The Fight Against Weasel Words: The Struggle is Real

By Elizabeth Jacobson

I had written for years as teen and (very) young adult before I went on kind of a “forced hiatus.” I stopped having the time to write – at least that’s what I told myself. What really happened was that I stopped making the time, but that’s a different story.

One of the results of this was that, for a long time, I didn’t outgrow some writing habits that I had made as a teen. Another result was that I never had a true beta reader who could point out those bad habits until I was much older.

Now, let’s be clear. I am by no means saying that high schoolers and college kids are bad writers. Quite the contrary. Some of them are stellar.

I am saying that, at that age, I was not stellar. So, when I started writing in earnest again a few years ago, I had some weird habits that I had to break. Some of them I could see immediately. Simplistic explanations of why plot points happened were no longer acceptable. Character interaction needed to be more nuanced. Good stuff.

What flew under my radar were the “little things.” The problem with this is that a little thing can become a big thing when it happens over and over.

Such as weasel words.

Boy, do they happen over and over.

And over.

A weasel word is a word that sneaks into your writing, over and over again. It’s similar to when we say “like” and “um” over and over as filler when we talk. We don’t even register that we said those words – they just pop out. Weasel words “just pop out” when you’re writing.

My two weasel words are “suddenly” and “seemed,” and it took beta readers to point this out to me. I was reading my drafts over and over, completely blind to their existence as they sat in my sentences, quietly and patiently undermining my prose.

Now, you might think that once someone has pointed your weasel words out to you (I promise, you have at least one, so get someone to look at your writing!), you’re golden. You know what to look for. Awesome. You just won’t put that word in.

Here’s the thing. That probably won’t work.

Here’s why.

A weasel word is often a symptom of a larger problem. You can’t just back up and not put that word in, because often there is a subconscious reason why it’s there to begin with. Even if it is a weasel word, it is serving some kind of purpose in your prose. Otherwise, you would have noticed it yourself when you read through your draft.

To illustrate this, let me walk you through the reason why my one of my weasel words was, well, what it was.

Suddenly is a very common weasel word. Writers place it in a sentence to indicate swift action, or that a character is surprised by something. And, on the surface, it seems that it does that. When I went to delete all my “suddenlys” from my draft, I was left with a very large problem. Now, nothing felt immediate.

But neither could I have a final draft that included tens if not hundreds of instances of the word “suddenly,” utilized every time there was action.

There was something I hadn’t yet realized about writing, the reason why I was using “suddenly” over and over: action and immediacy do not only flow from word choice. They also flow from sentence structure. Good writing allows for a balance of those. I’ll give you an example of the sort of thing I was doing, and I’ll overuse “suddenly,” and words like it, for effect:

She instantly staggered back, and her opponent’s laugh rang in her ears as she wiped sweat from her brow. Suddenly, determined, she stepped forward and picked up the ping-pong ball. She stood there, waiting for an opening, before, in a swift motion, she threw the ball into the air and served.

My sentences here are draggy. By this, I mean that they are uniformly long. This gives prose a “slow” feeling. But, I’m trying to write a tense moment. So, I’m relying on words like “suddenly,” “instantly,” and “in a swift motion” to convey the intensity.

It doesn’t really work, especially not when you use this tactic over and over for your entire novel. So, let’s try it again, keeping in mind that sentence structure has a large effect on intensity and action.

She staggered back, wiping sweat from her brow. Her opponent’s laugh rang in her ears. Determined now, she stepped forward and picked up the ping-pong ball. Waiting for an opening, it was only another moment before she threw the ball into the air and served.

This flows more quickly. Many of the sentences are shorter, creating a snappy rhythm. Note that you may read that all sentences in an intense or action scene should be short. I disagree. Just maintain the rhythm. If a longer sentence can fit in there and not disrupt the rhythm, use it.

Now, there’s actually one other thing that we can fix. Remember when I said that good writing flows from a balance of sentence structure and word choice? Let’s add a few more choice words to this scene that focus on emotion. Emotion can add both immediacy and depth to a scene.

She staggered back, wiping sweat from her brow. Her opponent’s laugh rang in her ears. A hot flush burned in her cheeks, and she grit her teeth as she stepped forward and picked up the ping-pong ball. Waiting for an opening, it was only another moment before she threw the ball into the air and served.

I changed one thing, and it did lengthen the middle sentence. But, I bet you feel like you understand or relate to this girl a little more now. I bet you can visualize and “feel” the scene better. Instead of telling you that she was determined, I told you how she felt determined. She flushed with embarrassment and grit her teeth in anger – this girl does not want this to happen again.

