Picking Up Stones

If you ever find a picture of me from my senior year in high school, you will not find the traditional hallmarks of 1990’s grunge. Rather, you will find a tie-dye wearing, sandaled, all-natural kind of gal who was clearly reacting to the world around her. My backpack was littered with greatest hits discs of the 1960’s, with compilations including such greats as Jimi Hendrix, Cream, the Kinks, and the Byrds.

As half of America is surviving the winter that refuses to end, I find myself humming the old tune from the Byrds: “To everything, turn! Turn! Turn! There is a season, turn! Turn! Turn!” The  lyrics insist the seasons march on with a time for everything. As I hum through them, I wonder what “time” I am in. My friends are in. My family is in. Turn! Turn! Turn!

In the middle of the passage from Ecclesiastes 3, the writer notes “a time to gather stones, a time to scatter stones.” In a pretty straightforward song of antonyms and tension, this line feels incongruous. As I thumbed through commentaries and notes, I discovered that the writer is naming two other seasons that would have been familiar to his audience. There is a time to gather stones for building and construction, and there is a time to clear away stones from the ground for planting.

It is tedious work, the clearing. Farmers discuss what it means to till the soil and carefully remove the stones the earth intentionally pushed to the surface during the cold months. Planting season begins with the tedious process of removing the stones the winter has forced through the ground. It is the critical, initial work of planting.

I can relate. I am emerging from a season where things felt dormant. Winter is coming to an end, and much like the earth, nothing is completely still. In His infinite mercy, God has resolutely pushed the undealt-with things to the surface, which requires me to deliberately pick up that which has emerged. Some things feel like gemstones – resiliency I did not recognize and memories of forgotten joys that are breathing fresh life today. Some pieces are sharp – blade-breaking shards of ignored pain and places of growth.

As someone who has crafted her identity around her efficiency and effectiveness, I pride myself around my gathering to build. As a woman who feels most alive in the building, this clearing has felt like back-breaking work. I am wrestling in my stopping and stooping, appreciating the season’s humble offerings of unearthed things that demand my attention. It is slow work, and at first, I was not okay. I felt like someone else had slammed the brakes on a car I was supposed to be driving.

It is a hard submission to the rhythm of the season. There is no shortcut, but I am here.

I am learning to close my eyes and feel, as I rub the dirt and debris of new discoveries between my fingers. I am pondering the slower rhythm of observing each and every stone, instead of rushing to selectively grab as many as I can. I am seeing again, and sometimes for the first time.

I am still itching for the next season. I would be lying if I said otherwise. Even now, I am peering out of the window, imagining the carpet of green grass that winter must make way for. It is hard not to curse the marbled snow banks that are desperately clinging to my driveway. And I pause. Because I know when the last flake clears way to the ground below, before I even see a blade of grass, I will need to stop to pick the stones.


Eliza Cortes Bast is a fierce and honest follower of Jesus. She is a pastor, and denominational executive, dedicated to helping churches think missionally. She lives into her passion by connecting people, advocating for the community, and helping organizations think strategically so they can be healthy, vibrant, and sustainable. Eliza lives in Michigan with her patient and handsome husband EJ, and their two boys. Her loves include her home country Puerto Rico, her interracial marriage, a good steak, salsa dancing, writing, empowering emerging leaders, making the impossible possible, Diet Coke, and mentoring. She is not a big fan of anger without action, generalizations, basketball, and saying you can’t live without coffee. She believes you can, because she believes in you.