Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Squeezed

Sometimes I wonder about Sarah.

How many years did she wander with that man, traipsing through deserts, being disowned as Abraham's sister so that he could feel secure ("Who, her? My sister, my sister! Not my wife! Certainly, she can join your harem...just don't kill me"). How many girls did she grow into womanhood with, watching them get pregnant and give birth, one after another, until eventually she just counted herself out of the game? I wonder if her lack of children ever caused her to doubt her own authority as "head wife" among all the other women they traveled with. I wonder if her childless state inspired her friends' pity, and if that pissed her off.

Sometimes, my heart aches for her. I mean, how forgotten she must have felt. Maybe not in every way, but over and over again, watching and waiting in so many ways.

And then the three strangers showed up. And they said that God would bless her with children.

And she laughed.

And I wonder about the conversation between Sarah and Abraham after that. Just today, I was discussing "characterization" with my freshmen, and we were talking about the different ways by which an author reveals character and how we figure out who a character in a book really was through direct and indirect characterization.

First, we find in Genesis 18:6, Abraham rushing back inside the tent to tell Sarah to "Quick, get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread." QUICK! I would be thinking, "I like how you're telling me exactly what to do. Haven't I made six thousand loaves of bread?" Anyway, at this point, we can't really infer anything about her character (when I say "character" here, I'm talking about the person who is in this role-- I recognize that she was real) -- it's mostly about Abraham's response to the visitors. Still, I see her scurrying around, muttering, maybe, about how he was always rushing her and freaking out about stuff and worrying and she's pounding out the bread and putting it in the oven (Bible scholars, you'll forgive my looooose interpretation of her historic activities here).

But verse 10 is where we get some indirect characterization regarding Sarah. The Lord (one of the visitors?) says, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son."

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"

Oh, dear Sarah girl. Did she chuckle ironically, shaking her head back and forth with a sad smile on her face? Or did she giggle like a little girl, covering her mouth with her hand and wondering, "Oh God, could it be?" Or was she bitter, laughing a little sardonically, remembering all of the prayers she had wept before the Lord in her youth, thinking of how much she would have loved to have been a young mother?

But the Lord knew her heart, and perhaps some of what we understand about that heart we can infer through the Lord's words:

(v. 13) The the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”


(v. 15) Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

I know that the passage says that she was afraid, but I think that fear can be manifest in different ways and for different reasons. For instance, I'm a little unclear about who is doing the talking here-- did Sarah lie to the Lord (one of the three strangers) when she said she didn't laugh? Was she afraid that she had offended Him and realized that she didn't need to question what He said so she laughed nervously? Maybe. But what if her fears were just so much more complicated?

If we were assigned the task to figure this character out in the context of this passage, I might say that she was a good woman-- the men of God wanted to bless her with something she's longing for. We can assume that she had their favor. But I might add that it takes serious guts to straight up lie to God about what you know He saw or heard. Guts or just years worth of hiding what you really feel every day.
I don't know.

I love that whether she laughed sardonically or innocently or happily or nervously, the Lord did just what He said. I like, too, that He still did it even though she tried to force her own will when her unbelief kicked in so hard. It says so much more about who He is: calm, steady, determined, forgiving, and dedicated to what He has intended all along, no matter what we do or think or say to screw things up.

He is able to do what He wills and He is able to redeem what we mess up.

I like ol' Sarah. I can't wait to meet her one day. And I'm really interested to see what that whole situation looked like. I wonder what the Lord wanted to teach us through her story. That He will interupt our busy schedules to drop in and make miraculous promises? And that He hears our whispered unbelief and but remains committed to us and His plan?

Hm. Must think more on this...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Call for prayer: Caroline Ingle

Oh, my heart cries out at the subject line on this post.

Hands down, worst Labor Day ever.

You've heard me talk about my girl Caroline before. Caroline is one of the most brilliant, one of the funniest, one of the godliest women I know. She is one of my closest girlfriends, has seen me at my worst and loved me and laughed with me through it, and I can list a thousand things she's done. She memorized every moment of Ben's baptism in the hospital-- have I ever told her that the three faces I most remember from that sad baptism in my hospital room, even more than Ben's, are hers, Don's, and my father-in-law?-- because she knew that I wouldn't remember anything and she wanted to make sure someone kept a record of it. She brought me chocolate. She laughed at my horrible gallows humor (and laughed with me about it a lot in the last year and a half). She cut my hair the night before the funeral and she said beautiful things from the pulpit at that funeral, though for the life of me I don't remember... I just remember that she held my gaze. I remember that she looked me in the eye and said, with no words, "We've got this. We're going to walk through this." We have spent hours talking after school, on the phone, on her back porch, on my front porch.

