Who Are You Wearing?: Interview with Joseph of the Multi-Colored Coat

a-deep-pit

I’m making a beeline (pun unintended) for 2 biblical characters in heaven: Abraham (my opening line? “Dude, you’re CRAZY”) & OT Joseph.

Joe is my guy. He’s the guy of anyone who had a vision and then suddenly found themselves tossed in a pit, wondering why the heck where they are is the exact opposite of where they should be. Max Lucado wrote a book on him and sermons are preached on “pit to palace” journeys. Joe’s story is incredible…but conspicuously lacking one thing: what was he thinking for 13 pit-to-palace years?

I’ve studied Joseph’s story & can’t find anywhere – including where he’s mentioned in the NT – his state of mind. We know in the end he was merciful & gave God the glory, and we know he was a clueless kid in the beginning (really smart telling your brothers who already hate you that one day they’ll bow to you). But in the middle, where it counts, we’re not told a thing. Except. Just one little hint:

“‘Only remember me when things are going well with you again—tell Pharaoh about me and get me out of this place. I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews. And since I’ve been here, I’ve done nothing to deserve being put in this hole.’” Genesis 40:14-15 (MSG)

This was when Joe was in prison for doing the right thing & interprets fellow-prisoner-cupbearer’s dream for him (spoiler: cupbearer was getting out of Dodge, which is why Joe wanted a ride). This it, peeps…no other indication of his mental state, if he still believed the vision, etc. No angry outbursts, no throwing himself on the bed in tears like a Disney princess in distress, no soulful songs of deliverance belted out in his cell. Joseph shut up pretty quickly from his early years of careless sharing.*

We’re not even told how he reacts when day after day, as he waited in anticipation, the cupbearer didn’t come back. Did he slowly lose hope as he eventually realized the cupbearer forgot him and no help was coming? 

I gave up, assuming Joseph’s mental state didn’t matter to the story, and it’s about doing what’s in front of you where you find yourself. That’s what Joseph did. Check it out:

“As it turned out, God was with Joseph and things went very well with him. He ended up living in the home of his Egyptian master. His master recognized that God was with him, saw that God was working for good in everything he did. He became very fond of Joseph and made him his personal aide. He put him in charge of all his personal affairs, turning everything over to him. From that moment on, God blessed the home of the Egyptian—all because of Joseph. The blessing of God spread over everything he owned, at home and in the fields, and all Potiphar had to concern himself with was eating three meals a day.” Genesis 39:2-6 (MSG)

“But there in jail God was still with Joseph: He reached out in kindness to him; he put him on good terms with the head jailer. The head jailer put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners—he ended up managing the whole operation. The head jailer gave Joseph free rein, never even checked on him, because God was with him; whatever he did God made sure it worked out for the best.” Genesis 39:21-23 (MSG)

Joe succeeded at everything he did, quickly being promoted to the top (trial roles for when he’d become 2nd to Pharaoh?) in both situations. But did you notice something? It had nothing to do with Joseph’s ability. Remember, Joe was a spoiled, careless 18-year-old when he was sold into slavery. It was God’s doing – God favored him in everything he undertook. Joe gets no credit here, and by the time he interprets dreams, he’s learned that lesson.

Fast forward to a few days ago, thinking yet again on Joseph’s story & the exasperating lack of info. How am I supposed to know how to be in the middle of my story without your example, Joe? Heavy sigh. I thought again on the one hint (“get me out of here, I don’t deserve to be here”) and what I know he did (ruled where he was purely by the favor of God). I thought about what God’s been saying to me about doing what He has for me to do while I wait for the “palace.” I thought about attitudes regarding where we are and where we will be.

And then it hit me. I know what Joseph’s mind set was during those 13 years. 

Joseph kept busy during those years, right? Potiphar only had to worry about eating – Joseph took care of everything. In prison, Joe managed his fellow prisoners. He wasn’t sulking in a corner in despair or planning prison breaks. He did what God favored him to do.