When you find your weasel words, you need to determine why you are using them. They are, more often than not, a poor substitute for deeper or more gripping writing. “Unlearning” to use your weasel words can be a difficult habit to break, as many habits are. But, I promise your writing will be much better for it.

Do you have any weasel words in your writing? Do you know the reasons why you use them? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

Networking-It’s Not What You Think

By Alley Hart

I once heard a story of an abused dog being taken to an animal shelter after the police raided the house where it had been. A young woman adopted the dog on the day it was set to be euthanized, and for the first time, the dog was treated kindly by a human. A few months later some men broke into her home and tried to assault her. The dog she had once saved now roared to life, fighting off the two masked gunmen, and taking several bullets to protect her. Both the woman and the dog lived. 

This didn’t come about because either of them asked for help, but because help and friendship were offered freely. It was then returned in abundance … and teeth marks. Just as these two were dependent on each other for survival, so are writers dependent on each other to grow in our craft and on our platform. Let me give you an example of how this works. 

Around the time I first met Elizabeth, she placed her first section of Not By Sight into a critique room I was part of. In the comments, she said she was struggling to edit as she went. I wanted to help her and offered her the advice to save the editing until after the first draft. I even had the honor of checking on her progress and beta reading for her. She, in turn, beta read for me. Then, before I even got to launch my website, she was already asking if I would be interested in joining her in The Writers’ Room.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think offering that simple advice would lead to this great networking opportunity and the amazing friendship we’ve grown out of it. That is the best kind of networking. The kind where we give and expect nothing in return; we simply want to help others. People are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They know when we are sincere and when we are just trying to get ahead. 

I received some great advice when I first started to learn about the publishing business. “Our readers don’t want to read only one author, and authors have a vast knowledge with different talents that will be of great help to others with different talents. We have so much to offer each other, and it will only grow our talents and our reach to lend each other a helping hand along the way.” 

Sure, I have reached out to people and been rebuffed. I’ve helped ungrateful people and been called flat out stupid for daring to think a lone dog and nothing else on the cover of a romance novel didn’t accurately translate romance into the mind of the person looking at it. If I had simply stopped because some people didn’t like what I had to say, I would never have been able to help Elizabeth, and the opportunity to share in The Writers Room would have never come about for me.  

Even if we are well received, we will not always get something out of it, but that’s not the point. I don’t know about you, but I was both eager and scared when I first started this journey. It was a few kind words from the right people that gave me my confidence to keep going. They had a huge impact on my life, even if they never know it this side of heaven. You never know when the right words at the right time might have that kind of impact on someone else. Keep going, trusting that your help and kindness will reach the right person at the right time. 

Is there a need you can help others with? Perhaps there is a person that you could reach out to because you know you have something that will help them on their journey? I would love to hear all about your story of an unexpected impact in the comments below. 


Alley Hart is the author of the upcoming series Valor of Aldaz. She is a dyslexic goofball that loves to tell stories and uplift others. Find her on Chistianwriters.com and follow her blog Alleyhart.com.


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

Introducing The Writers’ Room!

A column for Christian writers, by Christian writers

I am so excited to announce an upcoming addition to my blog, the Writers’ Room!

This will be a collaborative column featuring pieces by multiple Christian writers, focusing on everything from advice on writing craft to advice on entering the world of publishing.

I also have plans to continue the historical/devotional style pieces I have been working on these past months.

I hope you’ll stay tuned!

No Matter What, They Will Do as You Do, Not as You Say (Part 2)

The failings of today’s world are the results of generations of behavior

Well, when I posted Part 1 of this post, I thought that COVID-19 would still be the big deal here in the United States. However, this is not the case, as protests have begun in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man killed at the hands of police officers. In the wake of the protests have come riots. COVID-19, for the time being, is an afterthought.

When I realized that I would be posting this week, I started to wonder about what in the world I could say. What hasn’t been said already? What could I have to say that a far more qualified person hasn’t already said?

But I think … regardless of whether or not this has been said, if nothing else, there is a deep connection between the ideas I had planned for Part 2 of this series and what is happening in the United States today.

Those who look up to us, whether they be our mentees, students, children, or even simply someone younger, will follow our example. They will not follow the “rules,” or what we say are the “rules,” because the “rules” are only as good as those in charge of things.

The United States has plenty of “rules.” The 14th Amendment, which grants all citizens equal protection under the law, is one of them.

