What is it?

Looking through my journals and email, I found out that I was wishing for a lot of good things to happen. I claimed to be “hoping,” but I did not/could not be confident the desired outcome would happen. That is not what hope is about. Hope is more than wishing. [Want to know more? Click here.]

Thursday, December 29, 2011


“Why?” I was asked this several times over the last several days. It was like they didn’t believe I had thought things through. And, I didn’t think I should have to explain myself. They did and persisted.

“Why are we using these ‘real’ plates?” I bought two 4-piece table settings in the after Christmas sales last year. I thought they would be festive. I liked them. And, contrary to many of the past 13 years experiences, I had the energy to entertain, cooking from scratch. I wanted the table to look as energetic and festive as I was trying to feel. I even told them I would do the dishes, if no one else wanted to (the normal “rule” in our house is: The cook doesn’t clean). “Doing the dishes” in our house means hand-washing everything; we do not have a dishwashing machine.

So, I understand that they may consider washing the dishes an arduous activity that interferes with socializing and/or “toy” playing, but without being asked to, my college-aged son, home for the holidays, got up as we finished eating, started clearing the table, ran water into the sink, and started doing the dishes. As the drainer became full, my daughter got up and started to dry and put away the dishes, pans, silverware, etc.

“Why are you making all these ‘extra’ food things?” They are right. We don’t need them. I wanted them, and I had a good reason, too. These food items, these “extra” food things were important to me. They brought back some of the happy childhood memories. And they had been the Tradition, the special once or twice a year treats. Ethnic treats, one of which I have not made in a long time because it was normally my sister’s contribution to the meal. She was unable to come this year . . . so I made the Spanakopita (Spinach Pie).

My normal contribution to the family get-togethers comes in the form of dessert. I used to make the pies – apple, cherry, pumpkin – but I taught my daughter well and she makes them now (by the way, did I mention she makes the crust dough from scratch, using a very good, no problem recipe that’s been handed down in our family). So, another dessert I usually make is Baklava. It was not the humongous pans of Christmases past, but it was enough to give everyone a taste of the tradition.

We usually have some kind of green salad with the meal, but my mom and/or dad would usually make a Greek salad with the feta cheese, peppers, and Kalamata olives. This year it was not convenient for my mom or dad to take on this task, with one living in a small apartment and the other watching us from heaven. So the generation of the grandchildren made the salad, with the feta cheese, peppers, and Kalamata olives. It was a way for them to feel connected to their grandparents.

That kind of sums up my answers to the “Why?” questions. It helps me feel connected to the people in my past that are no longer with us. Those loved-ones from my dad’s generation, the first-generation Greek Americans, are slowly but steadily leaving us with only our memories, traditions and a few heirlooms to mark their existence. So, why? So I can be connected to my heritage and my ancestors, so I can keep my memories alive, and so I can pass down to my children at least a little bit of the rich qualities of their heritage.

The Extras. Why?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reflections and Thank You

December 13th is a special day for a couple of reasons. Most recently it marks my son’s birth 22 years ago. However, my marriage, children, career, everything and anything of value, even life itself, is only possible because of December 13, 1978.

Listening to my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night, released a flood of memories. It was that song, and a series of acquaintances and friends, that brought me to the point of trusting Jesus as my Savior. The first verse hit me right where I was. I identified with the sorrow and disobedience (sin and error) and I saw the way out I had not seen before (He appeared).

“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

I was invited to a Christmas party off campus. As a college freshman with no car, getting off campus was all I needed to say yes. I found out that my idea of a party differed significantly from these weirdoes, but there was a warm fireplace, good food, some mildly entertaining games and skits, and Christmas carols. There was also a message of some sort after the Christmas carols, but my attention was stuck on the lyrics to O Holy Night.

Back on campus, the secret Santa activities on my dorm floor continued. Trinkets, food, and notes were passed around. Someone left me something every day. Each gift included a Scripture verse from the Christmas story. One note quoted Luke 2:11, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Today? For me? Those words ricocheted inside my skull. I was supposed to be studying for exams, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this Savior-thing.

It was just Christmas stuff. But I took it all differently than previously in my life. It meant more. And, on December 13th, a friend put it all together for me. I saw Jesus for who He claimed to be and trusted Him.