Now, my next thought was, “Ok, so he resigned himself to his fate. He gave up on the vision. He didn’t think God would come through. It was a pipe dream. He settled.” But remember that little hint? Let’s look at it again:

“‘Only remember me when things are going well with you again—tell Pharaoh about me and get me out of this place. I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews. And since I’ve been here, I’ve done nothing to deserve being put in this hole.’” Genesis 40:14-15 (MSG)

Does that sound to you like a man who’s given up?! No! Joe walked in the favor of God where he was at, but he knew his stay was temporary. He didn’t stop hoping or believing that God would make things right. Like Job – “because even if he killed me, I’d keep on hoping. I’d defend my innocence to the very end” (Job 13:15, MSG) – he wasn’t going to let his contrary circumstances keep him from maintaining his innocence and believing God would come through.

Now I see the example: do with joy and to the best of my ability what’s put in front of me while I wait for God to fulfill the vision (for myself, for others) no matter how seemingly impossible. And it gets better. Two years go by before the cupbearer remembers Joe. Although it probably didn’t feel that way to Joe, this was the perfect time…if the cupbearer spoke up for him 2 years earlier, he’d have been released & finished out his days in some normal job. Instead, he needed to develop 2 more years for when Pharaoh needed a dream interpreter. What I love? On that day, Joe woke up in prison, but went to sleep in the palace. It took 13 years for him to ready for “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), but when it was time, it happened in a day. Joe is released from prison and catapulted into his vision, all for his good and God’s glory.

And He’s doing the same for us.

 

 

*Note: Isn’t it amazing how the very mistake he made (bragging to his brothers) is what God used to get him the fulfillment of his vision? He needed to grow up into the vision first, going through a period of humility & reliance on God’s provision. What an encouragement to us, that God really does work all things together for our good! (Romans 8:28)

 

Relax, Just Do It

hang-loose

“Relax” he signed to me again, appropriately the same hand signal as “hang loose.” I smiled and nodded, but I knew I was screwed. This is as relaxed as it gets, dude.

The dude was an indoor skydiving instructor. He’d told us in the beginning the key to successful flying is staying relaxed, so I instantly knew I was in trouble. The most relaxed I do is not squeezing my arm tightly enough to leave bruises (it’s happened before). I decided after the excursion that the for real skydiving I did last year was easier, since all I had to do was plummet through the air with another dude strapped to my back. None of this “hang loose” stuff.

Massage therapists have also yelled (read: slight exaggeration) at me for my inability to relax. I think I’m helping by holding my leg up for them…apparently not. So hard to please people these days. 😉

My boxing coach was the first to say “relax as much as you can” to me. She was the first to see the why behind the tightly-coiled muscles…I was self-protecting. She went on to say – as she yanked and pulled on my lats, loosening my pain-emitting left shoulder – that it’s hard to give up control of our limbs, especially if we had insecurities in our past. Just last night, after working some more on my improving but sometimes still screaming shoulder, she said I’m constantly sub-consciously guarding with that shoulder (makes sense. The heart’s on the left) and she doesn’t know how to get me to give it up.

Isn’t it funny how the very things we use to protect ourselves can cause the most pain? That’s because we were never meant to save ourselves, or others. There’s only One who can heal the original wound and free us from our self-medicating. But I digress.

Indoor skydiving. It’s fun. You should do it. If you struggle with relaxing like I do, then do the for-real skydiving. Also fun. You should do it. Moving on.

Sometimes it’d be really great to full-out relax mind, body, and emotions. The wear and tear get to me. Song lyrics often flit through my mind, and one I’ve related to since 1995 is Jars of Clay’s “He” from their self-titled album, same year: “Exhaustion takes over / Will this someday be over?” For 21 years I’ve known exactly what they meant. It’s when life itself, the things you can’t escape, wear you down. It’s not, “I’m tired of this. I think I’ll stop now.” It’s when you’re weary in your bones, body and soul, from something you can’t quit, but must push through or wait to end. A painful past that taints your present. A loved one making harmful decisions. Chronic pain or illness. A seemingly impossible dream. Your own weaknesses and shortcomings that frustrate you. I can relate! And often I want to quit.