So, tell me why there are protests and riots in the streets.

Because people don’t naturally follow abstract rules. The 14th Amendment has been, many times, rendered objectively toothless, because people do as they are taught and as they are allowed.

What we are seeing today is the result of generations of people failing to love one another and failing to teach and demonstrate that love to those who would look up to them and learn from them. What we are seeing today is the result of a massive failure to follow Jesus’ commandment:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34

So, let us see, then, where this end of our Genesis study takes us. I believe, by the end, we will see a very clear connection to what is happening today.

First, we’ll have to jump back into the mess we began to unravel last time. Namely, Abraham’s habit of screaming: “She’s my sister!” when a wealthy king laid eyes on his wife, so they wouldn’t kill him to get to her. Never mind that this method leads to Sarah being put in the harem both times. Who cares about that?

Now, last time we talked about the dubiousness of Abraham’s claim that she was actually his sister to some degree. The only evidence that she was actually his (half) sister comes from Abraham, who has been clearly lying up until this point anyway. It’s possible, based on Ancient Hebrew, that he was exaggerating the truth in some way; that is, she was a female relative to some degree. But, no matter which way you slice it, he was lying rather than trusting in God to take care of the situation, and quite frankly also throwing Sarah under the bus while he did it.

I wrote last time that this pattern of lying rather than trusting in God would be a pattern that would basically lead to a massive fracture in the family of the patriarchs. Let’s follow the pattern through to the end: my main character, Joseph.

Abraham continued this sort of behavior long enough for his son Isaac to pick it up. In fact, in the presence of a powerful king, Isaac pulls the same stunt his dad did on his poor wife, Rebecca. And let me tell you, his wife Rebecca was in no way, shape, or form his sister. She was a distant cousin, but I’m sure you can see that this lie is … bigger.

It’s also important to note that Isaac did this directly after God gave him a blessing, blessed his descendants, and told him to stay in the land of said king.

Isaac!

What are you on?

Do you seriously think God has lied about the blessing and led you only to destruction?

The thing is, I think we do this too.

We have an entire book about God’s commands and promises for those who follow them. I once heard a pastor say: “Do you know how much the patriarchs would have given to have had an entire book of God’s words, promises, and directions?”

We have this book, the Bible, and yet we still decide that we don’t like God’s plan, or trust that He will quite work things out to our satisfaction, or whatever. (Please note that I am very much talking to myself here.)

And, like I said last week and at the beginning of this post: They will do what you do. Not what you say.

If you have anyone who looks up to you in any form, and you want to train them to walk with God and follow His commands, you cannot constantly show distrust in Him. You cannot constantly disobey Him. Of course, we will make mistakes. But if this is your habit, it will become theirs as well. It is why Isaac repeated his father’s error.

And, unfortunately, as we move down to the next generation, things get worse.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve heard a lot about Jacob. He was the son of Isaac, and he no doubt heard about these stories and saw this sort of behavior repeated in his father. There’s also another factor at play in the life of Jacob.

His mother, Rebecca.

Jacob was the younger of two twins, and the favorite of his mother. Esau, the older son, was the favorite of his father (having a favorite kid is another questionable behavior that, when Jacob repeats it, will most definitely impact the next generation to come).

Rebecca, it seems, didn’t have much respect for her husband in their later life. Remember when I said that you risk looking like a hypocrite if you say you ought to act one way (in this case, trust in God) and then never act that way yourself (lie about your wife)? It seems this came back to bite Isaac. Being a hypocrite and throwing your wife under the bus never earned anyone respect.

At this point in their elderly life, Rebecca is perfectly willing to trick her now-blind husband into giving the blessing of the eldest son (an ancient Biblical tradition) to her favorite baby, Jacob. Never mind that other kid.

Jacob is perfectly willing to play his part, and they hoodwink dear old dad perfectly.

Esau is none to pleased and decides that he’s going to whack his brother, so Jacob’s parents send him off to stay with Rebecca’s family. By the way, no response from either of the parents is recorded. No lectures and definitely no punishments – another problematic behavior that will affect the next generation (as you can see, these issues are growing exponentially).

The story turns to follow Jacob, and we’ve already explored on other posts some of his failings as a father and as a rather dishonest person in general. Just so we can have a rundown, here’s a list of his behavior from here on out:

  • Chose a favorite wife
  • Chose a favorite son
  • Tricked his uncle so that he ended up with most of the family property
  • Does nothing when his daughter is raped, tacitly agrees that the rapist will marry her
  • Does nothing except get a little put out when two of his sons murder all the men in the town of the rapist
  • Give his favorite son (Joseph) so much attention and praise that his brothers literally lose their minds and sell him as a slave

And this, mind you, is only what is recorded. We can assume from this pattern that there was likely more.

