Monday, December 13, 2010

Mama and Papa Bear vs. Three-Year-Olds

Click above to jump over to Driftwood, my personal blog, about my most recent parenting questions. :)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lettuce Encouragement

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19-25

I am a big fan of salads. Especially salads with honey French dressing, shredded cheese, croutons, grilled chicken, cucumbers, etc. I’m an iceberg lettuce kind of gal, in spite of the nutritional value of the greener leafy veggies. Lettuce and other vegetables are an essential element to keep our bodies healthy with adequate nutrients and vitamins. I realize I ruin the nutritional value of my salads with that honey French dressing, but at least it has honey in it, right?

These verses prompt us to do a whole bunch with lettuce. LETTUCE draw near to God. LETTUCE hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. LETTUCE consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. LETTUCE not give up meeting together. LETTUCE encourage one another. Like I said, lettuce is a really, really important vegetable.

There are occasions in my walk with Christ and with the church during which I feel particularly encouraged, and there are other moments where I find myself feeling alone and deserted. Usually it has a lot more to do with where I’ve positioned myself than where God is or where the people of God are. These verses emphasize what WE should do as a community of believers—draw near to God, hold unswervingly (that’s without changing course) to the hope we profess, consider how we can urge one another on toward love and good deeds, meet together, encourage one another. There aren’t any “you’s” or “me’s” in these verses – it is a collective agreement between me and all y’all: US.

There are a lot of other elements to salads, all of which keep things tasty and interesting. Just like our walk with Christ, there are a lot of things we can add in to keep it fresh and fun—conferences, concerts, Christian music, blogs, books, etc.—but without the sustaining power of community and relationship with other believers to encourage us in our walk, all we’d have is a pile of cheese, croutons, cucumbers, and dressing. The kind of community that is demonstrated in these verses is an intimate, vulnerable, challenging, loving community. It is essential. We need lettuce.

Oh, look at that… lunch time!


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tackling Fear and Discouragement

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“He said: "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.” (2 Chronicles 32:7)

The three verses above both talk about fear and discouragement. Do you ever find yourself gripped by fear or discouragement? Like the wind has been sucked out of your sails and you are stranded in the middle of a huge lake with no oars? Fear paralyzes us, blinds us to the path that God has set before us. When I am discouraged by my circumstances, I find myself fixated on my circumstances and my emotions. I want to shout out, “I’m afraid! I’m not going anywhere! I am stranded in this phase of life and YOU haven’t shown me any way out!” Our personal “vast armies” could be a dead-end job. A monotonous stay-at-home life. Unruly children. Infertility. Miscarriages. Trouble with your marriage. Difficulty finding a spouse. Feeling without purpose. Mounting stress at work or in class. A sick family member. A personal illness. Those vast armies circle, aim their arrows, and prepare to take us down.

But God makes three promises in the verses above: He is with you. It is HIS battle, not yours. He is more powerful than whatever it is you are facing. In the face of fear and discouragement, God commands us to be strong and courageous. How can we do it? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). One of the comforts I have rested in is that I do not need to understand the battle, I am called to trust and acknowledge God. That’s all. I’m not called to solve every problem – it is HIS battle. He will make my paths straight. I need to trust his path-paving and believe that He has a plan and purpose for me, even if it looks different than what I expected or takes a lot longer than I want to be accomplished. Jeremiah 29:11 promises that God knows the plans he has for us, plans to prosper and not harm, plans to give us a hope and a future. Our hope and our future may not look the way that we had expected. But what matters most is that He is with us. He is more powerful than what we are facing. And it is His battle.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

For Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

Freedom is a big deal in America. In our Declaration of Independence, the forefathers declare that freedom—liberty—is one of our unalienable (universal, moral, natural) Rights, along with life and the pursuit of happiness. If you look up “liberty” in the dictionary, every one of the definitions begins with “freedom,” freedom from rule, freedom from control, freedom from captivity. We care a lot about freedom.

