By January 22, a full month after the bomber dream and King Kong vision, sleep was officially a refuge from the grief, shame, and pain of waking life. I hated rousing from a night’s slumber, because it meant that I had another full day to be conscious of my failure. And a wicked twist to the whole thing was I didn’t even know exactly how to define the failure that was so burdensome. I figured the simplest thing to do was boil it all down to Joseph. If I had previously been on track to become some modern equivalent to the patriarch Joseph, however improbable or absurd that might sound, then anything I had done to delay or prevent that manifestation was surely a failure. Especially since the thing I did to derail the process was something that God warned me off of no fewer than eight (8!) years ago – and with many episodes of confirmation along the way.
Assuming all the Joseph stuff in my life was truly from God, and assuming I’ve short-circuited the deal with my behavior – here is what I’m thinking and why I’m struggling:
Joseph was despised; betrayed; falsely accused; imprisoned; and forgotten. By any standard this all qualifies as a very bad day. After some period in which God sufficiently tested Joseph’s character, He abruptly blasted Joseph out from his wretched toil and relative obscurity into pretty amazing mortal status and honor. I can’t think of anyone else in history who went through such extremes of fortune, in the desirable direction and in such an unforeseen fashion. From betrayed brother to forgotten prison trustee to “Bow the knee!”
It’s not a stretch to say that my life parallels Joseph’s darker days enough that God could reasonably make the comparison and not have people scratching their heads. Not that He needs anyone’s approval. But the similarities are there, to the extent that I began noticing them well before any strangers began dropping Joseph prophecies on me in 2010. And God is definitely in the business of giving people new names. From my perspective, then, it’s at least as likely as not that God was planning to do this Joseph thing and change my identity. Since the December meltdown, I’ve come to see this all in an entirely different light than when it was just about me trying to make it to the end of my wilderness trek and see what’s in the Promised Land. Some of this perspective, by the way, is based on events that are chronologically beyond January 22; but not by much.
There are a couple of layers to the Joseph redemption narrative. The first has to do with God and His omnipotence. God did not need for Joseph the Patriarch to lend Him a hand in Egypt, a few thousand years ago; and He doesn’t need for me to be Joseph 2017 in order for His will to be done today. The Creator doesn’t lack anything that we creatures bring to the table independent of Him. So why did He use Joseph at all? I can’t answer that completely, because I don’t know. But I believe some of His motivation was simple fatherly love for Joseph. Joseph had been through the wringer. And clearly much (if not all) of that wringer was of God’s design to wring the undesirable “self” out of Joseph. Not sure this is working, so I’ll start at a different place…
Joseph was marking his time in prison, perhaps wondering whatever became of those dreams about his family bowing down before him; maybe believing he would eventually die in prison. Then God did the amazing and abrupt reversal of fortune. The immediate impact, regardless of what came later, was that Joseph was personally blessed in a colossal way. Major lifestyle enhancement, to say the least. I think that particular part of the process was God saying to Joseph, “I want you to have this great thing, because I’m your Father and I love you.” I have come to see the possibility that God had been telling me for years, “I want to give you this great thing, because I’m your Father and I love you. I want to do this for you, just because.” How generous and loving! And my response was, ultimately, “No, thanks. I’ve got this.” It’s crushing, on that personal level, to believe that God just wanted to do something for me out of love; and that I never saw past my own flesh to the reality of His paternal kindness.
Of course there’s a more eternally relevant layer to Joseph’s redemption. It’s about what Joseph did after his elevation into unexpected authority, beyond just the personal blessing. Joseph had spent years sharpening (perhaps begrudgingly) his God-given administrative aptitude into formidable skill. He was able to leverage that skill, under the auspices of near-absolute state power, to preserve and even prosper the nation of Egypt during a famine. Thanks to Joseph, neighboring peoples were able to survive the same famine. Some of those neighboring people were Joseph’s own family. His family came to Egypt and grew into the Hebrew nation. Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. Without Joseph’s tried and approved character, the entire Hebrew narrative falls apart before it even begins.
And I’ll tag on one last layer to the Joseph redemption story. God surely used the Joseph situation as a means of glorifying Himself. Only God could take that guy from those circumstances and turn him into what He turned him into. It was a wild, dramatic, loving, impossible way for God to say, “I AM, just in case you were wondering.”
I can’t know that there was any eternally-relevant analog prepared in my own life. But I believe that the undeniable connection I had with Donald Trump’s candidacy indicates there might have been some state utility and favor in the works. That theory isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it ought to be. But I was living under a burden in late January that, beyond any personal benefit that might have come, there was a chance that many people’s lives would be “less than”, due to my actions. Heavy burden, indeed.