Now, to come back to today.

Let us take a hard look at ourselves today, and examine our own hearts.

Let us take a hard look at this time in the country of the United States.

Why are minorities still suffering the effects of racism? Why are people protesting in order to bring about equal treatment for all in the Year of Our Lord 2020?

This is what we get; this is the result of generations of people following the wicked examples, teaching, and behavior that they learned from others and were allowed to repeat without consequence.

We must follow that command of Jesus, given two thousand years ago and still widely ignored.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34

Trust God. Love others. Model this for those who learn from you and look up to you.

The Bible has given us a very clear example of what happened to a family who struggled with this. The world gives us multitudinous examples of what happens to greater society when this is not done.

Trust God. Love others. And remember who may be watching you.

I’ve Been Nominated for the Ideal Inspiration Blogger Award!

Wow! So, this is the first blogging award I have been nominated for! I want to sincerely thank The Devotional Guy for the nomination. He has been blogging faithfully about how to live for Jesus during these hard times of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and I have been heartened by his blog.

The Ideal Inspiration Blogger Award is an unofficial award that bloggers give to other bloggers whose work they find inspiring and encouraging. I am honored to be nominated, and be able to pass the award along to others!

So – let’s get started!

RULES:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to his/her blog.
  2. Answer their questions.
  3. Nominate up to 10 other bloggers and ask them 5 new questions.
  4. Notify the nominees through their blog by visiting and commenting on their blogs.
  5. List the rules and display the “Ideal Inspiration Blogger Award” logo.

THE QUESTIONS:

When did you launch your current blog?

I launched this blog early in September 2019, and I can’t believe it’s been that long!

What motivated you to start blogging?

I’ve always loved the written word. In fact, I finished my first book, Not by Sight: The Story of Joseph, in the Spring of 2019. My brain, I have come to realize, doesn’t know how to not write. However, I fell into blogging though a backwards sort of route. Traditional publishing is a difficult world to enter these days, and it has become clear that many authors need an online presence before an agent or publisher will consider their book. This used to be mainly true for authors of nonfiction only. However, it is expanding into the realm of fiction writers as well.

So, I started this blog! In it, I discuss Biblical stories of faith, the thought process and story decisions that went into my book, and the Biblical and historical contexts for the story.

And – plans are in motion for the future of the blog as well! Stay tuned. 😉

How often do you publish a new post?

Every Thursday night.

How much time do you spend on average creating a blog post?

That depends – that really depends. If the post is research-heavy, it can take me several hours to ensure I have all my facts correct. If there’s less research, it takes less time.

What is it about blogging that you find rewarding?

I express my thoughts much better through writing. It gives me joy to be able to share my thoughts with people though a medium, not just where I feel I can really express myself, but where anyone in the world can listen, if they are interested. I hope my love for God and His message of Hope though the Gift of His Son is clear in my words. This is the most important belief I hold, and the one I most want to share with the world.

MY NOMINATIONS:

Stephanie Jaye

The Godly Chic Diaries

I hope you will check them out! I believe they truly inspire others though their blogs.

MY QUESTIONS FOR THEM:

  1. What made you decide to create a blog focusing on Christian faith?
  2. What do you enjoy most about blogging?
  3. What is the hardest thing about blogging?
  4. What is your hope for your blog?
  5. What is one fun fact about you that you’d be willing to share?

No Matter What, They Will Do as You Do, Not as You Say (Part 1)

Abraham’s crisis of faith

There’s a saying: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

The problem is, anyone in any position of leadership or mentorship (and this includes parenting), knows that this is patently ridiculous. Firstly, everyone, from child to adult, knows that this is not a fair expectation. Why do you get special permission to do things that I can’t? And secondly, can you really expect anyone to follow this?

The answer is no. What you do will always be followed by those who look up to you. Not what you say. And, if you “say” different things from what you “do” you’ll likely be pegged as a hypocrite to boot.

So, there’s really no surprise when we look at the three major patriarchs in Genesis and see a growing train wreck of behavior from generation to generation. It started with Abraham, and then dominoed from there.

Their specific problem, it seems, is lying.

We start with Abraham, who on two separate occasions, lies about his wife, Sarah, in order to protect … himself.