It seems, too, that God cares a lot about freedom. I like that. Way to go, God, I’m all about freedom... that is until I look around at the world and wonder whether things have gotten a little out of hand. I’d like God to just take control over me, my circumstances, the suffering in the world, and just fix it all. Force love and obedience. Clean up the mess. Isn’t that what we ask of Him when our circumstances turn ugly, or when natural disasters strike, or when bad things happen to good people? Fix this! Look at this mess you’ve allowed to happen! What kind of a God are you??

But freedom is a double-edged sword. We choose to be good, and we choose to be selfish. We choose to feed the poor, and we choose to ignore the poor. We choose to embrace people, and we choose to put people in concentration camps. In order to fully embrace freedom and to understand to a somewhat greater degree the way God works is to recognize that if God compromises one part of freedom, the whole thing would fall to pieces. Being only a little bit of a slave is still being a slave. So God grants us freedom, recognizing that He’s taking one serious risk, that we will not choose Him, and that we will choose to remain a slave to our selfish nature.

Being a slave to our selfish nature sounds so baaaad, and I feel like I can kind of write myself out of that formula, like checking off that I’m not really into bestiality so I must be okay. But I think one of the freedoms we gain from Christ is clarity—outside of Christ, the choice between good and evil is often hazy. As a nonbeliever, I often felt directionless, confused, disoriented, unsure, and worried… about pretty much everything. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is sometimes difficult to discern what is real and true and good and beautiful. This, for me, is one of the yokes of slavery – the yoke of floundering around trying to find my own way outside of Jesus.

In Galatians, Paul is addressing a group of people who have said that Jesus is not enough for salvation, for freedom. They set up a Jesus+ system. But it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, not so that we should continue carrying around a burden of guilt, misdirection, wandering, etc. All of nature and humanity is bound by laws, but within those boundaries we are granted freedom. If we choose poorly, we pick up the yoke of slavery and are bound by the consequences of those choices. If we follow Christ, we walk lightly in his freedom.

So, believer, what are you beating yourself up over today? What are you carrying around as your Jesus+? Maybe a little of what Paul personifies in Romans? “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:14-15, 24-25)

Hey soul sister, it is for FREEDOM that Christ has set you free! Lay it down before Him, whatever “it” is. Sure, ask him to cleanse your spirit, to strengthen and guide you, to lift that burden of sin you still carry. You will surely stumble along some more as he who began a good work in you carries it on to completion. But rely on him, rejoice in his freedom, and praise him for the good gifts he has given you through the holy spirit – like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. All of these are given you through the Holy Spirit.

Praise God for freedom in Christ!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Going on to Perfection

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And we will do this, if God permits.” – Hebrews 5:12-6:3

Two things popped out at me in these verses this morning—the first is for the older believer (not in age but in experience with the Lord): once we’ve grown in our faith and learned the foundational principles of following Christ, it’s time to move on from these principles rather than rehash these lessons over and over again. We should move from students to teachers, not only learning the principles of the faith but demonstrating them through action and instruction. We should be living the faith daily, loving one another and loving God as we have been instructed. Like Philippians 1:6 says, God who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion – “let us go on toward perfection.” The foundation is only the basement. If we stay at the level of learning the foundational truths of God, which are important, we’ll never build up the walls, windows, and rooftops that show the world the dwelling place of God.

The other is for the new believer: you are new in Christ. It will take time to learn the principles of God, and to grow in faith, and this is granted to you. Thank God for his patience as we grow from bottles of milk to strained peas all the way to solid foods!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

This Is How We Do It

Every night before my daughter and son go to bed, they each ask me to sing. It's something we started a long time ago, besides praying together before bedtime, I always sing them a song. I do not have a good singing voice but they don't seem to care. Elvis is easy - he always asks for the same lineup of songs, but Lydia has gotten into the habit of asking, "Mom, sing me a different song." As much as I'd like to say I can "sing a new song unto the Lord" every single night, I'm just not that good at impromptu. I am amazed, however, at the number of song lyrics stored away in my brain. This was tested several weeks ago when some friends of mine in the MFA program asked me to sing "This Is How We Do It" with them at karaoke, and my recall of most of the lyrics surprised me and probably all of the people in the program.

