Tag Archives: Family

The Land of Entitlement

Land of Entitlement (CaD Jos 17) Wayfarer

But Joshua said to the tribes of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours.”
Joshua 17:17-18 (NIV)

The land of Iowa that has always been my home in this life journey is among the most abundant farmland in the world. Even though I grew up in Iowa’s largest city and there were no farmers in my immediate family, farming is a part of life when you grow up here. Saturday mornings were all about watching cartoons as a kid, but I had to endure the U.S. Farm Report before the cartoons started.

As an adult, I’ve been friends with many people who did grow up on farms and in multi-generation farm families. Listening to their stories, I began to appreciate some of the larger issues that farm families have to deal with. Perhaps the largest issue for any farm family is the land.

Along my life journey, I have heard so many stories of families torn apart by disputes over the family farm and land. I’ve heard more than one person tell me that their family dutifully went to church every Sunday, but the land of the family farm was the idol, the god, that the entire family system worshipped. I’ve watched grown men weep as they talk about the relational carnage and emotional scars they carry because of the way the inheritance of the family farm was handled. Others have told me about close relatives who have harbored lingering hatred towards them over family land disputes.

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wisely said that there’s nothing new under the sun. So, I shouldn’t be surprised that as the Promised Land is divided among the twelve Hebrew tribes that there would have been conflicts that arose over the division of the land. In today’s chapter, the tribes of Joseph grumble and complain that they haven’t been given enough land.

As I sat and pondered their complaint in the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder at the brashness of the complaint. Among the twelve tribes of Israel, Joseph had two of them (his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob’s grandsons, whom he adopted as sons). In essence, the two tribes of Joseph already had twice the inheritance as any of Jacob’s other sons. What’s more, they were given preferential treatment. After Judah, they were the first to receive their allotment. Other tribes have yet to be allotted any land yet, and the Joseph tribes are already complaining that they don’t have enough. Beyond that, they complained that the land allotted to them had fortified Canaanite cities that had chariots that were technologically advanced in their day and they didn’t want to have to deal with driving them out. So, I translate their request as “give us more land that will be easier for us to settle.”

Joseph was the favorite. It leads me to wonder if the family pattern was that his descendants retained the attitude and sense of entitlement that often accompanies favored children.

This makes Joshua’s reply to Joseph’s tribes even more fascinating. In essence, he tells them that they’re stuck with the land allotted, and they can have all the land they want beyond their allotment, but they have to conquer it and claim it for themselves.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I and my family have never had to deal with internal inheritance and land disputes. At the same time, I have to confess that as I point my finger at Joseph’s tribes this morning there are three of my fingers pointing back at me. There are many ways that selfishness and entitlement reveal themselves in life. There are many other things in life that become just as much of an idol as farmland.

Jesus taught a lot about being content with one’s circumstances on this Earth. It’s a subject I rarely hear talked about or discussed in a culture of entitlement and an economy fueled by discontentment. But, as a disciple of Jesus, I can’t ignore the lesson.

And so, I enter another day of labor choosing on this day to be grateful, diligent, and content.

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

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.

We Are Family

We are Family (CaD Jos 12) Wayfarer

Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the Israelites conquered them. And Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to be their possession.
Joshua 12:6 (NIV)

Last night, Wendy and I went to a local watering hole for dinner. It’s a place where locals gather and we like to sit at the bar where we can meet people and chat with the staff as we eat. Next to me was a woman whose husband died just three weeks ago. She was alone, and with the way she engaged me in conversation, I could feel her emotional desperation. Wendy received a phone call and stepped outside the restaurant to take it.

The woman shared her story, weeping off and on as she did so. She and her husband had lived at the lake, but she’d discovered that the “friends” they’d made weren’t friends at all. They partied together, but the only person who showed her any compassion through her husband’s illness and death subsequently tried to con her out of money. Her family was not with her. She was preparing to move, but was obviously alone and feeling the weight of everything. So much so, that she was pouring out her heart and grief to a perfect stranger who sat next to her at the bar.