I started this note off thinking I would share some of the names of those acquaintances and friends that got me where I needed to be to figure out the point of Christmas. I’m still going to list a few; some may not even know, even now, 33 years later, that they were used by God to work in my life.

Nancy L., Ruth H., Diana S., Jill S., Charron, Mark B., Mary B., Becky M., Mary D., Mary R., Anne, my secret Santa, Elaine B., Carol K., Dale B., Randy S., Rick G., Jeff W., Phil N., Jean L., and the four women in the end room, and others.

Simply. Thank you.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Because we always have. Not a great answer. My teenage daughter wants everything to make sense. That’s “make sense to her.” Her questions have encouraged me to think about why I do the things I do. I often find myself doing things in remote control – out of habit, tradition, or because I always have. Automatic.

So, it’s the Holidays. She has questions and objections. The Christmas traditions are not as important to her as they are for me. Is that okay? The “real,” most basic reason for Christmas, celebrating Jesus’ birth, is not in question. The hoopla and trappings with which we celebrate are all up for thoughtful consideration.

For instance, “Why do we have a Christmas tree?” She insists it is part of some ancient pagan celebration. Many people agree – but not all theologians and historians do. Anyone can google “Christmas Tree” and get close to 8,000,000 hits. 8-million thoughts and beliefs, and histories of the Christmas Tree. The stories of the origins of this tradition go back as far as ancient Egypt and move towards modern times from there. Jeremiah, in the seventh century BC wrote that it is a pagan practice to carry a tree into the house. The pagans during that time were carving trees into images of their gods, plating them with silver and gold, and worshipping them. Jeremiah railed against the Israelites doing similar activities.

Many other pre-Christ (and therefore pre-Christmas) traditions had something to do with bringing trees into the house, hanging fir boughs over doorways, and putting gifts (often food or trinkets for the servants’ and apprentices’ children) on the lower branches of the tree. One story about Martin Luther says he was captivated by a scene he came across in a small clearing of several fir trees in a group, with a dusting of snow upon their branches, and the moonlight creating twinkles of reflections on the snow. He wanted to share that experience with his family so he cut and brought into his house a fir tree and placed candles on it to represent the beauty of God in nature.

From there, northern Europe, immigrants brought the tradition with them to America. Some sources claim Hessian mercenary soldiers (generally believed to be from an area of Germany) brought the tradition with them when they came to fight on the side of the British in the Revolutionary War. However the Puritans and other strict Christian groups in this country saw the trees as “unchristian.” The tradition spread slowly and as late as 1851 a minister from Cleveland (Ohio) almost lost his job after allowing a tree in his church.

By the early 1900s, Christmas Trees were a part of Christmas celebrations all across the country.

So, why do we have a Christmas tree? It may have begun as part of a pagan practice, but it also appears to have roots in the Middle Ages. Even though the Martin Luther story is widely discredited, other traditions still place Christmas trees in northern Europe and spread around the world as Christians from places like Germany immigrated.

My conclusion: We don’t need to have a tree. It is not a necessary part of Christmas. I like having one. My daughter does not. She can choose to do Christmas her way . . . but for now she is stuck with our family tradition of putting up and decorating a Douglas fir. (I wonder what will happen to all the Hallmark ornaments we’ve bought her every Christmas since she was born?)

I guess we are developing a new family Christmas tradition: Examining and challenging why we do the things we do.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Winter Arrives

My pick up truck couldn’t get any traction. The cars, semis, buses, delivery trucks, and vans around me were sliding sideways, sliding in circles, sliding into ditches, and coming frighteningly close to me as I was also sliding toward the shoulder of the freeway. It was very dark out and the sleet, according to the radio, was not going to come to an end any time soon.

There were also people out on the road. They were trying to push cars out of ditches or to the side of the road. It was disconcerting to watch three or four people trying to push a car while their feet slid out from under them on the icy road. Not having complete control of my truck, I was afraid I would end up hitting one of them. My fear was becoming a hindrance to rational thinking.

Black ice or white ice or something in between. It’s all slippery. It was keeping me from getting home, normally just over an hour away. It was taking all of my attention, but I only traveled one mile between exits. It took forty-five minutes to do it. I didn’t know what to do.