Now, I'm not going to sing Montel Jordan to Lydia right before bed (I'm kinda buzzed and it's all because this is how we do it might not be the most appropriate lyric to sing to a four year old), so I have to dig into the more lullabaic songs. Lydia remembers when I've sung her something before, so this is becoming a very challenging evening affair. How did all of these songs get embedded into my head?

Reading The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers has me thinking about the possibility of the Word of God being written on our hearts. In first century Christianity, Christians gathered together to worship and hear the word of the Lord read aloud. Because the letters of Paul and other early Christian texts weren't readily available to any person on the street - not just anyone could walk into a Borders and purchase their favorite translation of the Bible - these early believers memorized portions of the text so that it was truly "written on their hearts". They carried the words of Christ and of his apostles everywhere.

How many truths of God are written on your heart? For how readily available the Scriptures are today in print, I cannot say that they are readily available on my tongue, in answer to others struggles, concerns, or worries. As I go about my daily tasks at work and at home, there are countless times when I wish I could pull up that one thing that I remember reading once or twice about this particular issue, and oh, how it would be encouraging or helpful! Montel Jordan just can't help me out here.

Deuteronomy instructs us to "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children will be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth" (11:18-21).

When I was in high school, I was in the drill team and marching band. On the bus to an away football game, I remember some girls recording "Miami" by Will Smith. They would play and rewind the tape over and over again until they committed the words of the song to heart. The few verses from Scripture that I have committed to memory spring up like a water fountain when I'm thirsty and encourage me when I'm at my weakest.

The words in Deuteronomy encourage us to surround ourselves with the word of the Lord so that we might live and live abundantly. I don't mean digging into the Bible for obscure verses about begetting and whatnot. Where are the gems that have guided you and encouraged you in your times of need? Why not play them over and over in your head, like a song you really like, and commit them to memory. Not just for your sake but for your co-workers, your family, your children, and your friends, when they go through the similar trials and trying circumstances in life that you've already been carried through. Lay a foundation for your family, while you are at it, built on the promises of God.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its
saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and
trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill
cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but
on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let
your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give
glory to your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-16
Are you feeling salty? How about shiny? Sometimes because of the great cloud of witnesses I’m surrounded by, I don’t feel particularly salty or shiny. My sparkle doesn’t feel all that distinct in a room full of sparklers (a quick shout out to all you vampire fans). But when we are in the world, suddenly we’re like neon, fluorescent against the dim and grime of lives without Christ. So let your light shine at WalMart. Let your light shine at work. Let your light shine on the road when someone cuts you off. Let your light shine on the playground with your kids. On Facebook. In class. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. The whole world is one big ministry opportunity. Turn on your headlights—it’s raining and you can really help to show people the Way.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline.

Several weeks ago I found myself an hour away from home after a medical procedure wearing office attire, no change of clothes and no makeup. To recover, I planned to spend most of the weekend in Akron and Auburn where I could have some help with the kiddos while my husband was working. Thanks to my mom and mom-in-law, the clothing problem was remedied rather quickly. After the kids went to bed, I drove down to CVS to "fill a prescription," though I really didn't need the Motrin or the Percoset. Someone could use it someday, right?

While I was waiting for the prescription to be filled, I figured I could pick up a few essentials, like face wash, a toothbrush, and maybe a little bit of makeup. As I perused the L'oreal and Maybelline product aisle, I remembered that I was almost out of cover-up. Oh, and I just threw out that one shade of eye shadow I really liked. Ooh, mascara is on sale! Buy one get one! I can get a new shade of lipstick too!

After more than the allotted time to fill my prescriptions was up, I returned to the pharmacy with my fists full of shiny new tubes of make-up (and face wash, and tooth brush). As I lined up my products, I started to worry a little about the bill-- after all, prescriptions for pain medicine could be expensive! With relief, the pharmacist rang up the two prescriptions at the happily generic rate of $5 and $3. And then began the scan. Cover-up. Powder. Lipstick. Eye shadow. Mascara. If only there was that noise from a cash register calculating the cost while I watched my make-up tallied!

Hoping for a little sympathy from the pharmacist, I said, "Wow, make-up sure is expensive." And possibly one of the most Sarah-Plain-and-Tall women looked up, and with a bit of impatience said, "Is it?" and continued to scan my vanity. The pharmacist was not the wearer of the makeup. Maybe not ever.

