Right to Write

 

 

 

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They wanted me dead. 

Twenty years had passed but it had really happened. My brothers had sold me as a slave. It was the reason I was here, in Egypt, instead of in the tents of my father in Canaan. If it had been up to my brothers, I would have been dead. I had suffered terrible things over the years, but none of those had killed me. God was the reason I’d lived.

In case you didn’t recognize the story of Joseph in there somewhere, those are a few lines loosely-based off a book I wrote in first-person about his life. You all probably know the outline of the story: hated for his dreams, Joseph is sold into slavery by jealous brothers and God raises him up to save Egypt and Israel from famine. In the excerpt above, Joseph thinks back over his life to the one moment that changed everything for him…the moment he realized his brothers were actually selling him into slavery. From his vantage point in the palace of Egypt, second-in-command to Pharaoh, it would have been easier for Joseph to see the “bigger picture”, but the day he was sold into slavery, I guarantee you he wasn’t seeing God’s Hand at work. In that moment, he was only seeing his life being snatched away from him, dramatically altered forever.

I have recently been enjoying (and challenged by) the book Life Interrupted, which explores the reality that within what we would label our greatest setbacks, God has hidden meaning, purpose, and restoration. Each one of our lives is part of a much bigger picture. In this book, Bible teacher and inspirational speaker Priscilla Shirer (star of the movie War Room) points out that those who are able to embrace God as Author and Finisher of their Faith, recognizing His Right to write their stories, end up starring in the greatest stories ever told. And what’s more…they end up inspiring others to pursue a life with God. As Shirer puts it: “Your life is God’s Story being told, and His Character being displayed….It’s quite possibly the best story that some people will ever read” (43).

The story of Joseph is one of those for me.

I cannot fully explain the lifelong fascination that I’ve had for this story. From playacting as a child to finally writing a novel (which I’m still editing), the biblical account of Joseph has always been a part of my life. Over the years, God has taken it from the level of a child’s understanding and has been drawing out the life lessons one by one, bringing new levels of understanding and meaning to them as they apply to my life in different ways.

From a writer’s standpoint, every story has to have an inciting moment, a break from the everyday life of the character that draws that character into the circumstances that will form the main part of their story. As a writer, an author, I have the power to set a particular scene, establish a status quo, and then take the main character out into the unknown for purposes that I can see, even though the character can’t. What’s great about writing from the perspective of a biblical hero is that I have the whole story outlined from start to finish in Scripture and I get to flesh it out. However, what’s profound about this particular style of writing is that I get to live through the moments when it didn’t make sense for the character. The in-between years when Joseph struggled through slavery or sat in prison or pondered his options…all of that is the meat that fills the novel.

I get to come face to face with what we sometimes gloss over in the biblical accounts. And it continues to change my life.

 

For a long time, Joseph would probably have said that the moment he was sold into slavery was the worst moment in his life. However, because we see the end of the story in Scripture, it’s easier for us to look at it as the turning point that would ultimately position him for what God wanted him to become. A painful road…but one that God redeemed and worked for good, changing the whole world as a result.

It’s easy to see that in Joseph’s story, once you’ve read it.

But what about yours? What about mine? Thank God, I don’t have anything in my life that compares to what Joseph went through, but I can’t write through the details of his story without pondering the implications God has for my own. Priscilla Shirer condenses this thought into a piercing question: “What if your most compelling story could only be written with the ink of your latest interruption?” (36)

Like Joseph, we all want to be used by God, but we want to be the ones who decide how He uses us. We want the story of our future to be based very closely on our past and what we are comfortable with and used to. Joseph was pretty sure his dreams were from God and he was pretty confident that he knew how they would play out. His doting father would promote him to head of the family, and his brothers would have to pay homage to him. Simple. A human plan. Small and select. Inward-focused. Predictable. But God’s Plan for Joseph involved more than just Joseph.

This is not to say that God won’t ever build on the backdrop of our past. But just as Joseph had to learn to depend on God outside the safety and security of his father’s attention, we all have to lay down what we hid behind in the past and allow God to write our stories. Actually, it’s His Story, written through us.

Shirer says: “Neither our legacy nor the lack thereof determines our…significance. It is God’s calling and our willingness to obey. That’s it” (41).

