What the Heart Sees

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timmy in hatOn June 29, this young man celebrated his official Adoption Day and became Timothy William Evans, the son of Mike and Melanie Evans. As Melanie puts it, he was knit in his mother’s womb and yet placed in our hearts.

Eight-year-old Timothy was the third child to be adopted by the Evans and the second with special needs. They also have two biological children with special needs. God has fashioned some people with hearts that are extra deep with compassion and Mike and Melanie are two of those people.

In all, Mike and Melanie have eight children. Andrew is their oldest and the first adopted. Jeremy, their first biological child, came next. Savannah, Ethan, and Mariah are triplets. Due to cerebral palsy, Ethan needs a wheelchair for mobility. Mariah cannot talk or walk. Forever, adopted five years ago and destined to live out her life in an orphanage, has frequent and severe seizures that so far medical treatment has not helped. The youngest member of the Evans Eight is Christian, born last year.

Timmy has Down syndrome, autism, and is non-verbal most of the time. He is pretty good with sign language and will sometimes use his voice, but on rare occasions. What I see with Timmy is how his heart speaks, how it plays out through his expressions. (If you click on the pictures below, there will be captions of each situation.)

 

I have a personal connection with the Evans family that goes back about 10 years and I’ve loved watching how they nurture and seek the best for each of their children. Yes, they have people to assist them, but the bottom line is Melanie and Mike are responsible for their care and quality of life 24/7. I would love to tell you more about each of these children, but this is about Timmy, so let me get back to him.

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Mike holding Timothy on adoption day.

I am particularly drawn to this picture of Timmy being held in his white father’s arms. It is the same security I saw in the face of Forever, also African-American, when she was chosen by the Evans. It underscores what I learned from my years of working with mentally challenged people: they do not see color. They see deeper, into the very heart, I believe.

Sundays mean church for the Evans family and Timmy was there with his family two days after adoption. Melanie said Timothy reached one arm high and with palm outstretched wide, spontaneously started worshiping. He had not seen someone else doing it; in fact, it isn’t commonplace in their church. Doesn’t that show you the very real connection he has with his Creator? Do you see that he knows what has happened for him? He is a little boy with major disabilities, but his heart is sound and full of purpose. God has a plan for Timothy just like He does for each of us.

Melanie has this quote about adoption on her Facebook page and it sums up how she and Mike see it:  “Adoption is not the call to have the perfect rosy family. It is the call to give love, mercy, and patience.”

Timothy, I’m so grateful the Evans found and chose you. You hit the jackpot of families who see and love with the heart.  Happy life, Timmy!

 

 

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My blog, Meet “Maddie and Wilda,” October 2017, features Melanie’s mom, Wilda Lahmann. Both Mike and Melanie grew up in homes where fostering and unconditional love were modeled for them.

The Problem with Assuming

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Image-2A few Sundays ago, a fellow church member, Rob Stacey, talked to our Sunday school class about judging a person based on his outward appearance. In speaking, he cited this verse of scripture: “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly” John 7:24 (NLT).

Rob told us he had been born with cerebral palsy. His gait is slow and he walks with the help of a walker. When out to eat with his wife, the waiter asked his wife what Rob would like to eat. Her response was, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?” Rob’s admonition to us was don’t assume and never direct questions to someone with a disabled person until you have tried talking to the disabled person.

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Courtesy of David Ring’s media page.

David Ring was born with Cerebral Palsy. His mobility is more stagger than walk and at times he is difficult to understand. Through his growing up years, Mr. Ring says he endured humiliating public ridicule. He fought through perceptions of who he was and what he could do and today has an international ministry as an evangelist and motivational speaker. The outward appearance would say he is very limited in what he has to offer and that’s why he begins his messages with “I have Cerebral Palsy–what’s your problem?”

My friend Rob reminded us that we all have purpose as long as we have breath and we need to respect that with one another rather than make broad assumptions without facts to back up the assumptions.  When we find the purpose God has given us, He equips us to use what we have to serve others. David Ring says “God took my greatest liability and made it my greatest asset.” His disability is not a hindrance but a tool in furthering the gospel of Christ.

