Monthly Archives: January 2011

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore (Backpacking Through Joshua: Week Three)

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Some friends and I are still “Backpacking Through Joshua” together. I probably won’t post my trail notes here at Snoodlings every week, but occasionally I will share with you some of the things I’m learning from Joshua and the Israelites.

This week we studied Joshua 3. When I first read it, it reminded me of how the Israelites had begun their journey to the Promised Land. I read Exodus 14 again and made a list of the way the two stories were similar. In both stories Moses and Joshua told the people to get ready to see God do something big (Exodus 14:13-14 and Josuha 3:5) and in both stories God piled up bodies of water so that His people could walk across on dry land (Exodus 14:21-22 and Joshua 3:17).

But if you look very closely, these stories have some interesting (at least to me) differences. I think the distinctions make an argument for the notion that as we go farther on our journey with God, He may lead us differently than He did at the beginning of our trip. Or it may just be evidence that God leads us different ways at different times, regardless of where we are in our relationship with Him. I don’t know for sure, but I thought I’d share with you some of the variances between the two stories that I observed.

I first noticed the difference in the people’s attitudes. In Exodus, the Israelites are whining and complaining (again) because Pharaoh had changed his mind (again) and was coming after them with his army (Exodus 14:10-12). Moses didn’t go forward until God told him when and where to go. On the other hand, Joshua moved the people before he’d heard the plan details. He told them to get themselves ready for what the Lord had them next. I read somewhere that it was important to note that Joshua didn’t tell the people to make military preparations, even though they were getting ready to cross over into enemy territory. Instead it was more important that they were spiritually prepared.  To drive the point home, instead of having the armies leading them into the Promised Land, Joshua chose the the priests to lead the people across the Jordan River.  It seems to me like in Exodus the people are running away from the enemy into the unknown while in Joshua, the people are running towards a known enemy.

In Exodus, the people were led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). In Joshua, the people were told that they would now be following the ark of the covenant. I am by no means a Bible scholar which I why I feel a little uncomfortable doing a post like this where I tell you what I think the Bible is saying. That said, I think that maybe it took more faith to follow the ark of the covenant than it did to follow the cloud/fire pillar. At least I think it took a different kind of faith. Moses couldn’t make pillars of cloud or fire appear by his own doing, it was definitely a God thing. But how could the Israelites know that when the ark of covenant moved, God was the one leading the moving? Unless the ark of the covenant got up and walked on its own accord, which I couldn’t find any reference to when I looked.

The final big difference  I noticed had to do with the water crossings. In Exodus, Moses stretched out his hand, the Red Sea divided, and the people walked across on dry land (Exodus 14:21-22). When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, the priests had to get their feet wet (Joshua 3:15-17). They had to take that first step into the water and then God parted the waters so they could walk across.

Do any of these idiosyncrasies have any relevance to us today or are they just little bits of trivia that are fun to discuss over supper? For me, the differences reminded me that sometimes it’s easier to follow God than it is at others. For me the verse in this chapter that had the most impact was the first part of Joshua 3:4:

“Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before…”

For forty years the parents and grandparents of these people who were camped on the banks of the Jordan River had traveled in circles through the desert. Year after year, they learned, relearned, and refused to learn the same old lessons.  They’d been there, done that, and had their desert t-shirts. But now it was finally time to take the next big step. They were finally the grown-ups and it was time to see if they were going to go farther than their parents had gone.

I was looking through a Bible commentary I have to see what the authors had to say about this chapter in Joshua (and to see if I was completely off-base with my assessment so far) and I liked this quote that I found:

“Crossing Jordan represents passing from one level of the Christian life to another…..(It is a) picture of entering into spiritual warfare to claim what God has promised.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Cook Publishing, 2004).