One weekend. That's all it was going to be, and then I'd return to Ashland and my dressertop filled with the tools necessary to assemble my face. It didn't used to be this way! I used to wear no makeup during the summer, glad to have the glow of the sun on my face. I have pictures from that long ago era in history, and I didn't look so bad! What happened? Now, even on days off where me and the kids lounge around the house, I apply the layers that disguise the "real me", hide the blemishes and accentuate the characteristics I like the most.

After the pharmacist's disapproving response I began to wonder -- am I vain? Was this self-indulgence, or self-preservation?

Whether or not a woman wears makeup doesn't really matter - we have more important issues to deal with, heart issues. What am I trying to cover up, beyond the makeup, beyond the hair styles and clothing choices? Besides wrinkles, we have a lot we want to hide - trouble with a spouse, frustration at work, family crises, health concerns, financial struggles, school worries, insecurities - oh, how much is underneath!

When God sent Samuel out to find a king for Israel, to take the place of Saul, he warned Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). What does God see when he looks at your heart? Are you broken, exposed, uncovered, and humbled, a clear view for God into your soul? Or are you working hard on the outside to cover up the pain, brokenness, bitterness, and pride you harbor on the inside?

We heard Dan Lawson a few weeks ago speak on another verse: "If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). Lots of us have broken land. We need forgiveness. We need reconciliation with God. We need redemption. We need God to hear us. So, regardless of whether you are an easy, breezy, beautiful cover girl or plain Jane, open up your heart. Pray. Seek God. And repent. Praise God that he has promised to hear, forgive, and heal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Baby Spoons and the Crust

Blogged over on Driftwood... thought it might be of interest here, too. :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shechem and the Boys

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant spends about half of the book enlarging, expanding, and zooming in on the lives and histories of Jacob's family through the lens of Dinah, the daughter of Leah, mentioned first in verse 21 of chapter 30 in Genesis. As you read Diamant's book, it is important to remember that it is a work of fiction -- and I say that for two reasons. Fiction is a funny creature - it is ficticious, or made up, so in that way it is not a true story - it is not based entirely in fact. On the other hand, many truths are revealed in books of fiction. One can learn about forgiveness, redemption, loyalty, love, and character among many traits by reading and analyzing characters in a work of fiction.

Diamant takes many liberties with the biblical story of Dinah and invents true-to-life characters whose personalities and mannerisms are rarely and barely hinted at in the Bible. This is a good thing and a bad thing all at once. It is hard for me to imagine what these people might have been like, to remember that they were indeed human, with bodies and emotions and lots of time on their hands for eating, resting, working, etc. They weren't just begetting all the time, and books like The Red Tent remind me of that and help me to imagine life with Jacob's family. On the other hand, sometimes, when I read books like this, I need to be careful that I don't take that person's particular perspective as "the way it was" -- this is one person's interpretation which is influenced by her research, experience, and imagination.

--PLOT RUINER COMING UP: If you haven't read the book, you probably don't want to read any further yet--

So when we turn to the story of Dinah in the Bible and there's nothing said about Dinah's having been completely and utterly attracted to Shechem and instead, there's defilement, rape, and whoredom mentioned but nothing from Dinah's feelings, our self-evaluation of the text needs to come on (if you are the sort of person that is affected by books in this way). Is it possible that Dinah loved Shechem? Sure. Is it also possible that Dinah was raped? Yes. Beyond all of these questions, though, is the heart of the matter -- is it right to avenge rape by the massive slaughter of innocent people after having made an agreement to "right the wrong" that was done?

I don't need to go into details about what happened in Shechem, I'll just summarize. Refer to Genesis 34 for the full story. Hamor, Shechem's father, goes to Jacob and bargains for Dinah's hand in marriage. Jacob and his sons tell Hamor that he and his entire community have to be circumcised according to the custom of Jacob's family, and they agree. After all of the men in the city are circumcised and only two days into healing, Simeon and Levi sneak in to the city and kill Shechem, Hamor, and all of the men in the city, looting the houses and seizing flocks, taking the women and children. It's a horrible picture to imagine. Jacob scolds Simeon and Levi, saying, "You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed." In response, the boys say, "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?"