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Just a few of some very special friends who taught me a lot.

I had six incredibly blessed years working with mentally challenged men and women as a church department director. I bore the title of teacher, but it was those mentally challenged individuals who did the teaching. They were so much more than what first impression said. Margie could hardly speak and she didn’t have a normal walk. But by God’s grace and Margie’s patience, I came to understand much of her speech and how much she could comprehend–which was a lot. Dianne appeared testy and sullen, but she was a woman who loved God and was happiest when in worship service. Tim, mentally challenged and blind, loved to sing solos and give testimony to God. Another woman also named Dianne, had Down syndrome and spoke very little. But it wasn’t because she couldn’t carry on a conversation; it was simply a choice she made. She knew every book of the Bible and could readily find scripture.

When I think of those with severe disabilities, the first two people who come to mind are Nick Vujicic (without limbs) and Helen Keller (blind, deaf, mute) and they both became world changers. They are prime examples of how wrong we are to make determinations based solely on what we see or first come to know.

People can seem different for a lot of reasons. They may look different and they may behave different, but until we have looked beneath the surface as said in John 7:24, we cannot possibly know who they are or what they can do.

Learn more about David Ring at http://davidring.org 

Jesus Heals All Afflictions

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In a study of the people Jesus healed, I noted eleven different afflictions: demon/evil spirit possessed, paralytics, blind, fever, leprosy, dying, hemorrhage or bleeding, raised from the dead, seizures, bent over, deaf/mute. Though these have their specific stories, it doesn’t mean they were the only diseases or afflictions that Jesus healed. Thousands came to Him and He healed all that asked.

It may be that the woman bent over for 18 years is the one that captures my attention the most. Her story is told in Luke 13:10-13 and, depending on the Bible translation, she is described as bent double, hunched over, bowed together, twisted and bent. All translations agree that she could no longer stand straight. I have seen a few people like this and thought how terrible it would be to live bent over, how restricted one’s life would be because of it. Her story captures my attention because of the immediate parallel I see with mind state. With this woman’s physical condition I think of others who, though not bent over physically, are certainly bent over emotionally. They seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, as we are inclined to say. I remember a friend who lost her young son in a car accident. Her hair turned to gray overnight and she rarely smiled. Her sorrow had weighed her down and in my mind, I saw her as bent over from the loss of her beloved son. She was never quite the same.

Then I began to look at each of Jesus’ healings with new eyes. Those who could not see remind me of those who wander into wrong relationships. They don’t want to see the warning signs and so they close their eyes and involve themselves in situations that will cause eventual heartache. They are blinded by emotions.

Those with leprosy were outcasts. They were judged as unfit and shut off from society. Many of us have had times when we felt unwanted and shut out. We might not suffer from a terrible skin disease, but the isolation is just as painful in its own way.

The healing that Jesus did most by my search was that of the demon or evil possessed. They suffered in horrific ways. Chains wouldn’t hold them. Some were thrown into fire or water. Some tore off their clothes. Others fell to the ground in convulsions. These people lived lives out of control. And, of course, this makes me think of those who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling, on and on. Addiction is one of the hardest things to bring under control. Because of the stronghold addiction has on an individual’s life, much is thrown into a kind of fire. Marriages, families, careers, health—all are destroyed by the demons of addiction.

In every healing of Jesus, I am reminded of something in the mind state. Some of us need physical healing and some of us need healing of the mind or emotions. Whatever our need, Jesus is able to heal. He is a God of compassion and He cares about our brokenness.

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:14 (ESV)

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” –Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

 

My appreciation to Flickr for free photos.

Journaling Life’s Good Times and Bad

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7064964081_2d983f7df9_mJournaling is a good thing. I wish I could learn to be steadfast with it, faithful to the recording of my thoughts, God’s hand moving in my life, scriptures of promise I claimed. When I read from old entries, I am reminded of times that God proved Himself to me in some personal way. I also read about reflections, when the Holy Spirit takes my mind down a particular pathway and talks to me about life. I was reminded this morning of such a time when I read an entry from two years ago. It was reflection and also a prompting to do more journaling. I feel led to share it with someone, though I know not who. It may not flow for everyone for I’ve written it here just as I did on May 13, 2016.