Fortunately, it is the age of the cell phone, a link to the real world beyond this traffic-accident waiting to happen. The voice on the other side was comforting and helpful. It told me to get off at the next exit by driving with a couple of tires on the shoulder where the gravel poked through some of the ice. The much-more-rational-than-me-voice said to get a room at the Red Roof Inn, and walk to the Big Boy for a snack. The snack was necessary because I was unprepared for the possibility of a low blood sugar; I learned my lesson and keep emergency food with me at all times.

Winter in Michigan brings with it ice, snow, sleet, cold, and darkness. I’ve lived here all my life and I know to be prepared for whatever the weather might be. I grew up driving pick up trucks and learned to put extra weight in the truck bed to help with traction. But, I wasn’t prepared this time.

It was only November 1st.

Yesterday we had the first accumulating snow of this winter. With today being December 1st, it is exactly at the right time. Snow adds to my Christmas spirit. I will put the evergreen wreath on the door. I will prepare the living room for the Christmas tree. I will light cinnamon and mint candles. And tonight I will plug in the Christmas lights, which we put out Thanksgiving week, for the first time this season.

And most days until Christmas, I will sit quietly with my Bible in my hands reading the story, meditating on the miracles and prophecies fulfilled, and be in awe of a God who loves us so much that He came to earth as a small, unremarkable baby, just so we could know He is God.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and Praise For Today

Today I read Psalm 147 for my Quiet Time (personal devotion). I’ve been going through the Psalms using The Message to gain new understanding of the familiar passages. In many of the Psalms recap the great things God has done for David and the other writers of the Psalms. Then those Psalms call for the people to celebrate with thanksgiving and praise. Psalm 147 does that. It talks about rebuilding the wall and protecting His people. This could have been Nee’s prayer:


It’s a good thing to sing praise to our God;

Praise is beautiful, praise is fitting.

God’s the one who rebuilds Jerusalem,

Who regathers Israel’s scattered exiles.

He heals the heartbroken

And bandages their wounds.

He counts the start

And assigns each a name.

Our Lord is great, with limitless strength;

We’ll never comprehend what he knows and does.

God puts the fallen on their feet again

And pushes the wicked into the ditch.

Sing to God a thanksgiving hymn

Play music on your instruments to God.

Who fills the sky with clouds,

Preparing rain for the earth.

Then turning the mountains green with grass,

Feeding both cattle and crows.

He’s not impressed with horsepower;

The size of our muscles means little to him.

Those who fear God get God’s attention

They can depend on his strength.

Jerusalem, worship God!

Zion, praise your God!

He made your city secure,

He blessed your children among you.

He keeps the peace at your borders,

He puts the best bread on your tables.

He launches his promises earthward –

How swift and sure they come!

He spreads snow like a white fleece,

He scatters frost like ashes,

He broadcasts hail like birdseed –

Who can survive his winter?

Then he gives the command and it all melts;

He breaths on winter – suddenly it’s spring!

He speaks the same way to Jacob,

Speaks words that work to Israel.

He never did this to the other nations,

They never heard such commands.


Today, on Thanksgiving Day (and every day), I join this Psalmist, the other writers of the Psalms, Nee (by the way, Nee is the nickname I gave Nehemiah), and all God’s people in thanking and praising God for the miracles He’s orchestrated in my life. What has He done in your life for which you need to give thanks? Take a few moments to do it today.

Surveying the Damage: Seeing the results

As it turned out, Nee was right. God did not let any harm come to His people. Those inside the walls of Jerusalem and those in the villages surrounding Jerusalem are all safe. And, there are walls, completed, strong walls around Jerusalem now. While we worked it seemed like it would never be done, but it is! It only took fifty-two days!

Those who want to get rid of us are defeated in spirit and heart. They were right of course. The Jews could not build this mighty wall by ourselves, and in so short a time. God did it. Our enemies in the surrounding area have lost their nerve, their boldness. They proclaim (what we knew all along) that God has done this great work. They are still afraid to come up against us, and we live peacefully in this land God gave to our patriarch, Abraham.

