Our family returned from Thailand in mid-June. The Lord provided temporary housing for the first seven weeks via two families from our supporting churches. We are thankful for this provision as well as the fulfillment of numerous other needs and desires. At the same time however, we have been looking for more permanent housing and connections.
It was during this time that we read two weeks of devotions about Jacob and his time with his Uncle Laban’s family. Parts of the story are odd and strange; yet somehow there were applications and parallels to encourage us. I’d like to include a portion of the introduction found in “Encounter with God” by Andy Bathgate :
“Joyce Baldwin ... introduced me to the idea that God is the hero of the biblical narrative. It is an important corrective to studies of biblical characters, which easily become divorced from their original context and focus on moral lessons rather than God-centred truths. Jacob is such an interesting and complex character, but the main thing about his story is the God who chooses to work with him, making and repeating his promise. … The grace of God in working out his promises is the other striking feature of these passages. There are some moments in this narrative that read like a TV soap. There is intrigue, infighting, deceptions, barefaced lying and scheming. Just the ordinary lives of us sinners! God, however, works with this raw material, moulding it and reshaping it to show the work is His, not down to human ingenuity and ability and certainly not human righteousness. This wonder of grace continues to the church and in our individual lives. …”
As a couple and family, we are in a period of some uncertainty: where will we settle and where will our children go to school? What specific work will we do? What will God reveal to us and what choices will He leave with us to make? When should we wait and when is it time to make a decision? Both of us hesitate to make decisions, especially big ones that are full of uncertainty. Now we’ve had to make some of those decisions and live with the results.
As a family, we can relate to Jacob’s life (and Abraham as well) in various ways. For many years, we have been nomads and wanderers. Like Jacob, we left about 20 years ago with a promise from God that he would be with us and bless us. And now, it seems our Shepherd is telling us to return to the land of our family (actually that only applies to Adrian’s side). Sometimes our family relations have been strained and members have not felt included or loved. On the other hand, we haven’t brought back any sheep, goats, camels or other animals -- even though our kids begged us to bring their many pets with them.
I am struck by the theology of Leah and Rachel as they conceive and bear children. I’m doubtful that God works the way that they claim but maybe I’m wrong. Yet I doubt that we are much clearer in seeing and understanding God’s hand. We make very human applications to what we see in the world around us and sometimes attribute questionable events to ‘God moments’. Or maybe our revelations and ‘moments’ are too personal to easily or plainly communicate and share with others.
As a couple and as a family, we have looked online at many house rentals. We have also seen more than ten houses in person. Some were clearly not suitable. Other houses had mixed reviews and as time passed, some of us were ready to settle for what was available. Bea continued to hold out for the house that God would provide. As mid-July passed, we agreed as a couple that we needed to settle on a place by August 1st because it was important for our family’s mental and physical well-being. However, we (as a couple) were not unified on how to evaluate houses. We could somewhat see and understand what the other liked or valued about a house, but our values of what was important had some subtle and clear differences.
During this time, we regularly prayed for God’s direction and providence. We also prayed for unity. Yet, it seemed like we were being led to two different houses. Both had positive features as well as some negatives. In the end, the door stayed closed for one house -- literally, as we couldn’t see it in person after some delays and another one coming up (directly related to Covid-19). Meanwhile the landlords from the other house agreed to a reduction in rent. The choice seemed clear.
Even though the choice seemed clear, there were still some questions and frustrations. We have usually made big decisions in part based on unity and agreement. Why did God seem to lead us to different places? Could we really know that this was “God’s will”? Going beyond these questions, the next stage was to let go of frustration and unanswered questions.
Now, I’d like to come back to the two points that the devotional author made. It is Good News for us that God keeps His promises because He is faithful and He is able! Whether we follow willingly or not, whether we follow with understanding or not, and whether we choose truly or mistakenly -- our Lord God is in control.
Second, our Heavenly Father is gracious and faithful despite our sometimes petty motives as well as feelings of loss and exclusion (bigger but less visible). I recognize some of the pettiness in the words of this blog. I hear it in my words previously spoken to others. My Heavenly Father hears it too and still promises to work things out for good and His purposes. Somehow too as our family deals with restrictions in meeting with friends and escaping partial isolation as well as set-backs and frustration, there are times of grace, gentleness, and support among us. And our hope is not vanquished!
I’ll close with the phrase that has been used in Wednesday vespers: “In your mercy. You hear our prayer!”