When I think about how much I have personally gleaned from the story of Joseph, and how widespread the story is, it’s amazing to think there were probably moments in his life when he resented the way things were going. Times when he felt like his life was being wasted. But the greater reality of Joseph’s story makes me rejoice and marvel. He was not just a forgotten, rejected brother living out the consequences of his broken family.

He was “a child of God in the center of a divine intervention. And a whole people group was about to feel the power of what that meant” (Shirer 43). If that was true for Joseph, it’s true for me! I serve His God…the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and who is the Author and Finisher of our Faith. Authors don’t start a story and throw in a little conflict just to leave it that way. There is always an ending…a finishing point. God has invested His Own Glory and Name in those of us who are His Children by virtue of Jesus Christ. God is not going to give up on our stories, because they’re His. Just like we are His. We have free will though. We get to choose whether we will partner with Him in this or not. I am sure there were times when Joseph resisted or questioned God. I’m positive.

But I’m also certain that there had to be a time when he decided to go with God. To take the only step that would save him, and surrender. And the rest of his life unfolded into a brilliant story that included the fulfillment of his dreams, the salvation of the known world from famine, and reconciliation with his brothers–a story only God could have written.

And it’s been told and retold so many times. It has been an exciting adventure and privilege to tell this story yet again, because it’s more than a story. It showcases the unmatched Greatness and Goodness of God even against the backdrops of undesirable circumstances. It represents the choice I’ve made, and still make, to let my life reflect the Honor and Glory of the greatest Author of all time.

 

(If you are interested in the book I referenced, Life Interrupted by Priscilla Shirer, check it out! It’s amazing!)

http://www.amazon.com/Life-Interrupted-Navigating-Priscilla-Shirer/dp/1433670453

 

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April 20, 2015

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Yes, I know the date’s wrong…but it’s an anniversary. On that day last year, my husband Timothy and I were engaged to be married!

We had known we wanted to get married, but we were in waiting…holding out for the right time. Meanwhile, I was preparing a few people, finding a wedding planner, and keeping an eye out for a wedding dress. I had a hunch that something would happen before the end of April. It was drawing close to April 15, our 1-year anniversary of being “a couple.” I had gone out on a limb and secured a possible venue, a vineyard out in the countryside of my home state of North Carolina. But on the day Tim proposed, I was completely unprepared for the surprise.

On April 20, the day darkened from morning onward until the clouds were chalky gray and the late afternoon sky was smeared with a deep stormy green. It spat rain and choked hail for the latter part of the day. The storm stayed at my back as I drove home from work, marveling at the violence of the weather. I had decided to stay home from the evening prayer meeting at church–I wasn’t feeling the greatest. Right after I’d made that decision, Tim had texted me asking if I wanted to go to the park that evening and release some tadpoles that he’d been raising. I’ve always been gullible when it comes to situations like this, so I said “sure” in spite of the monsoon raging outside.

At home, I changed, got a cup of tea, and prepared for a quiet night. I called Tim to come over, and put in my headphones to wait for him. The song that had been stuck in my head all day pumped gentle anticipation into me as I stared out the window at the ominous clouds with crystal white just above them. Something was going to happen. I couldn’t tell if it was the song or the storm that was making me feel this way, but I couldn’t shake it.

Tim arrived and helped me collect shoes and a jacket. My mom let us go without even a hint of her usual concern about going out in the middle of a crazy storm. We decided in the car to go to Frank Liske Park rather than my local park — a decision that I later learned was by design. As we drove, the storm gained strength, tossing gigantic raindrops at the windshield and scuffing at our tires. Tim prayed, not showing the anxiety he was definitely feeling. I thought we were just going to release the tadpoles.

When we turned into Frank Liske Park, we had to avoid a pond-sized puddle that had flooded the entrance, but once we’d parked, the frantic pattering of rain had miraculously dwindled to an occasional trickle. Grinning in triumph, we climbed out of the car and began our wet walk down the nature trail, hoping we wouldn’t be caught in another downpour.

The park was unusually quiet, emptied of people by the storm. Birds filled the silence with their contented cheer, and I looked around in wonder as Tim stopped to take a picture. The sun was shining through the trees, illuminating every droplet of water that clung to the leaves and branches. We continued on, looking for just the right place. I wondered, as Tim did a double-take and moved on to the other side of the pond. The tadpoles squirmed in the jar I held. I was pretty sure they’d be happy anywhere, but I didn’t think much of it. I loved everything about Tim and I’d follow him to any side of the pond.

