Tag: purpose

Dig In

I stare, again, at the pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Crusted-on enchilada sauce clings to a pyrex casserole dish. Plates from lunch, yesterday, still dusted with crumbs from the dino nuggets and smeared with Emma’s secret sauce mix of ranch and ketchup. With the sink nearly overflowing the surrounding countertop is also buried beneath a layer of milk and cheerios cereal bowls, cups, my favorite perfectly sized and shaped snowman mugs I use year-round, and random untensils.

I sigh a deep sigh. Trying to breathe out some of the weight I feel crushing in on me. The house has felt claustrophobic to me lately. Like the walls of domesticity have been slowly closing in on me with the rising of the laundry pile and the pull of needs-to-be-met of little hands on my yoga pants.

I stare down the unmoving dishes, silently damning them for their presence and constant regeneration.

I look out the large, square window above the sink to the hills above the roofline of my well-worn middle class neighborhood. There is a single tree, an oak I would guess, but then again I know nothing of trees, standing lonely on the top of the farthest hill directly across from me in the distance. I feel my soul tugged toward it. Surely there I would lose this crushing sensation! There in the wide open spaces where I could think and feel and my soul could stretch. I imagine overlooking a vast ocean where my creativity could spread endlessly.

I look down and continue my dishwashing standoff.

Dig in.

Why is this so hard for me?! Why does every step of this homemaking journey feel like I’m walking through deep water; striving, muscles tense, making slow progress.

My phone lights up, beckoning me to the cyber world beyond. My Kindle lies on the edge of the counter near the coffee pot enticing me to lose myself in another story not my own.

Dig in!

I want to! I stamp my feet like an obstinate child, attempting to push back the temptation to yet another distraction. Please, Lord, please! Help me to want what you want for me here. Help me to dig in here, right now! 

Once again, I am reminded of the journey to the Promised Land. The land spoken of so beautifully in Deuteronomy 8 as “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.”

To quote Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”

Suddenly I am struck by the phrase “out of whose hills you can dig copper.” Wait a minute. This is The. Promised. Land. Where I eat bread without scarcity and water springs up in abundance and everything I could desire hangs heavy on the trees surrounding me in plain sight!

And yet, even here there are hidden things. An element only to be accessed through digging. By sweat and toil and strength and perseverance.

I’m not sure what part of this great Exodus journey I’m on. I’ve written before of how this place mostly feels like Jericho, wandering in circles waiting for the wall to come down. Waiting for my time to truly march into the Promised Land and possess it. It sure doesn’t feel like bread without scarcity as I attempt to scratch out writing time at 5am weekdays and every other Saturday morning in my Starbucks sanctuary.

But I am encouraged that there is work to be done even there. Somehow it helps me to see the importance of it here too. The work is not bad. Even in the good land I will need to dig. Maybe here is where I’m meant to practice, to build up my strength for what is to come.

I sigh again, this time feeling a bit of the burden lift. Lord help me to dig in. To find the hidden elements in the place I am. This place that you have brought me. If I’m going to believe in the future possession of the place you’re bringing me, I have to believe in the purpose of where you have led me right now.

I lift the tap and wait for the water to warm. I lift my eyes once more up to the hills. A spectacular sunset is sweeping the western horizon beyond my lonely oak tree. Dusty blue sky bisected by fluffy clouds that fade from purple shadows to rose gold hues. The descending sun setting the hills ablaze. I stare transfixed at the technicolor cloud symphony playing out before me.

Yes Lord, such beauty. Even here.

I squeeze the blue scrubby sponge under the warm water flowing abundantly and reach for the soap.

And I dig in.

When Life Isn’t A Fairytale

I grew up in what many consider to be the golden era of Disney animation. My all-time absolute you-can-only-pick-one favorite was Beauty and the Beast. I still remember the cool darkness of the theater and feeling my spirit soar as Belle belted,

“I want adventure in the great wide somewhere

I want it more than I can tell

And for once it might be grand

To have someone understand

I want so much more than they’ve got planned”

Me too, Belle! My seven year old heart beat in tune to the story unfolding before me, my half eaten box of Sour Patch Kids (mostly red ones left) forgotten in my lap.

I could spend the next hour analyzing how that one stanza of her song encapsulates my childhood hopes for my life. Maybe it even formed a primitive liturgy that in some way shaped the way I processed my life, though I may be over-thinking.

Probably isn’t a huge surprise she was my favorite Disney princess. She was the reader. My favorite scene of the entire film? The one that took my breath away and filled me with the awe and wonder I think maybe only little seven year old girls can experience? No, not the golden dress in the ballroom. That was amazing, too. And I was super jealous of my neighbor down the street that got to wear that incredible gown for Halloween…

I digress.