To start to unravel this, we have to understand that Sarah was exceptionally beautiful, and also that the Middle East at that time was the proverbial Wild West, because Abraham evidently walked around in fear that powerful men (note that Abraham is quite wealthy himself, though he is no king) were going to whack him and take Sarah for themselves.

Now, as background, traditionally Sarah has been portrayed as Abraham’s half-sister (blech, I know, there’s the incest again). But, the evidence to back that up is a little wonky, and I’ll explain why when I detail the situation. However, know that it’s generally accepted that she was related to him in some way, possibly as a half-sister.

At any rate, we see Abraham, on two separate occasions, telling poor Sarah to pretend that she is his sister and nothing more than his sister in the presence of a powerful king. This inevitably leads to Sarah getting carted off to the harem. Then God has to literally step in and sort everything out.

Both times.

All discussion of Abraham’s lack of trust in God aside for a moment (and, honestly, how could he think God didn’t have it covered after the first time He got Abraham out of his self-inflicted mess?), what does he think he is doing? If this is how he handles this sort of situation, how is he handling other parts of his life?

Now, for those of you who were taught she was his half-sister and are jumping up and down on “Well, it’s not so much of a lie!”:

I’m not sure the lie being “smaller” in exchange for her actually being his half-sister makes anything better.

But, let’s talk about that for a minute, because it’s important for what we’ll discuss next week.

The belief that she is his half-sister comes from Abraham himself.

Yes, you read that right. The one who just lied.

Further, the “half-sister” excuse is what he tells the second king after God sets the situation straight. It’s not even recorded that he tells the first king this!

Who’s to say that Abraham isn’t lying again? When Abraham’s family is introduced earlier in Genesis, the account is pretty specific about who is related to whom, and Sarah isn’t mentioned as a daughter of Abraham’s father.

But, it’s also worth mentioning that the word “sister” in Ancient Hebrew could pertain to many female relatives descending from one’s father, such as a niece. (Not that this makes the incest thing any better; there’s no hope there.)

So, to sum it up, we’ve got Abraham lying about his wife and saying she’s his sister (regardless of the nuances of the level of truth there) to save his own skin. Nice.

Now, I guess we’d hope that he would learn something from all of this and change his ways before his son was born, but, um, well –

His son pulled the exact same stunt.

Except it’s kind of (?) worse, because “sister,” in that couple’s case, is even more of a stretch.

This chain reaction of falsehoods, of sons learning that behavior from their fathers (read: children learning it from their parents or mentees learning it from their mentors) is something we’ll be looking at over the next week or two. It’s a behavior that actually leads to a giant wedge being driven into this family as the generations progress.

And, let’s not forget that in all of this, Abraham is a man who has had many, many firsthand interactions, encounters, and promises from God. To quote Jesus in the New Testament:

“Oh ye of little faith.”

This is a man who should have the utmost confidence that God had a far better solution then to flat out lie and then let Sarah be carted away. A man who should have the utmost confidence, after being told by God that he would be the father of nations, that God had everything well in hand.

Good grief, Abraham!

Let’s not make the mistakes of Abraham. We may not have firsthand encounters with God, but we have His promises that if we seek Him, He will guide us and help us. Let us be an example of faith for those who look up to us, especially in times like these.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:23

God’s Choices, God’s Mercy

Judah, the (surprisingly) honored one

So, after we talked about Joseph last week, we need to connect some dots.

I mentioned a few weeks back that Joseph’s father, Jacob, was called Israel by God. You may have heard of the “Twelve Tribes of Israel” – each tribe descended from one of Jacob’s sons. (I’m simplifying things a bit here; Joseph, as always, ended up getting special treatment from dad.)

Since Joseph was the favored son of Jacob (Israel), and, as I mentioned last week, was the first fully positive role model to be presented in any depth the Bible, we might then assume that if there were any special honor to be doled out, either from the people of Israel or from God, it would go to the family of Joseph.

Nope.

Remember how I mentioned the old Yiddish proverb: “Man plans, God laughs?”

Well, here’s an excellent example.

The tribe of Israel that God specifically chose to be the line of kings was the Tribe of Judah.

Judah.

If you know the stories, you know why this is a bit of a shocker. If not, I’ll give you a rundown.

Firstly, Joseph was sold because of Judah.

