Saturday, November 12, 2011

Be Still And Know...

My life normally travels at a speed of about 110 miles per hour. I spend the majority of my life in my car, shuttling from one place to another and my calendar always looks as though several pens of different colors exploded all over it. With a husband and kids, a job, a volunteer position, a dog and a cat, it's a wonder I ever manage to take a shower, let alone find time for just me (and no, time in the bathroom with kids banging on the door shouting questions does NOT count).

But recently, due to two surgeries in a span of a month, I found myself forced to spend time recovering. In bed. Off my feet. Completely. During this time I realized something. Not only do I not know how to be still, I don't really like to be still. I've spent so much time telling myself that when I can just find the time to be still I'll read my Bible more, learn how to listen to G-d, work on that novel I started... You can fill in the blank with about any altruistic goal and I've probably said I'm going to do it--when I find the time. Yet when I was finally confronted with nothing but uninterrupted time, it nearly killed me. I could not stand being still. I found countless little activities to fill the time. I read books, I organized my photos, I watched television. I even played video games!

Now, none of these things are bad in moderation. Some of them are even worthwhile. But the point is that I was doing them to avoid the silence. I was filling each and every moment with something, anything but time spent alone with myself and G-d. What is it about silence that's so frightening? Why is it so hard to just be still, to reflect and to listen for G-d's direction?

It could be argued that, given the fact that I was in a bit of a perscription-pain-killer induced fog, no major life decisions should have been made based on any epiphanies I might have had during that time. I'll grant that. But if I had spent even a little of that time reflecting on my life and listening for that still small voice, perhaps I would have gained some unexpected insight. The point is, I'll never know until I learn to be still.

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Year, New Me

I'm beginning to think that if everyone has one word that describes their life, my word is "transformation." It seems that I'm always in a state of flux, questioning where I am and wondering where I'm headed down life's road. Just take this blog page, for example. At a glance, it appears to have a bad case of multiple personality disorder. This blog has changed in format and content over time, just as I never seem to be able to pin down my own personality.

This used to bother me. I used to worry that I would never find myself, never be comfortable in my own skin. I'm beginning to realize, however, that perhaps change is part of my personality. I've never been someone who fit neatly into a box. My tastes in art, music and literature cover a wide range of genres, and that range is constantly growing. My friendships reflect this diversity as well, with dear friends from a broad scope of religious, ethnic and socio-economic groups. Each one of these wonderful people enriches my life in a different way. They challenge me to stretch and grow. By exposing myself to a wide variety of tastes and ideologies, I expand my understanding of the world and, ultimately, of myself.

So once again, dear friends, this blog will transform into something new and hopefully even better. You see, one advantage to being Jewish is that you get two New Years. That means I get two chances, or a span of a couple months, to make resolutions. At least you do in my mind, anyway. I've always wondered what my life would be like if I lived without worrying what other people thought of me. What decisions would I make differently? What could I accomplish? So today I officially resolve to embrace my eclectic personality and jettison my fear of failure. I hope this blog will reflect my new perspective. I plan to keep some elements of the page, and add new ones. I hope you'll join me for the ride and maybe we'll all learn something about ourselves along the way.

And just to give a little shout-out to a great place to hang out, I'm writing from a terrific little coffee shop I just discovered called The Buddha Bean Coffee and Tea Garden. Long name, nice people, great coffee. Look it up and check it out!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Once again I find myself at a crossroads. Some might call it a full-blown mid-life crisis, but I like to think it’s a bit more complicated than that. Perhaps I’m just deluding myself. Yet, when I reflect on the past two or three years I see a gradual change in myself. And when I reflect on my life as a whole, I see a recurring cycle of change and growth.

I’ve never been one who is overly fond of routine. I get bored easily and I’m always open to new adventures. At times I’ve even been known to make drastic changes just because I feared I was getting into a rut in life. Plus, there’s a sort of perverse thrill in keeping my family and friends on their toes, always wondering what my latest hobby or hairstyle will be!

This time around, though, I think the change is deeper. For the last several years I’ve been on a quest to find myself. No, not in a starry-eyed college kid backpacking across Europe kind of way. I want to discover what I’m truly good at, what I really believe about politics and religion, whether I can make a career out of doing something that I love. Instead of always swaying this way and that on a whim, I want to finally be grounded in the real me and feel confident in being myself.

