Sunday, July 15, 2007

remember Egypt

Today finds me rather sad. I write this down only because I'm quite sure there are some who read this blog and think it incredible that I keep having these moments of total joy in the midst of trial. And I have to confess: I find it pretty incredible, too. God has granted Conor and I more in that department than I think we ever expected. Preparing to walk down this road, even a couple of weeks ago, we were totally unsure how we'd feel on, say, July 15. I'm thankful to write that I feel better than I ever thought possible. But better doesn't mean everything feels normal or even happy. Sometimes it's a struggle to shirk the dark cloud that hovers above us, despite the sounds of my daughter's laugh or the sunshine glinting in through the windows.

I've thought a lot about Joseph, in the Bible, lately. In the beginning of all of this my immediate shock was probably tied to the fact that Conor and I, in our brief marriage - well, we're going on six years, but that's fairly brief in comparison to my grandparents' timeline - have experienced a lot of valleys. I'm not going to claim them deeper or darker than most; in fact, we've had some mountaintop experiences I'll never, ever forget either. Namely, the day our first precious daughter was born. But sometimes, when it feels like the valleys will never give rise to those mountains again, it's easy to start wondering what in the world God is up to. I don't doubt His sovereignty or even His love for me. Just the gameplan. Sometimes it feels like the "mountain detour" we've been so anxious to take was about 100 miles back. Why are we still driving?

And that brings me back to Joseph. When I read about his story, I'm amazed. Not at what an incredible person he was or even at how much he went through. But that there was, in fact, a plan behind it all. And not just a "pretty good" plan. A plan that would've freaked him out if he'd known it all along. It would've freaked his dad and all his brothers out, too. God has a way of weaving what we think is a "pretty good" story into something absolutely mindblowing. But it took time. When Joseph was sold into slavery - by his siblings, nonetheless - and taken to Egypt, I can hardly believe he was thinking, "Well, if I can just get myself thrown into prison now... wow... that'd be perfect!" But into prison he went. And all because he was falsely accused of sexual harassment. Lovely turn in the tale. God isn't always looking to preserve our dignity, I don't think. Sometimes we have to lose the idea of what it means to "keep up appearances" if we're going to gain anything else worth having.

When Conor and I were teaching first grade at church this fall, we covered the story of Joseph in prison. We talked to our sweet little group of six and seven year-olds about how this man of God sat in a cell for two years, even after he had a pretty spectacular incident involving some other prisoners that might have afforded him a jailbreak. 'Might' being the operative word - those prisoners forgot all about pleading his cause when one lost his head and the other went back to work at Pharoah's palace. Probably not what Joseph thought God had up his sleeve. Having said that, what we told our students (and I can promise you we left out the "lost his head" part!) was that God had a perfect time set for Joseph to be released. It was a time that would coincide with a couple of dreams Pharaoh would be having. Dreams Joseph could successfully, in God's power, interpret. And those interpretations would set a chain of events in action that would forever change not only Joseph's history - but the history of the God's people.

Even after we'd turned out the lights in our classroom and headed home for the afternoon, something didn't set right with me about this teaching approach. Not that I disagreed with the facts in the story. But something about the "God had to let Joseph sit in prison for two years so that all the outside circumstances - namely, Pharaoh's dream - would fall into place at the right time" part left a bad taste in my mouth. Conor and I lost our second baby in October of 2006, about the same time we were teaching first grade. It had been an early miscarriage, but one that came on the tail of our first, in August of '05, which had strangely included with it a round of chemotherapy for me. There were quite a few times that I felt like gritting my teeth at God and whispering under my breath, "You've got to be kidding me." One thing a lot of people said to us after that second miscarriage was, "You know, that baby wasn't healthy... God was being merciful by taking it so soon." Although I appreciated their attempts at encouragement - I know no one ever says anything like that to be malicious - something in me felt like screaming, "God is GOD! If He'd wanted to, He could've made that baby healthy from the very moment it was formed!"

Sometimes I think we operate under the premise that our life is a bunch of circumstances that God stands up in Heaven desperately trying to weave His plan around. As though, in Joseph's story, He was keeping the cell doors locked so that the irritated Israelite wouldn't flee the country before Pharaoh had his prerequisite dreams. "Joseph, listen buddy, I'd love to spring you from jail... but I'm waiting on the Egyptian king to fall into line here... until he does, you've got to sit tight." What a bunch of baloney! Am I to seriously sing songs like "Awesome God" in church and still go home believing that He's waiting, with bated breath, for the circumstances in my life to play out accordingly? That our God, Lord above all, has to relinquish a bit of his power to some unknown deity who rolls a dice with the trivialities in our life? May we rebuke such a thought and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our God is, indeed, awesome. Not because He makes everything all right all the time, or because He promises us a life of cushioned ease, but because He doesn't share power. Period. His plan includes all the enormous, earth-shattering events in the course of history - and the tiniest, most insignificant details of our typical Saturday morning.

God wasn't keeping Joseph in prison because of Pharaoh. God was keeping Joseph in prison because of Joseph. I'm quite sure if Jesus knew he could "spring us" from some of the difficult situations we're in right now without a moment's worry that we'd forget what it meant to cling to Him, to need Him, to fall at His feet every day and cry out for His presence, He'd do it. But He loves us too much. And the plans He has for us - "plans to give us a hope and a future" - require that we learn to "lean not on our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge Him."

God's plans for Joseph included making him second-in-command only to Pharaoh himself, giving him leadership and authority over Egpyt that would eventually afford him a opportunity to save all those brothers who left him for dead a few years back. Probably a much greater finale to the story of hardship than even Joseph himself could've written. And if it hadn't been for those years in slavery and an Egpytian jailcell, if everything had just gone "fine and dandy" back at home with his family, it's highly unlikely Joseph would've been a man who ever learned to "acknowledge God" in all his ways.

I have no idea what the end of this story looks like for Conor and I. I would ask you to pray for us, that as we stand in these difficult circumstances, with no real vision for what God intends to do with us down the road, we will be filled with all hope, with joy, with anticipation for the incredible plan He will unfold in His time. Pray for patience. But most of all, pray that God will continue to shape us into the man and woman we are called to be in Christ Jesus, and that we, too, will learn to "lean not on our own understanding"... because we know He will be faithful to "make our paths straight."


RANDIB said...

Hi Boothe-
My name is Randi Booth and I will be praying for your family. Copeland is a beautiful name and I'm sure she is even more beautiful than her name sounds!
I feel so much for you right now. I am happy that you are having a baby and grief stricken that your family is enduring what you are.My family will pray for your family.

Shannon said...

Hi Boothe. This is Shannon Glover Albertsen. I just read Melissa Platt's blog, and watched the video of Eliot Mooney. I have already started, and will continue to faithfully pray for your family. I am so encouraged by your love for the Lord through these trials. It has blessed me, and already given God so much glory. Thank you!

Karen said...

Hello Boothe,
I found your blog as a request from my cousin Katie who sweetly asked everyone to pray for your precious family. Although I have never met you, I feel so connected to your family. I have been praying for you for the past 2 weeks and will continue to do so.

The blessing of being one in Christ is that there is a bond that draws us to one another through His Spirit. You and your family are loved by so many that you've never met. I have asked my friends here in the 'Boro to lift your family up to the Lord as well. Thank you for your desire to share your life with strangers...your words are daily strengthening my faith. Isn't it amazing that God is already using the life of Copeland to reach so many for His glory? What an honor and joy to pray for you all!