Now, it’s not quite what you think. Judah didn’t come up with the plan out of the blue. The other brothers had determined to kill Joseph after they threw him into a dry cistern – except the oldest, who suddenly stepped up in responsibility and decided he wasn’t having any of it. But when the oldest (for whatever reason; we’re not told) had to leave the scene of the impending crime for a while, the brothers got extra rowdy, and that’s when Judah stepped in. He knew they shouldn’t kill their brother, but this was literally the best he could muster:

“Let’s not kill him; he’s no good to us dead. Let’s sell him. At least we’ll get money.”

Yeah.

There’s a stunning lack of bravery here that seems at odds with what we could assume is at least a decent sense of right and wrong. But he’s not willing to take any risks. He’d rather Joseph be sold then stick his neck out. But, you know, “At least he’s not dead.”

Later in the story, while Joseph is away in Egypt, Judah is obviously eaten up by his guilt over this decision. He leaves the whole family, starting a new life elsewhere and getting married.

Things, however, don’t go well, and he’s left with a dead wife, two dead sons, one son still living, and a widowed daughter-in-law.

Now, we’re about to get into some Old Testament legalities here. While they may seem backward and strange to us today, they actually provided a safety net for women in a time when they often were not legally able to provide for themselves.

The widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, was actually widowed twice over. She had been married to Judah’s oldest son, who died. Then, according to the law, she married his second son, so that she would not be destitute with no one to provide for her. But – he died too.

So, Judah got it into his head that she was bad luck, and sent her back home. He lied, saying she could marry his youngest when he grew up a little more, but he had no intention of following through with that. Again, in a time where there was no guarantee that a woman had anyone to “go back home” to, this was a terrible thing to do. But this is Judah. He’d rather engage in defensive strategizing than do what’s really right.

Tamar took none of this sitting down. I won’t say she went about rectifying the situation the right way, but she made her point. In short, she put on a disguise, pretended to be a prostitute, got Judah to sleep with her, and roped him in to taking her back into the family (where she should be been all along) because she was pregnant.

Judah, who had been up in arms when he found out she was pregnant out of wedlock when she was “engaged” to his son, was pretty shaken when he figured out what she’d done and why – and what he’d done.

Hmm, relations out of wedlock, much, Judah?

Judah says something interesting here, and I like to think this is his turning point: “She has been more righteous than I.”

This is his first-ever admission of guilt in the story – but it’s not his last.

Judah finally gets his act together near the end of the Joseph story. In a stunning display of character turnaround and bravery, Judah begs the unrecognizable Joseph that he be kept imprisoned in Egypt rather than their father’s new favorite, Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother. You see, Joseph pulled a stunt on purpose to find out if his brothers were still jerks who would get rid of the “half-brother favorite son” in a heartbeat.

Here, Judah gets the longest speech in the entire book of Genesis, where he clearly lays out his past guilt and the reasons why he should be taken instead of Benjamin.

It’s a full character one-eighty.

And God honored that.

He honored that so much that, like I said, the line of kings was of the Tribe of Judah. When Israel split in two countries in later days, one of the countries was called Judah. And guess what?

Jesus Christ was of the line of Judah. Not Joseph, not Benjamin, the only innocents in the whole Joseph story.

Judah.

Jesus is even called “The Lion of Judah.”

Think about that for a minute.

If God is willing to have his own Son be counted in the line of this man, be named using the name of this man, do you think there is anything He is not willing to forgive you for? Do you think there is anything you could have done to make Him turn on you? I promise you, there is nothing.

If there is something you need forgiveness for, reach out to Him. He will help you, and forgive you. He does not hold grudges and He does not make plans and the way we do.

Man plans, God laughs.

Come to Him, and let Him show you His plans.

Why Joseph’s Faith is Unique

Why I wrote my book

This is going to be a kind of an odd post, because I have to tell you why I wrote my book about Joseph’s story, and about why his faith journey is unique, without really telling you my plot or spoiling anything.

Not that tons of people don’t know how his story goes, but my point in writing my book wasn’t really to tell his story straight out. Because, like I said, most people know the main story beats already. My intention was to tell his personal story. As in, my story isn’t just about “What happened to him.” It’s about “Why he was the person he was.”

And, to be honest, I thought about not including him in my faith series because of all of these “spoiler-complications,” but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Because there’s just too much good stuff here!

So. Now to begin this tightrope-walk of a post!

If you look at where Joseph’s story begins, it’s not a good situation. As I described in a post a few weeks back, his father, Jacob, despite his good points in regard to his faith, was a full-blown jerk of a person in most other respects.

For instance, the whole situation where Joseph’s brothers hated him enough to sell him off as a slave happened because Jacob decided to be a polygamist who blatantly favored the oldest son of his favorite wife (this would be Joseph) over all his other children.