When Tim found the spot, we waded through a woven carpet of fallen ivy and tangled branches to a set of large rocks sitting directly in the water at the base of a spreading tree. The roots of the tree dug deep into the stream, swollen and rushing from the extra rain. I handed Tim the jar and he bent down, releasing the tadpoles into their natural habitat. I watched with a contented smile, hoping that the drops misting around me were from the wind in the trees, and not signalling the start of another storm. At this point, we were without an umbrella.

Then, almost on cue, Tim turned and reached behind me into the ivy under the tree. An army bag sat there, barely visible between two roots. I watched as Tim dug in the wet brush to get it out. Wow, he’s curious, I thought. Looks like the perfect haven for…

“Spider!”

I’d barely noticed the brown, fuzzy creature clinging to the bag before Tim swatted it away and continued searching. Opening it further for me to see, Tim reached deep into the bag and pulled out a black umbrella. Convenient. Someone must have left it. We’ll sure need it on the way back. 

Still looking out for more spiders, I barely noticed Tim pulling a piece of paper out of the bag. As he unfolded it, I decided it looked familiar…like the scrapbook paper he’d used the week before to commemorate our year anniversary. By this time, the note was open, but it took a second before the words flashed with meaning across my mind.

Beloved, this is your moment. Genesis 2:24

“What’s this?” I heard so many words in my head, but none of them reached my mouth, spread wide open in a grin.

“You can let go of the umbrella,” he chuckled. I just stood there, smiling and astonished, as he took a step back and knelt on the rock. Everything seemed to stop, except the rushing of the water as he knelt there, looking up into my face with the tender smile and gentle eyes I had come to love.

“Jubilee, I have waited all my life for you. God has watched over our relationship and taught us to love as He does. And now, in the Presence of God, I would like to ask you if you would be my wife.”

My heart just wanted him to keep going, but when he paused, I realized it was my turn.

“Yes,” I said through my grin. “Yes, absolutely!”

“Give me your hand,” he said, “Other hand.”

Fumbling to move my promise ring out of the way, I barely saw the engagement ring until he slipped it onto my finger. My eyes took in delicate white gold edged with diamonds and three sparkling stones traveling upwards in a diagonal pattern, with scroll-work behind them. I was so proud of him, but all I wanted to do was hug him tight.

Which I did, for a long time. Then, hand in hand, we climbed back to level ground, and ran for the car into direct sunlight, joy pounding in our chests and exploding from our smiles all the way home. The rest of the night was filled with the pleasure of telling family and friends. As much as we’d been planning this, Tim had managed to surprise me and I basked in the glow all night. It was definitely not the end though…like in fairy tales where the movie closes with the couple riding off into the sunset. We have needed God’s special strength and grace for each one of the days since then, and have been learning how to depend on Him more deeply and fully than ever before. On April 20, 2015, we launched on a very spiritual adventure together. It certainly was, as I wrote in my journal that night…”The first day for the rest of our lives!”

Tim and I

 

 

Longing and Living

April 3April 2

God led me to the lake after work this evening. It’s been so gray and gloomy that the sight of the sunlight still holding strong even after 6pm was too inviting to pass up. I knew it would be breathtaking on the blue water, and I wasn’t disappointed, though the wind driving the waves was still cold enough to take my breath away, literally. So I finished my evening breather in the car on the sandy hill, still close enough to see—and hear the waves.

I’d brought my Bible with me and I read from the beginning of 1 Samuel…finding many key elements in the story of the prophet, which was first the story of his mother Hannah. My heart lingered on the first chapter, where Hannah goes down to Shiloh (I love that name…it’s also the name of the historic park here in town!) and pours her heart out to the Lord regarding her hope for a son of her own.

I had been hoping for something to write for a couple weeks before this, and sitting there, reading, I finally found the Lord settling my heart on this passage as it relates to longing. Ladies, tell me if I’m wrong…but I believe that longing is bound up deeply in what it means to be a woman. Such hard-won joy and complexity in that word: longing. Even right now, it probably awakens something very personal, and perhaps painful, inside of you. Even when we are currently in seasons of abundance, basking in the fulfillment of many hopes and dreams, we still have longings inside us, for our eternal Home. C. S. Lewis famously said: “If we find in ourselves longings which no earthly thing can satisfy, it is because we were made for another world.” So until Heaven, longing is a part of living.

