I remember so vividly the moment I walked outside my first little apartment in Indianapolis, just 4 or so months into my first year of teaching 3rd grade. I was so alive with the excitement of my class, but exhausted, too. So, so tired.
It was dark, because that’s when teachers leave for work. 😉 And so cold. Snow was fresh on the ground, inches and inches…plowed into great piles at the side of the lot.
I was new to Indy, fresh off the mission field of India and Mexico, and before that, my college years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I literally hadn’t seen snow like I saw that winter since my childhood.
I drove a little 1996 white Honda Accord. I parked it in the same place each evening, and yet that morning, as I walked to my spot, I saw another car. I walked down a bit farther, and no, it wasn’t there either.
Beginning to panic, I came up with the most logical, simple explanation I could think of with my sleep-deprived, stressed-out, first-year teacher brain.
I’d lost it in the snow. Of course! It had blended its white self in with the snow, which explains (kind of) the next scene you should imagine…
Me, in my school clothes, scaling the mountains of snow, digging with my bare hands to find my car. I knew it was there. I had never known a single person in my life who’d had their car stolen, so when I finally gave up and called 911, the conversation went something like this:
Operator: 911, what’s your emergency?
Me: (dazed voice) Umm…well, I don’t know if this is an emergency or not, but I seem to have lost my car, or maybe it was stolen…does that happen here? Yes, well, I hate to bother you with this, but I might need some help finding it.
Operator: Yes, honey, that is an emergency. I’m sending someone to help you.
Me: Thank you so much. I am so sorry. Have a wonderful day.
The short ending is that I got an education that day. Cars get stolen, used for crimes, and then dumped randomly and returned to you by the kind people at the police station. The policeman came by my apartment a few weeks later and said that I was the nicest, calmest person he’d ever taken a stolen car report from. I replied that I didn’t really know how else to act in that situation…after all, he hadn’t stolen the car from me. I would like to say it was Jesus keeping me calm and collected, but I actually think it was total and complete shock. I could hardly bring myself to say the words, “My car was stolen.”
It was the truth, though. A crime had been committed…something dear and much-needed was taken from me while I slept 40 feet away. People who meant evil had taken what wasn’t theirs to take and left me, well…digging through snow.
Go with me now to Genesis 37, the beginning of a drama starring Joseph begins. Joseph was young, honest, naive, and arrogant…when he was sent by his father, Jacob into the fields to see how his brothers and the flocks were doing. He was to return to his father and report how everyone was doing. Simple enough.
Instead, when his brothers saw him coming, they decided to kill him because he was their father’s favorite. After some discussion, they finally agreed to sell him to some traders as a slave, or in modern terms, to human traffic him.
These are not nice images. His life was stolen from him, in an instant, by those he trusted more than anyone. By his brothers.
We minimize this moment, these years, because we know the end of the story. God used Joseph to preserve his family, and therefore, the great nation of Israel. But, for so long…so long.….Joseph was rewarded evil for good. He was a slave, then a prisoner, then a leader in a land that was not his own—all while separated from his family, his people.
The Bible doesn’t record many of his moments of despair, although there must have been many. He was human like we are. As his story stretches over many chapters of Genesis, we see the depths of his emotion when he is finally reveals himself to his brothers in Genesis 45:
“Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.” (v. 1-2)
In that moment, he cried out so loudly that everyone he had been so strong in front of for so many years, the people he had led through famine, and his brothers who had sold him like an object….they all heard.
This man who had been a rock of strength for so many for so long, finally wept with the relief of a trial ended. A life returned to him. A family reunited.
I related to this story this morning, and maybe you do, too.
Something has been stolen. Taken without knowledge while you “slept” nearby or taken in violence by someone you loved. Your life altered into something you can no longer recognize.
No matter “who” it was that took that thing from you, or whether it was just life in a fallen world that has left you empty, the hurt can morph into something else in the blink of an eye.
All life thieves.
They begin as small triggers in our hearts and grow, if unchecked, into vines that grip our minds and emotions until we find ourselves imprisoned.
What has life stolen from you? Years given to something fruitless? Anger over a wrong done ages ago? Fear that prevents joy from entering into your day? Pain?
You know the answer without being asked the question.
So, I’d ask you, as you face this thing that was taken from you, will you instead give it to Him? Will you…can you…like Joseph in Genesis 45, find power in forgiveness and submission to the will of God?
“And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” (v. 4-5)
So much was stolen from him over so many years, but in the end, it was the hand of a gentle, loving God who was guiding him, preserving him, and fighting for him.
He survived. And so will we.
Let’s leave our lives in the Hands of the One who shaped us, formed us, and will finish a good work in us, no matter what has been taken from us. Let us find our peace in Him.
Rest assured He is doing a good work, for good.