And, if you read the entire story, you can see that there’s a whole lot of other awful stuff happening in the family. For instance, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, gets raped by the son of a local ruler. Jacob does nothing except entertain the idea of marrying her off to her rapist. Then, two of her brothers go out and murder every man in the town rather than have her marry the prince. After which, Jacob does nothing. Later, Jacob’s oldest son has an affair with one of Jacob’s concubines. Jacob also does nothing.

It’s a mess.

Clearly, we can see from all of this that Jacob is not teaching or leading his family in a way that honors God, despite his own personal faith. And this is the origin of this myriad of family problems.

Now, what’s interesting is the case of Joseph.

If you read the story, you can see that Joseph seems to go though an interesting change, but it’s not a very obvious one. It is this:

We never hear anything about Joseph’s relationship with God until after he is sold as a slave.

And, it kind of makes sense. It’s pretty obvious, as I said, that Jacob wasn’t teaching his family much about his God. And, Joseph wasn’t innocent of contributing to the family insanity. I’ve heard it said that, when he had dreams of greatness and shared them with his brothers (who obviously hated him), that he just wasn’t reading the room correctly.

I’d have to beg to differ. Joseph is shown to be many things, but stupid is not one of them. I’d say “vengeful and fed-up teen” describes him much better, here.

So.

Then we have a very interesting question.

How does someone, raised in such a family, and then put in such a situation as to be sold as a slave by his own brothers, end up with so much faith in God?

I mean, he was dealt a downright heinous hand in life, and seemingly had no real background in faith to draw from.

And when I say so much faith in God, I mean it. If you read the story, by the end, Joseph is a textbook example of how to have faith in God and forgive others. Honestly, I’d even argue that he’s the first fully positive role model whose story is presented in the Bible. And that’s a whole lot of history to pass over before having someone whose story is worth presenting in that way.

This, then, is why I had to write my book! I had to dive in to this story and figure out a plausible and fully realistic explanation for such a unique journey of faith.

I hope to be able to share it with you soon!

She Laughed

Sarah in the Tent

There’s an old Yiddish Proverb that says: “Man plans, God laughs.”

Meaning, of course, that no matter how carefully thought out any of our plans may be, it is only God who sees all ends and only God who knows what the best course of action is for us.

In Genesis, despite this truth, we see somewhat of a reversal of this proverb play out.

Let me set the scene. Last time we talked about Abraham, his wife Sarah, and his concubine, Hagar. Hagar, as we saw, had a child, Ishmael. And in time, Sarah had a “miracle child,” a gift from God despite her previously being barren and presently being past childbearing age.

This child was named Isaac, and before he was born, Abraham and Sarah received a visit from three “men.” I put men in quotation marks because, as it turns out, one “man” is, in fact, God, and the two others are angels. Quite the houseparty.

It’s pretty clear that Abraham knows what’s up from the get-go, and since he runs to tell Sarah, we can assume he lets her in on what he’s figured out.

Once Abraham and the … uh … “men” have sat down to eat, Sarah does what we can assume every woman worth her salt learned to do in that sort of pastoral patriarchal society. She sat down behind a conveniently thin tent wall and listened to their conversation.

The conversation went something like this:

“Men”: So, Abraham, where’s Sarah, your wife?

Abraham: [nodding his head towards the tent] Oh, just inside.

God: Well, I’ll be back in nine months, and she’s going to have a kid.

Sarah: [thinking] Snort! Ha, that’s a good one. Yes, let’s give me a kid now that Abraham and I are slowing down a bit.

God: Why did Sarah just laugh and talk about getting older? Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back in nine months, and she’s. Going. To. Have. A. Kid.

You can just see Sarah’s head swivel in shock and try to peer though the woven sides of the tent. God’s probably sitting there and staring right back at her. At this point, she’s got nothing left to lose. Not only does the whole group know she was listening to their conversation, but, apparently, God can hear her thoughts snarking at them. She decides there’s one way to possibly save face, at this point. After all, she hadn’t spoken aloud. Can’t you just hear her disembodied voice float through the tent wall:

Sarah: I didn’t laugh.

God: [completely unphased] Yes, you did.

And that was that. Sarah wisely bowed out at this point. How do you keep up a “yeah-huh/not-uh” with God? (Hint: You don’t; He knows you’re fudging.)

But here’s the thing in all this. God planned, and Sarah laughed. BUT, Sarah is not punished. We know for a fact that at least one person in the Bible who did something similar did get a bit of comeuppance. Zechariah, in the New Testament, was struck dumb for a time after questioning God, who had given the exact same revelation to him – he would have son in his old age.

