Monday, October 27, 2014

Heartbreak Hill

Leah and Rachel  Genesis 29 and 30 and a little at the end of chapter 35

I have been reading in the Word about Leah and Rachel.

This time through I find my heart aching for Leah.

From the time Jacob arrives at his uncle Laban's house, he has eyes for Rachel and only Rachel.  About Leah, the Word says only that she had "weak eyes" - which according to the scholars most likely meant a very pale blue.  Beautiful Rachel outshines her in a moment - and comes across as vain, spoiled, and mercenary.  Jacob probably never even looked at Leah except as "Rachel's sister".

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when Rachel found out about her father's plan to marry off Leah first.  I bet they had to tie her up somewhere to keep her from stomping in and claiming Jacob for her own!

The Word doesn't say it, but I think Leah has a crush on him from the moment she first sees him - but she knows she doesn't have a chance.  Laban, ever scheming, surely noticed - and I'll bet you that is where his little plan hatched - seeing Leah watching Jacob dolefully, watching her blush every time Jacob came around or spoke to her.

How must she have felt to be a substituted bride - knowing that Jacob thought he was holding Rachel in his arms, whispering words of love and tenderness that she knew she would never hear again - and she surely knew that her father's little trick would explode when Jacob awakened to find her in his arms and not his lovely Rachel.  I think she felt this was the only way she'd ever be married to him - or anyone else.  Still, the embarassment and hurt she suffered - being rejected with anger in the morning, Jacob's sullen acceptance of "her week", his unbridled anticipation of, finally, having Rachel as his wife - must have been food for gossip for a while after the wedding.

Especially since one week later Leah was unceremoniously booted out so Rachel could marry her husband. I would not be surprised to find  Rachel's "week" lasted much longer than a Leah's hasty, enforced week.

And so the pattern was set.

We see from the Word that Jacob chose to live with Rachel and visit the others when their day came.  We can glean how Leah felt about it when her son finds some mandrakes in the field where he is working.  Rachel comes and asks, with a "please", to have the mandrakes ( thought to be an aphrodisiac), hoping this will give her a child.  Leah responds with "Is it not enough that you have stolen my husband?  Now you want my son's mandrakes too!"

Rachel responds that ok, ok, you can have Jacob tonite for the mandrakes - and Leah hotfoots it out to tell Jacob (you can almost hear the glee in her voice) "You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son's mandrakes!"

Her forlorn hope to be first in Jacob's heart is reflected in the names she gives her children - and God informs us of her comments on their names.  The one that gets me is when she says "Oh, now my husband will dwell with me!"

Alas, her fertility made no difference to Jacob.  Even tho, in the Middle East, a barren woman was a disgrace, Jacob steadfastly clung to her.  The only time we even see Jacob being upset with Rachel is when she demands that he give her a child or she will die.  Finally, Jacob rebukes her, "Am I in the place of God?"

I'm sure Leah never missed an opportunity to rub it in, either.  "Nanner nanner's" surely flew freely with every child the fertile Leah bore.  Here, finally, was a way to outshine Rachel (not that it mattered to Jacob.)

Then the maid-swapping began - each trying to outdo the other in child-creating.  I wonder if the maids smirked behind Rachel's back - it doesn't seem like Rachel would be a kind, undemanding mistress.

Rachel, who had been most likely favored and spoiled since her birth as "the pretty one" had to have been sooo frustrated.  She always got her way.  Now, pouting and demanding and throwing a fit were of no avail.  Perhaps Jacob's rebuke is taken to heart - or maybe she thought, "Well, nothing else has worked - I might as well pray..." because next we hear of her actually speaking to God, as the Word says "And God hearkened to Rachel and opened her womb." (my paraphrase)  It's the only place we see her praying.

Actually, that sort of pierced my heart to read that line.  It made me wonder how often I act like that - using prayer as a last and final result?  Too often, I fear.  Lord, please cause my heart to seek You FIRST in my need!

30 years later, when they are going to leave Laban and go back to Israel, Rachel's greediness shows up again: knowing that the family idols indicate the heir of all her father's possessions, and that a woman would not take priority over Laban's sons, she simply steals them.

Laban's sons already felt cheated by Jacob.  I wonder if one of them discovered their absence - and immediately connected it with Jacob's absence.

So Laban chases after Jacob.  He demands the idols back.  Jacob, unjustly accused, robustly denies everything.  So sure of his company was he, that he said (my translation) " Go ahead and look!  go ahead! and if you find them, the person they are with will die."

Jacob had no idea he was cursing his beloved.

When Laban came to Rachel's tent, she sat on a camel saddle underneath which she had hidden the idols.

From everyone but God.

She must have been pregnant with her 2nd son by this time, and yet she gave Laban the excuse that her monthly  "way of women" was upon her, making her unclean, and everything she sat on unclean.  He looked at everything around her, but did not require her to stand.

I bet you she thought, once again, she had her way.  She had insured her sons' inheritance.

Dying in childbirth is always a horribly painful, long, drawn out death.  I can't imagine in those days if they even had anything that would ease the pain of labor.

