Tag Archives: Curse

Family Patterns

Family Patterns (CaD Jos 15) Wayfarer

The allotment for the tribe of Judah, according to its clans, extended down to the territory of Edom, to the Desert of Zin in the extreme south.
Joshua 15:1 (NIV)

I remember as a child beginning to see patterns of relationships in my extended family. Favoritism, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and broken relationships were all present in one form or another. I didn’t always know the source or how these things developed over time, or how far the patterns of relationship went back, but I certainly observed the fruit of their consequences in the present. I’ve always been fascinated by these things.

In today’s chapter, the first of the nine and a half remaining tribes receive their allotment, beginning with the tribe of Judah. It’s always interesting to see who goes first in a family system, and I can’t forget that the Hebrew tribes are a 600-year-old family system. Typically, I would expect things to be arranged by birth order, beginning with the honored firstborn. but Judah was the fourth of the sons of Jacob, and this got me pondering.

I backtracked to Genesis 49, where Jacob is on his deathbed and he gathers his sons to speak a blessing over each one. On that occasion, he did go in birth order, but he didn’t have many good things to say to his eldest three sons.

Reuben slept with his father’s wife, his stepmother and Jacob said that Reuben would “no longer excel.” This made me think about the tribe of Reuben asking Moses for land on the other side of Jordan. Is it possible that they worried that they’d better get an allotment sooner because they feared getting the shaft later?

Likewise, brothers 2 and 3, Simeon and Levi, were told by their father that their violence and arrogance in attacking towns without their father’s permission were a curse. They would be “scattered” in Israel. For Levi’s tribe, this was literally true, since they wouldn’t receive land but would serve the Lord across all of the tribes. Simeon would end up getting territory within Judah.

Judah was the fourth, and his father’s blessing is equally prophetic:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

A scepter was a token of royalty. King David would come from the tribe of Judah, and the Lord would “establish his throne forever.” David would establish his throne in the fortress of Jerusalem, the one fortified city of the Jebusites that the tribe could not conquer (vs 63). It would be from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah, Jesus, would come.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about family systems and how they affect the individuals within that system for generations. There is something tragic in the way things often play out. The descendants of Reuben and Simeon, living 600 years later, had nothing to do with the mistakes their forefathers made, nor did the descendants of Judah do anything to deserve the favor afforded theirs. At the same time, along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are some things that I simply don’t control, and getting my undies in a bunch about it will profit me nothing. I have found it more profitable to seek to understand, to see things for what they are, and learn to flow with it.

That is not how things will play out for Judah I’m afraid. Eventually, all of the other tribes, with the exception of Benjamin, will turn on them in a long, bloody civil war. They will reject the throne of David and set up their own king. That won’t go well for them, I’m afraid. I’ve learned that sometimes there’s wisdom in learning how to live and operate within an unhealthy system and there’s often foolishness in trying to rage against that which I didn’t create, don’t control, and won’t be able to change.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Words of a Parent

The Words of a Parent (CaD Gen 49) Wayfarer

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: “Gather around so I can tell you what will happen to you in days to come.
Genesis 49:1 (NIV)

Words have power.

Words of a parent, fathers especially, have unusual power.

Along my earthly journey, I have observed individuals whose lives have been either blessed or plagued by the words of a parent. These words get imprinted in a person’s psyche and soul for good or for ill:

“I love you.”
“I can’t stand you.”
“I’m proud of you.”

Well done. You’re so smart.”
Why did you do that? You’re so stupid.”
“I’m ashamed to have you as a child.”
“You’re going to go far in life.”
“You’ll never amount to anything.”

I find today’s chapter is one of the most intriguing in all of the Great Story. Jacob/Israel calls all of his sons together as he’s about to die. He then offers a poem about each of his sons to “tell you what will happen to you.” These are his final words. This is the lasting message he leaves with each one. Words have power, and final words pack an extra punch.