Last week I was on the road for business and my travels afforded me several hours of windshield time driving hither and yon. I took the opportunity to spend some time talking to each of my siblings. It had been a while since I’d simply caught up with each of them. It refreshed my soul. Our lives are so spread out, and each of them is full, so it is that we can go long stretches of time without connecting. At the same time, we’re family. If any of them called and said, “I need you,” I would drop everything in a heartbeat. I know they would do the same for me.

Today’s chapter marks the end of the first half of the book of Joshua. It’s one of those chapters that seem insignificant on the surface of things. It’s like a box score of the conquest campaign, marking all of the Canaanite kings they defeated.

What struck me was the mention of Moses, who died thirteen chapters ago at the end of the book of Deuteronomy. The author of Joshua is listing off the conquest victories that made way for the lands on which the tribes would settle. He goes all the way back to before Moses died on the other side of the Jordan. Three tribes asked Moses if they could settle there. Moses pledged that as long as the three tribes supported the other tribes in the conquest of the land, they could have the land they desired (Num 32). They kept their pledge. The three tribes could go back over the Jordan to their land, as the rest of the tribes settled theirs.

This got me thinking about families. My family is more spread out on this planet than ever. When I think about my parents, siblings, and children, we’re a relatively small crew, but our life journeys have us spread out from Scotland to the southeast U.S. and all the way west to the Rocky Mountains. Yet, we are family. We are connected. That is an earthly reality.

At the same time, Jesus said that there is a Kingdom of God reality that is just as true. Jesus made it clear to His followers that they were His brothers and sisters even as His own earthly family stood outside waiting to see Him. Jesus went on to tell His followers that sometimes the Kingdom of God supersedes earthly family. Jesus recognized the possibility, especially among His Jewish followers, that being His disciple would divide families. Jesus’ ministry had even divided His own earthly family and at one point His mother and siblings wanted to have Him committed:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Mark 3:20-21 (NIV)

In the quiet this morning, I am exceedingly grateful, for I am doubly blessed. I have an earthly family who loves one another and supports one another across the miles and in spite of differences in the way we may sometimes see the world. I also have a spiritual family that is just as intimate, connected, and supportive, though the bond is Spirit and not flesh.

I’m praying this morning for the woman who is alone in her grief.

It’s a good thing to have family, both of blood and Spirit.

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

Memorials

Memorials (CaD Jos 4) Wayfarer

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
Joshua 4:8-9 (NIV)

A few weeks ago, I shared about Storii, the company our daughter, Taylor, works for. As a part of their suite of software applications, they’ve introduced a process by which an individual regularly receives a phone call asking them a specific question (e.g. “What was your first job?”) and then giving them four minutes to record their answer. The recordings are then made available to family members. It’s genius in its simplicity, and it’s been fun that Taylor has my father participating. I’ve heard him share some things I’d never known before.

I’ve often shared in these posts about my love of history, including the history of my own family. I’ve always found that an understanding of the past helps inform my own present earthly journey. Wisdom can be found in knowing family stories. I just wish I knew more of them. Hence, my joy with what Taylor’s employer is doing.

In today’s chapter, Joshua orders twelve men, one from each of the Hebrew tribes, to gather a stone from the Jordan River bed. Joshua then had the stones placed as a memorial for future generations to remember what God had done on that day when the waters of the Jordan River were stopped up so that the people could cross on dry ground.

That got me thinking this morning about memorials. Ironically, sitting on my desk as I write this is a photograph and ticket I had laminated of the night Taylor had the folks at the Iowa Cubs surprise us, revealing the gender of our first grandson, Milo, on the giant scoreboard. It was such a great memory. I wanted a way to be continually reminded of it. I use the laminated photo as a bookmark, and it makes me happy every time I see it. It’s a memorial for me.

I’m reminded this morning that God specifically told His people to share their God stories with future generations:

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Deut 4:9 (NIV)

Of course, this begs a few questions: Do I have stories of what God has done in my life? What have my eyes seen God do? How have I experienced God’s goodness and faithfulness along my journey?

In the quiet this morning, today’s chapter has me thinking quite simply and practically. How do I share and leave the story about what God has done in my life for my descendants?

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

Bad Blood

Bad Blood (CaD Ob 1) Wayfarer

Jacob will be a fire
    and Joseph a flame;
Esau will be stubble,
    and they will set him on fire and destroy him.
There will be no survivors
    from Esau.”
The Lord has spoken.

