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The Underrated Storyteller

“Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” ” (Genesis 41:51–52, ESV)

Yesterday we went for a walk through the historic Strand in Galveston, Texas. We poked our camera down old alleyways and histories and odd tumblings-together of old posh and urban chic. I loved the Strand for its beauty. I loved it for its bravery.

I loved it for its scars.

There are two plaques to the left of the door. The lower one commemorates the Great Storm of 1900; the upper one marks the surge line from Hurricane Ike. Both were above my head.

On September 13, 2008, the soul of Galveston was devastated by Hurricane Ike—the latest in a century-long series of tyrants. In many ways it remains a scarred city. The buildings still whisper the story of Ike’s arrival: plaques inscribe a version of prose while hammers and saws give a backwards account. (Repair really is an underrated storyteller. So is redemption.) Nostalgic souls and cans of spray paint still trace out the old watermarks in an effort to say, “I’m here. I’ve suffered, and I’ve survived.”

It’s important to remember.

The lettering reads, “Ike water line.”

But traces of the storm mark the inner face of the city too. Ike still has a say in conversations and timelines are still bracketed by the consequence of his arrival, by the likelihood of others like him. And when the Gulf becomes restless, residents do too. Some desire to forget and others need to remember, but no one is ever the same after a storm.

In Genesis 37-50, we read the account of Joseph. It’s a storm story of a different sort, really. In the surge of his brothers’ betrayal, Joseph was tossed in a tide that brought him to slavery, prison, and still more betrayal. But when life began to settle, Joseph’s reconstruction began. After all, marriage and an upward change of circumstance meant a new life—a chance to shed the memories in the rush to rebuild.

But no one is ever really the same after a storm, are they?

“Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.’” (Genesis 41:51)

Is it possible to forget a thing like that? Forget a storm that has shaped the landscape of one’s soul? I wonder. I think upheaval may be the point of the storm in the first place. Isn’t this is how we read the Gospels? Witness Martha, Lazarus, and a reformed Mary kneeling in worship before the feet of Christ. Then comes death on the heels of the departing Christ and the little domestic scene is shattered. Jesus does not come. Healing does not arrive. Lazarus is dead, and it appears as if faith might follow him to the grave. Martha questions but Mary despairs beyond the questions. Then comes the Christ to redeem what was lost (John 11:1-44) and to show that this was His purpose all along.

“Agony means severe suffering in which something dies—either the base thing, or the good. No man is the same after an agony; he is either better or worse, and the agony of a man’s experience is nearly always the first thing that opens his mind to understand the need of Redemption worked out by Jesus Christ.[1]

It was a lesson Joseph appears to have learned. With the arrival of his second-born a new Joseph emerges from the page.

“The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:52)

“Fruitful in the land of my affliction.” I love that. I love the heart of the God who is not interested in the manufacture of tomorrow only, but in every watermarked moment of the past. His desire is not to merely overcome the past, but to redeem it. Redemption is for this moment and that future Moment of moments before the Throne, it’s true. But it also marks every other second in between. Sometimes it means reconstruction; other times it’s the inscription of a scar that says, “I’m here. I’ve suffered, and healed and survived.”

It’s important to remember. Jesus is recognized by His scars (Zechariah 12:10; John 20:20) and sometimes so are we (Mark 5). After all, scars tell stories too.Image

“It is through these glimpses that we understand why the New Testament was written, and why there needed to be a Redemption made by Jesus Christ, and how it is that the basis of life is redemptive. If Jesus Christ were only a martyr, His Cross would be of no significance; but if the cross of Jesus Christ is the expression of the secret heart of God, the lever by which God lifts back the human race to what it was designed to be, then there is a new attitude to things.”[2]

No one is ever really the same after a storm but I think that’s the point of the storm. He doesn’t mean for us to be the same.

[1] Oswald Chambers, The Shadow of an Agony (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1996).

[2] Ibid.

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