I found it important that Jacob does not say, “these are the words of the Lord” or “Thus says the Lord.” Those words accompany divine prophecy. Jacob’s words are not from God, but from his own observations, relationships, and experiences with his children. His words are human, not divine, and any person imprinted with negative parental words must always remember this truth. Embracing the truth of it is the first step towards healing.

A few observations from Jacob’s final words to his sons:

Sometimes mistakes follow you forever. This was true of Reuben, who slept with Jacob’s wife. It was true of Simeon and Levi, who attacked Shechem without permission. These events were never forgiven, and Jacob seals the deal by cursing them for it once again with his dying breath. Jesus, in stark contrast, came to forgive and to teach us to forgive, which has the power to heal the soul of both victim and perpetrator.

Sometimes perception and the seemingly prophetic statements of parents are simply wrong. Jacob tells his Zebulun that his tribe will live by the seashore and be a seafaring people and that his border will extend to the town of Sidon. When the Promised Land was distributed to the tribes, Zebulun was landlocked and 40 miles from Sidon. Sometimes parents say things that are simply wrong, and the only power they have is our willingness to believe them.

Sometimes words can be prophetic despite the source. It seems contradictory, but throughout the Great Story God uses strange sources to speak and foreshadow truth. Shakespeare picked up on this and used it as a device. The fools in his plays regularly speak important truths. Jacob not only makes Judah the leader of the clan, but he also foreshadows the fact that the Messiah will spring from his tribe.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself, once again, grateful to my parents. The simple words “I love you” were imprinted on my soul ceaselessly. The words “I’m proud of you” were spoken regularly at appropriate moments. I have known others who are haunted to have never heard those words from a parent. I am so blessed by my parents.

I’m also reminded this morning of yesterday’s post, which I would encourage anyone struggling with father, mother, or family wounds to read. We don’t get to choose our earthly families, but Jesus came to make the way for anyone to be adopted into an eternal family and divine inheritance. Human curses may always leave a scar on this earthly sojourn, but Jesus offers both healing and a loving new family.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Spiritual Horticulture

Then [Jesus] said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.
Mark 11:14, 20 (NIV)

Over the past three or four years, Wendy and I have worked on a phased landscaping plan for our yard. I’m glad to say that this past year was the final phase (for now). I have never been very good with plants and often joke that I have a brown thumb. Nevertheless, I have been growing in my proficiency as I try to keep the lawn, bushes, trees, flowers, grasses, and shrubs alive.

One of the fascinating things for me to watch is what happens when we plant multiples of certain plants. They may look exactly the same when I planted them, and while they are in the same bed and treated to the same amounts of light and water, one of them will die. I’m sure there are very good reasons why this happened (that I don’t care to spend time figuring out), but it always leaves me scratching my head a bit.

In today’s chapter, Mark tells a curious episode of Jesus and a fig tree. He and His followers were walking from the temple in Jerusalem back to where they were staying. Jesus sees a fig tree and looks for a fig to eat. Finding none, He curses the tree and says, “May no one eat fruit from you again.” The next morning on their walk back to the temple, the disciples find the fig tree withered.

I found myself pondering this rather curious episode this morning just as I would scratch my head wondering why in the world that one arborvitae on the north side of our lawn didn’t make it.

As I am fond of saying, God’s base language is metaphor. Jesus rarely did anything that was not intended to be a metaphorical lesson, so there is little doubt in my mind that the cursing of the fig tree was not just a moment of hunger-induced rage. So, what was that all about?

Jesus and the disciples have arrived at the epicenter of Jewish worship and power. In Jesus’ day, the temple consumed about 25% of Jerusalem area-wise and first-hand accounts say that as many as two million spiritual pilgrims would visit to celebrate the Passover. Passover was the festival which annually memorialized the Hebrews miraculously being freed from enslavement in Egypt (e.g. The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner). Being at the temple would have been a huge deal for Jesus’ followers. Think Times Square on New Year’s Eve, New Orleans on Mardi Gras, or Washington D.C. on the 4th of July.

