Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Beauty of the Semicolon

Recently I wrote about the importance of the ampersand to me. Well, there is grammar symbol that is quite popular right now. This symbol is tiny, but the meaning behind the semicolon is huge. A semicolon is used in writing when an author could end a sentence, but chooses to keep going instead. It is a way of keeping one's thoughts informally separate, but connected. Project Semicolon began in 2013 when Amy Bleuel wanted to honor the father she lost to suicide. Even though she, herself, struggled with depression, she saw the semicolon as a symbol of hope. Soon others began using the semicolon symbol in recovery because they were fighting a battle with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicidal thoughts and their will to continue on. The semicolon symbolized their belief that this is not the end, but a new beginning. Even faith-based organizations are beginning to refer to the semicolon as a way of telling others, "My story (Your story) isn't over!"

As a survivor I battled hard with depression, negative thoughts, and an unrelenting eating disorder that manifested in every possible way. I remember so many times feeling hopeless and wishing life would end to end the struggle, yet, choosing to hang on by a thread. And in choosing to hang on by a thread, I always found God was faithful to show me there was meaning in life after the hopelessness I experienced. And my story, His story in me, continued. 

As I've contemplated the whole movement of the semicolon I've realized the Scriptures are full of semicolons--you know those moments where those living the stories felt hopeless but God intervened with a God semicolon, providing hope, showing that the story continued. 

I don't know about you, but when I read about Eve with Adam by her side, talking with the Serpent, my chest tightens and everything in me wants to scream, "Stop! Don't listen to the Deceiver! Adam, stop her!" But she bit, and for a few moments I feel so hopeless. It could have been the end of the story, but God sought them out and sacrificed animals to clothe them, promising to send His Son to save them. And the Story continued.

In Genesis we read the story of Noah. The earth was full of sin and every thought of man was evil to the core. It was the end of the end, but God called on Noah to build and ark because He was going to judge the earth. Noah obeyed and through his actions He preached. Then the sky darkened, God shut the door, and the boat rocked as the floods came, destroying all life outside the ark. Eventually the lands dried and God gave Noah and his family a rainbow, a visual semicolon in the sky, to remind them of His mercy and grace and to remind us He saves His own through judgment. And the Story continued.

Oh, and there was Joseph, who was favored by his father, but despised by his brothers who sold him into slavery. He wound up in Egypt and chose to live a life full of integrity, only to be falsely accused and imprisoned. I am sure he felt like he reached the period in his life story several times; but each time God preserved his life and gave him dreams Joseph alone could interpret, and as a result he was able to preserve the life of the Egyptians through a long drought. Then one day it became obvious that the period he thought had ended his old life, when his brothers sold him, was really another semicolon in God's story. God used what his brothers meant for evil to preserve the life of Joseph and the nation of Israel. And the Story continued.    

There was Naomi who lost her husband and both of her sons while living in a foreign land during a drought. She grieved long and hard and the grief turned into depression and bitterness. She returned to her homeland for the end of her story; but God gives her a semicolon in the form of faithful daughter-in-law who was accepted by a kinsman redeemer and provided Naomi with heirs to love and a grandchild to be in the lineage of the Savior. And the Story continued. 

There was Elijah who God called to confront Ahab and the prophets of Baal who were stealing the hearts of His people. Elijah challenged them to a spiritual duel. The 450 prophets of Baal set their altar and called on their god to ignite the altar. They cried out from morning until noon and their god didn't answer. So, they continued to cry aloud and frantically cut themselves with swords and lances to prove their devotion, and he didn't answer. To the people who were following Baal and to the people who were torn between Jehovah and Baal it had to have been a moment they thought their story was ending; but God revealed Himself as Elijah called the people to himself. He built an altar in the name of the Lord with twelve stones and surrounded it with a deep trench. He put wood on the altar and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the altar. Next he had them pour 12 jars of water over the offering, saturating the offering and wood and filling the trench with water. Elijah called upon the Lord so the people would recognize Him and turn their hearts back to Him and the fire of the Lord consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and the water. God showed Himself to be the true God of Israel. And the story continued.

There are other semicolon stories we could consider. There is the story of King David who had several moments he thought his life would end at the hand of Saul. He thought his kingship could end in moral failure when he abused his power, both taking another man's wife and murdering him in the aftermath. Emotional hurts like the death of his son and the problems between his children could have eaten the hope out of any parents’ heart, but God intervened, calling him the man after God's own heart. We could look at the story of Esther, Daniel and friends, and other prophets sent to Israel to warn them of sin and judgement. But instead, I want to move to the most significant semicolon in history, Jesus. 

Jesus came on the scene after a long period of silence in which God provided no prophets. I can't help but wonder if some feared God was done with them and viewed the long silence as a period to God's dealing with Israel. Then, God gave them what at first seemed like an unassuming semicolon in the form of a babe born in a manger. He grew. He taught. He called disciples. He confronted hypocritical, spiritually dead religious leaders. He cast out demons. He calmed angry seas. He healed the sick. He gave hope until He was taken captive, illegally tried, stripped, beaten, mocked, crowned with thorns, spit upon, and hung upon a cross for all the world to see. The world grew dark as our sin was laid on Him. And He died, but God! God, finding His sacrificial death a satisfactory payment for our sin raised Him from the grave, giving us all the living hope of the semicolon. 

The living hope of the semicolon means there is no sin too big or too dirty His blood can't cover it. Redemption means there is still a sense of purpose and meaning after moral failure. There is still life to be lived with joy after harsh painful losses. There is hope after each and every relapse. There is meaning for life lived with the anguish of mental illness. There is hope after broken relationships through reconciliation or with the invitation to repentance and restoration. And even in a life racked with a terminal illness there is hope, because for the believer death is the semicolon and the rest of the story is lived in glory--glory where there will be no more pain, no more sin, and no more tears. The beauty of the semicolon is that it places us face to face with Jesus who is the author of the redemption stories we live. 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!