I actually say, almost daily, “I give up.” I don’t – I know I don’t – but I say it to vent steam, to alleviate the pressure. The exhaustion. Will this someday be over?

Yes. That’s the beauty of getting older and racking up more experiences. I know it will. It’s a lie that says it will always be this way. And even if it WILL, God is still good and working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). I can repeat negative, feelings-based things (and admittedly, I often do) like, “I’ll never change, they’ll never change, it will never change. I’ll always hurt. It’ll never get better. It’s hopeless). OR I could speak the truth. I can speak back to my feelings, which are fickle and easily swayed:

“So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.” Galations 6:9, MSG

I don’t have to listen to my defeated feelings. I can choose the truth in the Word: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Philippians 4:8, MSG

NOTHING is impossible or beyond His lavish provision: “Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37, MSG

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” Ephesians 3:20, MSG

Every story containing Jesus tells me His desire is to heal and restore people’s bodies, minds, and souls. No one – myself included – is beyond His ability or desire to heal.

I can even tell my guard-dog shoulder to relax: “And you? Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.” Daniel 12:13, MSG

A flight instructor’s “hang loose”  signal can’t get me to relax, but God’s signals through His Word? Yeah, I can exhale that tension now. Yeah, I can find rest and strength in the exhaustion.

And you can, too.

 

 

 

 

 

I Know How Paris Ends (aka Here’s a Recap of My Trip)

Paris has been around for centuries, surviving multiple wars – pretty impressive. Seems nothing can take this city down… Am I setting you up? Yes. Because I know how this city will fall. Lung cancer. Cigarettes, bread, berets. It’s a package deal.

I was nervous when I left home for the airport. The what-ifs. What if I get sick? What if it doesn’t live up to my expectations? What if I get lost? Etc, etc. I let God know I was scared. And just moments later, at the bus stop, He sent me a distraction named Trae, who proceeded to hit on me until I got downtown. He was harmless & sweet & calmed me down. He let me know that Paris was filled w/male models, “sorry about that” (not sure why he was sorry. He said sorry a lot, though, so perhaps it was a reflex). Fast forward a 10 hr flight and I’m standing outside of the Paris airport, waiting for my ride. A truck of French soldiers pull up & one stares at me. Hard. This wasn’t a normal hard stare that you ignore & shrug off. I felt violated. There was something hostile about it, whether to intimidate or prank, I don’t know. I ignored him, but was feeling pretty great about the trip remainder. Or not. Gulp.

I spent the afternoon picking up my museum pass, buying souvenirs/candy for friends, sipping the famous Angelina’s chocolate chaud (hot chocolate in a tiny cup. Which is perfect because you’re basically drinking a melted chocolate bar. Crazy good. I got it twice), and strolling through Jardin de Tuilleries. I was delighted to find this was literally across the street from my hotel. As was the Louvre (be still, my heart!), Angelina’s, and the Musee d’Orsay. As I walked through this famous garden, I heard a French boy ask his dad if they could eat ice cream. I understood him perfectly. This happened a few times over the week – I could understand some of what was said as long as it wasn’t directed at me. Otherwise I was lost. I said “desole” (sorry) and “Je ne comprends pas” (I don’t understand) a lot.

Words can’t express the manmade beauty of the place. Jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, makes-you-want-to-weep architecture. I was overwhelmed w/it all. And approaching the Louvre, the whole reason for my visit…wow. I’d been dreaming of visiting there all my life.