Sometimes I feel like I’m ready for the next level, other times I feel like a whiney, unprepared Israelite who needs God to lead me by a pillar of fire. I would even settle for a pointed fortune cookie message or a meaningful sky writing message. And sometimes God obliges and the next step is perfectly clear. But sometimes, he wants me to go ahead and stick my feet in the ice, cold water and trust He’s going to make a way for me where I don’t see a path. I just pray that however He chooses to lead me, I will always be quick to follow.

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The Post That Wouldn’t Write Itself….Tanya

I write most of my blog posts while driving my minivan or in the bathtub. Well, I don’t actually write the posts (or text, Oprah!) while I’m driving or when I’m in the bathtub, but that’s where I do my best thinking. Usually by the time I sit down at my computer, all I have to do is type the words that are already in my head. But this post was different. I find that sometimes when I really want to get something just right, I struggle with the flow. The words just won’t fit together the way that I want them to.  And I really want to get this one right.

Today is my friend Tanya’s birthday.

I have a package for her sitting beside my front door that I still haven’t mailed. Inside the box, tucked between a couple of other surprises is a Yankee Candle. The minute I smelled it while I was shopping in the home goods section of T.J. Maxx I knew I had to buy one for myself and one for my friend Tanya. The candle smells just like peppermint hot chocolate from Starbucks, a drink she introduced to me. And it reminds me of how incredibly blessed I am to consider Tanya my friend.

For two years in a row, Christmas completely overwhelmed me. We spent Christmas 2008 in my dad’s hospital room where he was recovering from his first brain surgery. Christmas 2009 came one month after my dad left for Heaven. That second Christmas seemed even emptier than the year before because at the time, it felt like we’d lost our fight and our hope. I didn’t care about buying Christmas presents, but I have three children who needed Christmas to be as much like Christmas as it could be, considering the circumstances.

Tanya is not a procrastinator or a late-night shopper, but she asked if she could help me do my Christmas shopping. So late one night that stretched into the early hours of the next morning, we took advantage of the extended shopping hours and we checked off my Christmas list, item by item.  She was my brain when I just couldn’t think the next thought. Because of her, my kids opened gifts that they actually wanted instead of the cigarette lighters, Mentos,  and Slim Jims I would have grabbed from the checkout line offerings in my grief-induced haze. Instead, we fueled up with peppermint hot chocolate at the Target Starbucks and she helped me do something incredibly normal when life seemed anything but.

When you are in the middle of a life crisis, you will always have friends who will ask if they can do anything for you. Tanya is one of those rare friends who doesn’t need to ask, she just does what needs to be done. She can do that because she takes the time to really get to know her friends so she knows what they would need or want. I can not even give you a rough estimate of how many ways Tanya ministered to me during the time my dad was sick and after he died. My kids practically lived at her house for two years. Knowing they were with Tanya and Jeff allowed me to scratch “Worry About the Kids” off my list of things to do because I knew that at that time, they were able to be more to my children than even I was able to be.

Tanya is the kind of person I’d like to be when I grow up. She is so strong in the areas where I feel very weak. She is orderly, calm, and always working in the background. I am….not. When Tanya loves you, she loves you with all of her heart. I am certainly a better person because I know her and because I have been the recipient of her love.

Tanya, I wish I could make the words on this screen match the feelings in my heart. You are precious to me and I cherish our friendship. I know that I haven’t been anywhere near the friend to you that you have been to me. You have prayed for me, loved me, and trusted me with your true self and I am grateful. Some friends are for a season, but I hope that God allows me to have you as a forever friend. (So glad we have that arranged marriage between the kids to look forward to!)

Happy Birthday, sweet friend! I love you muchly.

The last two days have been self-indulgent posts. Most of you don’t know either of these friends, but they’re a very important part of what makes me who I am. If I could sum up the last two posts in a “take away” snippet, I’d want to remind us to be the kind of friends we’d like to have…..To not just ask people in our lives who are hurting what we can do for them but to do what needs to be done….To be a safe place for our friends to fall….And to take the time to make sure the people we love know how very special they are to us.

