In the Grand Scheme of Things

I might be overreacting. It’s been known to happen before.

Sometimes I get a little overfastidious about language usage. I don’t mean I get all crazy-offended at so-called “four-letter words” and such (though I used to, and I still call The Youth out when they use them, and I try–not always successfully–to avoid using them myself). I mean things like: hybrid lingo involving two or more words of different root languages gives me hives. Example: staycation. Even though it’s true–I do prefer to travel during my time off–I don’t believe this is the primary reason I want to drop-kick that word out of present-day vocabulary.

Or–it kind of drives me up a tree when people say a la something in American English. (I don’t remember if they do this in England–but over there they do other things to butcher the French language. It’s just that there it seems somewhat adorably intentional.) The a la thing is useful because it somehow expresses of the or according to the nature of in a different–or briefer–way than English does. The problem, for me, is that la is feminine, and so when someone says something like, “He’s got a sense of humour a la Jeff Dunham” (which probably means it involves puppets), I get all squirmy because “of the Jeff Dunham” sounds weird, and last I knew, Jeff Dunham is not female. (Some might also argue that he’s not humorous, but I’m not going there with this post.) To “correctly” insert French idiom into an English sentence, we should say, “a Jeff Dunham” (with an accent ague, which I don’t know how to make on this blog), but since no one does use the idiom that way in American English, if I started throwing that around, no one would have any idea what I was trying to say. Then I’d have to explain it, and they’d all fall asleep, and . . . hey! Wake up!

So then I do what I don’t want to do and just accept the Americanised French and say a la (peanut butter sandwiches) all over the place like everyone else, and feel a mild sense of self-loathing for doing it. (It’s just words, but I still feel hypocritical which, every time I am, engenders the self-loathing thing.) Also au jus. It means with juice (like–meat juice), but in “American,” we say, “Would you like some au jus with that?” I say it. It just drives me crazy that I do.

“A la peanut butter sandwiches!!”Not sure to whom photo credit goes, but I got the photo from muppet.wikia.com. Or we could pretend I was one of the hippie chicks clearly in the background.

 

 

 

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After Joseph

Is it hypocritical that my brain uttered a mild oath when it realised that I had forgotten to post the next Bible-story retelling in here yesterday? Maybe. Anyway, here it is. (I should say I don’t think it’s as well-written as some–maybe because I never really resonated with Rachel.)

 

After Joseph

Genesis 29-30 (NRSV–link is CJB)

 

I had not seen that shepherd before, but somehow he seemed to think he knew me.  He watered all the sheep and then fell to kissing me and crying.  It was a moist business.  Upon reflection, however, I decided it wasn’t all that unpleasant.

After he recovered himself enough to be coherent, he told me he was Jacob and we were cousins.  He was the son of Rebekah, my father’s sister.  Before we knew it, he was working for father, which meant he could water the sheep every day and I no longer had to water them at all.  That was nice, but the way he looked at me was better.

Father, not being a romantic himself, knew one when he saw one.  He needed to marry my sister and me off anyway, before we became liabilities.  What better way was there to both get rid of a daughter and appear to pay a farm hand without actually doing so?  Father saw Jacob looking at me, and he asked him, “Because you are my kinsman, should you work for me for nothing?  Tell me, what shall your wages be?”

I guess Jacob answered more or less the way Father had been hoping.  “I will serve you seven years for your daughter Rachel,” he sighed, moonstruck.

Father allowed himself to look pleased, saying, “It is better that I give her to you than to any other man; stay with me.”

Jacob stayed.  He said he loved me so much that the seven years seemed like a day.  I think for me they would have dragged, if it had not been for Leah.

Leah is my older sister.  She was tall and clumsy and thin as a rail, even having passed the age when some girls, growing, might expect to be that way.  Her only physical assets were her eyes, which were striking, but not striking enough.  Men never looked at her as they looked at me.

Tradition says the oldest must be given in marriage before the youngest, but we did not think at first that this would be any trouble.  Seven years is a long time to make a woman presentable.  Most women may have many offers of marriage in that time.  But not Leah.  As Jacob said, the years flew, and no man had given Leah so much as a glance.

However strangely, as the time for Jacob’s and my wedding drew nearer, Father seemed less and less worried about Leah’s own nuptials.  When I asked him, he only smiled and said that everything was arranged.  But I had seen no suitors, and I found his good humor cause to become more and more worried, myself.

I did not know for certain what his scheme was until the night of the wedding feast, when Leah was sent in to Jacob’s tent and I was kept back.  They had a job of keeping me back, too, but even I am no match for that many shepherds.