As Jesus passes the fig tree they have just left the temple. They arrived late in the day and Mark records that they only had time to “look around” at the temple, the crowds, the courts, and the merchants. For Jesus and the disciples, who were from the simple, backwater region Galilee, I have to believe the sights, sounds, and smells of the awe-inspiring location would have been what was on everyone’s minds as they walked.

As I mulled this over, I was reminded of another episode from Matthew’s version of Jesus’ story. This happened during the very same visit to Jerusalem:

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Matthew 24:1-2 (NIV)

Then there’s the metaphor of “fruit” which Jesus repeatedly used in His teaching, especially when talking about the religious leaders who ran the very temple they’d just exited:

Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 7:17-19 (NIV)

As I connected the dots, the metaphorical meaning of Jesus’ actions with the fig tree came into focus. The temple and the Law of Moses had been intended to bear good, spiritual fruit in the lives of God’s people, their community, and the world. Instead, it had become a corrupt, institutional religious system centered on power, prejudice, and greed. It was a religious tree bearing bad spiritual fruit. In the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus was providing a prophetic word picture to His followers consistent with what He had been teaching them all along.

Forty years after the events described in today’s chapter, the Roman Empire would tear down the temple and reduce it to rubble. They would also destroy the genealogical records necessary for determining who was able to perform priestly duties, sacrifices, and care for the temple according to the Law of Moses. In essence, the temple “tree” had been cut down for good.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded that the same metaphor of “fruit” would continue to be central to the teaching of Jesus’ followers:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Paul’s Letter to Jesus’ followers in Galatia 5:22-23 (MSG)

As I enter this post-Easter week in a world turned upside-down, I’m reminded that Jesus was never about being a religious rule-keeper. He was about being a cultivator of the spiritual fruit of love in life and relationships. And, I desire to have a green thumb when it comes to spiritual horticulture.

Now, if I could just figure out what the heck happened to those Pencil-Point Junipers by the patio. Oh well. Not as important.

Someday … is TODAY!

Anyone who knows me even moderately well knows that I am among the millions of long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans. My precious young daughters endured long, chilly April afternoons at Principal Park with dad watching the AAA Iowa Cubs play. They did, however, get to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame for a local news story about the ubiquitous “Businessman’s Special” (forgive the extremely poor VHS archive footage):

Taylor even dutifully went along with me on my first visit to Wrigley Field.

Tom and Taylor at Wrigley - 1

When Wendy and I married she allowed me the joy of teaching her about baseball, about the Cubs, and she has walked this journey with me for over a decade. She’s endured the chill winds blowing in at Wrigley with me. We try to watch or listen to every game, often recording it and watching it late if we have to, and planning our travel to the lake to coincide with Pat and Ron calling the game on the radio. My wonderful wife has become such a baseball fan that while I was on a business trip a few years ago she was watching all of the major league roster moves on the MLB network at the trade deadline and texting me up-to-the-minute news. Man, I love that woman.

tom&wendy@wrigley050108

Our family and friends have had to live with (endure, really) the reality that the Cubs are always on at our house. It’s just the way of life at both Vander Well Manor and our Playhouse at the lake. I’m happy to say, however, that more than a few have embraced our crazy. It’s been a blast to share the fun together.

Every year hope has sprung eternal. Opening day is a bit of an annual rite of passage at our house. Wendy has hot dogs, nachos, and cold beer ready. We put it on the calendar and make watching a priority.

opening-day-at-vw-manor

I crank Eddie Vedder’s Someday We’ll Go All the Way and dream quietly that it just might be a day this year, this season.

Every autumn hope has ended with acute, even horrific, post season tragedy or the painfully slow, obtuse seasons in which there were far more losses than wins.

There’s been more sorrow than joy over the years, but it hasn’t really  mattered. We still watch, listen, follow, cheer, scream, and cry. Then we grieve the long months of winter until the sounds of a Cubs game can once again resonate through Vander Well Manor each day.