I have been rolling this story over and over in my head the last few weeks. Why is this horrible, horrible account in the Bible? What are we to learn about our human nature by this story? And what do we learn about God through this account? The Bible is filled with stories like these -- passages where God's chosen people do horrendous acts, and sometimes, it's hard to tell what the ruling is on the thing. For me this is one of those times. Who is "right" in their actions here - Jacob, who condemns the boys for their actions in the town because it was a politically uncool move, or Simeon and Levi who wanted to avenge their sister?

I did a search on this and found a fascinating analysis of this text on the website of Bar-Ilan University, located in Ramat Gan, Israel. The site is a project posting lectures on the weekly readings from the Torah. Check this out:

Simeon and Levi were well aware that they were about to spill innocent blood but they found a justification and ... permissibility because of their desire to take revenge. It follows that all the commentators whom we cited raise the same astounding point: One cannot explain away the massacre with the simplistic claim that "Simeon and Levi were barbarians". Quite the contrary, they were religious, intelligent, and knowledgeable in the Torah. The lesson is that even such people are liable, by virtue of excuses ..., to sink to a level where they are capable of wiping out an entire city without sensing that they committed a moral crime of the worst order. (Italics mine)

Wow. Can you feel the weight of that? I am sitting here, considering all of the ways throughout history we have justified moral crimes by claiming them in the name of Jesus. My heart is heavy with it. And then I turn to my own self. "So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" says Paul to the church at Corinth. What have I done that was hateful, sinful, hurtful, in justification for some harm done to me? What laws and rules have I lassoed and claimed unforgiveable, worthy of my revenge? ("Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord." Romans 12:19... which originates in Deuteronomy 32:35.)

A misunderstanding I had about the Bible for quite a while was that anything written in it - words and deeds - were given the stamp of approval by God. I hadn't read much of the Bible yet, but the parts I had heard were all good rules and guidelines for living, and I thought that's how the whole book was. I didn't read much in the Old Testament. People who know all of this better than I do can correct me if they think I'm wrong, but God does not condone the terrible actions of the characters in his book. They are there to show, first, the depravity of man as perhaps the what-not-to-do case and warnings for us, and also the unfailing love, patience, and mercy possessed by the God of the universe for his people. The saying, "the fact that God did not strike you dead right now is a miracle" is true - God's holiness and justice is married to his incomprehensible grace in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a miracle that Simeon and Levi were not struck dead on the spot. Thank God for his patience with us!

Jacob's boys, Simeon and Levi, don't really live this one down. At the end of Jacob's life, when the father bestows his final blessings on his descendants, he leaves the two with this haunting note: "Simeon and Levi are brothers -- their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel" (Genesis 49:5-7).

Let me not enter into their council, let me not join their assembly, Lord - I do not want to be raging furnace of anger and bitterness, ready to lash out and consume those with whom I come into contact. Keep me from making excuses for my inexcusable actions.

That's it for Dinah, by the way. After Shechem, there isn't another reference to Dinah in Genesis until the end, when the names of Jacob's sons are listed, and Dinah is included -- "These were the sons Leah bore him in Paddan Aran, besides Dinah his daughter..." It's a rare thing for a daughter to show up in genealogy. I think Dinah's story is an essential one, and there is so much more to say or think about with it, but that's where I'll end for now.

Thank God for his mercy and everlasting love and patience!!!

Rachel, Rachel...

Before diving in to the astounding account of the slaughter at Shechem, I want to take a minute to look at the remarkable interactions between Rachel and Leah. I spent a while last time thinking about Leah, feeling for Leah in the situation with Jacob. But I'd like to take a few minutes and consider Rachel. Both women wanted something -- Leah: Jacob's love, and Rachel: children -- and both seem to have been deprived of their desires, at least for a time. Rachel is jealous of her sister's fruitfulness, and Leah is likely jealous of the love that Jacob has for Rachel over her.