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Stace

Two of my favorite people on the planet celebrate their birthdays tomorrow. Being able to call even one of these ladies friend would be more than I deserve, but I’m doubly blessed and consider them both to be among my very dearest friends. I’m a lousy card sender, but I thought that maybe I could pay tribute to them here at Snoodlings. Today I’d like to introduce you to my friend Stacey.

Stolen without permission from her Facebook page.

I didn’t want to move to Louisiana. In fact, if you look closely, you can probably still see the claw marks I left on westbound I-20 when my family dragged me there from South Carolina the summer before my junior year of high school.

She didn’t want to move to Louisiana either. She hadn’t been dragged quite as far as I had, she was an East Texas girl, but she was just as unhappy about her lot in life as I was. We met and began commiserating together in our junior year English class. Soon we’d developed a plan: On graduation day, we would get our diplomas, walk off the stage and out of the auditorium, and we would each hop into a waiting U-Haul, packed with our stuff, ready and waiting to take her back to Texas and me back to South Carolina.

Who was it who said that life is what happens when you’re making other plans?

Somewhere along the way we forgot that we were supposed to be miserable in Louisiana and we became the best of friends.  On graduation night we found ourselves, not barreling in separate directions down the highway, but in a Waffle House on Airline Drive trying to decide whether we wanted our hash browns scattered, covered, or smothered. Eventually we both did make good on our plan to Louisiana, only to both come back and then to leave again.

Can we all pause for a moment in a moment of tribute to the hair? And the miracle that we fit both those heads into one picture? Then let’s take another moment for the sweater and the sweatshirt. Amazing.

In between we covered a lot of ground. We survived one of the worst double dates the world has known. (At one point we excused ourselves to the bathroom and at least one of us broke into tears while the other plotted an elaborate escape plan that involved sneaking out back exits.)  I was in her wedding, she was in mine. Over the years, we’ve cried over broken hearts and bad hair…..

Hiding from my mom who is trying to take a picture of our highlights-in-progress.

…and the ones who got away and the ones we wished would just go away.

(These are the ones we decided to keep.)

But mostly we have laughed. How can you help but laugh at a friend who can sing both Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” and do a perfect Luther Vandross imitation in a five-minute span? Someone who does Oprah’s character from The Color Purple better than Oprah herself.

Graying her hair for her lead role in the senior play (? I think?)

We were the “good girls” in a graduating class of “hell raisers” so we spent a lot of time coming up with alternate forms of entertainment while our classmates. One Friday night we drank a six pack of Jolt Cola just to see what would happen. In case you are wondering, nothing happened.

I don’t remember the details, but we had planned some sort of surprise party for her. I do remember my colorful jeans.


I don’t have any recent pictures of Stacey and me because the years brought kids that kept us moving too fast to stop for a picture. Time and life stuff make it increasingly hard to stay in touch, but she’s one of those rare friends with whom the conversation never really ends. We just pick it right back up where we left off whenever we get a chance to talk. That’s why although I was incredibly touched, I wasn’t a bit surprised that she drove all the way from Texas (yep, she eventually made it back there!) to be at my dad’s funeral and then drove all the way back the same day. She is a true friend.

Everyone who knows her loves her and I think every one of her friends probably thinks he or she is her best friend because that’s how she makes each of us feel. She’s the kind of friend who will always have your back but isn’t afraid to tell you what you need to hear if she knows that in telling you, you will become more of the person God made you to be. Still, she accepts people as they are and makes people feel at ease in her presence. She has always given me room to be myself and I feel like a better me when I talk to her. She knows me and she loves me anyway.

Oh, Spacey Crash, every year you are even more beautiful to me, inside and out. I miss you desperately and I hope that this is the best year you’ve ever had. (And I hope after the pictures-from-the-past posting that you still consider me a friend!)

Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to my other January 25th birthday friend!

