I didn't intend to get anything out of Joseph's story, really. As I cracked open my Old Testament, I really felt like I was just perusing an intro... so I was surprised when I was stopped in my tracks at Joseph's words. I was surprised to find that I NEEDED Joseph's story more than I needed Moses' story right now.
"It's gone out," he said. His words echoed a blessing he'd given me, "Alicia, you have many people around you who love you and are worried about you. They can tell something is wrong. The light you carry with you has been dimmed..."
He went on to promise -through the grace of God -that light would be restored.
Before I met Danny, I didn't give too much thought to what others thought of me. I wore crazy clothes and I did crazy things. I didn't get into trouble, but I was comfortable with how unconventional I was. I made friends with like-minded people, and my last year of high school and first year of college were so precious to me.
It's safe to say, I think, that during that time my light was burning brighter than ever.
My high school was down the dirt road from the house I grew up in, and we always ate breakfast as a family (though dinner as a family was harder to muster). I'd often stroll out of the house wearing whatever struck my fancy that day: sarong over capris, a skirt with a tee, a bright orange scarf...
One day I bounded out of the house wearing a sheer (but shiny!) light pink over-sized button-up shirt (over a white shirt) and my hair done up in double buns on my head.
My Mom told me later that day that as I'd walked proudly to school, she'd told my Dad that I looked ridiculous.
"I think she looks classy," he said.
He said the same thing about my pink Superman beanie.
Dad was a pretty classy guy himself. He has always paid careful attention to his appearance when it mattered -not so much on the pasture, under a car, or standing over a cow he's branding/milking/herding... but at church. He always dressed so nicely. His boots were often polished, his shirt pressed.
Basically, this made his closet perfect for raiding because -you guys -he SAVED ALL OF HIS WESTERN CLOTHES FROM THE 70's.
And though he made little attempts to connect with us as teens (he really had no idea what to do with us when we turned 11)... he would always give a loving nod to his flowered-up Wrangler shirts getting a second chance at fashion.
Reading Joseph's story reminded me of my own Father -how proud he'd been of my "classy" taste in fashion, my fearless bird-flipping to Calvin Klein and American Eagle.
When I married Danny, there came into the picture a change... he understood fashion and matching and the whole "belt and shoes must be the same color" thing. He helped teach me the ways of matching, and I was truly grateful.
Except in the course of learning matching, I lost a piece of my light.
As time went on, I wouldn't get dressed without Danny's approval. His addiction and my wanting to please became entangled in a dysfunctional lust affair, and it didn't take long for me to feel as if I'd been taken from my father's house, had my flair ripped from my back... I felt like I was in a pit, trapped and scared, and the one who helped me find my way down was someone I had loved dearly and trusted with my life.
I felt as if I'd been bought by the porn industry -it ruled me. I competed, idealized... It took over my choices, my life. I dressed according to media expectations.
I listened to Brene Brown's TED talk, "Listening to Shame" and felt a little ill when she said:
" ...some research by Mahalik at Boston College. He asked, what do women need to do to conform to female norms? The top answers in this country: nice, thin, modest and use all available resources for appearance."
That's the industry that bought me: unrealistic expectations for appearances and sexual relations as well as a warped definition of the word "perfect."
As I climb out of the prison and back up the ranks of emotional, spiritual, mental and physically healthy living, I find the flickering light inside of me beginning to spark.
Each time I go with my gut, the flame burns a little brighter.
Each time I give into fear, the flame dies down.
It's some kind of dance filled with fine lines and grey spaces.
It's hard work, and sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes I DO give up. Sometimes I spend a day behind closed blinds numbing out with movies and snacks.
But the progress is real.
I'll never forget the first time I saw a Cosmo magazine... I mean REALLY SAW IT. I used to "see" them and feel longing, sadness, "I'll never look like that."
For the first time, I SAW the Cosmo magazine and realized the lies my brain had been believing as truth.
The woman on the cover was unnatural because she'd been altered. And it was unattractive.
My appetite for reality -for the beauty in God's creations AS IS seems to be insatiable. Every time I see crow's feet or freckles, moles and thick thighs with pock marks... I breathe in the LIFE and think, "God is truly amazing."
I can see the lies.
I am returning to truth -to God.
Like Joseph of old, I have my Heavenly Father restored to me. Recently, my father remarked to my mother, "She's back. She's come back again."
I had lost my father -what's more: he had lost his daughter. What a painful, preventable tragedy.
After Joseph's earthly father passed away, his brothers were afraid of Joseph's vengeance.
15 ¶And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.
I remember a time when Danny asked me to please read, "The Peacegiver." I'd read it before. I didn't feel as if I SHOULD read it again, but Danny was insistent. I finally gave in. He seemed impatient for me to read, to make it through.
"Did anything stand out to you?" he would ask.
It turns out, he was wanting me to forgive him.
"Forgive, I pray thee now..."
Joseph's response is insightful:
18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.
Joseph recognizes his role. He recognizes that he is not God, and his brothers have need of seeking forgiveness from God more than they have need of seeking the forgiveness of Joseph.
For so long, I felt as if Danny OWED me this apology. I truly believed Danny had sinned against ME and only me. It makes sense that I felt this way because I had often put myself into the role of Savior, constantly trying to save Danny from his own addiction... each time Danny acted out it felt more like he was sinning against ME because I exchanged my own progression for saving Danny.
He then goes on to say:
20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
That passage hit me hard yesterday... the line, "God meant it unto good."
I look at my life now, my perspective, my relationship with God, my new found friends, my light, my core, my LIFE.
God meant it unto GOOD, and it IS good.
I think of those who have gone before, how they have helped to rescue me and "save much people alive." So many people have endured so much abuse, hate and horrors and go on to "save much people alive."
It's Step 12.
My Heavenly Father and My Earthly Father have been returned to me, and I feel the sweet nectar of forgiveness. I see how God is God in all of this -God will take Danny and I can let go of Danny.
I can hand back "The Peacegiver" and say to him, "Fear ye not."
I may not have my crazy clothes back, just as Joseph may not have his coat of many colors... but I have freedom.
And with this freedom, I will live and nourish and comfort and speak kindly. With this freedom, I will seek to cleave unto God, and though I will fail as mortals do, I will simply keep practicing.
Today I will practice by staying home with my sick child, looking in the eyes of my toddler and pray for forgiveness. I will take care of my body by treating it a detox bath and some healthy food. I will pray my latest favorite prayer, "What you do have be do today? Who would you have me serve?"
And I will embrace my free spirit, even if that means the living room doesn't get vacuumed.
I will let freedom be the theme of the day -in Christ, I am free.