Let's consider this childbearing thing a minute: in Genesis 29:31, God's response to the situation is this: "When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." By the way, "not loved" in the NIV is "hated" in the KJV, and the Strong's concordance goes so far as to say the word was used of one's enemies. Ouch. But enough of Leah for now -- let's compare 29:31 with 30:1 - "When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, 'Give me children or I'll die!'"

I like the way both of these sentences begin similarly: When the LORD saw and When Rachel saw. Isn't is interesting what follows? When God saw what was going on, he opened up Leah's womb. When Rachel saw what was going on, she devised a plan to get what she wanted. She didn't ask God to open her womb. Out of Rachel's jealousy, a plan was made to get Rachel children. This isn't an uncommon practice in the OT - Sarah gave Abraham Hagar, too, and you can go back and see how well that worked out for her! Rachel names her first son by Bilhah "Dan," which means "he has vindicated" -- he has judged her and heard her. The second son by Bilhah is "Naphtali" and about his name, Rachel says, "I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won."

Isn't it fascinating how children and childbearing are used to gain favor? Leah is battling through babies for her husband's love, and Rachel is battling through babies to one-up her sister. Neither woman seems to appreciate what she has.

We are jealous, envious, covetous creatures. Gimme gimme gimme!

Can you see and relate to the journey these women are on? As I mentioned previously through "Leah Considers Mercy," just by the names that Leah gives her children you can see growth; you can see her turning her eyes and her heart from the desire to be loved by her husband to the desire to praise God and live in his blessings. "This time, I will praise the LORD," says Leah in Gen. 29:35. And then she stopped having children.

I wish that was it with Leah. I wish she "learned her lesson" or was able to live in that place of acceptance, feeling that mercy, but once Rachel's maidservant starts having babies and Leah stops, the rivalry on Leah's side kicks into full swing. If Rachel's maidservant can have babies, so can Leah's! Zilpah, go on in with my husband, I want to irritate my sister!

What commences is this family battle to see who can have more babies. One thing I appreciated about The Red Tent was the space between children -- I could feel it a little more. The Bible does not go to great lengths to fill in gaps - it just skips the gaps entirely. Then this one was born, then this one was born, then this one was born... it's crazy! Ah, but there are months, years, that pass, and boy, aren't those months and years long when you are trying to conceive.

Which is where we find Rachel in verse 22, "Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and opened her womb." Can you imagine your sister bearing six children of her own and all that time, nothing. Even if Leah had those babies one after the other, the least amount of time from first to sixth born is five years. Have you known Rachel's impatience, her grief, her envy, her longing, her despair? In those months and years of longing for the desires of your heart, it feels as if God has forgotten you. So much can be accomplished in the waiting, as painful, confusing, and disappointing as it may be. The Lord is doing a work in that time -- for we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Romans 5:3-5).

Those verses from Romans do not necessarily mean that by our suffering, persevering, and character developing that we will get what we wanted at the start. To be remembered by God might not look the way that we had originally planned. Earlier in Romans 5, we are rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. It isn't the hope for the specifics of our circumstances that is the end result but rather the glorification of God through our circumstances (! - Do you think that's what it is?? I just typed it. I think so, but I'm kind of shocked by it myself!).

I've gone on a long tangent, but before I try to swing it back around, there are two cross-references in my Bible for this verse that I found interesting. The first is Genesis 19:29 in which God remembered Abraham and brought Lot out of the catastrophe that was Sodom and Gomorrah. "God remembered" and seems to extend mercy to Abraham by delivering Lot from the devastation of that city. The second is in 1 Samuel 1:19, "Early the next morning they arose and worshiped the LORD and then went back to their home in Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her." These two scenarios both feature God extending mercy and compassion to the faithful - Abraham in the first and Hannah in the second. The Bible doesn't say anything about what changed in Rachel, or if anything changed in Rachel, but consider this: Rachel had tried to gain boys through her maidservant and then she bargained with Leah over some mandrakes, which was a popular root intended to increase fertility. In spite of her own efforts, Leah had two more sons and then a daughter, named Dinah, and still Rachel bore no children. That's at least two and a half years from mandrake-trade to the birth of Dinah.