The next morning I was up early (thanks, jet lag) & decided to enjoy petite dejeuner at the hotel. As I was consuming as much coffee as possible – oh, and some croissants – I noticed the music that was playing. Music in English plays a lot in Paris. The songs playing that morning were covers of American songs. First was “Fat Bottomed Girls” w/banjos. Alright. But I nearly spit out my coffee when a man w/clear diction said, “Oh my God, Becky” & proceeded to sing “Baby Got Back” jazz style (there was even piano, peeps). What just happened?! I got to the Louvre 15 minutes before open, visualizing on the walk being the 1st in line. Buuut there was already a line when I got there. Dang it. I made a beeline for the Mona Lisa (tip: get there early so you can see her w/less people & then move on to the rest) & then explored for another 3 hours. I controlled my zeal as much as possible, keeping a calm exterior while squealing on the inside. So many amazing works! Sculpture & paintings & rooms w/incredible interiors (never have I seen its equal)! I saw works by all but 1 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (no Donatello). The Louvre was a fortress –> palace –> museum, so even the building was a work of art. Afterwards I explored downtown, got lost, and relied on the map to get myself back. I like getting lost in strange places, though, because you see more.

The next day I was bright, chipper, & ready for Montparnasse Tower (tallest building in Paris) & Musee d’Orsay. I went to Starbucks where the barista & I shared a good chuckle when I tried explaining my name was the same as a bee (abeille). Apparently I butchered the French because he only got it after I pantomimed a buzzing insect. Armed w/a grande Pumpkin Spice Latte avec soya lait, I marched. And marched. And marched until I realized I’d miss the street about a mile back. Oops. But then I wouldn’t have found this amazing bowl I purchased underneath Les Arts Decoratifs. #brightside. I walked through a less touristy – and thereby sketchier – part of the city until I reached the tower & got a 360 view of Paris. Hi, Eiffel Tower! Pretty cool. Heading back to the d’Orsay, a friendly man said hello, asked how I was, & then hammered rapid French at me. He ended w/a question, and catching only a word (rest or meal…they’re only a letter different), I said, “Desole?” He replied, “Non…non” and turned away. Good talk. Two other guys tried to get my attention (I think like the guys passing out their CD’s in Seattle), but I said “non, merci” (no thank you) & kept moving. They kept moving with me, saying “Excusez-moi” but I kept going. They yelled something after me, but joke’s on them because I didn’t understand a word! (Tip #2: use your city smarts to not get ambushed. You’ll be fine). After a baguette poulet (chicken salad sandwich…they’re big here) I took on d’Orsay, the Impressionism museum. A-ma-ZING. Renoir is my all-time favorite artist, and I didn’t know they had his painting (the picnic one) there – it’s not my favorite, but it’s the one that made me love him. I nearly took a knee. Degas, Rodin, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh…all there. One of my favorite parts of the museum, though, was a “fete” (party) room. It was a ballroom w/gold molding, mirrors, and chandeliers. The 2nd day I visited d’Orsay, I went straight there because I loved it so much. I turned around to see a woman about my age come in & the look on her face was exactly how I felt – pure joy & wonder. I imagined standing on the side of the room waiting to dance.

The next day I headed to Starbucks again, hoping my barista friend was there. I’d say, “Remember me?” & we’d share a laugh over my name. Instead, it was a very nice girl who spelled my name “Bise.” Alright then. Off to Notre Dame! It’s just as majestic as Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame illustrates. I loved it, it was stunning. I waited in line to then climb the bell tower. I was terrified climbing those interior stairs. No problem jumping out of a plane, but nearly paralyzed by stairs. 🙂 In my defense, I messed up my tailbone twice on stairs, so we have bad blood between us. The view from the top was spectacular. I especially loved the gargoyles, both on top & from street view. I imagined what life was like for the clergy. That was what I loved most about Paris – the dreaming, putting myself in their shoes. Then it was the Musee de L’Orangeries, which was more Impressionism, including a whole wall of Renoir! I then rested in Tuilleries w/gelato from Amorino (a chain sweet shop). A nice man walking by wished me happy digestion & we chatted a bit in English when he realized immediately I wasn’t French. It was a nice break in the people-watching, of which there’s plenty.

On my last full day I visited the Louvre & Musee d’Orsay again. I did a drive-by of my favorites but explored new areas mostly, including Ancient Egypt, my favorite from history. I saw a real mummy, people! It was a little creepy taking pictures of a body, but also cool (note to self: name future band “Creepy But Cool”).