It’s the “many people’s lives” that was really killing me. I can eventually learn to accept that I’ve cheated myself out of a great thing. I probably have another twenty-to-thirty years left in this life, and each year is passing faster; so I can deal adapt to personal loss and relative mediocrity for the duration. But it’s another thing entirely, coming to terms with having cheated some unknown number of other people out of something better than they end up with otherwise. I have a sincere desire for people to know Jesus as the risen Son of God. I also esteem efficiency. I think God had prepared a way for me to reveal Jesus to any number of people, in ways that bypassed a lot of preparation and preliminaries. Short and to the point, and likely a total blast to live it out, as well.
Thus concludes my explanation of why I did not like waking up in late January 2017.
I awoke early in the morning of January 22. I was awake and disappointed for some time before dozing off again. As I slid back into the escape of sleep I heard a man’s name I’d never heard before in my life. I started back into a more alert state of mind. Who? What? I reached for my phone, entered the name into a web search, and hit Return. Turns out there’s one guy in the USA, according to Internet, with the name I’d searched. Interesting. I couldn’t help but think of a similar situation back in 2013, when I dreamed of a woman with a name I’d never heard of before. I did a lookup on the name and found one woman in the USA, a doctor in Boston. I took that opportunity to pray for the good doctor for some days afterward. Here I was these years later, hearing another name for which there was one apparent owner. The man with the name that I heard lives in Troy, OH. I prayed for him regularly for a couple of weeks, after our early morning and one-sided introduction. I couldn’t ignore the feeling on January 22 that I was retracing some forgotten steps from early on in a process that I only recently finished badly.
I eventually did wake up for keeps and go to church with my kids. Later in the afternoon, we played a Mastermind tournament. I had been keeping score on the back of a piece of scratch paper. I’ve saved a couple of cases worth of letter-sized scratch paper over the years, mostly from church band chord charts, non-sensitive work documents, and drafts of my own writing. As I prepared to put the piece of paper in the recycle bag, I noticed it was a page from a blog post draft. I saw the name ‘Shawn Bolz’. Seriously? “Today, of all days…” That blog post was from last summer. I’d written about Shawn Bolz telling our church that no one can be righteous enough to receive a promised promotion from God. Without reading through that original post, I know that, at the time of original writing, I was struggling with being obedient to God’s call to not satisfy myself. And there were a number of voices who had come out of nowhere, it seemed, at around the same time and were telling me that there’s nothing I could do to inhibit God’s promise. Shawn Bolz was one of those voices, and he was a voice to be reckoned with. Did Shawn Bolz’s assertion have any bearing on my situation?
He had told us that evening that he was good about responding to emails, in the event that anyone wanted to personally engage him. In the weeks immediately following his visit to our church, I spent some dedicated time trying to find his email address on the Internet. I wanted to raise with him the issue of my own perceived promise, in context of what I thought were clear indications from God that my presumed promotion was contingent upon distinct obedience. I eventually forgot about that pursuit, having never found Shawn’s email address. I was aggravated that I couldn’t find the address, especially since he’d made the clear point that he would respond.
On January 22 I stared at the piece of paper in my hand, remembering a time in life a mere five months prior when there was still a great deal of hope and promise to the future. And in the time it took me to take one step towards the recycle bag to discard the paper I realized that I could have easily gotten my message to Shawn Bolz in August, via my own church leadership. They surely have his email address. I could have given them the message; they could have emailed Shawn Bolz; and he would presumably have responded to me or at least them. And given the context of everything, I doubt he would have encouraged me to test what I’d perceived to be God’s limitations. And such a hypothetical exchange would have been a big encouragement for me to continue on in faithful obedience until the end of my testing. All of this I realized within the span of a second or so, some months too late for it to matter. I stuffed the blog draft into the recyclables bag and turned back to a grim day.
I went over to the grocery store to pick up something for dinner. I didn’t really need to buy anything; but I knew my checker friend Mary would be working at that time of day on Sunday, and I wanted to see her. When I entered the store, I looked down the row of checkout lanes and saw her out in the middle of the row. I browsed for a few things that were worth buying and then took them to her queue. I waited through one person’s purchase ahead of me. When it was my turn, Mary and I greeted each other. She told me straight away that it was very unusual for us to have seen each other on the previous day. Normally, she said, she just goes straight home after work. The day before, she had instead gone to the shoe store after finishing her shift. It was a rare thing for her to go anywhere but home, much less to the shoe store where we had run into each other. I figured that it figured that it was unique situation and probably a divine appointment. Was God still rubbing it in?
Mary and I visited for the duration of my purchase. We talked about her family and her work situation. I asked if she needed any particular prayers for the coming week. Nothing in particular, she said. Just for life in general. I told her I would be praying accordingly. We said our goodbyes, and I went back home.