No, as you may have guessed, the scene that made my pulse quicken was when the Beast has Belle cover her eyes and leads her to a surprise. She opens her eyes as the curtains are thrown back and dazzling light floods the enormous space that is filled as far as the eye can see with stacks upon stacks of books! Staircases leading to multiple floors, ladders on rollers reaching the highest shelves, and plush furniture beckoning a reader to lounge, to linger in the majesty of the grand library.

As I write this I’m becoming aware this movie may also have played a major role in shaping my hopes for Heaven.

These fairytales I so cherished as a child were kept in my candy wrapper lined pockets through adolescence, but I found living in the abrasive adult world rubs a bit of the sheen off the hopes of childhood. I remember going through a period in my early twenties of feeling embittered toward the princess movies and their empty promises of shining knights and happily-ever-after. I mourned the death of the picturesque life that being in love was supposed to usher in during my early years of marriage.

I grew up and got past my unrealistic expectations. I can still appreciate a romantic princess-y movie, but I’ve traded placing my faith in the stories told by man for the true Story written by God and lived by His people.

One such story I read recently that has been on repeat in my mind is found in 1 Samuel 25. It’s the story of David and Abigail and if you have access to a Bible I strongly urge you to check it out. Or, since you’re obviously reading this on some sort of device with internet access, look it up! I’ll wait.

Seriously, do it.

Doesn’t Abigail just steal the show?! She is wealthy, Disney-princess-beautiful, smart, and loves the Lord. However, her situation is far from idyllic. She is married to Nabal, whose name literally translates: “foolish.” He comes off as kind of a jerk, and she’s left to deal with the fallout.

Instead of bemoaning her situation or blaming her idiot husband for her circumstances, she quickly steps up and takes action to save her family and set things right. Her faith in God’s protection and provision is obvious as she seeks David’s forgiveness for how he was mistreated and states her belief in God’s anointing of him. She boldly proclaims her faith and asks that when (not if!) the LORD takes care of David that he would remember her.

She doesn’t just do all this in secret behind her husband’s back either. Or, well, I guess technically she does. It was kind of an easier-to-ask-forgiveness-than-permission situation. Anyway, she does tell her hungover husband the whole truth of what she did the next day.

And he has a heart attack. Or a stroke. Either way he dies from the apparent shock of it ten days later.

In Abigail we see a woman who did not let her circumstances dictate her response. She did not respond emotionally nor does she blame-shift, but reacted quickly with wisdom and faith in God’s purposes. She obviously was highly esteemed among the young men working for her family. She used the great resources she had been entrusted to bless God’s people. She used her influence to maintain peace. Abigail used her cunning and eloquence to defend her position and gain favor with the future ruler of Israel, unbeknownst to her, her future husband.

David gets word of Nabal’s passing and immediately sends for her to take her as his wife. It’s all very knight-in-shining-armor happily-ever-after-y actually.

We don’t hear much of Abigail after this other than she is at one point captured by the raiding Amalekites and David has to fight to get her (and his other wife) back.

So maybe, not so happily-ever-after.

As mentioned, David already has at least one other wife. And, of course, there’s the infamous David and Bathsheba drama to come. I think we sometimes forget Bathsheba wasn’t the only one married.

Maybe not so knight-in-shining-armor either.

Judging by her previous actions, Abigail was the kind of woman who had learned to make the best of any situation the Lord had placed her in. In her I am reminded that my hope should not be tied to any man or circumstance. My hope echoes Abigail’s vow in verse 26, “…as the LORD lives…” It is because He lives, He sees me, and He cares for me that I have hope that no matter what situation I find myself facing, He will surely utilize the gifts He has given me and care for me.

Personally, this means I am not idly waiting on a fairytale circumstance of being “discovered,” or a prince in the form of an awesome agent or publisher to sweep me out of my current situation as stay at home mom and outlet shoe store employee to usher in a new chapter of life as a writer.

As much as I would love to be like Belle, to spend my free time reading and daydreaming of future adventure, I pray I am more like Abigail: serving diligently wherever I am, ready for action, and already proven wise and capable when I am called.

How does Abigail’s story inspire you?










The Beast of Comparison

It would take space much greater than a blog post to tell you the impact my trip to Chicago last weekend had on me. It’s taken me a week just to process and internalize it enough to blog about it. I’ve had well intentioned friends and family members ask in passing, “How was your trip?” having no idea they’re about to launch into an hour long conversation.

Where do I start? What piece could I tell that would not need the contextual support of all the other moments before and after to do it justice? There were surprises God had in store all weekend that blew me away. I touched C.S. Lewis’ writing desk! Or the fellowship that lasted late into the night, the sacred experience of my first time reading my work out loud for a group, life changing conversations with people who sat with me at breakfast, walks in solitude across manicured grounds, and a million other moments equally impacting. It was all very beyond my beyond I tell you!