Obadiah 1:18 (NIV)

Some of the more fascinating discoveries in the excavation of my family history have been the bad blood that exists between individuals and family units. In some cases, entire family groups have had little or no relationship with one another for generations and have no idea that the distance is rooted in bad blood from generations before.

I found bad blood in both my paternal and maternal families. I discovered bad blood rising from a host of reasons including, but not limited to, unwanted pregnancies, marriages, re-marriages, inheritance, family business, addiction, and deception. Most commonly, bad blood occurred between siblings, but bad blood between parents and children was also present.

Today’s chapter is the prophecy of Obadiah who wrote a short prophetic poem against the nation of Edom at the time Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire were marching on Jerusalem around 600 B.C. The Edomites, who had considered joining the local defense against the Babylonian Empire, ended up siding with Babylon.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the elder twin brother of Jacob. If you were on our chapter-a-day journey through Genesis last year, you might recall the bad blood between them. Bad blood arose between brothers because of the favoritism demonstrated by both parents. Dad favored Esau. Mom favored Jacob. This led to Jacob’s deceptive stealing of Esau’s blessing and inheritance then fleeing into exile for years. All of this took place around 2000 B.C.

I did the math this morning. The bad blood Obadiah is writing about in today’s chapter between the people of Israel and the people of Edom began with a conflict between brothers 1400 years before Obadiah picked up his papyrus and stylus.

In the quiet this morning, I circle back to thinking about family. I know that a lot of people could give a rat’s rear-end about the past. I get it. I have always had a bent toward the past and a love of history. It was fascinating to learn that this is part of being an Enneagram Type Four. I have personally found it worthwhile in a couple of different respects.

First, I have gotten to correspond with and to know members of my family I would otherwise have never known. Their stories have added new layers of understanding of the family systems from which I spring. It helps me understand myself, my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents and their stories in a greater context, along with a ton more grace. There’s so much in life we don’t control, including the family systems that produced us.

Second, is the old adage that “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I have tried very hard along my life journey to avoid the traps that lead to the kind of bad blood which can affect individuals and family groups. I can’t help but recall Paul’s words to Jesus’ followers in Rome:  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Along my journey, I’ve discovered that living at peace requires me to care more about what matters than what doesn’t. That has meant valuing people over politics (or religion, or morality codes, etc.), choosing relationships over being right, and letting go of things of temporal value to perpetuate love that is priceless. This sometimes (often?) requires letting go of the past and choosing forgiveness so that future generations don’t systemically perpetuate bad blood they personally had nothing to do with simply because that bad blood was never dealt with and permanently infected the family system.

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.

“Effed Up Family”

"Effed Up Family" (CaD Gen 48) Wayfarer

Joseph said to [Israel], “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Genesis 48:18-19 (NIV)

Wendy and I became hooked on Yellowstone in its first season. It’s now in its fourth season. Sunday night has become a weekly watch party with our friends. Wendy and I have often described Yellowstone to family and friends as “The Godfather meets modern day Montana.”

Kevin Costner plays John Dutton, the widowed patriarch of a family who has owned a million-acre ranch of the most beautiful and desirable land in Montana for over a century. Everyone wants the land and they will do literally anything to wrench it from Dutton’s control. Dutton will do literally anything to prevent that from happening. Let’s just say, if he asks one of the ranch hands to drive you “to the train station” you’ve just been given a one-way ticket to the end-of-the-line. Dutton finds himself forced to manipulate and coerce his own adult children to “protect” the family and the ranch. Each of his children is, respectfully and understandably, his or her own form of messed up.

Our daughter and her husband watch Yellowstone every week along with another show about a wealthy, dysfunctional family empire. They’ve dubbed the evening “Effed up family night.”

I couldn’t help but think of it as I read today’s chapter. The book of Genesis is known by many as simply the story of creation and Noah’s ark. The truth is that about 80 percent of Genesis is the story of one man, Abraham, being given a promise that his descendants will become a great nation. It then tells how Abraham builds a wealthy nomadic herding operation and has a son, who expands the family and the family business. By the third generation, they grow to become a wealthy clan that other peoples fear as they wander the land. In the fourth generation, the clan continues to grow into the making of twelve tribes, who will become a people before the book of Exodus in which God makes them into a nation.

