Photo By Max Wolfe ~ Creative Commons
In recent weeks, I’ve been telling my story,
which is really His story, of how He has authored my faith. (Hebrews 12:2)
Today’s story takes place when I’m 27 years old . . .
One night at choir rehearsal, the worship pastor announces that a Joseph family reunion is in the works. He says the whole cast from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been invited to reconvene — a full year after the first production run — for a series of encore performances.
A few weeks later, I take a seat in the front row of the sanctuary. Some of the cast members attend other churches in the area, so this new production of the same show really does feel like a family reunion.
The guys who play Joseph’s brothers take the stage. While walking through the first scene, a large stage light falls to the floor, spewing shards of glass everywhere.
Everyone stares at the broken pieces splayed across the sanctuary’s carpet. If anyone had been directly underneath that heavy stage light, he or she could have been killed.
No one moves.
But the guy who plays Gad (one of Joseph’s brothers) appears from backstage with a broom and dustpan in hand. The crowd begins to disperse while Gad — whose real name is Jeff — quietly sweeps up the broken pieces.
I had noticed him before.
Jeff had a way of showing up whenever someone needed help. When the crew backstage made lunch for the cast, Jeff helped serve the food. When a cast member needed to be absent, Jeff filled in the role.
In a lot of ways, Jeff reminded me of Joseph. But not the Joseph with the multi-colored coat. The other Joseph. The one who married Mary and agreed to raise Jesus, a boy not his own.
The call of Joseph was total sacrifice. The future he once dreamed of with Mary ended when his fiancé became mysteriously pregnant — a situation that would shroud their entire marriage with public scandal and scrutiny. Joseph never asked for this. But when God called Joseph to sacrifice his personal plans in order to raise Jesus, Joseph took on the mantle of protector and provider. And he did so quietly. With humility.
In Joseph’s lifetime, no one outside his home would ever know the full extent of his sacrifice.
Jeff also understands what it’s like to sacrifice plans. The cast only knows bits and pieces of Jeff’s story, but we know his parents died. When he was 24, Jeff returned from Europe — where he had been touring with a singing group — to become the legal guardian of his 12-year-old sister.
He’s been raising his little sister now for almost five years. But that’s about all we know.
When Jeff finishes sweeping the remains of the fallen stage light, the director calls for a full dress rehearsal. So everyone gets in place.
While waiting for my cue, I crouch behind the black velvety theater curtain. Everything backstage becomes a flurry of flying costumes and props. Behind me, Jeff appears in his biblical attire. Dressed as Gad, he looks like someone who just stepped out of the pages of the Bible.
As we listen to the orchestra play the overture, Jeff asks if he can take me and Simone to the zoo on Saturday. But the horn section of the orchestra overpowers the woodwinds. I’m not sure I heard him right. This Saturday? The zoo? The three of us?
It’s our turn to go on stage. But before the opening act, we make plans for Saturday.
When Saturday arrives, we spend the day trekking all over the Los Angeles Zoo. Then the following Saturday, we visit the Getty Museum downtown. The Saturday after that, we go hiking on the trails north of Pasadena.
These aren’t cliché dinner-and-movie kinds of dates. These are all-day adventures. With hours to talk. And meals to share. We listen to each other’s stories, learning about the events that shaped us.
But more than anything, I notice the way Jeff makes me laugh. I’m not used to laughing. I can’t remember ever having much reason to laugh. Most of my childhood memories are somber at best. Then young adulthood turned everything so serious. Married at 19. A mom at 22. Divorced at 25.
Now I’m 27. Working full-time, taking night classes, and raising a daughter by myself. Nothing about life is funny or light-hearted. Every day feels like an extra layer of gravity pulls on my shoulders, slowing my gait and dulling my senses. I don’t know the first thing about how to have fun. Until I meet Jeff.
To be honest, I’ve never liked people who thought they were funny. Mostly because their humor was the kind of biting sarcasm that comes at someone else’s expense. But Jeff is different. He has a clever way of finding the levity in irony. He can be fun without being superficial. He can be serious without being dreary.
There’s just one problem. Maybe two.
He’s never been married. And I think he deserves better than me. Jeff has already carried the responsibility of raising his sister. Who could ask him to raise another child who isn’t his own?
Besides, I’m not sure I want to risk being married again. The whole idea of getting married scares me. In my experience, things don’t generally work out for me. And it’s hard to trust people when you’ve never had anyone you could count on.
I begin to pray about whether or not I should continue this friendship.
Late one afternoon, I feel the need to be at the altar. So I arrange a playdate for Simone and drive to church. Even though it’s a weekday, the doors are open because various small groups are meeting down the hall. The sanctuary, however, sits in stillness.
I find a spot on the floor, kneeling at the steps that lead to the stage. I’ve always felt most at home in God’s house. Whenever something is weighing on me, this is where I want to be. Alone at the altar.
My earliest memory is at the altar, playing church in the sanctuary on a weekday while my father — the pastor — did whatever needed doing. At age 12, I often returned to the altar inside the hospital chapel; that’s where I begged God to intervene for my family. At age 17, I was alone at an altar hewn from a fallen tree when I knelt and surrendered my life to Christ.
Again today, I come and lay my every fear on this altar here. I share with God my litany of reasons why I should run in the opposite direction, why I would be crazy to entertain the notion of marriage.
I hear something stir. A breeze perhaps. But there isn’t a single window in this auditorium that serves as a sanctuary. I look up and notice the choir loft. And I remember the day I fell. Right there. On stage. During Sunday morning worship. Unconscious. Broken.
I remember the words of Isaiah 54:4-8. I know them by heart.
My eyes move across the stage before me. It’s empty now, but can I envision the way it appeared when our production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat had transformed it into dazzling array of color and light.
I remember wondering if I should ever try to dance again. And it was here, on this stage, that dream came true.
The black velvety curtains capture my attention. They’re drawn open now. And it was right there, on this very stage, where Jeff first asked if he could take me and Simone to the zoo.
And I wonder if all the brokenness of my past could ever be healed.
Could anything good ever come from any of it?
Then I remember the most poignant part of Joseph’s story, when Joseph said to the same brothers who betrayed him:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:11).
All of Joseph’s hardships. The betrayal. The false accusation. The imprisonment. The unfulfilled promised. The wasted years.
All of it led to the saving of many lives.
What others meant for harm, God meant for good.
It’s the story of Joseph that brought Jeff and I together in the first place. It’s how we met — to be a part of this ancient story of redemption, played out on this very stage. Perhaps it’s also why we met.
Something inside tells me this is no coincidence.
The story of redemption is why we are here.
Have you ever thought you were beyond repair?
Have you experienced His healing grace?
To read more of His stories, please visit Jennifer’s place.
PHOTO CREDIT: By Max Wolfe (Creative Commons)