I've zipped through several dramatic literary moments lately. The courtroom scene in To Kill A Mockingbird, Sage the orphan facing down the pirates in The Runaway King, and Joseph the dreamer, snotty privileged son, slave, and ruler watching his brothers bow before him begging for food.

That is a whole lot of drama.

Even though I only intended to read one chapter out of my Bible, I kept going. I had to finish the story of Joseph and his brothers. Because it was all so real. He was a young and arrogant boy. They almost killed him, but sold him into a life of toil instead. Joseph sought God and struggled for years in servitude. He rose to power and saw the day when those who had hated him were weak and ignorant of his identity, kneeling before him hungry and desperate. And he was mad and hurt and curious. Had they treated his little brother with the same wrathfulness and scorn?

Joseph tested them with a terrible trial. They had to drag Benjamin to Egypt or starve. And then Benjamin was arrested and his brothers had a choice. Escape and let Benjamin be punished in Egypt, or sacrifice themselves for him and their father who would never recover from such a loss. Judah offered himself up for Benjamin and Joseph wept. He sent the Egyptians away and revealed himself to his brothers, his most hated enemies, his family.

They shook with terror and He forgave them.

Genesis 45:4, 5--"Then Joseph said to his brothers, 'Come close to me.' When they had done so, he said, 'I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.'"

Because the years of oppression and prison took an arrogant young man and showed him God. Joseph learned a terrible and beautiful lesson. One that I am not sure I can truly grasp. A truth that has been dancing about me all my life, just out of reach.

The world is full to the brim with terrible things. Terrible things that God did not invent. Hate, jealousy, slavery, rape, murder, favoritism, poverty, torture, revenge...we have brought all of this into God's perfect world. God brought us mountains and oceans, sunlight upon fresh snow and twin fawns hidden in a bed of grass, songbirds and cougar, the rippling power of the Kodiak bear, the fragile beauty of chicks hatching in a tiny nest in the back yard. He made beauty and we filled it with the terrible stench of our sin.

He gave us life. We gave God crap and then have the incredible arrogance to blame Him for the horror of it. But God can do amazing things with our crap.

Joseph knew this. He saw his brother's hate and his own arrogance. And he saw God accomplish amazing things with the dreadful ingredients that Joseph and his family provided. Joseph saw this, and then he forgave.

Dear Lord, give me the grace to do the same.

I'm reading To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time. I don't read a lot of literary fiction. But every year my best friend and I pick something for the other one to read. She loves literature and I love adventure. This is how I made it through Catcher in the Rye, Where the Red Fern Grows, and The Fault in Our Stars. And this is how she has become knowledgeable of such literary adventures as Artemis Fowl, Inkheart, and Twilight.

I just finished reading that chilling scene where the mob of townsfolk has lead the sheriff away into the woods and then gathered to force their way past Atticus Finch and kill the prisoner. Scout bumbles into the group of men, not understanding, chatting away, unaware. I swear my heart stopped as I read. But Atticus Finch stands solid by what he believes, even though the town around him sees his compassion and dedication as a sin.

I wasn't sure what to write about today. Did I learn anything, Lord? I prayed. Have I seen anything new about You this week? What should I say? Nothing came to mind. So I cleaned the house a little, made some coffee, and sat down to read.

Of course the book reminded me of Him. To Kill A Mockingbird brings to mind a stern and terrible Bible story I have written about before. It haunts and hounds me, because it has danced just outside my ability to understand for so many years.

The story of the prophet and the lion. I Kings chapter thirteen tells the tale. A prophet hears from the Lord: "Go, curse this alter but don't stop along the way". The prophet curses the alter, performs a miracle, resists temptation to eat with the king, and heads home. Then an older prophet hops out of the bushes and tells the young prophet that God told him to invite him in for a tasty snack. Young prophet stops for a snack with the old prophet. Suddenly God speaks to old prophet and tells him that the young prophet disobeyed by stopping and will die. He informs the young prophet. The young prophet finishes his snack, goes on his way, and is mauled by a lion. Old prophet drags the young prophet's body home and buries him, saying to himself: "If only the dummy had just listened to God, he would be alive today."

Wow, that story always stops me dead in my tracks. What a mean trick. It even says right there in the Bible that the old prophet was lying to him. Why is that story even in the Bible. It always makes me so mad.