Nee announced yesterday that he is stepping down from his roles as overseer of the work on the wall and as the commander in chief of the defense of Jerusalem. The nobles and elders persuaded him to accept the position of Governor, and to continue to act as a consultant for the new leaders. One of the first things he did was commission the priests, the singers, and the security guards. He also suggested putting Hanani and Hananiah in charge of Jerusalem. Nee said Hanani and Hananiah are men who are honest and fear God more than most others. And finally, Nee turned spiritual matters over to the scholar, Ezra.

Now, with a little down time available to him, Nee sits with us talking about the events of the last 6 – 8 months. He seems to want to talk about it, to get the lessons learned firmly planted in his head and heart. He wanted to impress upon himself, and us, how God works on our behalf. Nee said it like a prayer,

“God, show me what You want me to understand about Your ways. I am amazed at Your ways. I was a servant in the king’s palace, but You saw me. You picked me but I did not know what I could do. I didn’t know what time had done to Jerusalem and I had no idea where You wanted me to start. I had to come to Jerusalem, the home of my past, evaluate the damage, and come up with a plan. A plan that did not deny or ignore the brokenness brought about by the events of the past. A plan that takes a realistic look at the effects the past has had upon the physical wall – and the effects the past has had in our hearts and in our spiritual life. We were crumbling and our faith was falling apart. Repairs were (and still are) needed.

“You gave me plans for fixing the damage of the past in order to change the way things are now. You wanted to show our enemies that You can use the knowledge of the past and a realistic view of the damage to give us directions for making things right, now and in the future. I see now that You needed me to see the damage, and not just hear about it, so I could see You make things right. Now I see how You can repair every part of my life, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Fixing the Jerusalem wall was the tool You used to change me, to change Your people. Now there is a future to look forward to.

“Thank You, Most Holy God. You are the rescuer of our people, our cities, and our hearts. You are all-powerful, and choose a relationship with us. You use us, with all our damages, all our hurts, and all our sins. What else can I say? Thank You is not enough. I am at a loss for the words that will praise you enough. I cannot comprehend all You are. Thank You.”

We listen and give thanks to God right along with Nee. Every time we see the wall, we will praise our God. From now and well into the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Dealing with rumors

We tried to mind our own business, but the rumors flew around us. Apparently the rulers of our neighboring nations were poised to overrun the walls and kill every man, woman, and child found within the city. We heard they had sent messengers to ask Nee to talk with them about a peaceful surrender. We heard that Nee refused to talk to them. Most of our friends thought this was foolish, and would end in our deaths by the hands of our enemies. They doubted Nee knew what was really happening. Their support for Nee was tentative at best.

Our curiosity got the better of us. We decided to sneak over to Nee’s. He was entertaining messengers. They came about every other day with proposals from the enemies. As we listened, we heard Nee respond to them. He told them to tell Sanballat and Tobiah and the others that he was too busy with the work God has given him to waste time to meet with them. The messengers complained and grumbled among themselves as they left: “This is the same thing he told us the other two times we were here.”

The next messenger actually brought an unsealed letter with him. Nee read the letter aloud:

“The word is out among all the nations. We have heard confirmations from all corners of the earth. You are preparing to rebel against your king so you can be named king in his place. You are telling prophets to move about Jerusalem proclaiming you as king. Word of this will get back to your king and trouble will follow. Don’t you think you better talk to us before your king comes to quash your rebellion.”

Nee, almost laughing out loud, responded: “What a bunch of lies you’ve made up! Interesting story but without a basis in truth.”

Shortly after the messengers left, a note was given to Nee. He did not say anything about the note, but when he left his room, we followed him at a distance. He went to the home of Shemaiah, son of Delaiah. We could not hear what Shemaiah said; he was whispering. But, we heard Nee’s response: “Why would I run and hide in the face of these false reports? And how could you ever think I would defile the Temple, by going there to stay behind locked doors! I am not one of the priests. I am not going into the inner sanctuary of the Temple. Do you want God to strike me down? Stop working for our enemies. How much are they paying you to get me to do something foolish?”

Nee jumped up and started walking home. We followed, but he abruptly stopped only a few steps outside Shemaiah’s door. We bumped into him. He looked at us kindly and invited us to pray with him. Right there. On the path. Out in public. We couldn’t say no, so we followed Nee’s lead and knelt down at the side of the path. Nee prayed,

“God, dear God, do not let Tobiah and Sanballat get away with their scheming. Let their mischief backfire and reflect poorly on them. Give me wisdom and give me strength. Deal with their henchmen and false prophets that have come to ruin my repetition among the people. Don’t let the people be fooled.”