Jacob, drunk as he was, did not find his outrage until the next morning, seeing Leah, instead of me, in his bed.  “What is this you have done to me?” he raged at Father, so that I’m sure the shepherds off in the fields heard him.  “Did I not serve with you for Rachel?  Why then have you deceived me?”

“This is not done in our country,” Father answered smoothly, “giving the younger before the firstborn.  Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also, in return for serving another seven years.”  Seven more years of free labor for Father, then, trading off his daughters like prized sheep.

But Jacob agreed.  I don’t suppose, however, that the next seven years went so quickly for him as the first seven.  It’s hard to say where the fault of that lay.

Jacob loved me, that was clear enough, so at first I had little to make me envious.  But he still had a duty to Leah, and it seemed that every time he performed this duty, she became pregnant.  Soon she had four sons, and I, the loved one, had none.

It was after the fourth one, Judah, that Leah must have realized Jacob would never love her, in spite of all her sons.  So she took her joy at the boy elsewhere, and said, “Now I will praise the Lord.”

That was the last straw, because she had finally said what I had suspected.  Jacob loved me best.  Everyone loved me best.  But God, contrary to all reason, seemed to love Leah.  Enough of God!

“Give me children or I shall die!” I screamed at my husband then.  But Jacob blamed God, too, and he shouted at me.  He had never shouted at me before.  “Am I in the place of God,” he bellowed, “who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?”

I would not be bested by Jacob, or Leah, or God, so I gave Jacob my maid.  Let her have children for me.  And Leah gave Jacob her maid.  Let her have children for her.  We fought and we bargained for our husband with mandrake root and Jacob grew haggard and withdrawn from me, and the babies cried.  And then finally God heard me.

At long last, I carried a baby, too—a baby of my own.  When he was born, he was a son, and I named him Joseph.  “God has taken away my reproach,” I sighed, but it was a glad sigh.  A restful sigh.  “May the Lord add to me another son!”

I would have loved another son.  But meanwhile, I loved Joseph.  Jacob loved him, too, because he was mine.  After Joseph, the fighting and bargaining all seemed stupid.  After Joseph, I learned to forgive my sister all her children.  After Joseph, I could see my husband’s love for what it was—still mine—and I could understand my sister’s sorrow in having known so little of it.

 

Reprise on the Actual Day

I just spent the last couple of hours catching up on reading all the blogposts I missed in the last week, and feeling like I got in a Time Machine which took an entire week to blast me an entire week into the future. Conferences kind of do that. The biggest downside to the time away was missing myPaul all week, but if that had to happen, at least I had some cool kids to hang with the whole time. No seriously–listen. This is how cool they are:

They reprised my birthday celebrations on my actual birthday (bet that’s never happened before) all by themselves and by surprise. I love surprises–good ones, anyway. This was a good one.

There were 19 or so teens total to party with, but I brought three of them who shall, unless they vociferously object, be henceforth known on this blog as the Sidekick, the Belle and the PunkStar. We took two days to drive down to North Carolina, during which time the girls tried passionately to find all 50-states’ worth of license plates (by the end of the trip, they had found all–including Alaska and Hawaii–but three of them), we visited our nation’s capital, and we stayed with my college friend Psych-Deb. (I wanted to call her Psycho-Deb as a joke, but it’s not really accurate, and . . . she might try to psychoanalyse me.)

Nice house, Mr President . . .

We arrived in Charlotte on Sunday night, and I was tired from all that driving, as well as from somehow getting insufficient sleep for approximately the previous four nights, so it’s a good thing the conference didn’t properly start until Monday evening. The problem was that I still felt pretty groggy all that day, so after lunch with the girls, they agreed that they were perfectly capable of entertaining themselves, wholesomely even, while I took a nap.

While I was so snoozing, something like this is what happened:

The hotel was in a big maze of shopping plazas, one of which contained a Sam’s Club. For people in other countries who maybe don’t have wholesale stores, Sam’s Club is a Walmart company to which you need to have a membership, after attaining which, you can buy excessive (read: American) amounts of food and other products, usually relatively inexpensively. The key point for this story is the membership–and the fact that neither the Sidekick, the PunkStar, nor the Belle had one. Nevertheless, they marched across the vast expanse of parking lots between the hotel and Sam’s Club and charmed the Sam’s employees into using a dummy membership card to sell them a custom-printed birthday cake. (I had told them the Peahes story. As you can plainly see.)

photo by jennwith2ns 2012

From: the Belle, the PunkStar and the Sidekick
To: Peahes

They beat out a thunderstorm to the hotel, and then used their (presumably continually wholesome) powers of persuasion to get the hotel restaurant to loan them some forks and plates. Unfortunately, they forgot to ask for a knife.

