Thanksgiving Thoughts

“Only a few years will pass
    before I take the path of no return.”
Job 16:22 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoyed our Thanksgiving yesterday. We were up early to put turkey in the crock pot and a loaf of bread in the bread maker. We headed to Des Moines with our contributions to the Thanksgiving meal and arrived at my folks’ house just before noon. The house was full. Tim and Kumi drove up from Texas. Terry, Bonnie, and Ellie made the trek from Chicago with their two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in tow. Our nephew Sam had to work the weekend and was unable to accompany his parents out east, so he joined us as well.

This was the first Thanksgiving meal, the first real family gathering, since my mom was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s. Many things yesterday were, to quote the Talking Heads, “same as it ever was.” And yet, beneath the visible surface of our traditional Vander Well Thanksgiving meal, afternoon conversation, and family game time around the dining room table, there had been a major shift in the tectonic plates of life. Some things will never be the same again in this lifetime.

In this morning’s chapter, Job makes his next speech. After dismissing the poor comfort of his friends, Job draws inward and becomes introspective about his plight. He contemplates the reality of the end of this life journey that each one of us will reach. I believe that most of us spend our days filled with the minutiae and urgent details of daily life to the point that there is no room left for looking too far head. The end of the journey for ourselves or our loved ones is not a comfortable subject. There are, however, certain way-points along life’s road that remind us where the path leads. And, having reached the way-point and looking back, we realize there are certain places to which we will never return in this journey.

Today, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for family who gathered and prayed and feasted and laughed and played and hugged and loved. I’m thankful for a lifetime of Thanksgiving memories. I’m thankful for parents whose deep faith leads and comforts them on a the murky path that lies before them. I’m thankful for our daughters, both off on their own journeys, who had good friends and companions with whom to give thanks. I’m thankful for Jesus, whom I follow, who promised “I am with you always – to the very end.”

Out of Ignorance Stream Ignorant Words

English: An early engraving by Blake for the B...
English: An early engraving by Blake for the Book of Job (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do you know that we do not know?
    What insights do you have that we do not have?
Job 15:9 (NIV)

The journey for Wendy and me to try and conceive a child was a long one. I can’t even recount in a simple summary how much was involved medically, emotionally, and relationally for both of us. As a blogger and active participant in social media I found myself, in the early stages of the process, sharing in broad terms and hints what we were going through. It didn’t take me long to stop, to close in, and to begin withholding information from any but the most intimate of friends. I quickly learned that the most well-intentioned people can say some of the most hurtful things. People who speak out of ignorance say ignorant things.

I thought about that this morning as I read the words of Eliphaz, who brings his next argument to the debate between Job and his friends. Eli’s anger is rising. He is uncomfortable with the questions Job is asking and his discomfort motivates him to go on the attack. I was struck when I came to the question above. My playwright and actor’s brain began to script Job’s thoughts.

What do you know that we do not know?

“Are you kidding me, Eli? Let’s start with with the obvious. Last I knew, your children were living and healthy. Do you know what it’s like to lose all of your children in the blink of an eye? Have you gone through that? Do you even have an f-ing CLUE what it feels like to receive the gut-punch news telling you that your children, ALL OF THEM, are dead?

“When was the last time you found health gone and puss-seeping sores all over your body, Eli? I don’t remember visiting you on an ash heap.

“Oh, and please tell me about the time you lost your life savings and everything for which you toiled your entire life! If so, please share. If not, then shut up.

“What do I know that you don’t know? E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!”

One of the things I learned through our journey was the importance of keeping my mouth shut and my ears open with friends and loved ones who are going through trials I have never experienced. Even when I have experienced some of the same or similar things, I remind myself in the presence of the suffering that it’s not about me. My role is to quietly step in, to be present, to listen, and to love. Those who are walking the path of suffering know a present reality of which I am completely ignorant. I need to respect that.

Foreshadowing

job

You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.
Job 14:15-17 (NIV)

The book of Job is an epic poem (bookended with a prose prologue and epilogue). It was likely an ancient story and scholars suggest that the protagonist of the story lived sometime between 1000 and 2000 B.C. The story of Job and his three friends was likely shared through oral tradition for many generations before a Hebrew poet and scribe penned it in the form and structure we read today. The date is unknown, but historians place the books writing anywhere between the reign of Solomon and when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and forced the Hebrews into exile which would put it roughly 600-1000 years before Christ.

Realizing that we’re reading a poem penned so many centuries before Jesus was born, what struck me in today’s chapter was the foreshadowing of Jesus that came out in Job’s words:

You will call and I will answer you;

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus

You will long for the creature your hands have made.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. John 3:16

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Jesus

Surely then you will count my steps,

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Jesus

but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” – Jesus

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

God is telling a story, and it is woven through His Message. Job is a part of that story. His ancient words not only speak to me of my very present human condition, but also foreshadow a chapter of God’s story which would not unfold for many millennia.

This morning, I’m thankful for the rich layers of story and of meaning told through Job, and through the books of law, and history, and wisdom. I’m thankful for the ways I daily relate to them these thousands of years later, and the ways they richly reveal God’s story as it unfolds across time.

The Crossroad of God’s Silence

source: shibanov via Flickr
source: shibanov via Flickr

Then summon me and I will answer,
    or let me speak, and you reply to me.
Job 13:22 (NIV)

This past Saturday night Wendy and I went to see a production of Rabbit Hole at Central College here in town. The play is an intimate look at a married couple struggling with the accidental death of their young son. It is a wonderfully written script, though certainly not an easy one to act or a comfortable one to watch. It is a continuation of the questions with which Job and his friends are grappling.