C.S. Lewis' writing desk at the Wade Center

C.S. Lewis’ writing desk at the Wade Center

I’m not going to hash it all out here, ain’t nobody got time for that, but instead I’m going to tell you about the lesson God taught me that brought me to the magic that was last weekend.

As you may know, I recently celebrated my blogiversary. When I began blogging it was a very solitary experience. Yes, I was putting work out there for the internet to see, but for the most part it was largely written in isolation and then sent out to a void with very little feedback. Which was fine at first. Still is much of the time actually.

I am the type of person that wants to earn a gold star on anything I do, even if it’s just for my own enjoyment. So I started down the never ending rabbit hole of research. What drives blog traffic? Who were the other bloggers that wrote similar material?

And I unintentionally awoke a beast that had been sleeping in my soul.

This beast has the name “Comparison” engraved on the spiked collar around his neck. He’s got “Envy” and “Doubt” tattooed across his bulging knuckles– he has six fingers on one hand so that this metaphor continues to work. He eats weak, insecure, lonely writers for breakfast. He leaves nothing in his wake but bitterness and a dusty hard drive full of lost dreams.

He had come for me and I was an easy meal.

As I began to read more female writers the beast growled in my chest. What started out as a pathetic I-suck-and-every-one-else-is-incredible turned into a nit-picky they-suck-and-don’t-have-my-depth-of-insight. I started to feel all Smeagol-ly clutching my Bible and commentaries to my chest. My precious! Mine! Only I get to dive into the depths of these riches!

Fortunately for me, though somewhat unfortunate for my pet beast, if you have a heart that is honestly seeking the Lord it is nearly impossible to interact with scripture and not be convicted. It cuts to the marrow and exposes to the light the darkness we hide inside.

Unlike the beast, the Lord was tender with me. He lead me to a lesson in Bible study about the danger of comparison, especially among women. He reiterated the importance of teamwork in accomplishing His purposes. He told me to pray blessings on the women who brought out the ugly feelings of jealousy in me. So I did. Sometimes it was really difficult.

One time I got to the end of a heart-wrenchingly beautiful memoir in a magazine, and I felt the beast flex all eleven claws. I prayed for the Lord to help me pray good things for this woman when all I wanted in my flesh was to start down the dark mental spiral of envy. I got through the prayer only to read her bio and see she had a blog too. It was a fresh punch to the gut. Of course she does and I bet it’s awesome.

Fighting against all the feelings the beast fought hard to shred me with, I grabbed the laptop and checked it out…

Less than a year later I met this woman who had stirred the beast to the apex of my battle, the gracious and talented Marlena Graves. I met her last weekend in Chicago, at the annual retreat of Redbud Writers Guild, which I had discovered by clicking the banner on Marlena’s blog all those months ago when the beast thought he still had a meal ticket in me.

In God’s seemingly backward redemptive way, it was fitting that at the end of the weekend she would pray over me, petitioning our Lord for wonderful things for my life and work.

It was more than I deserved but I’m learning that abundance is just how God operates. There is no limit to His provision for us. No proverbial pie that we need to be fighting for a slice. Only the richest of feasts beyond what we could think or imagine waiting to be enjoyed in community.

I went into last weekend nervous about meeting strangers off the internet and praying the beast wouldn’t make an ugly, dramatic appearance. He certainly tried. It’s almost impossible to be surrounded by the static power and electricity of a room full of talented women and not feel a bit burned.

But the Lord gave me an escape by bringing me to a moment He shared on a beach with Peter in John 21:20-22. He had just told Peter some news about the future that wasn’t exactly what Peter wanted to hear. In what I would guess stemmed from his own struggle with the beast of comparison, Peter looks around and points to another disciple and basically says, “Well what about that guy?!” Oh Peter, I SO GET YOU.

In Jesus’ typical turn-it-back-to-a-question-answer He replies, “What’s it to you?! YOU follow me!” (Obviously my paraphrase and emphasis added).

He reminded me that my job is to wholeheartedly, unswervingly follow Him. I’m not to be distracted by what He’s accomplishing in the lives of my brothers and sisters. Their work is important, and so is mine, and we so need one another as support not competition. We are to encourage one another and lift one another up. Which is, in fact, what we were doing in Chicago in the fist place.

Rest in Peace, Beast.

Lovely Redbud ladies! Photo cred: Dorothy Greco

Lovely Redbud ladies! Photo cred: Dorothy Greco

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.                                                    Ephesians 3:20-21



After nearly eight years out, last week I rejoined the workforce. It’s not much, only about ten hours a week as a sales associate in an outlet shoe store. It is the same shoe store I worked in when I was in eleventh grade. I have walked the gray industrial carpeted floors past the very same spot where I remember realizing I was in love with the guy who would one day be my husband. (And excitedly decided to tell him, only for him to beat me to it and tell me he had a new girlfriend). I’m about a solid decade older than my coworkers, one of whom is actually our babysitter.