So now we come to the subject of this blog. Writing is one of my biggest passions in life. As my writing is often infused with my state of mind, this blog as a whole seems to have multiple personalities. I find politics and culture fascinating, so I began by writing about that. After a while, that seemed to be bringing me down so I tried something uplifting. I started writing short devotions. Then circumstances in my personal life became incredibly consuming, and I didn’t have the same amount of time or emotional energy to write for a season. Now I’m back, but I find myself wanting to head in a new direction. Nothing too drastic because my intent for this blog is still to benefit others as well as myself. I’ve no interest in writing a blog devoted entirely to navel gazing. (Regardless of what this particular entry might suggest!)

Where will I go from here? In terms of this blog, I’ll still be focused on life’s lessons. But now I’ll try to draw on a variety of sources. I will soon be traveling to Israel, and I look forward to the ways in which my experiences there will change me and help me grow. As always, I’ll process these changes through writing, and I hope others will want to come along for the ride, even if it’s only to see how many times I change the color of my hair!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Amazing Race, Sibling Style!

Today's reading from Parshah Vayeitzei:
Genesis 29:18-14:27

When we last left Jacob, he had been staying with and working for his Uncle Laban for a month; and Laban now wants Jacob to name his wages. Laban's younger daughter, Rachel, had caught Jacob's eye because of her beauty. As today's reading begins, Jacob tells Laban that he will work for him for seven years if Laban will give Rachel to Jacob for a wife. Laban agrees and we see in Genesis 29:20 that those seven years fly by for Jacob because of his love for Rachel.

At the end of the seven years, Jacob goes to his uncle and asks for his wages, that is, Rachel. But Jacob, "the deceiver" who outwitted his brother not once, but twice; and who tricked his own father as well, has finally met his match. It seems that when it comes to trickery and cunning, Jacob has nothing on his Uncle Laban. Laban agrees to give Jacob his "wages", and after giving a huge feast that culminates in a wedding, Jacob takes his new bride into his tent to be with her.

Just a quick background note on wedding customs in that culture. The bride would have been veiled during the public festivities, so the groom would be unable to see her face during the wedding (IVP Bible Background Commentary). This, combined with perhaps a little too much celebration on Jacob's part, or just the general whirlwind of excitement leads to Jacob waking up the next morning with, not Rachel, but Leah! It seems Laban pulled a switch on Jacob (Gen. 29:23), giving him his older daughter instead. The deceiver has just been double-crossed!

Jacob is understandably angry, but Laban invokes a certain (apparently unmentioned) custom of his people never to marry off the younger daughter before the older. He then agrees to give Rachel to Jacob after another week, in exchange for seven more years of service. Jacob agrees and is able to marry Rachel too. This treachery on the part of their father, combined with Jacob's open preference for Rachel, leads to some extreme sibling rivalry on the part of Rachel and Leah. Once again we see themes of deception and parental preference in the lives of our patriarchs, and as we've noted before, these are never without consequences. The consequences may not be fully experienced for a generation or two, but they will eventually be felt.

In Genesis 29:31, G-d has mercy toward Leah because Jacob loves Rachel more, so G-d blesses Leah with children while Rachel is unable to conceive. Leah, for her part, gives G-d credit each time she bears another child, and gives them names that acknowledge what G-d has done for her (Gen. 29:32-35). Rachel, on the other hand, actually blames Jacob for her inability to conceive! Not to be outdone by her sister, she gives Jacob her maidservant and tells him to conceive children with her that Rachel can claim for her own, just as Sarah did so many years before her.

When Rachel's servant does bear children, Rachel gives G-d credit for "vindicating" her, despite the fact that these children were born of her own machinations. In fact, in Genesis 30:8 we see the intensity of Rachel's rivalry with her sister:

8 So Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have
indeed prevailed.” And she named him Naphtali.*

Leah then takes up this spirit of competition and gives Jacob her maidservant to bear children through as well; so the situation escalates into a bizarre contest between Rachel and Leah to bear the most children! (It is important to note here that women who produced children, especially sons, were highly esteemed in that culture; while barren women were looked down upon.)

Leah then begins bearing children of her own once again and, sadly, in verse 20 she appears to believe that with the birth of her sixth son she will finally "earn" her husband's love. By this time, however, G-d has mercy on Rachel at last, and she bears two sons of her own. One can only wonder about the impact of their parents' immaturity and selfishness on these children. If we truly believe that children are a blessing from the L-rd, then parenthood should be undertaken with the utmost prudence and responsibility. Using children as pawns in some sort of game will have far-reaching repercussions.

As the reading concludes, Jacob has prospered greatly, just as G-d promised. He asks to leave Laban's service at last, but by this time Laban has figured out that G-d has been blessing him on Jacob's account. He states this openly and urges Jacob to stay. The self-serving Laban isn't quite ready to let his son-in-law go.