Ask any Cubs fan and they’ll tell you that this season was special. There was something different about this crew of bear Cubs. There is the zen, hippie manager who organized pajama parties on road trips and petting zoos at practice. There are the expensive free agents that the front office were willing to sign. There are the talented free agents who passed up more money and longer contracts because they wanted to play for this team. The National League infield in the All-Star game were all Chicago Cubs. And, there were wins. A lot of wins. The “W” flag risked getting tattered from consistent exposure to the elements. We’d experienced some great seasons, but we’d never experienced a season like this season.

There’s this thing I’ve learned about hope when all you’ve experienced is disappointment. You want so desperately to give yourself wholly to dance with hope, but you’re always waiting for disappointment to show up, tap hope on the shoulder, and cut in. We’ve been conditioned to expect that our hopes will be dashed. The rug will be pulled out from under us. 

Our team swooned in June before the all-star break and we thought, “Oh no, here we go again.”

Our team won more games than any other team, and we were told “the team who wins the most games rarely wins the World Series.”

Our team lost to the Giants in 13 innings, and we thought “The momentum’s gone. Here we go again.”

Our team couldn’t eek out a single run against Kershaw in Game 2 of the NLCS, then we get shut out again in Game 3. We thought “Surely, this is the beginning of the end.”

Our team gets shut out in Game 1 of the World Series, then loses two of three at Wrigley. We have to win three straight, and win the last two in Cleveland. We’re reminded incessantly by Joe Buck and the rest of the baseball talking heads how long the odds are, how improbable it would be, and how many times the Cubs have blown it before. And, we think, “The dance with hope is over. I see disappointment making its way across the gym floor to cut in. Again.”

Then we win Game 5 at Wrigley and salvage one victory at home. At least we won’t have to endure watching Cleveland celebrate a World Series victory in the Friendly Confines.

Then we win Game 6 in Cleveland and relish the thought of having pushed the series to the limit. Still we have the talking heads reminding us of the improbability, the long odds, the history of our dashed hopes.

Then comes Game 7. Lead off homer by Fowler. Strong effort by Hendricks. 5-1 lead. The Indians get a couple of runs but we’ve got a lead and it’s getting late in the game. Hope is dancing. Hope is literally cutting the rug, and we are feelin’ fine. Put on the dancing shoes.

Nine outs away.
Six outs away.
Four outs away.

Two down. Bottom of the 8th. Bases empty. Just one more out and we’re on to the 9th. 

Indians double. 

Indians Home Run. 

Tied 5-5. 

There is disappointment tapping hope on the shoulder. “Excuse me. I’d like to cut in.”

Rain delay. Seriously?!

Texting with Madison in SC.

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Texting with Kevin M.

2016-world-series-game-7-5
Texting with Chadwicke.

2016-world-series-game-7-8
Texting with Kevin R.

2016-world-series-game-7-7
Texting with Matthew.
Texting with Harry.

Then comes the top of the 10th.
Cubs score one.

Cubs score two.

The Cubs are doing it. They are defying the odds and the naysayers and the talking heads and the curses and the nagging disappointments.

Carl Edwards Jr., the kid we watched pitch at Principal Park for the Iowa Cubs just a month or so ago, is in to close it.

Indians score one. Disappointment is still trying desperately to steal the dance.

Texting with Taylor

2016-world-series-game-7-10

I have always dreamed of this day. I had always envisioned being in Chicago. I imagined driving to Elgin and taking the train into the city and the Red Line to Wrigley. But, there was something so right about being here at Vander Well Manor. It was just Wendy and me listening to Pat and Ron call the game while we watched the muted television feed. This is where we celebrate Opening Day with hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and beer. This is where we listen and watch and cheer and groan and cry nearly every day from April through September. Now it’s November. It’s the last day of the baseball season. Game 7 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs were the last team standing. We won the big one.