Life is made up of good times and bad. We take deeper breaths when the days of relief come, when the hard road we have traveled finally ends for a while, we let easier times embrace us. We drink in the rest and we give thanks–and for a while we may coast. We know we almost succumbed to a hard time, but “almost” is the word. God kept us from falling headlong into a pit of despair. He gave us “almost.”

We glance back and wonder at our crippled walk. We look at our panicked fear that oppression, or whatever was had, would stay forever. We know our God and He never has forsaken us, yet it seemed for just a while He might this time. The backward glance is but for a moment. We don’t want to relive even in memory the pain of yesterday.

It will always be this way: good times, bad times, good times again. We will always have our doubts in dark days whether we can stand the new test. But in the dark days–those days called trial–there is also infinite blessing. 3404886436_b08118862b_qLike the earth and blooms and winged creatures drink in water from a long awaited heavy rain, we drink in scripture and prayer with greater thirst when we are in our gray days.

We are never quite at home on earth, always longing for that return to the Father’s home. We yearn to be closer to Him when we cannot do for ourselves, when we cannot change a sickness or injury or crisis of whatever kind. We climb into the arms of our Father, spending more time with Him then, for is there that we receive new strength. Though it may not immediately show itself, we can count on it to be there for the next hill to climb.

When we reach that place of sweet relief, that place where problems have lessened and our heart’s load has lightened, it is not a time to cast off the protection that comes with spending quantities of time with God. Yes, we take time to enjoy our respite. We give praise, we give thanks, but we need to keep building reserve. Part of that is by recording what we learn in our earth travels, so that in another time of battle we may reflect and be encouraged. The mind deceives and the memory fails. Write down the help found on the journey. Record answered prayers, the better direction learned, the greater blessing that came with the wait. 34324554473_c2ea15c73f_mRomans 8:28 forever proves true. That for those who love God, all things do work together for good when we are called according to His purpose.  And that purpose is to be shaped in the image of His Son.

 

 

 

(My appreciation to Flickr for all images.)

 

 

 

 

Pray in the Name of Your Need

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But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand where you are and watch, and you will see the wonderful way the Lord will rescue you today.”  –Exodus 14:13 (TLB)

God is sensitive to our every need. We can count on that.

He meets us as Provider when financial needs are desperate. He meets us as Healer when we are physically ill and emotionally battered. He meets us as our Comforter, our Shelter, our Peace. In every way we can imagine, God is with us and we can pray to Him in all those ways. Our part is to know His promises and trust that He will honor them.

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Isaiah 54:5 (ESV)

My husband died in 2011. Suddenly, I had no one to turn to for those immediate, right-there-with-me helps like a husband supplies. I remembered a scripture that said the Lord would be a husband to the widow and I began right then to claim Isaiah 54:5. “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts in his name” (ESV). The Good News Translation says it this way: “Your Creator will be like a husband to you—the LORD Almighty is his name.”

Many times over the past seven years, I have reminded the Lord that He is my husband and that I look to Him for answers based on that promise. Sometimes it has been when I’m anxious about handling a matter alone, sometimes when I’ve lost something I really need, and sometimes when I know I’ve made a mistake and I need help fixing it. It’s not that I can’t just pray to Father God about these same things, but I have found something sweetly different about calling the Lord my husband when I feel that’s the way He wants me to trust Him. God has shown me that His grace is always sufficient and His power truly is made strong in my weakness (2 Corinthians:9) and that includes my widowhood.

The Lord is Truth. He doesn’t tell us He will do something unless He means to do it. I find some things in scripture are harder to drink in and hold on to than others, but I know that is my weak faith and not the failure of a promise. What I have found, though, is that promises I’ve not practiced are my opportunities to grow in faith.

However you need the Lord, pray to Him in that way. Find scriptures that line up with your need. Memorize them, pray them back to Him. Believe what God’s word says. You will grow spiritually as you discover new levels of dependency.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” –2 Timothy 3:15 (NLT) 

 

For the Beauty of the Skies

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Several springs ago, I spent a lot of early mornings on my patio. I didn’t keep a journal, but I did occasionally make notes in a spiral bound notebook that held a variety of musings. I came across some of my “patio notes” yesterday and thought how often we miss the simple beauties all around us. It takes sitting still and emptying ourselves of all else—something very hard to do in our fast moving age.   