After the show Wendy and I spent some time unpacking our thoughts and feelings about the play. To be honest, it stirred some of the same deep questions and emotions Wendy and I struggle with in our journey of infertility. Like Job, like Rabbit Hole, our own experiences are simply a different facet of the same stone.

In this morning’s chapter, Job alludes to one thing Wendy and I have found incredibly difficult in our own journey, and which we saw allusion to on stage the other night. When you are walking through senseless suffering, you want an explanation from God.

Please God, simply reply to my questions. Sit down and explain to me ‘why.’ If I’ve done something to deserve this, I want to know what it is. If there is a reason for me to suffer this, then by all means lay it out for me so I can process it and move on.”

But, God remains silent.

I have found this intersection of my questions and God’s silence to be a crossroad. It is a crossroad which beckons me to choose. I can choose out, raise my middle finger to heaven, and walk away from God. I can choose in and press forward being assured of what I hope for based on evidence I do not yet see. It is a crossroad at which most all of us will stand at some point in our life journey. Despite the throng of people who have stood there before, those standing on either side, and those waiting their turn behind us, we each stand at the crossroad oblivious of the crowd. When we stand at this crossroad, we feel utterly alone.

I have equally found that this crossroad is not a one-and-done affair. No matter what I choose in the moment today, I find myself standing there again another day. When I choose out at the crossroad yesterday, then God leads me back to it. I have discovered again and again that God is big on second chances. If I chose in yesterday, then I will go to a play tonight that leads me back to the crossroad mulling over the same questions, feeling the same silence, faced with the same choice once again.

Today, I’m praying for all who find ourselves standing at the crossroad hearing God’s deafening silence. Despite our feelings to the contrary, we are not alone. We’re standing here together.

I’m choosing in.
Again.

You’re welcome to join me.

Wisdom, Age and Suffering

source: mythoto via Flickr
source: mythoto via Flickr

Is not wisdom found among the aged?
Does not long life bring understanding?
Job 12:12 (NIV)

Wisdom is, indeed, found among the aged.
Still, I’ve known many an old fool.

Long life does not necessarily bring understanding, Job.
But, it seems to me that suffering does. If it doesn’t break you.

I just can’t always perceive the increase of understanding when I’m still in the midst of the pain.

Press on.

I Wonder if Love Isn’t the Best Defense

Superman Band-AidOh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.
Job 11:5-6a (NIV)

I remember a young man with whom I went to school. It was the 1980s. While most of us were accenting our permed mullets with parachute pants and Forenza sweaters as we carried our Jansport backpacks to class, this well cropped young man was wearing a three piece suit and carrying his Samsonite briefcase. He was a firebrand. Always speaking from a well entrenched position of know-it-all-ness, he seemed to have assumed the role of God’s attorney. His truth was God’s truth and he was ready to make his case whether you wanted to hear it or not.

I thought of my classmate this morning as I read the treatise of Job’s third friend, Zophar, who finally speaks up. He’s heard Eliphaz and Bildad have a go at Job, and he’s heard Job’s responses. Zo’s soliloquy starts off like a boiling pot blowing its top. Zo seems to feel the need to defend God from Job’s word. Like my friend from school, he takes on the role of God’s attorney, speaking on behalf of the Almighty.

What I find most interesting in Zophar’s message is that he is at once chastising Job for assuming he knows the mind of God and making the same assumptions about Job. Like his other two amigos, Zo speaks from an assumptive position of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Job has done something sinful to deserve God’s wrath and punishment.

I have to be honest. When I ponder Job’s friends, I not only think of my briefcase toting friend, but I also see shades of myself 30 years ago. The further I get in my own personal life journey the less passionate I feel about defending God with my words and the more passionate I feel about simply representing Him with my loving actions. Zophar asks Job if he thinks he can fathom the mysteries of God, and I am increasingly comfortable with the fact that I cannot.

This morning, I’m thinking about what I would do or say if I were one of Job’s friends, sitting with my buddy on the ash heap. The truth is, I’m not sure I would try to make sense of it. I would tell Job I love him. I’d admit that I don’t get it either, and I would apologize that I don’t have any answers. Then, I’d ask if there’s anything I can get him to ease his suffering. A cup of cold water, perhaps. Some Superman Band-Aids for those sores? Maybe telling a bad joke or two in an effort to coax a smile. It still falls short of meeting the depth of Job’s need, but I feel like it comes closer than what I’ve seen from Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

Capturing The Process Behind the Performance

A Christmas Carol RehearsalI love the process of theatre as much as the performance. It is also one of the things about the stage that I love to capture with a camera. Most people attend a play or a musical at some point in their lives, but few see the process of rehearsals, character development, set construction, make-up, and lighting. It’s such a fascinating thing to be a part of, and to watch taking place. The magic of theatre is the culmination of an amazing amount of human effort, and it creates so many opportunities for interesting photos.

Wendy and I have bit parts in this holiday’s production of A Christmas Carol and the other week I had my camera with me at rehearsal. In this shot, Lonnie Appleby (playing Scrooge) is sequestered in fear on his four-poster bed which at this stage of the production is nothing more than a bench with a couple of posts screwed on. I’ve loved watching Lonnie play with and develop the physicality of the role and I liked the way this photo catches the contortion he’s both developing and which is being forced upon him by the set piece.