We got up and walked around Jerusalem. Nee stopped to talk to people and encouraged them, convincing them that the city was in no danger from the outsiders. He was so confident that God is on our side of this situation. We were convinced . . .

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Staying the course

Tired. We did not know how tired we could get. We had never worked this hard, this diligently, this long before. We weren’t the only ones who were tired. People were complaining and whining everywhere we went. We tried to keep our thoughts to ourselves, but others were stirring the people up. They grumbled about how tired they are. Others started grumbling, too. They mumbled about how this project was too big. Others started mumbling, too.

The spies kept coming in and out reporting to Nee. As they came and went, they talked to the grumblers and mumblers. Their words caused fear among the people. “Sanballat and his friends have surrounded us! We don’t stand a chance! We will all be killed!”

We do not think Nee is ignoring these reports, but we are not sure what is going on. So, as usual, we go and hang out around Nee to see what’s going on. Nee, of course, is praying. With him, several nobles and officials are also praying. We watch until Nee stops praying and he begins talking to the men.

“Let me remind you: God gave me a job to do. God told me to come to Jerusalem, evaluate the damage, and organize the people to fix things. The people have been working hard to change the present and the future for themselves and for their children and grandchildren. We are making changes that will bring us back our dignity as a people, God’s people. We can think we are doing this on our own. We can think we cannot succeed. We can think about giving up the task God has given us. But none of that is what God wants! None of that is true! God is doing the work. We cannot be surrounded and attacked. We have stationed guards by every worker. We have a warning trumpeter ready at the first sign of trouble. All this is true. We are prepared as best as humanly possible. But don’t forget! It is not up to us to protect God’s city or God’s people. God will fight for us! We cannot be overcome.”

Nee worked out further arrangements for beefing up our defenses: all workers will wear a sword on their belts while working. Even when workers take a water break, they will carry a spear. We will each take our turns building the wall and keeping guard.

People find something else to complain about. Word gets to Nee that some do not have enough food or drink. Those with large families say that enough food is not being given to them. Nee listened to these complaints and discovered that what they say is true. The rich are not sharing with others. While some are going into greater debt, the leaders keep gathering taxes from them. Nee’s upset – angry even. He accuses the leaders of gouging their neighbors and friends, requiring the poor to go into debt while they, the rich, continue lining their pockets. The leaders become convicted and pledge to divide up the food and drink allotments evenly so each person and each family gets what they need.

Squabbles settled for now. What will be next? We will try to stay focused on the work Nee assigned to us. We hope everyone else will stay focused as well . . .

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Overcoming obstacles

This is tiring work. Lifting heavy stones and heavy logs for hours. Shaping the logs into beams using only the basic tools we have available. The iron axes and adzes work well, but they are heavy. Muscles we never knew we had hurt. We’ve been working on the wall for 25 days. The word around town is that Sanballat is no longer poking fun at us. He’s angry. Maybe afraid.

The word comes from our spies (there are many of us living outside the walls of Jerusalem). We’ve heard several different stories passed along by people, but they all have a couple of things in common: Sanballat is angry. His groupies are also angry. They think we are just playing a game. The noise and shouting sounds like a mob egging each other on encouraging violence.

We wonder what Nee is doing with these reports from the spies. We always want to be in the know, so we take off for Nee’s house. We don’t know what we expected to see. What we see should not have surprised us. Nee was praying. Still lying on the floor. Still acknowledging God’s power and protection:

“O all-powerful and loving God, act on our behalf. You know the hearts of the wicked men who desire to do us harm and discourage the workers. Instead of allowing them to make us look bad, make them look bad and defeated, carried off by their enemies. Don’t forgive them for teasing Your workers, Your people. Pour dung out upon them making them stink!”

As Nee finished praying, he looks out his upper level window and sees the work continuing. He looked around the corner and saw us eavesdropping. He smiled, waved, and sent us back to work. We skipped away knowing that when Nee prays good things happen. The rumors of Sanballat’s anger and threats did not frighten us. God is on our side. As we walk back to our section of the wall, we notice the overall progress. The wall is all connected and about half the height Nee is looking for.