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pink sky - CopyI’m enjoying this new morning on the back patio with coffee and a granola bar. The sky is especially beautiful today and I find myself grasping for words worthy of describing the clouds, but I just can’t find them. The clouds are changing in design and color, reminding me of a child’s kaleidoscope being turned to form different shapes and color. The Master Artist had something very special going on and I have a front row seat as the Lord’s hand stirs the skies right over my head.

I look upward at the unconfined space and think how the openness gives a sense of freedom to my heart just as Jesus gives freedom to my soul.  My head rests on a garden chair and I continue to drink it in. What an awesome sight it is! There are pink cotton candy-like swirls. There are smears of white over blue canvas. There are wisps of clouds that look like sheered cotton plucked fresh from their bolls in the field. The sun is beginning to peep through my neighbor’s trees, hailing the new day.  Surely, this must be a bit of heaven’s glory coming down this morning right in my very own backyard.

I begin to think what it would be like if a large billowy cloud suddenly appeared and with it came Jesus. What if the Lord stepped out on such a cloud and brought with Him brightness greater than the sun? God’s word says we will need no more sun in heaven because the glory of God will give light and the Lamb will be heaven’s lamp (Revelation 21:2). What would it feel like to be caught up in the air with Him and move through the sky’s beauty? To pass by the wispy clouds and then the thicker clouds and continue on while holding His hand until we reach the heaven of heavens? What a glorious journey–and someday I will make it.

I know as I sit on the patio watching these clouds move across the sky and hear the birds make their morning calls, I am seeing something far greater than nature. I am seeing Jesus. For this is His creation. This is His beauty on loan to me this morning. This is His marvelous gift of a new day trimmed in wonder and awe and presented to me right outside my back door.

I have received an unexpected, priceless gift of God’s love and somehow I have to hold on to this morning vision of God’s beauty and grace. So I close my eyes and let it all settle deep into my heart.  I need nothing more, Lord. I’ve had a visit from you.

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For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. –Colossians 1:16 (NIV)

Sgt. Stubby, an American War Hero

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Sgt. Stubby and his medals

There is a delightful animated movie released this month about a war dog of World War I. Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero  is a true story of a stray dog who became the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, 26th Division.

It isn’t clear whether the soldier, Corporal Robert Conroy, adopted Stubby or Stubby adopted Conroy. (That’s the way with most animals and their people, isn’t it?) But it was Conroy’s training Stubby to stand and salute Conroy’s commanding officer that marked the beginning of Stubby’s military career. This little terrier mix, served in the trenches of France for 18 months. He is credited with saving the lives of our soldiers by alerting them to surprise mustard attacks, finding our wounded, and capturing all by himself a German soldier. Stubby participated in 17 battles, receiving both medals and rank.

Much is written about the heavy infiltration of rats in WWI and it is with rats that Stubby first proves his worth. The movie shows Stubby chasing rats out of the trenches where our soldiers were positioned. These rodents did more than boldly go for soldiers’ food, they bit, even chewed, on the wounded and dead. When I saw Stubby going after the rats, my mind wandered to my soldier dad and his own experience.

Mother said Daddy came home with odd scars around his waist. It took many months of questioning before he told her they were from rat bites sustained while in foxholes. You couldn’t shoot them. That would reveal yourself to the enemy. Some soldiers bayoneted them. I don’t know how Daddy tried to deal with them while in his foxhole because he would never talk about the war at all. He was a shrapnel-wounded soldier of WWII with pieces of metal in five different parts of his body. He had Trench feet, more commonly known as Jungle Rot, an advanced infection that often required amputation of the feet. Daddy kept his feet and toes, but they bothered him all of his life. The memories of wartime gave him nightmares and he walked in his sleep. I was a teenager when he waked us once while trying to climb a wall. He thought he was crawling out of a foxhole. Maybe those bad dreams had rats in them.