When you have tried everything humanly possible to conceive, or to get a job, or to find a spouse, or whatever it is you desire so strongly, and failed to achieve the end results, there are several things that I think happen: we become resigned to our situation. We give in. This can be a positive or a negative thing -- if we are aligning ourselves with God, we succumb to his will in our lives, whatever that may be, and quit trying to force our own ideas or aspirations to occur. If we aren't centered in that way, maybe instead of giving in to God, we just give up. Instead of finding the roadmap of suffering --> perseverance/patience --> character/(a specimen of tried worth) --> hope, our roadmap looks more like suffering --> resignation --> failure --> despair. Hope is the expectation of good. Despair is to be utterly at loss. We just don't know what to do. We're empty. What a contrast!

All of that to say I think that the cross-references to Hannah and Abraham are a hint that maybe God extended mercy to Rachel because she had made the long, arduous journey down the road of suffering and landed in hope. I can be even more confident of this when I read what Rachel named her firstborn son, Joseph, which means "may he add," to which she says, "May the Lord add to me another son." After all that time, all that waiting, do you take her statement as greed or audacious hope? I could be wrong, but I'm gonna go with audacious hope, and give Rachel the benefit of the doubt, Rachel, who is prophesied to weep for her children in Jeremiah 31:15 and referenced again in Matthew 2:18 after the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem. (I had never read the Jeremiah passage, but I highly recommend taking a look at it - Jer. 31:15-20.) Rachel, to whom God says in Jeremiah, "Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded... They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future... Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight?..." Ephraim is Rachel's grandson by way of Joseph. Audacious hope extends far beyond our immediate circumstances. Audacious hope is for God's glory.

Whew! Anyone make it through all of that?? ;) I am almost afraid to go back and read what I just wrote for fear it makes absolutely no sense. And I still haven't talked about Shechem! Next post! Watch out - I'm on a Bible-study marathon tonight.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Red Tent: Jacob and His Wives

I was fascinated by the way that Anita Diamant describes the relationship between Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. It was entirely unlike what I'd imagined taking place between them, so I'm looking forward to discussing your reactions to Diamant's account.

The biblical account of Jacob meeting Rachel and Leah begins in Genesis 29 with Jacob's arrival in Haran. He meets several shepherds by a well and then meets Rachel, Laban's daughter, who is a shepherdess. Jacob had been sent by his father, Isaac, to Laban's house in order to take a wife from their people rather than from the Canaanites. When Jacob met Rachel, he "kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. He had told Rachel that he was a relativ of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father" (Gen. 29:12).

After a month of staying with and working for Laban, Laban asked Jacob what his wages should be for working for him. Here is the first mention of Leah: "Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older one was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, 'I'll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.'... So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her" (Gen. 29: 16-18, 20). The Strong's concordance for "weak" in relation to Leah's eyes comes up as "tender, delicate." I've wondered about the comparison here - the juxtaposition of Leah and Rachel is meant to contrast Rachel's beauty with Leah's "weak eyes" -- my impression has always been that Leah wasn't particularly unattractive, but she dimmed in comparison to Rachel's beauty. What do you think of this verse?

The seven years pass, and Jacob goes to Laban to claim his bride. "But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her... When morning came, there was Leah!" What!?! These few verses in Scripture have always puzzled me -- really, Jacob didn't know that it wasn't Rachel in his tent? It's hard to imagine that this sort of scheme could've been executed without protest from Leah OR Jacob. Anita Diamant reimagines the story and adds in her own version of the festivities, which humanizes the whole scenario for me, except that she veers so far away from the biblical account.

Regardless, here we are with Jacob and an undesired wife. He protests this union with Laban, who says that it is not their custom to marry off the younger daughter before the eldest, but what the heck, work for me for another seven years and I'll give you Rachel, too. To be fair, you can finish out the marriage week with Leah and then take Rachel as your bride, too. The week with Leah ends, and then, "Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah" (Gen. 29:30).

