. Email, website updates, weekly to-dos. Was there anything I was forgetting? It was 5:15. Now that it is getting darker earlier, I try to wrap up in time for an evening walk beginning at 5:30. I opened my website dashboard one last time. On a whim, I clicked on my podcast analytics. I scrolled past the bar graph breaking down which episodes had gotten the most listens recently. The number I was looking for emerged from the bottom of the page.
For very boring technical reasons, my download count got wiped after I switched hosting services. This has meant that, for the last couple of years, I’ve mentally added 988 downloads whenever I look at my number of overall downloads. When I say “mentally,” I mean that I use my phone calculator.
Friday, I stared at the big number. 9,143 downloads. That seems within 988 downloads of 10,000, I thought, pulling my phone over. I added the two numbers and stared at the screen, a grin pulling at the corners of my mouth. 10,131.
It seemed like a moment to mark, a milestone to celebrate. I thought about ways to celebrate as I headed out for my evening walk. Should I send out a mass text asking if anyone was free to grab a drink? Should I invite some people over the following evening? Should I plan a party for friends and any podcast guests living in the city?
Milestones are an interesting thing. They measure our lives and our accomplishments from the time we are born. When we start eating solid food, walking, reading. When we move from elementary to middle to high school, then college, for some. When we land our first job or buy a home. When we get married then have kids then celebrate the kids’ milestones. All of them have weight and are worthy of marking.
But sometimes, the things worthy of marking are not so tangible or measurable. It’s all well and good when there is a number to reach for. What about the moments of significance that there are not traditional models for celebrating? A breakthrough in therapy? Leaving a toxic or abusive relationship? Having the courage to keep going in the midst of rejection? What happens when we do not reach traditional milestones like engagement, marriage, and parenthood? How do we acknowledge and bring people into our less tangible or less traditionally recognized moments that make up our lives?
When I think about milestones, I’m always reminded of my third tattoo (pictured above). I got it in Tampa the month between quitting my restaurant job and launching my website. It’s inspired by a line from my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount. The line is “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come.”
It’s based on a story from the Old Testament. In the book of 1 Samuel, the Israelites gathered at a place called Mizpah. Some of the people who were not, let’s say, fans, heard about it and decided it was a swell time to throw down. Samuel (a judge/prophet) called out to the Lord on behalf of the Israelites, and God “threw [the army] into confusion” (1 Sam. 7:10). The Israelites were saved. Samuel decided to mark the moment. So he puts up a stone and calls it Ebenezer (stone of help) and said, “Till now the Lord has helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12).
For my tattoo, I got a stone, the line from the song, and the scripture reference on my left shoulder blade. It was its own kind of Ebenezer, marking a moment of transition into a new and unknown direction. It was a reminder of all the times in the past that God has come through. My Ebenezer moments tend to be less achievement-oriented. They’re more about things working out for my benefit based on factors I can’t really control. I suppose many of my achievements are the same, now that I think about it.
But to me, Ebenezer moments include the things that don’t work out. They are things that are difficult at the time, but the Ebenezer moment happens when we realize mayhaps it was for the best. Ebenezer moments also include when we ask God big questions that go beyond our neat, right answers. The questions we learn to live with because the answer isn’t the point. Mayhaps I’m taking too many liberties with the text. My point is that help and significance can come in many forms that are worthy of our attention.
When it came to deciding how to mark the moment this particular Friday, I didn’t feel like doing a whole big thing. I posted a couple of things on my Instagram Stories, then I texted two friends. At the end of my walk, I stopped by my favorite wine store for a can of sparkling rose, then by Whole Foods for a single cupcake. I went home to start re-watching Stranger Things. And it was good.
When was the last time you celebrated a milestone or marked a significant moment? How might you like to do so in the future? Leave a comment and let me know!