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Now Then….(More Backpacking Thoughts from Week One/MGO)

Technically, I’ve already fulfilled my homework requirements for the first week of my Backpacking through Joshua Bible study, but I still have some wonderings about the first chapter of Joshua that are taking up valuable real estate in my brain. I’m hoping that if I let them out in black-and-white form they will give me some space for other information, like where I put that Southern Living magazine that I was reading for recipe inspiration.

Living life can bring new meaning to familiar words. Take, for instance, the old hymn that I mentioned yesterday. I must have sung “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” a hundred times, but the lyrics mean something entirely different to me now than they did when I was seven. Familiar Bible passages take on new meaning in light of current events as well. I’d read the book of Joshua many times before I started this study, but the first couple of verses of the first chapter have firmly planted themselves in my head since I read them again last week.

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.” (Joshua 1:1-2 NIV)

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then…”

So matter-of-fact, that first sentence. And something about the lack of space between those two sentences compels me. I don’t think for a second that God was unsympathetic to the fact that the Israelites were undoubtedly mourning the loss of their beloved leader Moses. I am speaking from first-hand experience when I tell you God is very near the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). By the way, I love how The Message interprets that verse:  “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.”

Certainly God knew losing the only leader they’d ever known would be difficult for His people, but Moses had prepared Joshua and the Israelites for this day for quite some time. Moses knew he wasn’t going to be the one to lead them into the Promised Land and that Joshua was the leader God had chosen to take over for him when he died.

God is deliberate about the words He uses so I think it’s significant that He identifies Moses as His servant.  I think that in the space between those first two sentences, God was passing the torch from one servant to the other.

Like I said yesterday, the Bible isn’t a book of other people’s stories, it’s HIS story. Moses was dead, but this wasn’t the end of the story by any means. Moses had played his part and now it was Joshua’s turn.

God didn’t want them to forget what Moses had taught them. In fact, I think it’s interesting that He repeats Moses’s words to Joshua. Compare Deuteronomy 31:6 with Joshua 1:5-6:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“….I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:5-6)

In this one conversation, God tells Joshua three times to “be strong and courageous.” He even throws in the admonition to “not be afraid” in case His message wasn’t completely clear the first three times. I’ve heard the “strong and courageous” verses used as encouragement to those who are facing tough situations, but I think it’s interesting that in verse 7 God COMMANDS Joshua to be strong and courageous. God didn’t offer that up as something Joshua might want to try if he was feeling afraid, He said it as a follow-up to His instruction to obey everything written in the Book of Law.

So why did God keep repeating Himself? I’ve already said that I don’t believe God wastes words so He wasn’t just being repetitive. I think it’s safe to assume that Joshua wasn’t a hard-of-hearing dummy, so I’m guessing that God was letting Joshua know that what was right around the corner was going to require more than a small amount of strength and courage.

Why is this resounding so strongly with me?

Just over a year ago, my Moses died. In a lot of ways, it felt like then and there my story stopped. But as I read this chapter, I heard God say to me, “Jerry my servant is dead. Now then….”

Will I forget my dad? Will I reflect the person he was in how he taught me to live? Just as the Israelites would always remember and love Moses, yes, I will. But just as their story wasn’t over, neither is mine.

I have grieved and will continue to grieve. I will remember and will continue to remember. But I will get ready to cross the next Jordan, whatever that may be. I will walk in the truths that my Moses taught me. Just as God was with my dad, He will continue to be with me. He will never leave me or forsake me. He will lead me to the Promised Land.

Now then….

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Truthfully, Faithfully (Backpacking Through Joshua: Week One)

I was attacked by a Ninja this week.  Seriously! A Ninja’s razor-sharp blade landed me in the emergency room Monday night.

Well, actually, I cut my hand on my Ninja blender blade while I was washing it, but I did get five stitches in my left thumb. It just sounds cooler to tell people I injured myself doing combat with a Ninja than to say, “I hurt myself washing dishes.”

Both statements are mostly true, it’s just one is a little more true than the other.