I had been praying for more money. Now, that might sound shallow, but I’ve got three kids in private school on a single income. I am nothing if not completely honest with God when I pray; He knows what I need, so why beat around the bush? However, I planned on these prayers leading to either something happening with Mike at work or to some awesome writing opportunity where I could actually make money off something I’m already doing.

Let’s face it, time is not a commodity I have in great supply. I’m currently a junior high youth leader, women’s Bible study leader, church nursery director, and I dabble in the blogosphere. And that’s just what I do in my “free” time. Sometimes though, perfect circumstances are in motion that are just so obviously an answer to prayer that, whether it was the answer I wanted or not, I knew the opportunity to work for an old friend (who was willing to be very flexible with scheduling) was the answer I got.

In my daily Bible reading I’m going through an Old Testament Overview reading plan. Around the time of all this prayer and part-part time employment talk I was reading in Joshua. (Note: the following is not a coincidence. You want to have God speak to you? Put in the effort by being consistently in the Word and believe you have been purposed to read what you are when you are.)

Joshua 6 tells the story of the fall of Jericho (and the walls came a-tumbling down–yeah that one). The Israelites have just crossed into the land God promised to give them after forty years of wandering in the desert. They are now faced with the somewhat daunting task of claiming the land. Jericho looms before them, an advanced fortress with four foot thick walls. No one was just going to sneak up on Jericho. It would have to be taken by extreme force.

So God tells them to walk in circles around the place. Not in military formation, but strung out with priests blowing ram’s horns and the ark of the covenant being carried in the mix. Oh, and they’re not even allowed to talk. They’re to do this once a day for six days, then on the seventh day they’re to walk around the city seven times, blast the trumpets, and everyone shouts. Then the walls fall down and the Israelites will march in and conquer the city.

Sounds pretty cut-and-dried. And, if we’re being honest, kind of ridiculous and a bit tedious.

This story caught me off guard because, though I was already familiar with it, in reading it I was struck with what a perfect metaphor it is for where I feel I’m at in life. I’m doing weird, disjointed things that wouldn’t seem to add up were it not for the common factor that I’m honestly seeking the Lord in all of it as best I know how. I’m writing late into the night, reading books off of seminary lists, selling comfortable shoes for minimum wage, comforting a feverish teething toddler, prepping for Bible study, meal planning, and keeping tabs on my personal heroes of faith via Twitter.

Much like the Israelites must have looked fools to their enemies on the other side of the wall, I am currently marching in my own vulnerability parade. I’m willingly putting myself in situations I don’t feel totally prepared for, anticipating God will show up big, but risking looking ridiculous. (Hence my new video attempts).

Unlike times of more lost “what am I supposed to do” wanderings in the desert of the past, I do believe there is some sort of divine purpose that is set in motion. I just can’t see how it’s all going to work out. I’m just circling around and around and around. Day in and day out living how I hope Jesus would live my life if He were me.

Some words I read in John Calvin’s commentary keep playing in my head: “Though the circulatory movement round the walls might have excited derision, it was afterwards known, by its prosperous result, that God commands nothing in vain.” It is a message the Lord has reminded me of again and again and again. If nothing I’m doing is in vain, then by default it has a purpose. I can view the journey as a burden, or I can trust there are things being shaken that I cannot fathom and make the most of this purposeful, circuitous wandering.

Even Jesus didn’t just march straight to the pinnacle of His ministry at the cross. He first spent time teaching around the countryside and in the cities of the life now being made available, and healing and casting out demons. After a few years of this transient life He was led to die slowly on the horrible, glorious cross where He shouted in victory, “It is finished!” And the earth shook and the very walls of death came tumbling down.

If I give up now I’ll never get to see what’s on the other side of this wall. And who knows how many laps I have left?


Thinking of Jericho has been helping me keep perspective on the days it feels like the fatigue and tedium of daily life is going to overtake me. Anyone else experiencing a Jericho season?


Here at the Marsden household we are officially half way through summer. In the past four weeks I have: attended high school and junior high summer camps, gone to the dentist, served jury duty, hosted a junior high BBQ, attended one rehearsal dinner and two weddings (one of which my kids were involved in), gotten my hair done, hosted a BBQ potluck with our neighbors, watched Logan’s first T-Ball game, and babysat my two adorable nieces for four days (read: 6 kids under 7yrs). So, yeah, I’m a bit worn out.

What’s been more difficult than being so exhausted that I fall asleep as I’m falling into bed, is the spiritual weariness that has accompanied the physical. A fellow Redbud, Trillia Newbell, described the soul-deep feeling of utter exhaustion in a recent article for Women of God Magazine as “a season of despondency.” My soul reacted to those words and they’ve been stuck in my head since. “Me too, sister!” cries my overworked heart.