As I reread the story of Hannah, I found I was able to identify with her much more deeply now than I could before. My mind made mental snapshots of the important notes in her story.

She had a husband who loved her deeply, in spite of her distressed desire, though he was at a loss when it came to fulfilling it. Hannah’s desire for a son was, in her situation, impossible, but nevertheless, she thought about it day and night, to the point of letting it affect her sleeping and eating. The Bible says her situation went on “year after year,” and she “wept and would not eat” (7). The specific unmet desires in our hearts may not be impossible to fulfill, and yet how many times have we allowed our longings to “slay the appetite of our living”, as Jim Elliot once put it? Hannah’s distress even started to put strain on her marriage, as her husband wondered aloud, “Am I not worth more than ten sons to you?” I can almost hear the exasperation in his voice. When we are going through seasons of unmet needs or lack as women, it is important to have people around us (especially our husbands) who can provide encouragement or just a shoulder to cry on, but how often have we leaned too hard on others, expecting, even demanding, answers and relief that can only come from one place?

I don’t know how long it went on like this for Hannah before she did what she should have done—what we all should do in the first place.

“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly…pouring out her soul to the Lord” (10, 15)

This is an old lesson for me, something that God has spoken many times in the course of my life, but I could feel God pointing it out once again through this passage. The best thing to do with negative emotions is to do what Hannah finally did—she “spoke out” her “anxiety and frustration to the Lord” (these are actual words that the ESV Bible uses in verses 15-16). And what was the result?

“She went her way and ate and her face was no longer sad” (18b).

I don’t think that this was because she suddenly no longer cared about having a son, but because she had given her longings to God, vexation and all, and felt Him pour into her. Somewhere between kneeling down on that pavement outside the temple and getting up again, she found God to be enough.

God had a beautiful message for her in the words of Eli the priest. And I believe it is a message for all of us women who long for so many things throughout our lives. Through her passionate tears, (what some people like to call “ugly crying” today), Hannah begged Eli the priest not to see her as a “worthless woman.” In context, she said this because the priest initially thought she was drunk and she was hastily trying to set the record straight. But when I read this, I immediately heard the voice of God saying: “I do NOT regard you as a worthless woman!” I believe this was a message He wanted me to share with anyone who is listening via this blog. Anyone listening and longing. It’s hard to say it out loud in these words, but let’s face it. Sometimes, we feel “worthless” or at least shamed by our anxieties or our unmet needs. Our culture exalts capable, “can-do” women who seem to have it all together and don’t need to burden anyone with their needs. Women who revel in their independence and don’t seem to struggle, outwardly at least. We’re supposed to be these pictures of capability and grace. (We don’t even need anyone in our lives telling us this. Our own minds are pressure enough!) But don’t fall for that. The enemy uses shame to keep you from the feet of your Lord, who is the only One qualified to help you out of your mess. But best of all—He comes and sits with you in your mess! While you’re hiding your anxieties and grief from everyone, thinking you can pull yourself together, He wants you to come to Him. He stands at the door of your heart knocking, with open arms, and His Longing is for you to let Him into your life, messy and cluttered as it is. He is the only One who can restore and heal.

And the next beautiful thing He said to Hannah? Well, Eli said it as a blessing: “Go in Peace. May the Lord hear your petition and grant your request” (17). But I heard it from the Lord as a certainty as I read. “I have heard your petition and granted your request.”

Will coming to God be the immediate spark that rights all your problems and gives you exactly what you want tomorrow? Perhaps not. But remember, God doesn’t exist within time. In His Mind, His Vision, His Will is already done. He sees our lives fulfilled, everything He planned for us accomplished. Amazing God! As often as I’ve refused to ask Him for help, or asked in completely wrong ways, He promises that He has heard me!

And so even now, when I can’t see my specific desires satisfied or the exact outline of how He will work everything out, I can trust that in His Wisdom and Kindness, it is done. Something is done. Something is coming to fruition. And if it’s not the way I pictured it…it’s better! That’s why Hannah could get up and go home with her husband, and eat, and no longer wear the pallor of sadness, even though she had not been promised a son…even though she didn’t see the fulfillment of her request yet. She was at Peace. Filled with His Peace.

And we can do the same, knowing that our God has remembered us! In the midst of longing, we can keep on living!