I consider myself to be an honest person, but, if pressed, I would have to say sometimes my truth is a little truer than it is at others. I’m not a liar, but sometimes I reorganize the facts to fit my point of view or I delete the ones that make me uncomfortable.

Here’s an example. Last year I joined a group of friends to read the Bible through in a year. You can read about it here. I just read that post again for the first time since I published it and I’m cringing all over myself.  I know what you don’t. I know the rest of the story. After all my declarations and  aspirations, I made it to Deuteronomy. For those of you who aren’t familiar with its layout, that’s the fifth of the sixty-six books that make up the Bible. The reason you don’t know about my progress or lack thereof is I didn’t tell you. Or my accountability group.  I didn’t lie and say I was reading when I wasn’t, I just quit saying.

On my bookshelves, I have one shelf packed with partially finished Beth Moore Bible study workbooks. Right below that is a shelf of journals, not one of which has writing on every page. Most have only a handful of used pages. Under the guest room bed is an exercise glider that I’ve  used exactly once. I’m very good at not finishing what I’ve started.

But this year, instead of beating myself up and making myself start all over at the very beginning like I usually do, I picked up my Bible and started reading in Deuteronomy.  And this time, I actually finished that book…..Just in time for my friend Amber to start a group Bible study on the next book in the Bible, Joshua. I gave myself a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t do this study. All I had to do was look at my shelf of unfinished journals and workbooks and to remember the last study Amber did on the book of Daniel that I barely even started, much less finished.

There I sat, in the crack between Deuteronomy and Joshua. If past events are truly our best indicators of future behavior, I had no good reason to ask to be part of the Joshua study.

And yet, here I am.

Consequently, I don’t have a very good answer for the first question from our homework for week’s one: What made you decide to join this adventure? Maybe I joined because I’ve  missed the community of friendship the blog world offers me. Or maybe, like my friend Kellie I have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out disesase). Perhaps my answer to the first question is in a way connected to my answer to the second question from our homework:

In what ways have you found God to be faithful recently?

You see, although I’m not always faithful to do what I say I’m going to do, thankfully, I have a Father who always does what He says. Though I have a very hard time finishing what I start, my God, who began a good work in me, will be faithful to complete what He started (Philippians 1:6).

Last year, I struggled. My faith, which had always been like my favorite pair of broken-in, most familiar pair of jeans, suddenly didn’t seem to fit anymore. I asked a lot of questions and looked many places for answers. For awhile, I quit asking and ran away from anything that felt like a deep thought. I arranged and rearranged what I believed to be true. Through this process, I think I am changed in many ways, but one thing has remained constant: God was faithful. He didn’t change.

As a family, we are reading The Jesus Storybook Bible again. (Which if you don’t own, why not?) This is going to sound so blatantly obvious I hesitate to even bring it to your attention, but  as we were reading the first chapter, I was struck by something I don’t think I’d realized.  The author explains in the first few pages that the Bible is not a book of stories about superhero Bible people, it’s HIS story. It hit me all at once: This is why the Bible is just as relevant to me in 2011 as it was to the patriarchs who were living out the chapters of Genesis! And believe me, after reading the book of Genesis every single time I restart my Bible reading program, I am well-aquainted with those Genesis characters! The people and places and cultures have changed, but God has not.

I may have changed, but He hasn’t. I have been unfaithful, but He never has.

Although I’m usually attracted to the clean state; the  empty,white page; the first page of the first chapter  and the shiny, brand new year with its new resolutions and chances to start over, this year I’m excited about the chance to move forward from where I am. Sometimes it’s good to be able to begin fresh, but sometimes it’s good to start where you are. No backtracking, just an honest appraisal of where you’ve been and where you are with your eyes focused forward.

I’m sure I’ll repeat many of the same mistakes this year. Prone to wander, Lord, do I ever feel it, but instead of a do-over, I can reflect back on the hard-earned ground I’ve gained to get this point and start from right here and now, looking to my God to teach me how to live my life truthfully….and faithfully.

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