I feel like the oscillating fan in my front room; spinning with all my might but not accomplishing much more than blowing hot air. I catch myself sighing deeply and mentally reverting to my unending struggles with pursuing purpose in the midst of the mundane. The current laundry pile is high as my apathy.

I reached the zenith of my despondency at the opening ceremonies of Logan’s T-Ball league Friday night. I drove up to the baseball field swarming with little sluggers already stressed. I had spent the last half hour trying to find one of Logan’s tennis shoes which had inconveniently vanished, never to be found, so he was wearing his uniform with flip flops. Since he wouldn’t actually be playing I was hoping this would somehow go unnoticed.

My husband, Mike, was working so I had all four kids in a crowded sports complex solo. I lug my giant (but indispensable) double stroller out and load the two littles only to discover two flat tires. I’m then left having to herd my four sweet children like a bunch of freewheeling cats across the parking lot and infield. Then I’m faced with the no less daunting task of finding my son’s team (did I mention all the teams wear the same reversible blue/white uniform shirt and I hadn’t actually been to a practice yet so I had to rely on my five year old’s ability to distinguish his coach out of the sea of faces?). His coach looks at him appraisingly and immediately comments on his lack of appropriate footwear. While wrestling my squirming 17 month old into what must have appeared to be an MMA-style submission hold, I avoid eye contact and mumble a lame excuse promising to have proper shoes for tomorrow’s game.

I got off the field and the despondency crashed down with such force I thought I might be crushed under it. And I DO NOT CRY. My eyes watered and my chest felt tight as I dug through the diaper bag to find the pacifier I was praying to be there. In my frantic near publicly losing my mind moment, just seconds away from giving into the temptation to upend the diaper bag behind the bleachers, I find myself pulling a note card with faded ink out of its recesses.

I memorize a verse a month by writing it down on a note card and keeping it in my car to typically review when I head out to pick up the big kids from school. For such a time as this, this card had fallen out and ended up in my bag. And wouldn’t you just know God chose for me to see at that moment Galatians 6:9:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Talking my experience over with Mike later that night I gained further clarity on my feelings. I am not in a harvesting season. I am in a stand-firm-do-not-give-up season. Which is simultaneously encouraging and a bit depressing, honestly. But, I’m promised a season is coming to reap the benefits of the sometimes wearying, despondency inducing, exhausting work of doing good.

If I do not give up.

As sorely tempted as I am to ride out the rest of the summer hiding under the covers with my Kindle (if only! haha), I’m not going to quit investing the small talents I’m given trusting it’s proving I’m capable of more later. Which is kind of a scary thought if I think about it too much.

The day after the opening night fiasco I left the house early totally prepared with everything we needed: uniform, hat, cleats (never did find that other shoe), water, and sunblock. I was back on my A-game! Until we unloaded from the car and reached the field and I realized I hadn’t even considered that Logan would need his baseball glove and there was no time for me to run home for it.

Well, fine. Even if I have to humble myself in front of the coach again and ask if there is a glove my appropriately clad son could borrow, please? I. Will. Not. Give. Up.




Dream On

Some people dream of long hallways, being chased, showing up somewhere naked, or falling from great heights.  I have had some of those dreams, but recently I most consistently dream of *insert dramatic pause*… airports.  Strange, right?  Nearly all of my dreams take place either in, around, or trying to find an airport.  It’s not always the same airport and the storyline of the actual dream might not have anything to do with air travel, but an airport always seems to set the scene.  As if that weren’t weird enough, as much as I can remember I have never actually boarded a plane in any dream.

I’m not one to place a lot of stock in dreams.  In my mind dream interpretation lands somewhere among horoscopes and fortune telling as far as reliability goes.  However, the never-ending airport scenarios were just strange enough to keep my attention.  So I did what we all do when we need an answer, I Googled it.  Of course I found a slough of questionable sources, so I randomly picked a site that boasted having a dream symbol dictionary and this is what I found:  “To see a busy airport in your dream signifies the desire for freedom, high ideals, ambition, and hopes. It is an indication that you are approaching a new departure in your life. Some new idea is taking off or is ready to take off. You may be experiencing a new relationship, new career path or new adventure.”  It even reads like a horoscope!  Here’s the thing, it also eerily reads pretty true to what I’m experiencing in life right now.  Blogging has gone better than I could have imagined, I’ve been accepted into a community of like-minded women in the Redbud Writers Guild, an article I wrote is being “officially” published in my denomination’s magazine, and I’m thinking through a ministry idea that I think could be awesome.  If only this dream interpretation had some lucky numbers attached for the next Powerball drawing!