It’s hard to sum up my trip at this point. I think I’ll continue processing it over the coming days. I’m incredibly blessed to have been there, to make a dream reality. So for now I leave you with my wisdom should you travel to Paris one day. #yourewelcome

What to Know (aka I Like Making Lists):

— The streets are narrow, so Parisians adapt via tiny cars (which have suspicious marks on the backs…parking = bumper cars) or old fashion bikes or Vespas w/blatant disregard for vehicles & pedestrians alike

— Speaking of vehicles & pedestrians…cars are crazy & pedestrians must walk w/reckless abandon/preparedness to jump back for your life. I like to think I blended in w/my nonchalant street-crossing

— Style: leather, black, boots. Women have long, limp hair (very pretty, clearly not obsessed w/volume like Americans), no make-up or a red lip. Men are shorter and/or slight w/super cool hair/facial hair combos. They sling their jackets over one shoulder or tie sweaters around their necks.

— Do your homework before you go. I was grateful for articles that let me know to always say hello/goodbye in shops, not to expect ice, & to use French.

— Waiters are snooty no matter how nice you are or how much French you use. They will get annoyed w/you if you don’t understand their attempt at English. Is this a generalization? Probably. But this is my list, so deal with it. 🙂 Everyone else was nice. I think making an effort goes a long way (read: don’t be the obnoxious American demanding your own way. When in Rome…). Smile & say “bonjour” & “merci” a lot. Worked for me. One security guard was gruff w/the people in front of me but smiley & jokey w/me.

— “Take away” = “to go.”

— Elevators are called ascenseurs. Not important; I just think it’s funny. Makes me think of Jesus ascending into heaven…in an elevator.

— Bring extra euro/euro cents for tipping. I thought like in the US paying w/credit card would allow you to add the tip. I thought wrong. Embarrassing!

— Bathrooms (toilettes) smell like they’re not clean. I witnessed public bathroom cleanings TWICE – so it happens – but someone forgot to tell the odor. Some streets don’t smell that nice either. But hey, it makes you imagine living in the Medieval Ages while you’re looking at centuries old architecture.

— Quasimodo does NOT live in Notre Dame’s bell tower. I know, I was disappointed, too. Thanks for nothing, Hugo. 😉

— Bring walking shoes. Paris is only 6 miles across & thereby super walkable. I looked up directions to everywhere I wanted to go beforehand (since I don’t have international cell service) so it was super easy.

— Crossbody bags are your friend. Backpacks tell pick pockets you don’t care to hold onto your valuables

— If you’re going to Paris for museums, get a pass in advance. I did through Travelocity & picked up the voucher in Paris. That beauty let me breeze by others standing in line for hours – au revoir, suckers! J/k, sorry for your wait… – and get right to the art. My pass was good at 50 museums for 4 consecutive days. #jackpot

— Police/soldiers carry some serious weaponry here. At one point I thought, “Is that an AK-47?” No wise-cracking John McClanes here.

— They have really good Italian food. I had delicious lasagna & spaghetti carbonara. Baguette sandwiches are good when you’re in a hurry & they rely heavily on bread for breakfast. And snacks. I saw a small girl on the back of a moped gnawing a baguette.

Maybe Not Today, Maybe Not Tomorrow

I’ve had several revelations over the past month. Not grandiose revelations, but rather simple, “duh” ones. Mercifully, they haven’t been accompanied by condemnation, but rather gratitude. I’m so thankful for simple yet profound revelations that make life 10 times for enjoyable.

One such revelation: I’ve avoided the money trap my whole life. Meaning, I know that being rich wouldn’t make me happy. Sure, having enough to pay your bills, save, and enjoy life is crucial to well-being, but I knew that money couldn’t make me happy in and of itself.

All this time I’ve been patting myself on the back for so cleverly avoiding the money trap, totally oblivious that I was ensnared in another – the “if/then” trap. Sure, money couldn’t bring me bliss, but if___, then___, and then I would be happy.  When I pay off my car, when I learn the drums, when I teach a university class…guess what? All of those have come true – I’m literally living my dreams – but they don’t make me happy. This then leads to guilt, confusion, and a scramble to find something else that will make me happy.