My prayer today is that I would take my parenting responsibilities seriously. May I seek to honor G-d in the decisions I make regarding my home and family.

Tomorrow: Genesis 30:28-31:42

*New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ge 30:8). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Parshah Vayeitzei

Today's Reading from Vayeitzei:
Genesis 28:10-29:17

As we begin Parshah Vayeitzei, we pick up where we left off in the story of Jacob. Jacob is traveling to find a wife (not to mention running for his life from his brother!) from among his mother's relatives in Haran. During the journey, as Jacob camps overnight, G-d visits him in a dream (Gen. 28:10-15). G-d speaks with Jacob and reiterates His covenant promise to Abraham:

13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your
father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to
you and to your descendants.
14 “Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread
out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and
in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back
to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised

G-d promises Jacob the same things He promised Abraham: to give him the land, that his descendants would be too numerous to count, and that all the families of the earth would be blessed through his descendants.

This encounter deeply impacts Jacob (Gen. 28:16-17), and in verse 18 he sets up a sacred pillar to commemorate the spot where he met the L-rd. The remainder of chapter 28 (especially verses 20-22), seems to indicate that it is at this time that Jacob begins to own his personal relationship with the G-d of his fathers.

As chapter 29 opens, Jacob comes upon a well and asks the local shepherds where they are from, to which they reply that they are from Haran. This is the very place he is headed. Not only that, but these shepherds know his mother's relatives (Gen. 29:5). As if this wasn't enough evidence of G-d's providence, who should come along right that moment but Rachel (Gen. 29:6), the beautiful younger daughter of Jacob's uncle?

This is all too much for Jacob, who begins to cry as he greets Rachel and waters her flocks. They return to her father's house where Jacob is greeted with open arms. He stays there a month, working for his uncle Laban. At the end of this month, Laban insists on paying Jacob for his efforts (Gen. 29:15), then verses 16 and 17 seem to switch topics quite suddenly, offering a description of Laban's two daughters. Why? Perhaps Jacob's good fortune isn't going to be handed to him quite as easily as he imagines. Maybe, just maybe, G-d has a few lessons to teach him along the way.

My prayer today is follow the L-rd's direction and trust Him completely. In times of difficulty, may I seek to learn the lessons He wants to teach me and not depart from His ways.

Tomorrow: Genesis 29:18-30:27

*New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ge 28:13–15). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Children of Promise

Reading from B'rit Chadashah:
Romans 9:1-13

Today's reading from the B'rit Chadashah is, at its core, about choice: G-d's choice. Paul begins this passage by expressing his passionate sorrow and longing for his people to recognize Y'shua as the promised Mashiach. His burden for his people is so deep that he states he would actually wish himself damned if it would mean the salvation of the Jewish people. In verses 4-5, Paul elaborates on the blessings given to G-d's chosen people:

4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the
covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises,
5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is
over all, God blessed forever. Amen.*

G-d chose Israel, the descendants of Abraham, as His special possession. But centuries later, Israel rejected Y'shua as Messiah. So are we to believe then, that G-d's plan failed? Based on verse 6, Paul's answer would be "no", as he explains that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." What does this mean, exactly? In the remainder of the passage, Paul lays out an argument for G-d's sovereign choice. Abraham had many sons, but it was only Isaac through whom G-d chose to fulfill His covenant promise. Some might argue that this is because only Isaac was the son of Sarah. However, Paul goes on to point out that both Jacob and Esau were sons of the same parents, yet G-d chose Jacob over Esau while still in the womb, before either child had a chance to "earn" any merit or disfavor (Rom. 9:11).

So is Paul saying that all is predestined and there is no hope for Jew or Gentile? Absolutely not! In fact, the good news is that there is hope for everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, because of G-d's sovereign choice. G-d chose the descendants of Abraham and to them He gave the Law. But that was not the end of His promise. Because the Law could not be kept perfectly by His human creation, G-d made a way through Mashiach that all might be reconciled to Him. Does this mean that one people has replaced another in G-d's eyes? No, because if we remember back to Genesis 12:2-3, the L-rd promises not only to make Abram a great nation, but also that "in [him] all the families of the earth will be blessed." So instead of allowing this to polarize us, we can instead rejoice in G-d's sovereignty and His great love for His children.

My prayer today is that I would have the kind of burden for others that Paul did, that would cause me to weep over those who are far from G-d.

Next: Parshah Vayeitzei

*New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (Ro 9:4–5). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.