So I've been gone awhile.
Gone from the blog, certainly. But also kind of gone from life, in a way. This wasn't entirely a surprise; I always lapse into a funk once spring hits. Sun and warmth and light drain my spirit, and combined with the many negative associations I have with spring and summer due to past traumatic events, it's always a struggle to summon my full self from May to August. But this year was more pronounced than usual. I was lethargic and dulled, watching hour after hour of Netflix, and doing little else. Anytime I got a wisp of an idea, it dissipated into disinterest, and nothing seemed important enough to think about or do. I felt like Solomon: "everything was meaningless under the sun". When I was describing this to my friend Angie, she sympathized, and said that when she has a day or a time like that, she tells her husband she's having an Ecclesiastes. Exactly.
Thankfully, God in His abundant mercy does not let me languish indefinitely, so in the last week of July, as I organized the boys' school supplies and prepared for our annual excursion to Family Camp (which always signals the end of summer to me), I began to feel like I was finally emerging from "the depths of despair". (Oh, Anne Shirley...how I love you.) And we had the most extraordinarily wonderful time at camp. I decided beforehand that I was not willing to let my constant mental monologue about being overweight keep me from enjoying family, friends, and experiences, and I asked God to help me make this a reality. And boy, did He ever! I felt so FREE while in Iowa: free from self-beratement, free from my seasonal depression, free from a need to prove myself. And it turned out to be an exhilarating time of reminiscing with people I hadn't seen in decades (former teaching colleagues and fellow camp leaders) and delving into deep and fulfilling and hilarious conversations with new friends, longtime friends, and former-students-turned-friends. I was newly grateful for the opportunity to spend extended time with my mom, with the boys, and with my childhood friend Trish and her fantastic family. (Harry had to leave camp after just a couple of days, so sadly I didn't have as much time with him as I would have liked, but I enjoyed what time we did have.) And all of this took place in my beloved home state of Iowa, which lent everything a certain nostalgic contentment.
Oh, the bliss of being returned to myself! Again I am flooded with ideas and momentum and purpose. Again I want to read and write and think and discuss and organize and plan and pray and create and sing and study. THIS is why I love autumn, why I crave it in the deep-down parts of me. It's like I was MADE for it. I probably was.
Yesterday while Nehemiah was away at a playdate, Ezra asked if we could snuggle on the couch while he read the Bible to me. Um, YES! Every time, YES! So we cozied up under the red wool blanket and he read the story of Joseph to me. And I was struck by something: after being shunned by his brothers, after being sold to slave traders, after serving as a slave in a foreign land, after being wrongfully accused and imprisoned, after being bereft and alone, after patiently trusting God to deliver him, Joseph's prayers and faithfulness were answered. God DID deliver him. He gave Joseph favor with Pharaoh. And, as Ezra's Candle Day-by-Day Bible phrases it, "For seven years, Joseph worked hard for Pharaoh." Joseph's REWARD was to work hard. Now obviously this is a kids' Bible with a lot of paraphrasing and summarizing, so the sentence I just quoted isn't an actual verse from the Bible. But the Bible does say this: "And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt...he gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities...Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting, for it was immeasurable" (Genesis 41:46b, 48-49 NKJV). When I considered this — how patiently Joseph had waited for deliverance, and how his deliverance came in the form of protracted and difficult work — I felt a tingle of excitement, like I was "getting" something I hadn't gotten before. Having to work hard at something isn't a punishment; it can be a GIFT!
For some people, this isn't a revelation. But me? I'm accustomed to seeking opportunities to rest, to relax, to refresh. Certainly there's a place for stillness, for quietude, as Jesus Himself showed us. But I know myself and I know my tendencies, and "deep down in places (I) don't talk about at parties" (Sorkin), I really dread work. It's embarrassing for me to admit that, but the truth is that I love relaxing. I love choosing what I want to spend my time doing and thinking about. I love that when I'm doing something because I WANT to do it, I don't feel the pressure to perform a certain way or accomplish a certain result. When I'm doing "work", I feel a constant undercurrent of fear that it won't turn out right or it won't meet someone's expectations or it will look amateur or silly. These fears cause me to shy away from it more often than I'd like.
But this passage about Joseph fills me with hope and expectation. It reminds me of all the times I've delved into a project or assignment with that sense of higher purpose that blocks out those doubtful voices, that not just overcomes the fear but transmutes it into reliance, a necessary humility, a dependence on the One who makes all our work worth something, the One to whom I want all my work to ultimately point. And when I think of it that way, I'm EXCITED to work. Excited to try. Excited even to fail, or at least for the learning and the growth that failure can produce.
As I head into autumn (oh, beloved autumn!) and become reflective on this difficult season that has nearly passed, I'm thoroughly encouraged by Joseph's story. And there is special resonance in the verse that talks about his two sons: "And the name of the second he called Ephraim: 'For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.' " This is what I pray for now and for the coming months.