 

photo by jennwith2ns

Yes. It’s a coffee-stirrer. Good thinking, the PunkStar!

They also gave me a card full of sweet notes, and bought me a gift certificate to a frozen yoghurt place across the man-made pond from the hotel. This was a great gift on account of the fact that this yoghurt place also serves Boba tea and other things with which I am little familiar, so I could cater to my curiosity without spending my own money. And . . . after all that, there was even cake left to share with all the other kids that night.

 

The Best-Laid Plans

I may or may not (but probably the first one) have mentioned here before that I did not deal well with turning 30. The combination of moving away from London, where I’d thought I was going to settle permanently, never having had a significant romantic relationship and having no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life just was a pretty bad combination, I guess. By the time I was 34 or so, I had recovered for the most part, and I was determined to enjoy the segue into 40, no matter what was going on.

I know I hoped I’d be married by 40, but various things were making that seem less and less likely, so I started making 40th-birthday plans for myself as if I wouldn’t be. I was turning 40 right around the time of the London Olympics, so I started saving up money (in miniscule amounts because that was all I could manage) to take myself back “home” to London as my 40th birthday present for myself during that time. I didn’t actually plan to go to the Olympics (I definitely couldn’t have afforded that, and anyway, I’m not all that sporty, as the British say) but they’re happening in my old borough, so I kind of wanted to be there for all the fal-de-rol. I’m pretty sure most of the locals hate it, and I probably would, too, were I still a local there, but I’m not anymore, and I’m curious.

photo by jennwith2ns 2012

When the cake-lady came proudly out of the back room having inscribed the cake as, she thought, directed, it said, “Happy birthday, Peahes!” For a grammar- and spelling-snob, no less. My Paul kindly requested she insert the “c.”

Then I found out that a conference I already knew I was going to have to attend with some of the Youth Group was starting on my 40th birthday. The nerve of them! How did they not consult me first? And then I met my Paul. Once we figured out that our relationship was actually going to be a relationship, I began gradually to relinquish the London-in-2012 idea in favour of the married-in-2012 idea. But I still don’t get to be with my new husband on my birthday. So last night he threw me a mini-party.

We went for a little swim in together in the middle of the pond in the late afternoon, and when we got back, Alicia and her pal, “Second Second Kid” (her other pal is “Original Second Kid”) were over and we munched on shrimp cocktail until the twin lobsters and corn on the cob were done. We sat on the deck and got brine and butter all over our fingers and arms as you’re meant to when you eat lobster and corn on the cob, and Paul and I drank wine which Alicia and Second Kid tried (unsuccessfully) to get us to let them drink, too. Then we cleaned ourselves up and exited the lobster carnage, so as not to be personally visited by the Bear in the night or anything, and had coffee and ice cream cake. And then?

Then we went to the movies. Drive-in movies.

Okay, see, London? I’ve done before. Drive-in movies? Were a first. This is a little bit of “American experience” (do other countries have these?) that I’ve always wanted to try but have somehow never managed to. I’m not really even sure how to describe how excited I was about this. Who cares that it was buggy and the bug spray was pretty rubbish and my Paul and I wished we had brought a blanket to huddle under in our new camp chairs while Alicia and Second Kid sprawled in their blankets in the back of the pick-up truck? We were at the drive-in movies! Plus, one of them was The Avengers, which all of us except Alicia had already seen, but it’s so good that if you haven’t seen it you are doing yourself a disservice.

We got home after one o’clock in the morning and passed out almost instantaneously, but we have the day off today, before I begin my road trip to that conference with the Youth, so we’ve had a leisurely morning, and the sun is out, and all feels right with the world. My Paul is officially good at the birthday thing. Never mind that most people wouldn’t want to celebrate their entrance to Middle Age prematurely. I said I was going to enjoy this birthday–and so I have.

Animal Sounds

Maybe he could get away with posing as a cub . . .

If it weren’t for Shemp, Oscar would never be allowed outdoors by himself. Which is really just another way of saying Oscar isn’t allowed out of doors by himself. It’s kind of a shame, because if we could just leave him outdoors all day we wouldn’t have the problem of his deciding that we were slightly off-schedule so he would just take matters into his own paws and pee on the carpet. Which happens occasionally.