What was Atticus Finch dealing with? He had to choose between doing the right thing (that could ruin him and his family) or doing the wrong thing (which everyone in town said was the Christian thing to do). I think that is why this terrible story is in the Bible. Because God knew what we would be up against. He knew that there might come a time when what He wanted us to do and what everyone around us thinks is right, is not the same. We live for Him and Him alone.

That is what I was reminded of today. It is so amazing, that when I am scrambling for words, God supplies me with something to think about and something to say. Thank you Lord, for teaching me something after all.
I am reading the conclusion to one of my very favorite series. It is about a book. A book that a reader has brought to life. A book where ordinary people have become trapped behind its pages.

I came to the passage where the writer of Inkheart (the book) and the protagonist are waiting for a giant to appear. The writer wrote up a passage to call him into being and the girl reads it, bringing the words to life.

"'Aha! Here he is at last! Fabulous!' Fenoglio appeared behind Meggie so suddenly that she almost stumbled off the branch where she was standing. 'Yes, we know our craft, you and I! I wouldn't say a word against your father, but in my view you're the true mistress of this art. You're still child enough to see the pictures behind the words as clearly as only children can. Which is probably why this giant doesn't look at all the way I imagined him.'
'But I didn't imagine him like this, either,' Meggie said in a whisper, as if any loud word might attract the giant's attention."-- Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke p. 527-528

There is that tingling chill when you realize that this massive creature has come to frighten their enemies, all because of the magic of words written and read. But an even deeper mystery haunts the reader. The author didn't imagine the giant as a great chameleon who changed to match his surroundings and had the round round eyes of a lizard. Nor did the girl who read the words and called him to come to their aid. The world inside the book is more real than either of them imagined. It has a mind of its own and moves and breathes and grows in ways that neither of them can comprehend.

Thus is the power of story.

But this isn't just about the mystery of story, but of mystery and wonder and awe in and of themselves. Each new nature show I watch. Every photo and book I see. Life is full of amazing things. Did you know that wild oat seeds will actually walk across the ground until they find soft soil? They use the heat and cold to move themselves. Did you know that the Mantis Shrimp moves so quickly it can break aquarium glass and sees more colors than any other creature known to man? Have you ever watched a chick coming out of his shell? Did you know he will be damaged if you help him too much? He needs the struggle.

Just as the book Inkheart was more than pages and ink, our God and His world are more than we thought. Each new day proves that to me. And so when Meggie and Fenoglio saw the giant. The chill of amazement that swept through me was partially because of the story, and the power of story in general. But it also pulled my heart toward God and that chill of wonder that I have, every time I realize that He is more.

Job 38:4-7--"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"
So I ran across a new name for God this morning. You wouldn't think anything could be new. I've read through my Bible many many times. But that is the miracle, right? There is always something new.

Genesis 31:42--"If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you"

The Fear of Isaac.

When would Isaac have felt that great and awesome fear of God? One particular story comes to mind doesn't it. He hikes up the mountain with his elderly father. And the man who loves him more than any other, ties his son to the stones and raises the knife to heaven, about to plunge it down. Isaac was a strong young man, yet he allowed his father to do this. Why? Several possibilities occurred to me. He loved his father. He feared the wrath of God. Maybe some of both. But then what happened? In that terrible moment of personal darkness, as Isaac prepared himself to feel the blade cut his life short, God spoke. God spoke on that mountain and stopped death and provided a ram. It had to be the most violent and terrifying moment in this favored son's life. And God walked right through the middle of it.

The Fear of Isaac.

Not only did God shake Isaac's world until the foundations trembled and threatened to shatter, God's actions that day changed generations. Jacob, the schemer, the tricksy and conniving son remembered his father's story. And when his father-in-law chased him down on the road, what did Jacob call God.

The Fear of Isaac.

But isn't this how we are? If I look back over my journey with God, there are many beautiful moments to recall. My wedding day. Holding my newborn babies. Watching my sons walk down the dirt road at camp in the shadows of a summer evening beside their father while the crickets sing and the sun sinks low. But for God and I, it is those terrible moments that I hold dear. On my knees on the oil-soaked plywood floor of the generator shed, doing CPR on my Dad, not knowing he was already dead. Postpartum depression and that panic attack when my second born was just a few days old. That Saturday I cried for hours and never figured out why. Sitting with my mother while my step dad died of cancer, listening to those last terrible fighting breaths. Apologizing to my children, "Momma should not have yelled at you, I was disobeying God". Watching a river of heartbroken campers come through camp and then go home, knowing that they are walking back to Hell itself. Why in the world would these terrible moments be dear? Because at those times, I had nothing else. Nothing but Him.

