“Mom,” I begin with an almost-whine of childish inquiry, “why is Joseph your favorite?” It’s spring break, and I’ve been reading the story over again in bite-sized chunks by way of the lectionary. I know her answer; it’s one she’s told me since I was small, but I want to hear it again. Today, though, she’s a little distracted, and maybe caught a bit off-guard. It’s not like we’ve been talking felt-board Bible stories during this car ride. Her eyes have been on the road, while mine have counted churches.
So I’m not altogether surprised that it’s not any kind of a full answer, the way it would be in the Gilmore Girls/Grey’s Anatomy version of my life in which people drop inspiring, well-structured speeches every 20 minutes or so and always have the right thing to say mid-moment.
“Because he’s always obedient,” she says, matter-of-factly. My childhood self would have heard this as a pointed answer, and would have offered an eye roll at this yet-another attempt of hers to drill me with good graces and character quips.
“Mmm. He’s faithful, yes.” I read these things a little differently now.
“…Right.” She looks at me out of the corner of her eye. She hears the superior, Enduring Chill tone my voice takes on in these conversations, the tone we’ve talked about before. But in grace, she continues, “He doesn’t lose hope, even though he doesn’t have the big picture.”
I remember something, a snatch of halted conversation between sobs from an outdoor bench on a mild spring night.
“Even though he doesn’t know the end of the story,” I quietly echo the memory.
The past three years have felt like a dim version of a Joseph story for my family.
Something a bit like a betrayal chucked my mother out of a job, and the economic climate kept her there.
OK, maybe the analogy ends there (if there ever was one), because I’m pretty sure our story doesn’t come close to Joseph’s, and I always am inclined to say that money problems aren’t really real problems. I am sorry to tell you that I think there are worse darknesses, deeper wounds out there.
But I will tell you it hasn’t been easy.
There have been mornings that haven’t felt worth getting up for.
There have been questions and fears, after a long day of acting brave.
There have been all kinds of sacrifices, some we will live with for a while yet.
We have fiddled with our plates after a tense conversation at the dinner table about money and whispered to each other, I don’t see the good in this, knowing we don’t mean this bill or that, but all of it, the whole.
A Thursday afternoon in July, I’m driving down the middle of New Mexico in the middle of the afternoon. I go nuts for this big blue soul-baring sky– it’s the best part of the five hours between Santa Fe and Las Cruces, where my family has just relocated as an act of faith, trusting that my mother will get a teaching position.
Maybe this year, we said for the dozenth time.
On this stretch of I-25, it seems like you can see the distance from the East to the West, and a whole range of experience in between. Miles away, I see rain fall on thirsty earth, with the hot sun pounding on our car. I think of how Fr. Chuck always prays one way or another for precipitation, in praise or petition.
We thank You for the rain, I repeat words from a quite different locale, one smelling like old wood and old people.
Beside me, my grandmother scrambles to answer her iPhone, and I know it’s the phone call we’ve been waiting for all day.
Better than that, it turns out to be the phone call we’ve been waiting for for the past three years.
She has a job.
Mom has a job, and I don’t even know how to begin giving thanks and praise for this gift, this blessing, this grace.
I tell my grandmother in the car, watching the storm move across the landscape, it’s not just the money.
It’s the fact that it is rare to see someone so in her element as my mother is when she is teaching the magic of reading and writing. Call it vocation or gifting or whatever, but I call it positively electrifying.
My voice cracks as I say, that’s the best news.
She’ll be back.
I realize I guess we don’t know terribly much about the state of Joseph’s heart in some of the hardest parts of his story. He might have sung from the pit into which he was thrown like later disciples, but maybe his spirit failed him, as in so many psalms. In the Dreamworks rendition, he gardens a tree when he’s in prison. Sure, OK.
But do we know “the Lord was with him,” he walks righteously, he is faithful to use the gift God has given him (even when it hasn’t worked out so well in the past), and he is able to look back at the end of the story ridden with pain, waiting, and betrayal, and call it good.
I wish I could tell you we have been faithful every step of the way. I wish I could tell you we sang, we planted trees. I wish I could tell you that in the looking back, even from more solid ground, I can call it all good.
I think we are still learning what we have learned. I think there is still a lot of hurt to heal, a lot of room to grow in grace. I don’t know if I’ve made the same room in my heart for a Joseph kind of reconciliation, for the kind of embrace with the past he gives his brothers in the end.
But I want to make this very clear: The Lord was with us.
Maybe I could have saved you a lot of reading by just linking to The Footprints Poem, but this is the story I have to tell. It is certainly by grace my mother got a job after a lot of waiting, and I can certainly say, “Thank the Lord, He is good.” Blessing, blessing, blessing.
In certain circles, or maybe just ones I find myself in, we are quick to point to the provision we have been waiting for, the well-timed whatever, and call it “a God thing,” or a “divine appointment,” so on. And I think it is, they are. Redemption, healing, breakthrough: certainly these we can call the works of His hand. The opposite, the property of the fallenness of the universe, the song of creation turned off-key, the glass we see through darkly.
But I wonder if by flippantly calling one thing God’s and not the other, we miss how He is working, moving, shaping even in the middle. We miss the grace right smack dab in the center of the mess. We skim past the phrase, “and the Lord was with Joseph,” to get to the end–we miss the gift of His presence. We think we know where He was and wasn’t.
And I scan the rest of that thirsty earth, and think what of the drought? Surely He is just as good when the rain doesn’t fall. Surely He is just as deserving of our thanks and praise. Surely no field is wholly fallow.
September, I call her early one morning before both of us have to work, just because. I miss the two-hour drive it used to be before they left. I cradle the phone against my shoulder deciding which of the dresses in the hamper is the least offensive to wear again, she is doing early-morning banter with my teenage sister. I ask her how school is going, the students, the adjusting.
Between get your lunch and your hair is fine, she tells me she’s just so tired. I nod, though she cannot see. Jumping back into a new, old life is taxing. Our Dallas house still hasn’t sold, my family is learning how to live on top of each other. And her class has a high number of at-risk and special needs students, most of whom need the free lunch. No breezy easing back in. Paychecks don’t transform everything– transition is still transition, the grind still the grind.
“But you know,” she tells me, “Yesterday, one of my girls looked at me at the end of the day and was just so amazed that school was already over.” I smile, unsurprised. My mother has always been known as one of the most engaging teachers. Her kids work hard, but they’re tricked into loving it. Magic, again. Grace.
“Sounds like you’re doing something right then, huh?”
“I guess so.” Then, away from the receiver, “I’m talking to your sister.” I hear Isabella’s early morning stress through the wire. I stifle a laugh, remembering a different rhythm of life, one that seems very far away.
We hang up, and I’m just praying thanks and asking, all at once.
It’s a rainy day in Waco. The Lord was with us. He is with us still.