Hope shrugged off disappointment this time. It’s time to dance, really dance, for the first time in 108 years. Wendy and I hugged, and cried, and went outside to #FlytheW.

2016-world-series-game-7-2

Someday was TODAY. I can’t describe how much fun it was to exchange calls and texts and messages and posts and tweets with friends and family. And, most of all, with the little girls, now grown, who endured  chilly April afternoons at Principal Park with dad watching the AAA Iowa Cubs play and learning to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. 

It’s root, root, root for the Cubbies, if they don’t win it’s a shame…

No shame tonight. We won. It’s time to dance.

madison-watching-cubs-in-sc

2016-world-series-game-7-3

Blessing

And of Joseph he said:
Blessed by the Lord be his land,
    with the choice gifts of heaven above,
    and of the deep that lies beneath;
Deuteronomy 33:13 (NRSV)

Along my life journey I have received words of incredible encouragement from family, teachers, and mentors:

You will do well in whatever you do.
Whatever you do, I know you’ll succeed.
You’ll do great. I know you will.

Those words are examples of what the ancients called a blessing. Most commonly given from father to son, king to subject, leader to follower, a blessing is a word of affirmation spoken to bless and encourage. Some blessings can be prophetic nature while others simply to strengthen and comfort the recipient.

In today’s chapter we find Moses approaching then end of the road. He is in the home stretch of his life journey, and the finish line is straight ahead. He gathers his people together and, tribe-by-tribe, he speaks over them a blessing. The blessing for each tribe is unique, and the themes include life, safety, strength, acceptance, abundance, provision, affluence, favor, possession, and etc.

Today, I’m thinking about my children, and others who live within the circles of my influence. I’m thinking about the opportunity I have to speak words of blessing into them. Conversely, I’m thinking about the curse of staying silent and not blessing those who I have the opportunity to encourage. I need not wait until the end of my life journey to speak a blessing over others. In fact, what a shame it would be for me to do so.

These Cubs Aren’t Following the Narrative

This Cubs team is not sticking to the narrative. The narrative is legendary. It is mythical in proportion, and as a long time Cubs fan you begin to trust the narrative like the you trust the impending arrival of winter.

Our friends Kevin and Linda experienced the narrative when they made a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field this past summer to watch the Cubs play the rival Cardinals in the friendly confines. The Cubs had a 5-4 lead in the rainy 9th inning. Two outs. Two strikes. Wrigley was rocking and the fans were pumped to take the mid-season series at home. Then the narrative kicked in. Jhonny Peralta belts a two run homer off Pedro Strop. Once again, our hopes are dashed at the moment we were about to experience eucatastrophy.

Soaring hopes tragically dashed. That’s the narrative. The ’84 Cubs get to the postseason for the first time since 1945 then watch Steve Garvey take our hopes away. The ’03 Cubs up 3-1 in the NLCS and the Wrigley faithful preparing for our first trip to the World Series since World War II. Then the narrative kicks in with a fly ball to left, an angry outburst from Moises Alou, and it all unravels before our eyes as the Marlins take three straight and go on to win the World Series. The ’07 and ’08 Cubs packed with all-stars and raising our hopes with stellar regular season play. Then the narrative kicks in early we couldn’t eek one postseason win in either year.

“That’s the Cubs,” Cardinal fans laugh with smug arrogance as they smooth out the wrinkles on their latest World Champions t-shirt. That’s the narrative and this is our lot.

Last night Wendy and I stood in our living room and watched Hector Rondon take the mound against the rival Cardinals in the 9th inning. Up two runs and here we are again. We’re just a few outs away from going to the NLCS. We’re just a few outs away from beating the dreaded Cardinals in the postseason for the first time in history. This is when the narrative kicks in. This is when the meltdown happens. This is when Peralta homers, or a Cubs player trips on a shadow, or a black cat appears and steals the eucatastrophic moment from us all.