I've tried to imagine what it must have been like to be the unloved wife of Jacob. I think back to junior high and high school, times when I had a crush on the same boy as one of my friends and that friend ended up dating him instead of me, and how sad/jealous/miserable/envious/angry that kind of passive or active rejection made me. And that was only in the days of dating -- how much worse when it happens in marriage. Perhaps the modern-day equivalent of the polygamous marriage is, at the extreme, extramarital affairs, and to a lesser degree yet still harmful, pornography's impact on a relationship. These kinds of distractions and intrusions into the intimacy of marriage destroy a woman's sense of security and sense of self. Oh, Leah.

God's mercy and compassion for Leah is demonstrated in the final verses of Genesis 29, beginning with verse 31, "When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren." In order to imagine what Leah experienced during these years, I wrote a poem that incorporates the assumed meanings of the Hebrew names of her first four sons', Reuben -- "he has seen my misery", Simeon -- "one who hears", Levi -- "attached", and Judah -- "praise".

Leah Considers Mercy
“When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved,
he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.”
- Genesis 29:31

On my knees in the dirt, I begged, Lord
I want to feel his kiss
hear whispers from his lips
but to my sister in law, sister of my blood
he cries, How beautiful you are, my lovely!
Not to me, not from him…
and then one came.
I named him Reuben: He has seen my misery.

I can feel the rolling hills raise up their crops,
tickle lambs’ feet—
years are grains of wheat,
harvests bountifully hollow, fall, frost.
Reuben crawls across the floor, his daddy’s
boy, but the door clicks shut.
I am not loved. The cord is cut
and Simeon: one who hears makes two for mercy.

What does she have, fairer skin? But not two sons
with wild hair, chasing
their father after dinner, waiting
under woolen blankets, sucking thumbs.
Not empty shadows, cold pillows, heavy silence.
My lover is hers—he browses
among lilies—I am not his.
I finger fields of dandelions: this strange abundance.

Reuben and Simeon dart out of the kitchen, call Dad!
when the door opens.
His hands hold them close.
Bread and wine on the table, I’m roasting lamb—
so hungry—eyes water, mouth dry, stomach grows.
Dinner’s ready and I’m famished
but it’s time, Levi: attached.
Three of him and me. Now he will hold me close.

Just like their shepherd father, my boys grow
tall and handsome.
On the run, Reuben
picks daffodils—it is spring and the meadow
is filled with yellow. This afternoon, Simeon drew
a stick woman smiling
and Levi is piling
blocks outside the house. I thought we were through,

but I have a fourth one now. He is here,
suckling at my breast.
For now we are at rest,
just him and me. Jacob, Rachel, and the boys peer
in, wait to see the son who has my eyes
and all his Father’s glory.
I know he’ll have a story
but it’s enough to hear him breathe. I name him Judah: praise.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

"We have been lost to each other for so long.
"My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust.
"This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote, my story a brief detour between the well-known history of my father, Jacob, and the celebrated chronicle of Joseph, my brother. On those rare occasions where I was remembered, it was as a victim. Near the beginning of your holy book, there is a passage that seems to say I was raped and continues with the bloody tale of how my honor was avenged.
"It's a wonder that any mother called her daughter Dinah again."

Thus begins The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Dinah's version of the story of Leah and Rachel and their husband, Jacob, of the relationships between mothers, sisters, and daughters under the red tent -- the place women went during their menstrual cycle.

In preparation for our book discussion on The Red Tent in February, I'd like to walk through the biblical account of the marriages of Leah and Rachel and what happened in Shechem. I think it will be interesting to look at this account vs. what is given by Anita through Dinah in The Red Tent, and consider these stories as they relate to us today. What can we learn from the relationships between these women? What can we learn about God from this passage of Scripture? What liberties are taken with the biblical account of Dinah's story in The Red Tent, and are they effective, troubling, or simply a literary device?

Lots to think about with this book! I'm looking forward to walking through some of the Biblical accounts of Leah and Rachel's lives and the lives of their children, especially Dinah who appears only briefly in Genesis, with you over the next few weeks.

Friday, January 22, 2010


"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Rom. 5:2-5) Hope.

It is what astounds me most as I watch the footage from Haiti - the hope of the people. The faith of the people. In spite of their terrible circumstances, in spite of the way the earth still trembles and shakes the foundations of their homes and schools even a week and a half later, their faith is not shaken. The believers of Haiti are wearing this verse like a cloak.