I’ve often said that all good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. Families growing into tribes, people, and empires is a common theme in some of the epic stories we love, as is the struggle of flawed human family systems to protect and perpetuate the family legacy. The story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph is the seminal source material.

In today’s chapter, two recurring themes are present. First is the ancient patriarch on his death bed blessing his children. It’s the conduit through which power and privilege are passed down to the subsequent generation. The second recurring theme is the bucking of the embedded cultural tradition of the day in which the firstborn son inherits everything. Israel, the second-born son of Isaac who stole the birthright and deceived his father into receiving the blessing, is now the dying Patriarch. His first move is to call Joseph to him. Joseph was at one time his youngest son and his favorite. Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, who was the younger sister, whom Israel loved. Two important things happen.

First, Israel raises Joseph’s sons, his grandsons, to the status of sons and heirs of their grandfather. Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, will become the head of their own tribes next to their uncles. In doing this, Joseph’s family is receiving a double-portion of Israel’s overall blessing.

Second, Israel willfully crosses his arms when blessing Manasseh and Ephraim. He places his right hand (the hand of favor) on the younger son’s head. He places his left hand (often the metaphor of disfavor or secondary favor in that culture) on the firstborn son’s head. Joseph is ticked-off at this and tries to reverse it. The tradition of honoring the firstborn son runs deep in family systems to this day. Israel refuses. Like Isaac, like Jacob/Israel, and like Joseph himself, the younger brother Ephraim will be the greater. Hundreds of years later, when the nation of Israel splits into two after Solomon’s reign, the southern kingdom will be called Judah (the fourth-born son who emerges as the leader of the tribes) and the northern kingdom will be often referred to as Ephraim. Prophecy fulfilled.

Along my earthly journey, I’ve observed that one’s place and position within the family system can often have a tremendous impact on how one sees and perceives themselves, their self-worth, and their place in this world. One of the things that Jesus taught, one of the spiritual realities He put into place, was that anyone who follows Him will be lifted into the potion of child of God, heir of God, and co-heir with Christ Jesus Himself. It’s good news for everyone who grew up with real family stories that would fit right in with “Effed up family night.”

While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.”
Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-48 (MSG)

…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Galatians 3:26 (NIV)

You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance. Galatians 4:6-7 (MSG)

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!
Romans 8:15-16 (MSG)

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

Lessons in the Layers

Lessons in the Layers (CaD Gen 44) Wayfarer

[Judah said to Joseph ] “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
Genesis 44:33-34 (NIV)

During my family roots investigation that I’ve discussed in the last couple of posts, I was blessed to discover and correspond with my cousin, John, in the Netherlands. John and I are third-generation cousins. When my great-grandfather sailed for America he left his younger brother, John’s great-grandfather, behind. When Wendy and I traveled to London back in 2009, John joined us and we spent a very enjoyable day together.

Late that day, the three of us were sharing a pint together in a London Pub. I expressed my curiosity about what would make my great-grandfather leave everything, including his entire family, and make a new life in America by himself. I remember John not being surprised by this. He shared that getting angry and walking away was not uncommon in our family.

Along my journey, I’ve observed that certain themes are recurring in family systems. It could be sin that occurs in repeated generations or behavioral or relational patterns that repeat themselves. I remember one family member observing that when her husband left her she was the exact same age as her mother when her father left. I have found these types of patterns fascinating and meaningful in gaining both understanding and wisdom.

I continued to see these patterns in today’s chapter. Joseph deceives the brothers who wanted to kill him, then chose to sell him into slavery. This is just like his father, Jacob, deceiving his own father, Isaac. It’s just like Jacob’s Uncle Laban deceiving him. It’s just like Isaac and Abraham deceiving their hosts into thinking their wives were their sisters. It’s just like Joseph’s brothers deceiving their father into thinking Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal. It’s a pattern in the family system.