Then, a strange realization creeped into my conscious thought as I stood stood there behind the couch and felt the adrenaline rush I have not experienced since 2003. This Cubs team is not following the narrative. This batch of talented youngsters and their aged hippie Manager seem to know nothing of Billy Goats or curses or mythic narratives. This is not our father’s Cubs teams running from the past and feeling the pressure of the ages. With the death of Ernie Banks this past spring, his spirit seems to have been freed to descend on this group of boys. These young men in Cubbie blue pinstripes are playing with joy. They are living in the moment. They are rewriting the narrative.

Swing and a miss. Strike three. Cardinals vanquished. Cubs win!

I make no predictions. This young, inexperienced team may yet fall short to the Dodgers or the Mets. The Cardinals are not the only team who know the Cubs’ narrative. Nevertheless, I wake up this morning and look out the window to see the “W” flag wafting over Vander Well Manor. We beat the Pirates in Pittsburgh. We beat the Cardinals at Wrigley. It’s the first time we’ve beat the Cardinals in the postseason in history. It’s the first time a Cubs team has ever won a postseason series at Wrigley. It’s the first time a team with so many rookies has won so many games, made it to the postseason, and hit so many home runs. And on, and on, and on it goes.

These 2015 Cubs appear to be rewriting the narrative. I can’t wait to find out what kind of story we get to experience in the coming week.

The Self Centric View of Blessing and Curses

source: 61056899@N06 via Flickr
source: 61056899@N06 via Flickr

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
    so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”
Job 5:17 (NIV)

As a child I remember seeing life in very simplistic terms. Life circumstances, I believed, stemmed from God’s approval or disapproval of me and my actions. When the Minnesota Vikings lost the Super Bowl each year (They were in four of them during my childhood), the loss could surely be pinned on a curse that was rooted in some wrong I had committed which resulted in God punishing me. If that cute girl I had a crush on just happened to walk down my street as I had desperately wished for her to pass by, then the granting of my wish must have been a sure sign I must be in good standing with my genie-like Almighty.

When I grew up and matured in my understanding, I realized that this simplistic view of suffering and blessing was not only misguided, but completely entirely self-centered. The outcome of the Super Bowl was dependent on me and my spiritual ledger sheet with God?Wow. That’s a lot of weight on the shoulders of a nine year old. Yet that’s what I believed. Each day’s good and bad events were dependent on these big spiritual scales next to God’s throne which constantly weighed my thoughts, words and actions. When the scale tipped towards good then good things happened. When the scale tipped towards bad, then I was in for a really bad day.

In today’s chapter, Job’s friend Eliphaz continues to give the suffering Job a piece of his mind. Eli’s words reveal his core belief, which aligns nicely with my childish, self-centric world view: Suffering is a clear sign of God’s punishment. His counsel for Job streams from the source of that core belief. To Eli, it is very simple. If you do good, then you’ll have abundant blessings that reveal your good standing with God to the world. If you do bad, then you’ll find yourself suffering like you are right now. The conclusion of the matter is simple: repent of whatever it is you did wrong, confess your wrong to God, and God will have compassion and ease your suffering.

My experiences along life’s road and my long sojourn through God’s Message has continued to reveal to me how incongruent this type of thinking is with the heart of God that I find revealed in God’s story. Suffering is not necessarily punishment from the Almighty, but this fallen world’s spiritual proving ground in which eternal character qualities of perseverance, maturity, wisdom, humility, and fortitude are forged. Jesus said to prepare ourselves for suffering, not to be surprised when it happens, and to embrace it when it does. Likewise, material blessing is not necessarily a sure sign of God’s favor, but may very well be a spiritual snare. What we commonly esteem as God’s blessing or favor may simply be the result of wise life and financial choices, but it can also be the result of deep seeded greed and heinous corruption. In fact, Jesus was quick to point out that material “blessing” is a common spiritual stumbling block and repeatedly told us to be wary – even shunning it if it’s getting in the way of our spiritual progress.