Be forewarned, I’m not opening the discussion on whether or not God still uses dreams to communicate with people like He did in biblical times.  I have the comprehensive Word of God at my disposal so, personally, that is where I’m going to seek my true answers.  Sorry dreammoods.com, but you’ve got nothing on divine wisdom.  When I think of dream fulfillment in relation to scripture, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than the life of Joseph, found in Genesis 37 and 39-50.

Joseph was his father Jacob’s favorite son among twelve brothers.  This fact was well known by all the brothers, especially obvious by the extravagant multicolored coat their father gave Joseph.  There was no confusing who was the favorite son, and, contrary to the culture, it was not the firstborn.  It certainly didn’t help this brewing public relations nightmare that Joseph chose to share a couple dreams he had with his brothers where they appeared as stalks of grain and stars, respectively, bowing down before Joseph.  This caused a serious rift in the siblings’ relationship with him.  So much so that one day when Jacob sends Joseph on an errand to check on his brothers while tending the flocks, the brothers conspire to eliminate his annoying presence from their midst:

They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.  Genesis 37:18-24

They end up half listening to Reuben, who is actually scheming to gain his father’s favor by rescuing the favorite son, and don’t kill Joseph, but instead sell him to slave traders headed to Egypt.  His own brothers sold him into a life sentence of slavery when he was probably still a teenager.  I’d say by any cultural terms that’s enough family drama to pretty effectively damage someone.  As if that weren’t baggage enough, after spending years as a slave Joseph is falsely accused of rape and, though innocent, is imprisoned.

Joseph becomes obsessed with revenge.  During his time in prison he hatches an elaborate scheme to reemerge from this captivity under a new persona and gain vengeance for the dreams his brothers killed when they committed this terrible evil.  He lives his days fueling the hate-fire in his belly by systematically plotting his route back to the top.

Not really, that’s loosely the story of Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo.  We almost wouldn’t blame Joseph if that was his story though.  He had some big dreams in his heart, dreams he could legitimately credit the Lord with gifting him.  Certainly his brothers deserved punishment for wrecking the plans the Lord had shown Joseph.  How would we have felt in Joseph’s place?  Angry at the injustice?  Bitter with the family dysfunction?  Depressed and hopeless at the dismal outlook for the future?  Frustrated, full of doubt, wondering what was to come of the dreams and gifts of leadership the Lord had given?!  Slavery and leadership are kind of opposite ends of the career spectrum.

I’m  sure he must have felt some of these things.  We have to remember that the people we read in scripture were human, just like us.  No one goes through that kind of pain without at least shedding a few tears.  Surely if nothing else he desperately missed his dad.  Scripture doesn’t always tell us how someone was feeling in a situation, which can lead us to wrongly assume people to be only flat characters.  Don’t fall into that.  At this point in the story Joseph was a young man full of dreams, and, probably a bit of pride, rockin some designer label threads his dad had given him.  Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt as a human, and especially as an adolescent, that he may have been a bit emotional in the situation.  Bible characters are real people, too.  When we begin to see this and try to process the human side of the drama, the Old Testament, which includes 39 of the Bible’s 66 books, becomes more accessible to us.

More important than how he dealt with his emotional wounds, is how the Bible tells us Joseph lived his life.  As a slave we’re told in  Genesis 39:2-6:

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.  From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.

Then, after being unjustly thrown in prison for a rape he did not commit, in Genesis 39:21-23:

But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.

Obviously, this was not the Edmond Dantes hell-bent on revenge version of the story.  Joseph didn’t fill his days of captivity devising elaborate schemes, nor did he conversely lethargically lie and wallow in a justifiable pity party.  He did work, son.  Yes, the Lord showed him favor, but he wasn’t just sitting around enjoying being favored while his brothers were in the fields with the flocks…  He utilized the Lord’s favor upon his hard work to bless those in his sphere of influence.  He sought the Lord in his present, though far from ideal, circumstance.  And the Lord blessed him and gave Joseph a glimpse of His steadfast love for him.  Then, through a pretty crazy set of circumstances, Joseph ends up pretty much being made the Prime Minister of Egypt.  I’m not joking, check it out for yourself in Genesis 40-41.

Are you currently living the ideal, dream-come-true version of your life?  If so, are you being sure to give credit where it’s due and see the Lord’s favor in it?  Also, would you be interested in switching lives?  Kidding.  Sort of…

Colossians 3:23-25: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”

Joseph lived a beautiful example of this verse.  Whatever we find ourselves doing in life, we are called to work hard at it, focusing on our service to the Lord, and trusting He will reward our hard work as well as deal with “the brothers” in our lives.  The Lord gave us emotions, so be real with Him about how you’re feeling in your current circumstance, but don’t allow your feelings to keep you from the good work He has planned for you from before you were born (Ephesisans 2:10).  Trust that no matter how dismal our situation may appear it in no way limits the incredible outcome the Lord can accomplish through our hard work done in His strength.  He is sovereign over our circumstances, and Joseph credited his astronomic rise from slave to second in command of Egypt to the Lord.

