What if? We have all had that thought before.
I recently had that thought cross my mind while attending two Teen Reach Adventure Camps. T.R.AC. camps are specifically for abused and neglected teenage foster kids. Among the many activities are the ‘crosstalks,’ those times when the campers sit on wooden benches in front of a stage. After some music there is a story and discussion. This year’s story was about Joseph of the Old Testament.
People often refer to Joseph as “the dreamer.” I decided to do a little dreaming myself. I found myself wondering. What if.
What if Joseph had the opportunity to talk to these What might he say…
The campers were at rapt attention as the barely thirty-year old Joseph slowly walked the few steps to the wooden cross that was sitting on the stage. The three-foot tall cross was surrounded by smooth hand size stones.
The campers had previously selected, and then wrote on the stones, what it was they wanted God to help them overcome.
Joseph reached down and selected a stone. He read the writing, “My Pain and My Hurt.” He looked out over the faces of the attentive campers and slowly lowered his head as memories seemed to return.
After what seemed like a long silence Joseph looked up.
I know your hurt.
I know your pain.
Your hurt was my hurt. Your pain was my pain.
You see, most of my life I’ve been surrounded by those who hated me. Those who wanted to hurt me. I’ve often felt alone. Different.
My family was not unlike many of your families. I had 10 half brothers, born to three different mothers. And we all lived together. As you can imagine there was often conflict around my house. To make it worse, I was not only the youngest son, but also the only son of my Dad’s favorite wife. And everybody knew it. Most resented it.
When I was sent out with my brothers to work in our fields I was the invisible one. That was on the good days. On the bad days I was the one that was ridiculed and abused.
Thinking he was helping, my father made my situation worse. He gave me this really cool coat. You see, coats back then came in one color and one style. We wore what was practical for working with our herds of goats.
But my Dad was rather successful and so one day he surprised me with this special coat. It had many colors and I felt like royalty. That was, until I showed my brothers.
They laughed at me. Called me names like ‘daddy’s little baby.’ They joked about what they were going to do with me one day. Occasionally Rueben, the oldest, would step in and say ‘enough is enough. Let him be.’ But their distain was always just below the surface.
Their taunts would feel like cuts. At first the pain that followed would make me cry. But this only led to more verbal abuse. Anger didn’t help.
I learned to handle my pain the way some of you do. I shut off my emotions. I disappeared into my own world. I told myself it didn’t matter. In my pain I eventually learned to pray.
We worshiped the God of my great-grandpa Abraham. When I felt alone I would pray to God.
Soon after, the dreams came. They were so vivid. So real. I knew they were not just my imagination!
I was excited, so I shared one of the dreams with my brothers. I told them how we were in the field harvesting the grain when suddenly my sheave of grain stood up while my brothers sheaves bowed down before mine.
My excitement got the better of me. I knew as soon as I shared that it was a mistake. I’ve learned that when we are young we don’t always think things through the way we should. It only resulted in them hating me even more.
Later I told my Dad how, in my dream, the sun, moon and 11 stars bowed down before me. It was one of the few times Dad got angry with me.
My bothers came to hate me even more. I didn’t even realize that was possible. It was not the kind of ‘I hate you’ that people banter about today. They hated me so much that when I went many miles to check on them and the herds for Dad that they decided they wanted to kill me.
At first they threw me in a deep well and were going to leave me there to die. But they saw some Ishmalites and instead sold me to them for 20 pieces of silver. They took my special coat and laughed as they said they were going to soak it in blood and tell Dad that an animal ate me.
It would be many years before I ever saw my dad again. I was sent to a strange land. God blessed me and I eventually became the highest ranking official in the greatest county of that time, Egypt. I was second in command, only below Pharaoh himself!
For the longest time, even with all my success, I would still feel the pain; the lonesomeness. Night time was the worse.
Several years before I was thrown in jail for something I didn’t do. My accuser kept referring to me as “That Hebrew! That Hebrew you brought here.” Yes, I was still the odd one out. The one who was different and didn’t fit. That “Hebrew.”
At night I would try to ignore the pain of both my past and my present. I would pray to God and he would help me. In fact God helped me to forget the bad times when I lived with my mixed up family. And he gave me success in my new country; even though I knew I was still an outsider; “The Hebrew”, not “the Egyptian.” But God heard my prayers and continued to heal my pain.
To celebrate what God had done for me I named my two sons Manasseh and Ephraim. Back in those days we chose names that had special meaning. Manasseh means ‘God has made me forget all my trouble with my fathers family.’ Ephraim means ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’
I know some of you have been abandoned. Some hurt by strangers. Some hurt by family. Many of you feel alone. Different. Always out of place.
I know your hurt.
I know your pain.
And here is what I have learned. Pray to God. He never changes. He always hears.
I was able to forgive my brothers. Yes, they eventually bowed down to me when they came to Egypt needing food. But God had taught me to be humble, not to seek revenge. In spite of all that they had done to me I couldn’t wait to hug them and welcome them back. My little brother Benjamin had grown up into a fine young man. It was good for us to be together again.
Most importantly, God had shown me that all those bad things had happened to me for a purpose. I was able to save my family from starvation. My dad and brothers were able to move to Egypt and we were reunited.
What my brothers intended for harm, God intended for good. That’s just the way he is.
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