Jacob must have been beside himself, unaware that he, himself, had cursed her with death.  Everything he valued was lying before him, slipping away.  His precious Rachel.

So Jacob, smitten to the last, transfers his obsession with Rachel to her sons.

I find it intriguing that it is Leah that lies beside him in the grave.  Rachel is buried somewhere by an unmarked trail on the side of the road.

Yet Jacob never realizes that perhaps, just perhaps, Leah was God's choice of a mate for him, not the self-centered Rachel.  There is no record of him ever saying anything even considerate to Leah, let alone loving. I wonder if he even moved in with Leah after Rachel's death.  From Scripture it appears he spent the rest of his life mourning the death of a woman who seems to have valued Jacob only to "one up" her sister who, after all, married him first.  She was always the pretty one, and saw Jacob as hers. No doubt she had been valued and petted by her father as the one who would reap him a fortune in dowry to the highest bidder.  Jacob was ensnared at first sight, besotted and entranced.

The only love glimpsed comes from the rejected Leah - who had a heart full of it.

It is so sad to me that Jacob never realized it. How loving his life could have been.

But like so many of us that follow the Lord, he chose what glittered, not what counted.  And never once is he noted as having prayed about God's will for his partner in life.

Sadly, like many of us today, he simply never asked.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Paying it Forward

A friend of mine told me about a great day she had.

She'd found a bargain at a fast food place and went back for an ice cream cone.  The young man taking her order was on his 2nd day of work and had never used the ice cream machine.  She told his supervisor that she didn't care what it looked like and for him to go ahead and do it.

He did.

Presenting her with a lopsided cone, his supervisor asked her, "is this ok?"

"Yes! Great job! Perfect!"

And as she turned to walk away, she passed an older man, standing back from the menu, and in an undertone for her ears only, he said, "Good job."

She walked away thinking how good God is.

And she was right.

"So shines a good deed in a dark and weary world."
                                                               --Willy Wonka

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

One day at a time...

When I started the title for this I mis-spelled  "day" and instead wrote "dy ---"

And it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes.  When speaking of the difficult things in life, Amy Carmichael wrote, " See in it a chance to die".   As in dying to self.

For those of you who don't know, Amy Carmichael was a Brit, a missionary to India for over 50 years.  Her work focused on rescuing little girls, and later, little boys also, from being sexual slaves in the Hindu temples, where their bodies were used in the "worship" demanded by their gods.  Little girls were worth less than nothing, except as temple prostitutes or, as they were known, priestesses, from the youngest age they could be acquired, to their death.

Parents of these "worthless girls" nonetheless found places to sell them, as a "priestess" in a temple or a personal sexual slave, in which they were married at the age of 3 or even younger, it didn't matter. In the temples, the girls were given the best of everything - gold nose rings, necklaces and bracelets, silken clothing, softly pillowed "beds", exotic spices, candies and pastries etc etc. Miss Carmichael was horrified when she learned of their captivities, and began to find ways to retrieve/rescue them, soon necessitating the building of an orphanage.  Since nothing was known of their origins or birthdays, they had, instead of a birthday, a "coming day" - the day they arrived at the shelter - to celebrate, and many chose to remain when grown to help with the increasing amount of children arriving. To all, Amy was known as "Amma" the word for "mother" in the native language.

Miss Carmichael wrote some of the best poetry I've ever read.  She was totally sold out to Jesus.

And she was no stranger to suffering.

When she had been in India for 30 years they had acquired a new property.  She hastened to inspect it and traveled with 2 of the children-grown-serving women and arrived at dusk.  Approaching the front door, no one noticed in the half light that a pit had been built by the front door and covered, as the foundation needed strengthening.  As the light faded, Amma approached the front door and fell into the deep pit, injuring her back and legs in a way that could not be remedied, and spent the rest of her life mostly bed bound.  On occasion she could sit up in a pillowed chair, but not often.  A sheer netting hung over her windows and door to the outside patio.  Each morning she wrote a small note to the children - turning their thoughts to joy, or obedience, or steadfastness in the all-important relationship with Jesus.

Sometimes the pain would get beyond her capabilities to endure, and the Word would be her refuge, from which would come the daily lessons or a poem, collected into small books by the women workers at the home, named Dohnavur.  Many are available now as devotionals - Rose From Briars, The Edges of His Ways, A Candle in the Darkness among others.  Elisabeth Elliot wrote a book about her after traveling to Dohnavur. Amma delighted so in the little ones and rejoiced to see them grow in Jesus.  I highly recommend her books and the biography - and there is also a collection of her poetry.

I mention all this because "See in it a chance to die" has become so important in my own life.  Her poetry and devotionals have been life-savers for me at times.  And they have definitely guided my steps and helped turn me in the right direction in difficult times. I believe Amazon has a collection of her books for Kindle that are free downloads.