But the thing is, outdoors, along with the chipmunks and bunnies who feasted on our strawberries earlier in the season and are chomping on the rest of our garden now, there are also coyotes and fishers. Once my Paul let both the dogs out only to find himself face to face with a coyote, sitting in the sunlight across the street, watching. So Oscar, who doesn’t like to be outside for very long anyway, doesn’t get to stay outside for very long, and always has to be accompanied by Shemp. Shemp, in his turn, might try to play with a coyote rather than fight it, but he’d be able to hold his own if it came to that.

Now, however, we have a new mammalian neighbour in the ‘hood. Yesterday morning my Paul went downstairs first thing in the morning and wondered groggily to himself which of our neighbours had decided to invest in a donkey. The thing was braying rather nearby. Then it dawned on him that it was the Bear.

A few weeks ago, Alicia (my stepdaughter) had texted me saying that three bears had been seen in the vicinity, and not to leave the dogs out too long that evening. Three bears. I don’t know if they’re all still around or if they split up, but on Monday night or so, my Paul and I had just come in from our mostly-nightly sunset cruise on the pontoon, and I happened to glance out the back window . . . and then I did a double-take. I don’t normally yell, but I’m pretty sure I did this time. “Paul!” I yelled. “It’s the Bear!” He came running over and peered out next to me. There was no mistaking it. It had loped across the pond-end of our yard into our next-door neighbours’, and it kept going–sauntering, really, enormous in its sleek black fur. “Wow,” we both said. Then my Paul called the police.

The police were less impressed. I guess we were not the first people to have called them about the bear that evening, and my Paul was told that unless it started getting aggressive, they were just going to leave it alone and so should we. That last bit seemed fairly self-evident. Although I was wishing I’d had my camera handy in time to snap a photo, it wasn’t like we were going to run out and chase it down and, as Alicia suggested later, offer it a casserole or, as Paul chimed in, a potted plant, to welcome it to the neighbourhood. I’m all for living and letting live, but the population density in our area is high enough that I’m not sure a bear is the best addition to the local demographic. It didn’t seem very comforting, therefore, to know that someone was going to have to be mauled before the authorities were going to try to do anything about it.

Beneath the placid exterior . . . nah–he doesn’t really have a placid exterior.

Evidently no one was mauled, though, because there was the Bear, at least within earshot yesterday morning, braying for Paul to hear him. I’m not sure if it was before or after that that Paul let the dogs out for their morning constitutional, but they both came back so that’s okay. I’m just not convinced that even Shemp could take a bear. Hopefully he’ll never have to.

In the meantime, the next time you’re rehearsing animal sounds with the toddler in your life (everyone needs one of those), should the question arise of what the Bear says? The answer is, evidently, “Hee haw.”

 

 

 

 

___________________________

Editorial update:

My Paul suggests that this photo gives a better display of Shemp’s (Bear-fighting?) personality.

The Blessing

Back in London before I started writing Favored One, I thought, even though it’s kind of been done already, I’d write a book of little vignettes of all the women in the Bible. These were actually written later than some of my other Biblical retellings, and I got through six of them before I realised that they were all about the ability or inability to have children. (I hadn’t gotten to Deborah yet.) And I thought–well, nothing wrong with that, but maybe an entire book like that was going to sound pretty same-y after a while, and besides, I didn’t have children and didn’t anticipate having any, and in my culture that’s okay. So I wrote maybe six and then stopped. Until I started writing about Miryam, who’s kind of about having children, too, but it’s a bigger story with a broader focus.

All that to say, if you’re getting sick of reading stories about women and their child-bearing dramas . . . well, we’re halfway there? After that it’ll be people who got miracled and stuff. Here’s the fourth of six in the Women series:

 

The Blessing

Genesis 24-27 (NRSV) [Linked to CJB]

He was older than I expected, but I knew it was he the moment I saw him walking across the field, silently mourning his mother.  His name was Isaac, and I like to think I made him laugh again.

My name is Rebekah.  I am the daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.  Nahor and Isaac’s father were brothers.  Everyone said I was appointed by the Lord.  Isaac said I was beautiful.  He loved me.  I loved him, too.

We loved each other for twenty years, without anything to show for it.  Apparently Isaac’s mother had had the same problem, but I did not think it fair that I should have to suffer, too, simply for being her daughter-in-law.

Isaac didn’t think so either.  He prayed for me, and God heard him, and after that I realized that maybe it wasn’t barrenness which could be called suffering.  I felt like there was war inside me, and I said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?”