And these things are just a tiny handful of only SOME of the things she has done for me. If everyone who had been touched by her life were given thirty seconds to sing her praises, we'd be sitting for a year, just listening. She is 35, but she is so much wiser than even that.

And on Saturday, they told her that she has leukemia.

Oh GOD, my heart cries-- not this precious woman! Not Caroline! To imagine the agony of chemotherapy, the hardship of the survival that will be won (it WILL be won!), the isolation and loneliness of a cancer ward where we can't bring germs that might kill her... that's one side of my heart.

But the other side of my heart sits on the edge of its seat. The other side of my heart has experienced the goodness of the Lord in the valley of death and knows that we do not have to fear evil for GOD is our comforter!!! This part of my heart, my testimony, is blown away about the testimony that the Lord is weaving for this woman who can already command a crowd with the simplest of stories. This part of me KNOWS that God is doing something eternal in that woman and I agree with the great thing He is writing.

But I rail against the thing that is coursing through her veins. I say NO to the cancer that would take her down. But I say YES to the thing the Lord wants to do through it!

Will you pray with me?

Lord, we cry out to You on behalf of Caroline! We proclaim that You knit her together in her dear mother's womb and You know exactly how many hairs are in that perfect head of hair she has. You watch her all the time and are intimately familiar with her every moment, every desire, every pain, every longing, every hope, every fear... and You alone have the power to heal her. So we ask You, Lord, to heal her. We ask You to do Your perfect work in her. And we know that You are able to do abundantly more than we could ever even ask or imagine. We trust You with her life and we plead the blood of Your son over her, as her mother and father have surely done countless times, and as she has done over the lives of so many students herself... Have mercy on her, Father, and heal her. Have mercy on us, Lord, and leave her with us for 60 more years.

We trust You!!!

Please go see Caroline's CaringBridge site-- I have it listed on my blog list to the right of this article, and I'm putting a link here, too.

Let us remember our girl tonight while we lie, unplugged and comfortable in our beds, and cry out to the Lord that He would hold her in His arms while she is plugged to machines and IVs in hers.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thoughts...

Today has been one of those gorgeous, shining southern pre-fall days, and they always seem to make me thoughtful. The air is dry and scrubbed clean, lit up with the sun and a light breeze and the assurance (finally) that fall really is coming. It's been hot this summer. Suddenly, I feel like I can breathe outside. I love to run errands on days like today-- to be alone in the sunlight and drive and not listen to the radio or music and just think.

I had a list of things I needed to do today: I looked for curtain rods at five different stores, trying to avoid buying them online; I bought a book for a dear friend who is newly pregnant and worries all the time and with whom I often feel so awkward-- what is my experience to her? I did everything right and look how my story ended? (at least, that part of the story) Never mind that his death had nothing to do with my pregnancy, I always feel so aware of the fact that mine is a sort of cautionary tale, not the comforting story of peace and miracles that a pregnant woman needs to collect for the wee-morning-worrying-rituals. My friend hasn't confessed to such thoughts, but would she? Ah, Jesus, just another place I need Your redeeming touch and power.

But that's why I wanted to write-- not just because I am avoiding scrubbing the tile in the front bathroom. Because God is so very, incredibly good and kind and I have to say it-- proclaim it.

I've learned so much in the last year and half. Before April 28, 2009, I always wondered how in the world a woman could survive the death of her child. I wondered how you go on. I had watched my dear sister Winter walk that path and I saw it nearly kill her for a season, and then I saw the Lord come in like a flood and restore everything the enemy attempted to steal...but still, I wondered. How do you go on? Until you've walked the path, it's impossible to know, honestly.

Truly, it is a horrible experience, but here's the thing:

Jesus is real. He is real. When I cry out to Him in my darkest moments, I feel and know His presence in my very bones and He lifts the shroud of mourning and I can breathe. He has guarded my mind from insanity and my soul from total anguish. My testimony is that we can experience the darkest depths and lo, He is with us. He is the God who sees-- He is El Roi, the God who sees me. He is faithful. He guards my dreams. He comforts me in the moments I allow myself to revisit the day of Ben's arrival and departure. He softens the memories. He holds me when I know that no one, not even my husband, truly gets the depths of my longing.

He is the same Person for you. He will be.

Cry out.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
Isaiah 43:2