“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” ~Genesis 50:20 (NLT)
This very night eleven years ago marks a very important, transitional point in my life.
On November 9th, 2001, I was 18 years old, a newbie college freshman and newly-inducted sorority girl at my state university. I was enjoying life with tons of new friends and a whole new world opened up to me. I was doing well in my classes and partying a bit and living a great life.
Then that autumn, my life changed quickly. And with it, the hope of my heart seemed extinguished for the next decade.
I can’t describe the events that led up to that day or the hours, weeks, & months that followed, but life has never been the same for me.
Yet despite the hardships that have come my way, do you know what I’ve found myself saying and thinking and truly believing this past year?
Thank You, God. You rescued me.
Yes, I knew better than to party. I grew up in a very caring, God-centered home. No family is perfect, and mine was no exception, but I had GOOD parents who cared DEEPLY about all four of us kids – and it showed in every decision they made. They wanted a life for us that they didn’t quite have growing up.
I strayed from the well-beaten path laid out before me, and God kept catching me and redirecting me back toward that path.
But at some point, He must’ve known – as any parent has to when their child’s been warned enough times – that I was hell-bent on getting my own way, doing my own thing, rebelling from what I knew to be right.
I was most certainly in that place the day, 11 years ago, my world changed so profoundly.
Do I think God lets bad things happen to good people?
Yes, yes I do.
Do I think He allows it because He hates people?
Not at all.
God lays before us blessings and curses and tells us to CHOOSE LIFE. Don’t rebel, He whispers; it’s foolish and always results in brokenness.
But at some point, many of us can get cocky and believe that we know better than our dear parents (and our loving Heavenly Father!). I certainly thought so back then – I felt all those rules and restrictions that had kept me safe for most of my 18 years were actually hindering me from true freedom.
I couldn’t WAIT to grow up and be on my own. Then I’d do……. whatever my heart desired!
And when I “broke free” back then, I did just that. I remember watching MTV for a week straight (lame, by the way), surely the result of growing up in a cable-free home. This was my first of many acts of “rebellion”: Forcing myself to sit through Real World marathons and hating every minute of it :)
I also recall drinking beer for 7-8 days STRAIGHT. I know, Rebel Alert!!!! I’m not sure how the world handled my wild ways?! ;) But for me, these were BIG deals. And more than anything, they were a reflection of my heart: I wanted to do and experience a multitude of things I’d been protected from up until that point, and I viewed warnings as dares to explore unknown territory.
And explore I did.
There were much stupider choices, but I’ll spare us the rehash. Each week seemed to bring new opportunities to compromise and be foolish, culminating in tragedy for me.
I want to be perfectly clear. I do not believe I caused my tragedy, but I assure you my rebellion and refusal to heed the voice of wisdom put me in precarious scenarios that proved to be disastrous.
I also do not believe God struck me with ‘lightning’ my freshman year. He warned me – heavily – and extensively warned the people around me of the unwise path I was taking, but when we refuse to listen, we don’t know what awaits us on the other side of door number three… but I’ve learned that God doesn’t warn us for no good reason.
My insatiable curiosity beckoned me forward, and I paid the price. Though my experience is absolutely not my fault, my decisions set me up for pain. Likewise, I would NEVER blame God for someone else’s actions because He isn’t controlling other people’s lives just as He’s not controlling mine.
I’ve learned, though, that He steers our lives more than we know in the direction of hope and beauty. He doesn’t leave our lives a disaster, even when we or other people train-wreck it for us.
Tune in for a moment as I recount once such journey!
The biblical Joseph had one of the toughest lives in Scripture. His dad’s unrivaled favorite among 12 sons, Joseph was sold into slavery as a teenager by his jealous brothers and lived as both a slave then a prisoner for the next 17 years. He went from being a beloved son to a SLAVE overnight, was falsely accused, and was forgotten in his prison cell by those who promised to help free him. He had his hopes dashed on more than one occasion.
Can you imagine spending half your young life in bondage, all while serving God and doing the right things? That was Joseph.
Yet throughout his ridiculously unfair sentence, Joseph praised God and kept his integrity!