It’s a total trap. Happiness is no more dependent on circumstances or accomplishments than it is on money. But I wasn’t just chasing after an elusive future happiness – if I achieve ___, then I will be happy. I was also making myself miserable by applying if/then to my past. “If only I had said that instead, then I would have gotten the outcome I wanted.” “If only I hadn’t done that, then this would have happened, and everything would be great.”

What I was thinking last night as I drifted off to sleep was inspired by Semisonic’s “Closing Time”: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  We talk about “someday” a lot – someday I’ll get there, someday I’ll be the person I want to be, someday I’ll be happy. How differently would we live if we remembered that today is yesterday’s “someday”? 

Spending the present if/then’ing my past and my future isn’t getting me anywhere. Instead I’m stuck beating myself up over past perceived failures (or what I could’ve done better) or longing for a day when I’ll be happy.

But I realized, as simplistic as it is, that no matter, I can be happy today. I can be happy because I’m completely and utterly loved, accepted, approved, and romanced by my Creator. I can be happy that in Him I have all I need, and anything else – work, dreams, accomplishments, relationships – just add to my happiness. They’re not the sole contributors. I can wake up in the morning thinking of my to-do list or bemoaning the monotony, or I can wake up excited for the adventures and love notes God has for me that day. I’m not so naïve that I think this won’t require work at switching my thinking. I’ve been in the habit of thinking one way for a long time, and it’s going to take practice forming a new habit. But I’m pleased with the results so far, which will only motivate me to keep going!

Paradise Lost, Paradise Found

I’m currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise,” in which the following poem by Robert Browning is quoted:  

“Each life unfulfilled, you see,
  It hangs still, patchy and scrappy;
We have not sighed deep, laughed free,
  Starved, feasted, despaired—been happy.”   

It struck a chord with me. I think we (or at least myself) often believe that having a fulfilled life means having everything just the way we want it with an overabundance of “good” things. Browning, however, leaves room for hunger, sadness, loss. A truly satisfying life is one in which we have experienced a variety of circumstances and emotions.

 

Up until a few months ago, I might have balked at this sentiment. Surely it would be better to stay in a safe zone, a boxed in area of the known, the familiar, the already experienced. Outside of the box is the enormous potential for heartbreak and failure, and for what? The chance at something better than what is already in the box? But earlier this year I dangled a toe outside of the box, scared to death but no longer content with my self-imposed boundaries. I inched slowly out at first, got hurt, but forced myself to inch out further still. I got quite a ways before being wounded again. After a brief respite, though, I was back in the unknown territory, blindly setting one foot in front of the other.

 

I learned (and, in all honesty, am still learning) something valuable. The pain, though at times intense, gave me a power that I hadn’t experienced before. I felt, as Browning alluded to, alive, like I had survived a battle to fight again. The temptation to crawl back into my box was strong, but the empowerment of trying, of pushing forward despite it all spurred me deeper into the unknown.

 

I still don’t know if I will achieve the goal for which I set out in the unfamiliar, but regardless, I know that in the process I will achieve the ultimate goal, a more “fulfilled life.”

Oh, riiiiiight

On my lunch break (the dreaded momentum killer!) and reading articles on www.writersdigest.com.  The articles I read were a) simple tips for all aspects of the writing craft and b) Literary agents’ Chapter 1 pet peeves.  I found both articles to be equally inspiring, getting the creative juices flowing.

I worked some more on Lila’s story last night despite a debilitating headache.  It is getting harder now as I am intimidating myself with having to have the perfect climax and denouement.  Yet perusing the aforementioned website reminded me that I don’t have to write in chronological order — why can’t I skip ahead to that scene I’m really excited to write?  It will revitalize the story to once again have fun with it, writing the parts of the story I see right now.

In that same vein, I do not need to write a perfect 1st draft.  That would be rather batty, actually, and I’m not that far gone.  I should just write what comes and worry about balance and syntax later.  Hmph.  🙂

So I find myself rejuvenated and re-inspired, an excellent place to be.