Yesterday I discussed that Judah, the fourth-born son of Jacob/Israel, has now ascended to the role of the leader, the position of the first-born. This is also a recurring theme as both his grandfather (Isaac) and father (Jacob) were second-born sons who ascended to the blessing and position of the first-born. This is a theme that will reoccur throughout the Great Story as an object lesson of God’s message: “My ways are not your ways.”

Faced with the prospect of fulfilling their father’s worst fears, Judah steps up to plead for Benjamin’s life and offers himself as a substitutionary slave in place of his little brother. Fascinating that it was Judah who saved Joseph’s life by pleading with his brothers not to kill Joseph but sell him into slavery back in chapter 37. Judah’s conscience is weighed down by what they did to Joseph and their father. He will do anything not to repeat the robbing of their father of his beloved son. He’s been down this road before. He doesn’t want to repeat the pattern.

Toxic patterns of thought, behavior, and relationship wreak havoc within a family system. These were the kinds of things I wanted to discover, process, and address in my own journey as I dug into the layers of stories, foibles, and flaws in my family’s root system. Did it succeed? One could easily argue not if perfection is the standard. Yet, I’ve observed that the pursuit and/or expectation of perfection is a toxic thought pattern in-and-of-itself. I did, however, discover invaluable lessons in the layers. It has been successful in imparting wisdom, allowing me to recognize certain patterns in other areas of life, and informing both my choices and how I manage relationships. I know that blind spots remain, but I doggedly pursue sight with each layer of blindness that’s revealed in my journey.

Perhaps the most important layer of lessons has been about grace. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Judah, and Joseph all had their faults and blind spots. They, too, were part of a very flawed, very human family system. It still didn’t disqualify them from being used by God in their leading roles within the opening chapters of the Great Story. So, I’ve learned (and am learning) to have grace with those flawed ancestors and family members in my own family system as I pray they and my descendants will have grace with me. It’s also teaching me that God’s amazing grace extends to, and through, very flawed human beings, and that includes me.

Featured image: Joseph Converses with Judah by Tissot. Public Domain.

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

Generational Impact

Generational Impact (CaD Gen 43) Wayfarer

Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.
Genesis 43:8-9 (NIV)

As I mentioned in a post last week, I consciously spent several years investigating my family history. The quest was motivated by a desire to understand the family systems from which I descended and how they may have influenced my own family system, my childhood, and the person I’ve become. One of the things that I discovered in my quest was the fact that decisions can have a far-reaching, generational impact.

My maternal great-grandfather committed suicide. The story goes that he had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis which was a death sentence at the time. The family suspected that he killed himself to spare them the agony and financial burden of his care. My grandfather was the eldest of three children and his mother sent him to be raised by her parents while she retained the younger two. My grandfather’s stories of life with his strict, disciplinarian grandparents were mostly unpleasant. It was not a fun life, but he learned the value of hard work and was taught strong values. He also had an uncle, a Methodist minister, who took him under his wing and planted seeds of faith in him. His brother and sister, on the other hand, were left under the care of a desperate woman who became a gold-digger, worked on the riverboats, went through a series of failed marriages. Her children’s lives would become equally broken and tragic.

My paternal great-grandfather came to America from the Netherlands. He owned a hardware store in Rock Valley, Iowa and his eldest two sons were partners in the business. My grandfather and his sister were younger siblings who desperately wanted to be part of the family business but were shut out. Since the family business was not an option, my grandfather decided to go to college. He went into education and was a career educator.

As I look back, I can trace the events of my grandfather’s stories to my own life. Had my grandfather not have been farmed out to his grandparents and taught strict lessons of hard work, discipline, and spiritual values, my mother would not have been the person she was and those life lessons would not have been passed down. Had my grandfather not gone into education, I’m not sure how much education would have been valued in my own family. I’m not sure my siblings and I would have had the life journeys we’ve had or would have the careers we’ve each chosen. I even discovered, unexpectedly, that my love of theatre may have had its roots in my Grandpa Vander Well’s college years at Central College.

In today’s chapter, there’s a subtle shift in the storyline that is lost on most readers, and few see the generational impact that the events will have on the history of the world. Desperate for more food to ensure their survival, Israel tells his sons to go buy more grain in Egypt. But Joseph told them not to return without their youngest brother, Benjamin. Judah steps up to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. From this point in the story, Judah becomes the leader and spokesman for the brothers. Judah is fourth-born, but his elder brothers Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had been involved in sexual scandal and had instigated the bloody massacre of Shechem that brought disgrace to the family and threatened their survival.