 

Unconditional Love for Irreconcilable Suffering

job-and-eliphaz2“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
Job 4:7-8 (NIV)

When I was young, I began to notice that men and women have very different sub-textual conversations. I became fascinated with a phenomenon I observed in my female friends. I would be in a social setting with a female when another female enters the room. My friend would suddenly turn and whisper some critical remark about the stranger. A few probing questions led me to the realization that within a nano-second my female companion had sized up the female who just entered the room and had filled out a complete mental dossier on her competition. She knew what the other female was wearing, her socio-economic status, what kind of person she was, and exactly where she was to be filed in the categorized file cabinet of her brain. The hi-speed, interpersonal judge, jury, and executioner from across the crowded room.

Along the journey I have continued to observe this non-verbal social world of women. I have, after all, spent much of my life in an estrogen wonderland surrounded by females. I find it fascinating. (Personal Note: I realize that I’m making a broad generalization here. I’m not picking on women. Men have similar unspoken judgments, but in my experience it just looks and behaves differently. That’s another blog post for another day.)

As Wendy and I were in the depths of our journey through infertility, I became aware of just how deep and strong women’s thoughts and core beliefs around pregnancy and motherhood can run. In this unspoken, invisible world of non-verbal female communication there exists a sub-culture in which fertility is spiritual currency. If you are a woman who gets pregnant at the drop of a hat and cranks out multiple children in succession, then you are a female all-star, blessed and living right. If you are a woman struggling to conceive then there are some serious question marks surrounding you and this curse you are experiencing. There must be some reason God is withholding this fundamental female blessing from you.

In yesterday’s chapter we left Job and his three friends on the ash heap. For seven days the four of them sat in silence when Job finally opened his mouth to speak. What poured out what was a highly emotional rant of despair that you might have expected from a man who had lost his children, his workforce, his wealth, and his livelihood before breaking out in painful sores all over his body.

Today, the first of his three friends opens his mouth to speak. His name is Eliphaz, and he comes from the ultra-religious wing of society for whom life is very simple. Everything in life fits neatly into their black and white box and it parallels the thinking I’ve observed around fertility in certain subsets of the female population. If you are visibly prospering you must be living upright and piously because God is blessing you. If you are visibly suffering then you must have done something to deserve God’s punishment. Plain and simple.

Too simple. Eliphaz asks, “Who, being innocent ever perished?” Stop right there, Eli. Let me give you a short list off the top of my head:

  • Still born and miscarried children
  • The millions who were marched into the Nazi gas chambers
  • Millions of civilian war victims throughout history
  • The journalists who were beheaded on video by ISIS to make a point
  • The Christian couple I read about in Pakistan who just last week were beaten to death by the Muslims in their village.
  • My friend who was hit by a drunk driver
  • My friends and loved ones whose lives were cut short by incurable diseases

Job has suffered incredible tragedy and the first thing he hears from his friend is a backhanded accusation that he must have done something to bring down God’s wrath upon himself. Eli’s words reveal his heart. He is less concerned with showing love, empathy, and compassion to his friend, and more concerned with trying to reconcile what he’s witnessed with the rose-colored glasses through which he sees a simple black and white world.

Today, I am thinking about those who suffer around me in ways I can’t comprehend. I am determined that I do not want to be a friend like Eliphaz. Trying to reconcile irreconcilable suffering within my personal world-view is less important than simply loving a suffering friend without reservation or judgment.

Five Ways I Try to Bless My Family

IMG_7694Then all the people left, each for their own home, and David returned home to bless his family. 1 Chronicles 16:43 (NIV)

This little verse at the end of today’s chapter hit me like a ton of bricks this morning. David intentionally went home to “bless his family.” It’s a simple truth: I can be a blessing to my family, I can be a curse to my family, or I can be a non-factor. Which I will be is determined by my daily life, words, actions and decisions. I have found through experience that being a blessing to your family does not happen without intention.