The spies continue to bring reports to Nee, sharing the news with people on the way to Nee’s apartment. The nearby rulers are amazed and incensed by the progress we are making. They are making plans to attack Jerusalem, if nothing else, to disrupt the building and frighten the builders. Nee tells us to keep working. Nee took the spies’ reports seriously, but without fear. He organized a guard. Half the workers would build the wall, while the other half would stand guard with their bows and arrows, swords, and lances.

To encourage us, Nee called everyone together to encourage us. “Don’t be afraid! Focus on our God, the Master we serve. He will not allow harm to come to us. He will give us what we need to be successful; His great and awesome power will be our weapon! Don’t fear and think of yourselves. Be ready to fight, if necessary, for your children, your wives, your parents, and your homes. God will see us through.”

We work on the wall, and wait for more news from our spies . . .

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Cooperation and opposition

Taking a break from our work, we decided to see how things were going along different sections of the wall. In awe, our mouths fall open. Every section of the wall is being worked on. Craftsmen, merchants, goldsmiths, perfumers, nobles, priests, mayors, men, women, children, Temple staff, gatekeepers – everyone – is working on the walls near their places of work or homes.

Eliashib and the other priests are hard at work alongside regular people like us. The people of Jericho are working here, too. They are almost done with rebuilding the Sheep Gate. Some are now working on the wall leading to the Tower of the Hundred and further on some have started working on the wall towards the Tower of Hananel.

The Hassenaah brothers are diligently rebuilding the Fish Gate. They have hung the doors and are trying to get the bars and bolts to fit right. Farther on, we see Benjamin and Hashub working on the wall right outside their front door and next to them, Azariah, Maaseiah’s son, is doing the work near his house. The Sheep, Fish, Jeshanah, Valley, Dung, Fountain, Water, Horse, East and Inspection Gates are all being rebuilt and fitted with new bolts and bars.

We heard from several workers at one point that the local kings, Tobiah and Sanballet, who brought with them their friend, Geshem the Arab, had come to tease and tell jokes about the Israelites trying to rebuild the walls. The workers also told us what Nee had said to them:

“The God of Heaven, the only true, powerful God, will give us success. We answer to Him. We are only doing what He wants us to do. This is His city. We are His people. We are committed to serving Him even if the task seems impossible. Whether we serve God and rebuild the wall or not is not up to you. It is none of your business. And, you can do nothing about it. So, save your breath! We will do what our God asks. He will bring the success. So there!!”

We hurry back to our section of the wall. We can’t wait to continue being part of this great project. We are part of this great thing God is doing . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Taking action

After Nee finished praying with the elders, nobles, priests, and local officials, he told them what he thought would work best in rebuilding the wall. It is quite simple. Each family with dwellings along and near the wall will repair the wall they are near. The people living near the areas that need repair have a vested interest in repairing their part of the wall. Nee counted on that and the family groups agreed. Each family will decide who works where and when on their section of the wall.

There is some murmuring, the family leaders discussing the proposal. They pick a spokesperson, the high priest Eliashib.

“We are ready to do what you suggest. We want to get back on track and overcome the disgrace. We want to do what is necessary to get in right relationship with God, each other, and our neighbors. Nee has shown us the ruins. We now have no excuse for leaving things the way they are.

“We did not want to look at the past damage fearing we would be overwhelmed, unable to change the situation. Nee has come from far away, and given us the encouragement and knowledge we need to do this thing. Let’s get started right now, today!”

We watched as the leaders started to leave, rolling up their sleeves, and sending messengers out to gather all able-bodied men from their families. We also are running off to find our family and our family’s portion of the wall. This is exciting. Yea Nee! Yea God! Nothing can stop us now . . .

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Recruiting the helpers

Groggy. We wake up and look around. The cobwebs of confusion give way to the light streaming in the windows. We remember. We took a walk with Nee in the middle of the night. When we fell asleep, Nee had been laying flat on the floor talking to God. He’s still at it. We hear a bit of what he is saying, “O Master, listen to me, listen to Your servant’s prayer – and yes, to all Your servants who take great pleasure in honoring You – please, make me successful today . . .”