These last few weeks have been difficult ones for me.  The smallest things have become difficult to impossible to accomplish.  The amount of energy I awaken with has taken a huge downturn, and the headaches have increased both in frequency and strength.  I barely manage my daily read in the Word - and that is the most important part of my day. My nephew is living with us right now, and my sister in law will soon be leaving for Israel for a month of service. Please pray for me that I will have the strength for cooking and chores while she is away - not to arrive home until thanksgiving day.

I praise God for the dishwasher! 

In the mist of all this, there is plentiful room for pondering "See in it a way to die", which is centrally placed in a Scripture quilt of my favorite verses. It comes, of course, from the example of Jesus, Who died not only for us, but to Himself - any desires or dreams had to be placed aside for the Father's will, as well.  His sacrifice was not only physical. Day by day, He died to Self, that never-satisfied voracious appetite we have to live an easy life, happy and pain free, and, of course, utterly selfish.

Each day presents us with multiple options to temptation - put off some duty required of you,  something as simple as taking the largest cookie, or as intricate as stretching the budget at someone else's expense, for something that is totally unnecessary but lusted after.

Right now I am simply trying to keep my groans to myself, which I have discovered are full of self pity and self aggrandizing. It is an astonishingly easy pit to fall into! And I am surrounded by people that deeply care about me, quick to react with sympathy - a deadly situation for someone on the verge of self-pity, which is at the center of all such impulses.

Now, I am not saying that we should live hermit-like lives, never speaking, bravely soldiering on alone, separating oneself from those around us. When someone asks how I am who truly wants an honest answer, I give them one.  Most people want an answer of "fine" - and if so, I give it to them. But I avail myself of those I know will intercede, and  who understand that this life is God's desire for me.

Recognizing God's hand in suffering is a difficult thing, and offers many chances to die to oneself - which I have a difficult time doing, by the way.  There is something within me that will learn no other way but to be ill- and learning to walk His way is the desire of my heart.  This illness, when I truly look at it, is an exceedingly small price to pay for closeness to the Creator of the Universe, to be infilled by His Spirit, and to be cleansed from sin by His Son. And He not only gave me all that, but when I remember to submit myself whole-heartedly, which I am ashamed to say does not happen daily, when I do give it to Him, He unhesitatingly helps to carry it.

The Awesome God I serve has never failed me.

So, I hope, placed next to "Jesus never fails" , enshrined in my heart are the words, "See in it a chance to die."

One day at a time.

Thank you, Amy.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Amazing Grace

My daily reads these days are in IIChronicles.

One verse talked about the Holy Spirit coming upon someone to share a word from the Lord.

It literally says, The Holy Spirit "clothed Himself" with that person.

I got chills.

I realized that when the the Lord brought me to Himself, and the Holy Spirit came to live in my heart, that He "clothed Himself" with me.

That is how He works in us" to will and to do of His good pleasure" - none of it is from my vast amount of (non-existent) holiness - it is all from Him "clothing Himself" with me.  When I give Him control and "walk in the Spirit" I can do so  only because the Holy Spirit is literally my core.  I am His garment, so to speak, the form He is taking at this instant.


On my worst days of illness, when nothing is going right and all I feel is sicker than I felt yesterday, when the pain blooms and it seems like each minute lasts for hours, He is still there, encountering the pain with me, enduring it with me, and sometimes, conquering it with me.  Anything that happens to me in this body happens to Him also. And when I clear my pipes of all the garbage, and let Him pour through me, it is none other than the Living water that spurts out of me in blessing.  It is alive with His Life.

As am I.

I'm having to relearn "In quietness and in confidence is your strength."

Because I'm in a season of murmuring. I wish I could be quiet!

I had the other half of my root canal two days ago, and two other cavities filled.

I got 9 shots of novocaine - and still it hurt.  But any more and I would overdose..

4 hours in the dental chair. Livid, multicolored bruises in my mouth and gums.  Swollen cheek. Headache.

I've been a puddle on the floor with just my eyes bugging out the last 2 days.

And yet - our God is always faithful.  While I was waiting for my ride (I don't drive on D days) it gave me time to sketch the courtyard her office is in, something I've wanted to do for 8 years!  I didn't finish the stonework, which is good cuz the perspective is way way off, but still...

Sketching/painting is one of those things that revitalize me, like a deep breath in the snow, where just breathing invigorates you.  I haven't added color yet - and one of the reasons I love the courtyard is the multicolored stone pavement. so I'm debating whether to add it or not, cuz the pavement is what I messed up.

In spite of my puling milksop of a heart, the Holy Spirit gave me time to do something that I love - sketching the courtyard.  He even moved the heart of the receptionist to bring one of the chairs from the waiting room to the outside location where I was standing so I had something to sit on while I sketched.

What a perfect example of amazing grace! In spite of all my murmuring and kvetching and complaining, my King deigned to make sure I had comfortable seating to do something that brought me joy.  Living deep in my heart, He knew exactly what I needed to get through the ordeal of dental work and not lose the whole day to self pity and let the pain win.

I pray that the tender heart He showed me that day will, one day at a time, become my heart,  worthy to be made a cloak of the Holy Spirit, and a dispenser of amazing grace myself, to those in my life who need it.