But I did live, so the next thing to do was to ask God the same question.  This time I didn’t have Isaac do it for me; I went myself.

The Lord heard me, too, because He answered, and told me it really was a war inside me.  He said,

“Two nations are in your womb,

and two peoples born of you

shall be divided;

the one shall be stronger than the other,

the elder shall serve the younger.”

Maybe I did wrong then.  I kept the word to myself.  God had said it to me after all.  But when the twins were born—the red hairy one, Esau; and the smooth lovely one, son of my heart and home, Jacob—their father preferred the wrong one.   It was because of food.  Esau learned to hunt, and Isaac, in spite of being a herdsman himself, loved the taste of wild meat.  They were nearly two of a kind, that man and his son.  It didn’t seem to matter to him that this son of which he was so proud was smelly and hairy and loud and stupid. A mother should not say such things, but Isaac loved that boy enough for us both.

Jacob, my Jacob, was handsome and quiet and clever.  He looked after our flocks with such care and diligence that his father should have given him more credit.  And the blessing.  His father should have given him the blessing.  God had said the elder would serve the younger.

But the father had a blessing to give, and he was planning on giving it to the elder.  It is always for the elder. The words of that blessing would have power to make things happen—and maybe keep things from happening.  One could never be too sure.  But I had not told Isaac in the beginning why the blessing must be Jacob’s.  I could not tell him now.  Now he would say it was a story I concocted because Jacob is my favorite.

But I knew who was worthy, and I knew what God had said, and I knew what to do about it.  Sometimes you have to do something about it.  If Isaac had prayed for me but we had not come together, I would never have conceived.  This was something like it, I thought, even if I had to deceive my husband to help God’s will to happen.

Esau was hunting the game that would preface his blessing.  His father was old even then, and since he was blind he thought he was dying.  To die without giving the blessing would leave too many questions to the descendants, and so he was ready to give it immediately.

I was ready, too.  While Esau hunted, I cooked goat-meat, just the way game-meat would be cooked.  Jacob, meanwhile, dressed the part of his brother, putting the goats’ skins on his smooth arms and neck, so that if his father doubted, he could feel what Esau felt like, smell what Esau smelt like.

Poor old man.  He never knew until afterwards, and meanwhile, when Jacob stepped out of the tent again, he was a blessed man, wealthy with crops and flocks, ruling over nations.  Of course we could not see any of it yet, but we knew it would happen.  The words of a blessing in the name of the Lord always come true.

Jacob was blessed, and then banished.  Esau would have killed him.  I have not seen him since.  I do not know if he found my family, back in my homeland.  I cannot see the blessing coming true.

But I still see Isaac.  The shock of deceit didn’t kill him, but he does not laugh much anymore.  He still loves me, but now he cannot see me to call me beautiful.  I hide from him now, even in his blindness, because I have hidden too much from him already.  I did not tell him of the word of the Lord, and now I cannot tell him of the hand I had in Jacob’s treachery.  I did not even tell him of Esau’s plot to kill his brother.  Too many revelations for such an old heart would break it.  I do not want to have that on my conscience.

Summertime, and the Living is . . . Busy?

So remember that time I said I would cease neglecting this blog and The Readership because of new friends? Well, I stand by that commitment. You might, however, have a little competition from this:

The garden is difficult to stop looking at, but also is a lot of work (though my Paul does more of that than I do).

And this:

Sunset cruises most evenings . . .

And these guys (there’s so much more time to do fun things with the Youth Group in the summer!):

The mother of some of the youth group girls got married last weekend.

Youth Group post-beach ice cream

And this guy:

By “this guy” I mean the actual guy, and not, in some strange use of language, the excessive cask behind us. Although if I meant that, I can see how that might keep me from writing anything, too.

Unfortunately for “this guy,” “these guys” kind of rule my schedule in the summer time. A week from today I will be driving three teen girls down to Charlotte, North Carolina for an interchurch conference down there. I may have mentioned this before, but those bits in the Old Testament where God tells husbands not to go off to war for a year after they get married so they can “make their wives happy” is pretty darn good advice. It’s not like I’m going off to war or anything, but I do think it’s a bit of a shame modern culture doesn’t make such allowances in jobs and other responsibilities.

The thing is, if even my new husband isn’t going to see me much for the next few weeks, I’m really not sure I can guarantee regular postings over here. But you understand, right? And when we all come back from our summers, you’ll bring your friends as well?

BlogStar, and the Third Vignette

Some introductions are in order:

Mrs Monologues is a BlogStar herself, methinks.