Eventually this man was freed and had the immense opportunity to face the very brothers who’d betrayed him so many years ago. Through a sequence of amazing events, Joseph was given the No. 2 position in all of Egypt, and during a 7-year global famine was tasked with dispensing food to the surrounding countries. What a job!
When his brothers came before their unrecognizably older brother, they pleaded with him for bread. Joseph was literally their only hope for provision, and he knew it. Placed in such a position of power and palpable vengeance, Joseph had a choice to make.
Do you know how he responded to their pleas?
“Heck no, I won’t give you bread – y’all ruined my life, so now I’m gonna ruin yours?”
Nope! After revealing himself to his long-lost brothers, Joseph – in one of the most gracious acts of Scripture – replied:
“‘Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.’ So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.”
Displaying incredible wisdom beyond his years, Joseph understood that GOD Himself had allowed him to experience slavery – for a higher purpose.
Many people, Christians and non-believers alike, stop at this point of the story and shake their heads in disgust. I can understand the sentiment. No one wants to believe that a loving Father would ever allow suffering or hardship for His own, especially when He’s God and can effectively control all things.
We want to think God would pave the road for us in perfection, blessing us with only lovely and happy gifts (and He does give those, I promise!). But who am I to say that something hard isn’t a blessing in disguise?
Could Joseph ever have predicted that his brothers’ selling him into slavery to Egypt would have been his (and their) saving grace nearly 2 decades later?? If Joseph had remained behind with his brothers, he wouldn’t have been in the position God placed him in to influence Egypt’s ruler and warn him that a severe famine was coming on the land. God opened Joseph’s eyes to this fact, so Joseph warned the Pharaoh to store up food and provisions ahead of time so they would have plenty during the famine!
That’s just what Egypt did, and that’s precisely why – when the famine struck – Egypt was the only nation prepared to survive it (and with enough food left over to aid other nations!).
Families came to Egypt from all over the world to obtain bread during the 7 year famine, including Joseph’s. And because God had prepared the way ahead of time through Joseph, untold numbers of people survived, including Joseph himself and his dear family!
I’m not Joseph, second in command of a great nation, and I don’t have his integrity or complete heart of forgiveness quite yet… but I do know that God derailed my “perfect” life path at the young, impressionable age of eighteen because He knew it would save my life for the better, and I really believe in my heart, the lives of others in the future.
Sitting here 11 years down the road, I reflect on the changes God has made in my life, my heart, and my life’s path since I was 18. I was on a highway to hell so to speak, in great rebellion and with no plans to stop. I wanted very little to do with God, considering Him to be Someone I’d turn to “later” in life when I was ready to settle down and marry. NEVER would I have chosen His narrow path when I felt my “real” life was just getting started!!!
Yet that’s precisely what I began doing.
Because I learned on that November night why the world’s promises of “freedom” and “no boundaries” are so empty and full of despair. Yes, I had to learn the hard way, and I’m sure some of you reading may think I’m CRAZY for believing these things about my past experiences, but I genuinely know that they were FOR MY GOOD.
God alone knows the destructive path I would’ve taken if He’d not so lovingly deterred me eleven years ago. I am so very grateful, from the bottom of my heart, for the journey He’s placed me on.
It’s cost me dearly, but I don’t believe scales could measure what it would’ve cost me had I stayed on the path I was on.
I wholeheartedly believe that when God changes one person’s life as radically as He has mine, that others’ lives will be touched, too. You can’t walk through bondage that I’ve walked through, darkness that I’ve been enveloped in, or despair like I have without God rebirthing something much bigger and newer and more wonderful in and through you.
His plan often begins with death first – of our dreams and plans – so HIS new life can spring forth.
And as I sit here in recent days and ponder the future of what America will stand for after this year’s very-pivotal election, and wonder about the course our country will continue to take in years to come, I can say with confidence that whatever our God may allow us to walk through, that He’s doing it with our absolute best in mind.
He’s done it in my life, He did it in Joseph’s, He’s likely done it in your own. And I believe He will do it in America’s, too.
Because we are His, and those He calls His own He lovingly chastens… so that one day we can experience full-circle the outpouring of His blessings in our lives.