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My soldier dad, home for WWII.

I was two years old when he came home from the war so you can see that the after effects lingered on—though he never talked about the war other than to say he was proud to have served his country.  If questioned, Daddy would simply shake his head and look off into the distance. That silence and response was typical of WWII veterans.

Edward Tick said in his book War and the Soul the hell our soldiers have been through doesn’t end when they return home. They replay their experiences abroad again and again. General Douglas MacArthur said “The soldier above all prays for peace. For it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds of war.”

Sgt. Stubby suffered his own battle wounds. Twice he was injured with grenades. He was given the care due him as a soldier and after recovering went back to the trenches to continue serving. When he came home, Sgt. Stubby was a celebrity, marching in parades, and leading most of them. He met three presidents and was awarded a gold medal by General John J. Pershing. Stubby entered the service in 1918 and died in his sleep in 1926.

In the book of Genesis, we see that God made animals first, and then man. God gave dominion over the animals. I love the Message Bible translation of Genesis 1:26-28 where it says man is to be responsible for every animal that move on the earth. Yet there are times animals have taken care of us and Sgt. Stubby was a prime example.

I hope you will take time to see the movie and appreciate the dedicated service of war dog, Sgt. Stubby. It might bring some tears, but they will be glad tears, not sad tears. I believe the movie will leave you grateful for a little dog that went off to war, served bravely, and came back a hero.

Sgt. Stubby, WWI war dog, led many parades after his service.

A Prayer of Yesterday, Still for Today

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Yesterday, while cleaning out files, I came across some writings from years past. I had held onto a variety of musings long forgotten, but this one–a prayer–still speaks my heart so I decided to keep it a while longer. May I share it with you? It may speak your heart, too.

Astound me, Lord,
with the realness of You.
Cause my breath to catch
with new understanding.
Strike the nerve
that will pain me to soberness
and turn me to the greatness
of my God.

Shape me, Father,
in Christ’s likeness.
Mould me that I may
reflect Him truly–
on bended knee
or in running stride,
alone with one,
or in a crowd with many.

Lift me, blessed Jesus,
to the miracle of Your Love.
Teach me, like a child,
to be eager and to anticipate,
to live in all that you are
while standing on tiptoe,
expecting a miracle
with each new day.

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My Grandmother’s Simple Heart

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Pastor David Cross’ lesson for our Sunday school class yesterday was from Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (NIV). He explained how God wants us to walk with integrity and uprightness, to have a heart undivided—a simple heart. That is, a heart that is honest and full of devotion to God.

My grandmother, Dulcie Pauline Cotton Spencer 1900-1991

My grandmother had that kind of heart—a heart that was simple and honest and fully devoted to her Lord.  I could never say enough good things about Dulcie Pauline Cotton Spencer, for everything that is good will find itself back to her eventually, describing her in some way.

I was reminded of Mama Dulcie’s simple heart recently when a cousin and I were reminiscing about our grandmother. Cindy Barnes Wilson’s mother and my aunt, Evelyn Spencer Barnes, the sixth of Jim and Dulcie Spencer’s seven children, helped Mama manage her money in her later years of life. Cindy said Mama Dulcie would frequently ask Evelyn “Did you send the children their money?” The children were the children of St. Jude Children’s Hospital and the money was Mama’s monthly check to those children sick with cancer. And don’t overlook that she categorized the money as belonging to the children; it wasn’t hers.

Some things hang on in our minds and linger for further pondering. Such was this small piece of information Cindy passed on while we were remembering our grandmother and her simple and upright heart. In my seventy plus years, I’ve never known anyone godlier than Dulcie Spencer.  One thing I know for sure, giving to a charity would never have been about some way to receive a tax deduction. For Mama, it would have simply been for sick children who needed help. It would be what Jesus would want her to do.

Dulcie Spencer was never a woman of means and her monthly check to St. Jude Children’s Hospital was most likely of a small amount, yet I put Mama in the category of the poor widow of Mark 12:44 where Jesus said “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on” (NIV). Mama didn’t give all she had but she did give with that same kind of abandoned devotion to God. And if she had thought for one minute Jesus was asking her to give all she had, she would have and without a second thought.  She was 100% the Lord’s. Her trust in Him was complete.