The Fear of Isaac.

I think I understand. In the wretched dark. God showed up. Terrible and beautiful and strong. God came and showed His love. Ah Sovereign Lord, thank you for coming to me as well. Even in the darkness. Especially in the darkness. Thank you.
I yelled at someone this week.

No, I didn't shout. But I was afraid and angry and I am pretty good with words. My voice wasn't all that loud, but it was effective. Intense and cutting, I delivered my verbal salvo and left the other person reeling.

When the passion of the moment was over, I was left with that sick rock of acid in my gut and the knowledge that I had made a mistake. I just wanted to die. I wanted to give up and never ever do any ministry again. Since I had not lived up to my personal ideals, I wanted to write myself off as a failure and hide under a rock for the remainder of my days. It hurt too much to have failed.

So I wrote several letters of apology and I buried myself in my childcare duties. I tried to forget that anyone else in the world existed. Because if I tried again, I might fail again. That would hurt too much.

I think this was wrong too.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that people fail. But God is good. We are stupid. We are a mess. We can be redeemed. And so after several days I crept out of my self-imposed isolation and risked a smile at a person or two. I stuffed down my lump of self-loathing and tried again. Because God is with me. And if God is with me, at least one of us is good. If I risk and try again, perhaps they will see Him instead of me and everything will turn out alright after all.

Mark 14:72--"Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.' And he broke down and wept."
John 21:7, 12a--"Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord!' As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, 'It is the Lord,' he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water...Jesus said to them, 'Come and have breakfast.'"
We live in a world of artificial day. 24 hour WalMart, street lamps, office buildings lit up until dawn. We have gone to incredible lengths to push back the dark.

Our family lives at a remote Bible camp. When night falls, it is dark. And this week my son is a camper. At our house we have a battery system that gives us some light in the middle of the night. In the cabins, when the generator turns off, the power is gone. His counselor has had to comfort him several times when he woke up in the absolute dark of a lightless night. We are not used to the dark.

But without the dark, we miss something.

In the dead of night, when cougar and bear quietly traverse the shadows, all of a sudden we realize that even with our six figure jobs, SUV's, and cell phones...we are still prey. Feeling that sinking sensation of standing in the vast forest at night reveals something that is often lost in our culture. It brings back the deep primal fear of being killed and eaten by some awesome predator. It brings back that ancient struggle to survive. It brings me a glimpse at a difficult truth.

Without the light of God, Satan is free to draw us from our cozy dens and consume us at his leisure. We do have cougar and bear in our small mountain forest and they have never given us any trouble at all. But they are there, and just bumping into such a fierce and awesome creature makes the hair on your neck rise and your heart race.

But the real revelation for me is that so many times modern Americans forget that we are small and alone in the darkness without God. We are soft tender creatures wandering a vast forest in the dead of night. We are the helpless and we are the hunted. We are blind without the hope of finding our way and we are the favorite prey of the greatest predator of all time. Satan the enemy of God.

But God has offered us light and hope and Himself. Why do we wander in the black of night when life and love can be ours?

John 1:4-5--"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

I am the Mom of three young boys, ages 6, 8, and 10. This summer I am caring for five boys, my three, a boy I am "nannying" for, plus his cousin who just likes to hang out. I set out this summer with the goal of being completely fair with all five boys. I would treat them each as my own, same rules, same story time, same summer school work, and hugs all around.

It isn't working.

The boy I am "officially" caring for is a worthy opponent. Fierce and determined to take over the world. His grandma and I had a quick meeting this morning. Both of us came to the same conclusion within 24 hours of each other.

Being fair is not working.

This little guy needs something different. No more calm and firm chats about behavior. We are moving forward with immediate consequences for any and every disturbance. And as I go forth in solid and steady unfairness, I realized something.

God is not fair with His children.

He knows me and He knows you. He knows whether I need a "no" or a "yes" to that prayer. He knows if the people around me or the world in general needs a "no" or a "yes" to that prayer. He knows. And God acts accordingly. God is my loving father, caring for me in ways that only He can truly comprehend. And only now am I starting to appreciate that careful and thoughtful unfairness.

 Hebrews 12:7--"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?"

Thank you Lord that you love me enough to be unfair.