Nee sits up with a sigh. He looks over at us. He asks us to round up the leaders of Jerusalem. He says to be polite but insistent. He wants to end the secrecy. It had not been possible to keep Nee’s presence a secret, but he had not breathed a word to anyone about why he is here. It’s time to fill in Jerusalem’s leaders: the Jews, priests, nobles, local officials, us, and anyone else who would be needed to work on the plan (whatever that is; Nee has not explained it to us either).

With the leaders sitting around him, Nee said another quick prayer under his breath. He takes a deep breath in and slowly lets it out. He begins:

“God sent me messengers while I was in Babylon. They told me about the precarious condition of Jerusalem’s defenses. I could not believe it, but I knew they did not make the trek to Babylon as some bizarre joke. God answered my prayers and my king showed favor toward me. He encouraged my desire to come and see exactly what is going on here.

“I wanted to make an accurate assessment of the current conditions as they reflect the past damage. I’m here to tell you that because we did not deal with the problems of the past, things have continued to get worse. The present conditions require much work to restore Jerusalem’s walls – and Jerusalem itself – to a condition that honors God. We cannot live with the broken walls and burned up gates. We should not live with this disgrace any longer. It is time to do something.

“God has answered my prayers all along the way. I prayed while in Babylon for the king’s favor. The king sent me here with an armed escort, and permits to use the king’s lumber for whatever we need. I prayed when I first arrived in Jerusalem. I was able to go out and secretly assess the damages wrought by the past. I prayed after surveying the damage. God gave me direction and a plan for dealing with the current situation.

“It is time to use the information gathered, and the provision of God, to repair the wall. We are no longer restricted by our past. We are not worthless, useless, hopeless, or disobedient people. Stop living like that. Today I will lay down a plan for restoration. Yes, repairing the walls is part of that. More importantly, God has a plan for restoring us to a right relationship with Him, and a new powerful relationship with our neighboring nations.

“Are you ready to do what God wants you to do? Are you ready to shake loose from the events and situations of your past? Are you ready to allow God to work in your lives? Are you ready to live forgiven and right with God?

“Let’s pray . . .”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Investigating the condition

We spent the first day sleeping and eating. It is so nice to be in Jerusalem again. After the first night of good sleep, one of us kept watch wondering what Nee would do next. Nee’s armed escort had left to return to Babylon. It was easier to hang around Nee without the soldiers guarding him. Nee was now including us in his life. He knew us. We were, after all, the guys that took Nee the update on the state of Jerusalem.

After three days of hanging around we are antsy and bored. It’s the middle of the night, but we hear some rustling within the house. Nee peeks out, sees us, and asks us to get a donkey for him. We are trying to find one, but we don’t understand why. He didn’t tell us his plans for this donkey.

Returning to the house where Nee is staying, we see him waiting for us. It’s the middle of the night. What’s Nee up to? Nee gets on the donkey and signals us to follow him as quietly as we can. Nee is heading toward the Valley Gate, one of several gates leading in and out of Jerusalem. Once outside the walls of the city, we follow the wall around to the Dragon’s Fountain, then move on to the Dung Gate. Nee is upset. It appears to us that he is about to cry.

We watch Nee and notice he is looking at the crumbling walls and the ruined gates. We see what he’s looking at. Stones, big and small, scattered where the wall should be and thick beams for the gates in ashes. We continued around Jerusalem’s boundaries, where walls used to stand. There is too much rubble blocking our path. The rubble makes it impossible for the donkey to navigate. Nee gets off the donkey and we continue on foot. We are getting closer to the King’s Pool. One of the gates should be here, but there are only stones, rocks, and charred wood.

Still dark out, we walk a little further around the wall following the brook that flows here. Nee stops from time to time, and he is doing it again. On his knees, face to the ground, we think he is praying. We know what God did before as the result of Nee’s praying, so we are anticipating something good to happen. Nee tells us it is time to return to his dwelling before the light comes. We follow him back through the Valley Gate and to his room. He isn’t saying anything. He doesn’t tell us what this nighttime walk is about. He prays again, we think. We fell asleep without knowing . . .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Surviving the journey

On this day, still running and walking as fast as we can, we caught up to Nee’s convoy, just as they were preparing and serving the evening meal. The tents were up and the smell of burning coals lingered in the air. We were not invited to the same circle as Nee to eat the prepared meal. There would be no warm food or tea for us. We took what we could scrounge up. But, we sat as close to the inner circle as possible.