The book of Genesis actually closes in chapter 50 with Joseph’s story coming full circle and his brothers bowed down before him seeking his forgiveness.  (Didn’t see that coming?  Check out Genesis 42-50 for the full story, it’s incredible).  Instead of taking this moment to punish his brothers for their many sins against him, to point the finger (and I’m not saying which finger), or bring up his past dreams and rub their noses in the fulfillment they were witnessing, Joseph instead says, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones (Genesis 50:19-21).”  He gives them the gift of grace– forgiveness and favor they definitely did not deserve.

Besides remembering the characters are real people, another way to deeply access the Old Testament  is to look for the ways it points us to Jesus.  Remember, God didn’t send Christ as Plan B when our obeying the ten commandments didn’t work out so well.  Jesus’ life was also purposed from before time.  In His story, we are the brothers that sold Him out.  Jesus lived a life marked by self-sacrificing service to others despite being supreme potentate of the universe.  We may not have been there to physically pound the spikes into His flesh, but do not doubt for one second that it was our sin that held Him there until it was accomplished.  When we bow before our brother, Jesus, and seek forgiveness for the atrocities we continually commit toward Him and the people around us made in His image, like Joseph He forgives us.  More than Joseph had the capacity to forgive because Christ is God.  Though He was faced with great evil, God meant it for good, and Jesus hung there in shame before His astronomical rise to life, that many people should be kept alive in Him.  That we don’t need to fear because He has told us He will provide us with everything we need.  He has given us hope for our eternal future as well as an abundant life to be lived in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in today.

My airport dreams have seemed to come to a close.  Recently, I dreamed I actually boarded a plane, though the dream moved on to something new before it landed.  I remember there was a man on the plane and he was standing up in front (my dream-plane had theater seating) and he asked a question.  I’m not sure what the question was, but in the dream I raised my hand, volunteering.  The dream niggled at the back of my mind for days until I prayed and asked God if He would tell me what these dreams were about, if anything at all.  I felt His answer, “For your encouragement.”  Be encouraged, friends!  He has such great plans to redeem our past, encourage us to endure the present, and promises us hope for the future.  Let’s pursue Him with everything we’ve got so our doubting selves can be blown away as we stand awestruck at His work, and give Him all the credit.

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  …  Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!”  2 Corinthians 9:6-8, 15

Welcome to the abundant life, what’s your dream?





From the Depths of the Dryer

Ever end up in bed at the end of the day wondering how you got there?  I’ve packed my schedule full to bursting, and had to pursue my plans in an all out sprint that no amount of caffeine could fuel, on  a regular basis.  Then somehow I end up in bed at the end of the night with almost no physical evidence of having actually accomplished anything.   The futility of the battle I wage against the constant deluge of dishes, laundry, diapers, broken crayons and other clutter has beaten me down more than once.  I have even called out to God from the depths of a pile of fresh-from-the-dryer whites, “Why?!  Why do You have me here?!  This is it for me?!  This is Your best?!”  I felt like a modern Solomon, living out his reflection in Ecclesiastes 2:11 that, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

Admittedly, my internal monologue is a bit dramatic, but I hope it gives a glimpse into my daily struggle with what my purpose is here.

If I’m looking at my situation from a purely rational perspective, someone has to maintain my home and care for my family so it might as well be me.  This reason doesn’t do much for me emotionally since surely there must be some sort of robot or trained monkey that could accomplish the same mind-numbingly repetitive, menial tasks, probably with twice the efficiency.   I mean, if all this is supposed to be my purpose shouldn’t it feel a little more… purposeful?  It would seem either God has forgotten He left me here, which I can’t seem to support with scripture, or He has placed me in my current circumstances intentionally, which on my difficult days can feel like a punishment.

In his letter to the Roman church, Paul includes a paraenesis, which is a standard feature of a biblical epistle.  (Paraenesis: list of moral exhortations, epistle: a letter.  Now go impress someone.)  Basically, he spends some time telling the Gentile and Jewish Christians to whom he’s writing  how they should be acting.  He writes in Romans 12:11: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (NIV).  I’ve been marinating this verse in my mind for about a month now.

Originally, I had thought it was just about not getting burned-out serving in ministry; that the sacrifice of our time should be an outpouring of our zeal for the Lord, and not a duty we begrudgingly show up for.  I think this certainly applies and many of the commentaries I read would agree, but, as I have discovered time and again, the longer I spend thinking through and praying about a particular passage the deeper I am drawn in and the application I receive is more personal.

Another indication that He knows exactly where He’s placed me in this season of life.