I am really imperfect as a husband and father, but I do approach the roles with conscious intention and effort. Here are a five ways I consciously try to bless my family:

  • Keep my own spiritual life healthy. It starts with me. If things aren’t right in my own heart and life, I will not have the spiritual reserves to pour out to my loved ones.
  • Be considerate. This one is perhaps one that requires a lot of conscious mental effort for me. It’s as small and simple as taking a second to see if they need anything when I get up to refill my own glass. I’m a dreamer and a thinker. I get tunnel vision very easily, get lost in my own world, and forget to think about anyone else. I’ve learned that being a blessing to my family requires me to constantly and consciously cut through the fog of my own self-centric thoughts to consider, in the moment, what my family member needs and wants.
  • Speak words of love, gratitude and affirmation. Along the way I have come to realize just how important it is that my family hear me actually say what I feel and mean. How simple is it to say a few little words that go a long way:
    • I love you.
    • You look good. That looks good on you. You look beautiful
    • Well done.
    • Good job. I’m proud of you.
    • Thank you for _________ (dinner, doing the laundry, taking good care of me)
  • Serve them with a willing heart. One of the customer service skills that I’ve taught for years is an “ownership statement.” It’s one thing to do what the customer asks, but it makes an even stronger impression on the customer when you say, “Absolutely! I can do that for you.” I’ve always tried to make it a point with my family when asked to do something to respond “I’d be happy to do that for you.” Serving my loved ones is not a burden, it’s a blessing.
  • Send postcards. When I was in college and away from home for the first time, I learned the utter joy that comes with going to your mail box and finding a personal letter or postcard from a friend or family member. Realizing that my friend or loved one had taken the time to write a personal note, find my address, put a stamp on it and put it in the mail to me, that postcard became a tangible symbol of love. Now that the girls are grown and out on their own, I still try to send the occasional hand written postcard or personal note via snail mail. E-mail is easy, but a postcard is a little blessing.

A Thread in the Tapestry

Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a longs...
Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a longship in the invasion of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

Last week Wendy, her sister Suzanna, and I had dinner with friends who traveled to Europe over the summer. In hearing about the things they enjoyed seeing in their journey, I learned about the Bayeaux Tapestry. It’s a giant tapestry 230 feet long which dates from around 1070. It tells the story of events that happened from 1044-1046 in the Norman conquest in England. I’d never heard of it and so it was fun to hear about what intrigued our friends with it. My curiosity led me to look it up and learn a bit about it on my own.

I thought about the tapestry this morning as I pondered Psalm 100 because I’ve always thought that tapestries (large, woven textile works that often tell a story) an apt metaphor for family history. I’ve done a good deal of genealogy work on my families on both my father’s and my mother’s branches. It’s fascinating to me to find out where I came from and to discover family history. My curiosity has been more than a trivial pursuit, however. My desire has been to get a better grip on who I am, how I came to be, and what threads of family history were woven into the tapestry of my own personal story. I discovered the good, the bad, and the ugly in my research.

I have come to realize that what God has said in His Message is essentially true. Sins of the parents are passed down through subsequent generations. They are passed along because behaviors are both learned and systemic. Psychological, sociological, and spiritual factors are all at work.

Yet, if the sins of the parents are visited upon subsequent generations, then the opposite is equally true. The blessings of the faithful are also visited upon subsequent generations. Just as you can trace threads of alcoholism, greed, or abuse back through multiple generations you can also trace threads of faith, generosity, and love. As David’s lyric states, God’s faithfulness endures through the generations of the faithful.

In my journey and pursuits I have come to the conclusion that the real question that I need to answer is this: Who am I going to be in light of my family’s stories? Certain behaviors and bents have generational roots, but it is within me to choose how I will behave today. We are influenced by previous generations but we are not enslaved to them. The choices I make in my thoughts, words, actions and decisions today are a thread in the tapestry which will influence the ultimate shape, color and design of my own family’s story.