Hundreds of years later, the twelve tribes would be settled in the Promised Land. The tribe of Judah would emerge as the leading tribe. It was from the tribe of Judah that King David would emerge along with the capital city of Jerusalem, the temple of Solomon, and the dynasty from which the Messiah would be born. When the nation eventually splits in bloody civil war, ten tribes would break away and reject the Davidic line of succession. Two tribes would remain allied in maintaining the Davidic line in the belief that the words of the prophets would be fulfilled and a Messiah would someday spring from it. Those two tribes were Judah and Benjamin, the very brother whom Judah swore to be responsible for in today’s chapter.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about the decisions we make in our lives that will have a generational impact on our descendants. I can see the past and how it’s affected my own life. It’s harder to imagine how my own choices and decisions will affect my great-grandchildren and great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces. I am reminded why God continually reminds us to love our children, to teach them God’s ways, and not to exasperate them. And, why God tells children to honor their parents. For good or for ill, we are part of one another’s stories and the stories of generations who will come after. While I have no control over those who came before me nor do I control those who will come after me, I do have control of my own story and my own family relationships on this journey. I best consider what I do with those relationships wisely.

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

Both/And Family

Both/And Family (CaD Gen 42) Wayfarer

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.
Genesis 42:6 (NIV)

There was a period of time in my twenties and early thirties when I did a deep dive into my family history. I investigated both my father’s and mother’s family lines. I talked to my parents, grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles. I asked many questions about relatives I knew nothing about. I heard many fascinating stories, and I learned a great deal. I was led to the conclusion that family is messy. My family, like almost every family, always put our good foot forward for public perception. In both my paternal and maternal families going back several generations, I found plenty of skeletons hidden in the closets.

Divorce
Broken relationships and members refusing to speak to one another
Deceit
Suicide (more than one)
Depression
Alcoholics (more than one)
Illegitimate children
Children sold into servitude
Secret marriages
Sexual harassment
Attempted sexual assault
Public scandal
Lawsuits
Court hearings
Prison sentences…

I also found multiple examples of…

Deep love
Intense devotion
Genuine faith
Sacrificial generosity
Honorable character
Faithfulness to duty
Unquenchable hope
Inner strength

One of the lessons my family history adventure taught me is that family is not either/or “good” or “bad,” but rather it is both/and good things and bad things. Yes, I am a product of a loving family. Yes, my family has failings and dysfunctions like every other family system. I endeavor to do my best to be a healthy cog in my family system. I’d like to think I’ve succeeded in some ways. I must confess I’ve tragically failed in others.

I thought about these things as I read today’s chapter. The dramatic story of Joseph is drawing to its climax. Everything begins to “work together” for Joseph. Israel and his sons are starving in Caanan because of the severe famine that was predicted by Joseph in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The same brothers who almost killed Joseph and sold him into slavery because Joseph told them of a dream in which they bowed down to him, now arrive in Egypt to buy food and they bow down to him. The dream is fulfilled just as Joseph described thirteen years earlier.

I thought it fascinating that Israel would not allow Benjamin to travel with the brothers. With Joseph presumed dead, Benjamin was the only son that Israel had left who was born of Rachel, his first love. It would seem that when Israel thought Joseph was dead, he replaced his “favorite” with the only other son of Rachel in the tribe. Joseph, longing to see Benjamin, uses his brother’s ignorance of his true identity to force them to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. Israel balks. Having lost Joseph, he fears that the same will happen to Benjamin.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about the very human family drama of Israel and his many sons, including the lost son Joseph. Yes, it’s a tragic story fraught with flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. And, it’s also a beautiful story of redemption, salvation, and God weaving these flawed human beings into a larger story, the Great Story, of God’s redemption of all things.

This gives me hope for my own family story which, when I really dug in to look at it objectively, I found to have its own flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. Along my journey, I’ve discovered that God has redemptive purposes for me/us as well. On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for that.

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