This process of the Holy Spirit’s personal illumination of scripture has also taught me to hold off on reading what the brilliant commentators have found until my not-so-brilliant self  has figured out what I’m supposed to find.  I am not saying that scripture means different things to different people, but that the application of the verse to our lives can be individualistic; our God is personal and longs to be intimately involved in our lives.  The Holy Spirit will also not show us any application in our life that contradicts any other part of scripture, so that needs to be kept in mind as we approach the living Word as well.

Anyway, it shouldn’t be any surprise that what I found spoke directly to my situation of feeling worn out under the futility of my day to day life.

“Never be lacking in zeal.”  Never? Like, never ever?  Not even when I have picked up the living room for the tenth time today, or the laundry I finally finished putting away Tuesday is back to overflowing by Thursday?  Zeal is defined as, “Great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.”  There is nothing about doing dishes that I find even remotely energizing or worth being enthusiastic about.  It definitely feels like I’m in pursuit of something (my sanity?!), even if the pursuit feels like I’m sprinting on a treadmill trying to actually gain ground.

I’m then exhorted to “keep my spiritual fervor.”  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing it, so I looked at the cross reference listed in my study Bible which took me to Acts 18:25.

The Acts of the Apostles, or Acts as it’s commonly referred to, serves the purpose of recording a selective history of the early church.  This particular verse is part of a mini-biography on Apollos, a Jew who was an eloquent speaker that had traveled to Alexandria to speak and teach about Jesus.  Verse 25 tells us that Apollos, “being fervent in spirit… spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus though he knew only the baptism of John” (emphasis mine).  Later, some more mature Christians heard him speaking boldly at the synagogue and took him aside and helped fill in the rest of the story of Christ he was missing.   Apollos didn’t know the whole story, but he was committed to being faithful to God’s call on his life and to trust in the truth of what he did know.  He also willingly accepted the guidance of the man and woman God placed in his life to clarify his teaching.

The definition of fervent is, “Having or displaying a passionate intensity.”  Apollos couldn’t see the big picture, but he was intensely passionate for what God was setting before him.   This gives me hope as both a student of the Word as well as a mom!  Not knowing the whole story of my purpose does not keep me from being able to passionately live out where God has called me to be today.  I have the opportunity to use the resources and story He has given me to the best of my ability right now, and He will fill in the missing pieces on His timing.  This is exciting!

Well it was at least, right up until I walked past the kids’ bathroom and was stopped in my tracks by the stench of stale urine.  Time to clean up someone’s apparently anonymous accident, again.  I bet Apollos didn’t have to deal with this mess.  I would probably have more spiritual fervor too if I was doing something exhilarating and fulfilling like he was.  Looks like I need to get back to our key verse.

The last section of the verse we’re looking at says simply, “serve the Lord.”  Now here is where I had my palm-smacks-forehead moment.  Who am I serving?  The Lord.  Not my husband, kids, schedule, or personal ambition.  I need to remember this service to Him is my true motivation, regardless of the circumstance.  No matter how tedious or routine my daily life seems I need to be claiming this work as entrusted to me by God, trusting He has a purpose in it both for my good and to benefit others.  My purpose isn’t just about making me feel fulfilled; it’s about bringing God glory.  “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To God be glory forever” (Romans 11:36, ESV).  Each and every task I face in any facet of my life has something to do with His overall plans for me.

So how will this understanding of motivation impact my daily grind?  Fortunately for us, verse twelve providentially follows verse eleven, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12, ESV).  These are spiritual tools that will empower me to have zeal and passion for my work in service to the Lord.  I will look for ways to find joy in my job with the hope that what I am doing is bringing glory to God (Romans 5:2).  I need to choose to have patience through this season because the Lord wants me to endure so that when I have accomplished His will I will receive what He has promised (Hebrews 10:36).

I can look to Jesus as my perfect example of what choosing joy and endurance looks like in its most pure form, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2b, emphasis mine).  He despised the task set before Him, and yet He did it with joy and endurance and He received the highest place of honor.  If Christ could love me and endure a cross for me before I even knew Him, when I was still choosing my sin over Him, then surely I can find ways to get through my housework with some rejoicing.

However, I can’t just mentally flip a switch tomorrow that my new found passion in life is vacuuming.  I could just repeat in my head, “this sucks, in a good way!  I’m really enjoying myself and finding so much fulfillment right now.  Glory be!”  But it would be a (very) superficial attempt at joy.  To evoke true joy in my life I’m going to need to be constantly in prayer that God would not just change my attitude but change my heart toward my current position in life as well. Lord, give us zeal to serve you with passion and see purpose in any task you set before us!

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  

1 Corinthians 15:58

I’m sure stay at home moms are not the only ones who assess the lasting value of their immediate work.  What is your current situation?  How do you see the command to live life with zeal and spiritual fervor serving the Lord play out in your practical day to day?

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