Here’s the difference. Zechariah had precedent. The New Testament takes place thousands of years after this point. Zechariah was a priest who knew, likely by heart, every act of God recorded in what is today the Old Testament. The Old Testament is full of families receiving miracle children. And he had the guts to ask just how exactly God planned on making that happen. He was, in effect, saying that God was lying.

Sarah, on the other hand, though she deeply questioned God here, is not throwing all of God’s prior actions back in His face as though they are worthless. She also, it seems, learns quickly, bowing out of the conversation. And we can see that the lesson stuck. Check out Genesis 21: 6-7, right after Isaac is born:

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.” (NKJV)

Further, guess what the name Isaac means? Laughter. Guess who told Abraham and Sarah to name him that?

God.

God plans, man laughs.

What is God leading you towards? What plans does He have for you? Has he led you in any ways that seem impossible? Do you feel His nudge towards something that seems untenable? Don’t laugh, and don’t share your plans with Him instead. Go to Him and see where He wants to take your life.

In the end, you may look back and laugh in disbelief about how far He brought you.

He Sees You

Hagar in the Desert

I wanted to spend today on what undoubtedly will be a shorter post, but one I think is important.

I love the stories of women in the Bible because they are given without caveat. As in, they don’t begin with:

“She was a woman, but look at what she did anyway.” (Ugh)

They don’t even begin with:

“Women often did not have as many rights as men back then, but here’s what she did in spite of that.” (Bleh)

You may be wondering why the second one still gets an bleh from me. Let me explain.

For the past, I don’t know, gazillion years, us women have been reminded by some form of narrator or character comment, before or during nearly every story involving a woman, that this person is a woman. Therefore, we should be more (or less) impressed by her forthcoming accomplishments and story. Or something.

I think we are all aware that there are biological differences between women and men and are all aware of the historical and (in some cases) present differences in the treatment of women and men. I, therefore, tend to find it immensely refreshing when a woman is introduced without caveat. As just, well, a person. Since we all know about such things, it isn’t necessary to lay it out for us once again and then tell us how to react to it. We can analyze it for ourselves.

Hence my love for the stories of women in the Bible. They are just introduced. Boom. Here she is. Another just a person in a long list of just people and their relationships with God.

Amidst the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis, a woman named Hagar gets quite a bit of attention. The gist of her story is this: she was a concubine of Abraham, whom we talked about a couple weeks ago (yes, I know, this polygamy thing gets on my nerves too). Sarah, Abraham’s actual wife, wasn’t happy once Hagar became pregnant and Hagar started showing scorn towards the childless Sarah, even though Sarah was considered her superior (there’s a lot more to this story, check out Genesis for the full picture).

Two times over the next several years, Hagar gets driven out of the household by Sarah. The second time, she’s sent away with her son, Ishmael, and it’s permanent.

There’s a lot of factors to consider here. Firstly, Hagar is probably not always the nicest person, being nasty to Sarah (note, Sarah is also not the nicest person, being horrible in return). Secondly, Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is not the nicest person either. He is shown making fun of his toddler half-brother (Isaac, Sarah’s miracle son) at an evert honoring him, when Ishmael is around sixteen years old.

However, each time Hagar is driven out, desperate, into the desolation of the desert, God finds her.

And that’s the thing about God. We have all had times when we are horrible people and when people are horrible to us. Indeed, we all have situations (you know the ones) that predispose us to be nasty to others. Maybe they bring up feelings of stress, or jealousy, or anger. Some are infinitely more severe than even the one described above. Some are intensely unfair. Some are more minor.

But when we have trust in God, He sees us, regardless. He is not going to turn away from us because of these moments or situations or how we act or react.

“Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” Hagar asks herself after her first encounter with God (Genesis 16:13). In this same verse, she gives God the first name for Him recorded in the Bible. El Roi, “the God who sees me”.

And God indeed sees. He understands her situation deeply. He even sees fit to acknowledge to her that her son is, and will grow up to be, a bit of a jerk.

The key is, that neither Hagar nor her son’s behavior is the point. Despite prior poor decisions, Hagar is willing to trust God, and He knows this. This is what matters to God – not that we behave perfectly all the time (though He wants to teach us to be more and more like Him, like His Son), but that we are willing to come to Him and trust in Him.

God is the God who reaches out, despite everything we have done.

He knows you. He sees you.

And He wants you to reach out in return.