This past Saturday we had a Spencer cousin reunion with nine of the sixteen grandchildren there. Each grandchild’s life has been touched and formed by Dulcie Spencer in some way. We each have our own treasure box of Mama Dulcie Memories. And though we didn’t think to talk about this on Saturday, I believe it safe to say we would all agree on this descriptor of our grandmother:  She loved God and she loved us—in abundance on both counts.

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Spencer cousin reunion 12/30/17. Brad Replogle (Betty), Paul Spencer (Tera), Lori Owrey (Evelyn), Bruce Replogle (Betty), Cindy Wilson (Evelyn), Tommy Cagle (Cornelia), Steve Spencer (J.B.), Walter Luffman (Louise), Pat Rowland (Louise)

Mama died when she was 91. Her life here was doing just what Proverbs 4:23 said, for she guarded her heart and the flow from that good and simple heart benefitted us all.

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My grandmother and me, 1982. Mama walked and talked with Jesus every day. She was the best person I’ve ever known.

Can I Be a Joseph? Can You?

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In his book, All In, Mark Batterson explains that spiritual maturity is when the theoretical becomes experiential.  That led me to think about Joseph, the son of Jacob, and how his life unfolded.

We get to know Joseph at the age of 17 and assuredly, he could never have imagined that he would someday be second in command to the Pharaoh of Egypt. His dream of his father and brother bowing down to him left out the details.

There was jealousy in the family ranks. Joseph’s brothers took opportunity and cast him into a pit. He was sold into slavery. The brothers thought they were done with him—their father’s favorite.

In years to come Joseph had mercy on his brothers and he took them out of a pit of their own, the pit of famine. He could have denied them help. He could have given help but with smugness and haughtiness. He could have charged them in some way for his rescue. Yet, Joseph with the blessing of Pharoah gave them the best land in Egypt. And with the material blessing came spiritual blessing: his forgiveness and his love, neither of which was deserved. God gives to us that same way.

Joseph suffered other pits after that one the brothers put him in. There was the pit of lies that cast him out of Pharaoh’s presence and put him in prison. And there was the pit of being forgotten after interpreting the cupbearer’s dream and remaining in prison for another two years.

Joseph moved from theoretical maturity of spirit to experiential. He grew in the dark jail as a seed grows in the dark earth. He didn’t give up his God. He kept depending, trusting. He was all in and he saw it through.

The brothers’ unkindness was rewarded with Joseph’s kindness. God had a plan for Joseph’s life and nothing that happened to him could do away with that plan.

Think of the prayers Joseph must have prayed. Think of the hopelessness he had to fight off.  Think of how God surely spoke to Joseph during the years in prison. Joseph took a stand for God and God took a stand for Joseph.

Joseph made choices along the way. He could have chosen bitterness. He could have chosen revenge. But Joseph wasn’t committed to feelings; he was committed to God. He lined up with the One who had his life in hand. In those first 17 years, Joseph learned of his father’s Father. He came to know and believe in the God of Jacob. He was establishing then the foundation on which he would live, grow, and trust. God is always at work in us.

We think about those who have hurt us, deceived us, gone extra steps to destroy us. But after that must come the question: How do we respond? Do we take higher ground with God or revenge like the world would tell us to? Can we forgive like God forgives us? Can we reap the peace of a Joseph by simply forgiving and desiring good for the individuals? Can we sincerely invite God to wash us clean of all resentment, all memories of mistreatment? Do we even want that? It is a sobering question! A question that begs truth, not pious words. Do we earnestly want to cast off the heavy robes that drag us down and hold us back? Do we want to shed garments stained by bruised feelings, bitterness, anger, and deep hurt? Can we leave these things behind and be dressed in the garments of Jesus? Can we accept his robes of forgiveness, love, and kindness and desire to bless and not condemn our enemies? It’s easy to say yes, but doing it begs for action.

Can I be a Joseph today? Can you? It’s our decision.

You can find the story of Joseph and his family in Genesis 37-47:12.