Nee was discussing with his advisors their progress so far. They had some delays making the estimated two-week trip a little longer than expected. The letters the king gave to Nee were helpful, but only to a point. The convoy was stopped several times by soldiers of the other kings, Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. They made the convoy wait while messengers were sent to the kings with the letters. The messengers came back quickly. Sanballat and Tobiah wanted Nee’s convoy out of their lands as soon as possible.

We had been grateful for the delays. They had given us chances to catch up. We mixed in with the messengers upon their returns. We were hoping we would be fed. We heard the messengers talking among themselves about the responses they received from Sanballat and Tobiah. Both rulers were angry, and a little afraid. They could not understand why anyone would do something to help those upstart Israelites; the same Israelites that had for years fought with them, killing their men and plundering their wealth. They couldn’t do anything rash with the Israelite convoy under guard by the soldiers, but they could get them out of their lands as soon as possible.

Listening to Nee and his advisors talk, we couldn’t tell if Nee knew about the animosity Sanballat and Tobiah felt toward the Israelites. As the light of the cooking fire danced over us, we sat in the shadows listening and wondering. Nee had been sad in the king’s presence, he had asked for permission to go to Jerusalem, and he had asked for help. All that took some kind of extraordinary courage. Yet, now, Nee was worried. He kept asking the leaders of the armed escort if they were there yet. He was afraid he would not be back at the time he promised his king. He didn’t know how long the job would take and he did not want to presume that the king would understand.

The advisors and soldiers compared notes and told Nee that the journey was almost over, maybe only a day’s journey left. It couldn’t come soon enough for us. We were tired of running. And when we got to Jerusalem, we would be in our own familiar town, and could eat and sleep in our own houses. We did not want to be too far away from Nee while in Jerusalem, but we could really use a good night sleep . . .

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Surveying the Damage: Getting prepared

Careful. Watch out for that . . . “OUCH” . . . that prickly bush. Sneaking into the palace is not as easy as we thought it would be. We came to report the situation to Nee and the other exiles. We thought he would moan and complain with us about being deserted by God and about God not protecting us. He took the higher road; he outclassed us; he schooled us.

Nee drop to his knees, and lay with his face in the dirt, to praise God, to plea for forgiveness for himself and for all of us, and to prepare us to do God’s work according to His desires. Nee asked for God to show what He wanted the exiled people of Jerusalem to do, and he asked to be shown what he was supposed to do as God’s faithful servant. Still on our knees in Nee’s room, we heard bells ring. Nee jumped up and grabbed the King’s wine cup, and ran off. We followed him as far as we could. We inched our way behind the curtains and tapestries until we were close enough to hear.

The King noticed that Nee was troubled as Nee, his favorite cupbearer, poured his wine. He asked Nee what had him so down, so miserable, that he was unable to be happy in the presence of the King. That behavior could get a cupbearer executed, but the King was moved by Nee’s account of the state of things in his homeland. The King did not call for his execution, which he knew he deserved; instead the King asked Nee what he needed to make the journey to Jerusalem, and what he needed to make things right.

We watched all this in awe. Not of the King whose fame and might are legendary, but of God’s power and provision through a faithful servant. Faithful to the God of Heaven. Faithful to his captor King. So the King trusted him with great wealth of materials, tools, and workers; and he wrote letters to the surrounding governments asking them to give Nee’s convoy safe passage. As a final “blessing” for Nee’s mission, the King gave orders for an armed escort to go with Nee all the way to Jerusalem.

Watching, unbelieving but seeing it all unfold, we were amazed (and not a little ashamed that our faith was so very tiny compared to Nee’s). We argued among ourselves about who could’ve done it better, or who could have been a better, more competent, leader than Nee. Focused on ourselves with our idle arguing we almost missed it. Nee’s rapidly assembled convoy was ready and left on the appointed day. We had to run to catch up having no animals given to us by the King. Nee was such a big shot having won over the enemy king. We wanted to be there to see Nee’s plans fail. We will continue running and hopefully not miss anything . . .