The Readership, meet Mrs Monologues and her friends. Mrs Monologues is a new blog/Twitter acquaintance who is also super-generous with her blog-space. Today (and apparently the first Tuesday of many ensuing months, indefinitely) is her BlogStar day, where bloggers can go link up to her blog in hopes of expanding their Readerships and in order to find more fun blogs to read. If you are a blogger, you should go on over there and sign up. Couldn’t hurt, right? Plus, I’m told she’s gunning for 200 new blogposts to read this evening. (She’s got to be a faster reader than I am. The very idea kind of makes me dizzy.)

Mrs-Monologues-and-Friends–hey! Welcome! Me and the Readership over here. (They’re usually pretty quiet–you can “loud-en” this blog up, if you want. Just be nice.) This is probably a weird note with which to introduce you to my blog, but I introduced Mrs Monologues herself to it with a similar post last week and she was a fan, so . . . maybe a couple of you are quirky like her. I don’t stick to much of a schedule here, but I have recently semi-officially (as in, I announced it to myself in my head last week) made Tuesday the day I post little vignettes which I wrote in the 90’s and are first-person retellings of certain Biblical tales.

This doesn’t sound like your thing? Okay, fair enough, but at least give one of them a try. Or two. The following is a companion piece to the one I posted here last week which made Mrs Monologues say, “Just what I needed,” is all I’m saying. (Last week’s is better, actually. Well, it’s an easier story to tell.) I’ve written an entire novel based on this type of story-telling and am in the process of trying to figure out the best method get it “out there” for all you crazy kids. In the meantime, here’s the third installment of the short-story kind:

 

HEARING AND SEEING

Genesis 16, 21 (Dialogue quotations below are from the NRSV. Link is to the CJB.)

 

So maybe she was chosen to bear The Child.  But I bore his child, too, and I have seen the God who sees me, and I have heard the God who hears me.  Has she?

I have seen Him, but working for Sarah still sometimes seemed a high price to pay for it.  She arrived, the beautiful barren woman, in a year when the earth was barren, too, and she and her people were seeking refuge in Egypt.  Then she brought me out of my land, just as her husband had taken her from hers.  She loved me because I was pretty, and hated me for the same reason.  I don’t know that I ever loved her myself, but I may have hated her sometimes.

Then came the day she said I was to bear a son for her.  Her husband came to me then, and he was old, but he was my master, and it meant that they could tell me I couldn’t have a young man of my own and I had to have him.

But after that, there was a baby, and that was a comfort.  As soon as I knew—as soon as I had the faintest hint—I was so happy, I couldn’t hide the smiles.  And besides, there was something rather funny about it:  my mistress jealously keeping me separate all those years, and then, just once, giving me up to be given a child by the man who had never gotten her one, despite all their years together.

Somehow, though, she didn’t seem to find the humor in the situation, and it quickly became less humorous for me, too.  I went to my master about it, but he simply looked ashamed and did nothing.  I should have known.  It was he who had bowed to her idea in the first place.

So I had to do something myself.  I ran.  The desert is wide, but I found a spring, and that’s where I was when the angel of the Lord found me.  He knew exactly who I was, which is maybe partly how I knew who He was.  “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai,” He said, “where have you come from, and where are you going?”

There seemed no point in hiding anything from Him, and in any case, I felt I was the one who had been wronged.  He would know that.  “I am running away from my mistress Sarai,” I said.

But He said, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.”

Return?  Submit?  Why?  I saw no reason, and I was angry.  But the Lord, who was eternally more a Lord than my master was a master, had not finished speaking.  “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.  Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.  He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him; and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

It was a strange comfort:  a son for many offspring, who would be forever contending against everyone else.  But it was a promise from God, and there was blessing in it somehow, too.  I was certain of it.  At the very least, He said He had given heed to my affliction.  He, who is God, had seen my affliction!

“You are El-roi,” I said.  The God who sees me.  And then I could no longer see Him, but the feeling of His seeing me stayed for a long time.  “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing Him?”  I wondered.  I kept wondering, all the long walk back.  But it must have been true, because nothing else would have made me return.

Sarai was vaguely kinder when she saw me again, and the master named our son Ishmael when he was born, just as El-roi had said to.

At least Ishmael had some years to grow before the next trouble.  The next trouble was that El-roi had apparently seen Sarah at last, too.  She, old woman that she was, bore the Promised Child the master had been waiting for his whole life.

At first I didn’t know this child was trouble.  They named him Laughter, and I laughed with them, seeing Sarah at last so happy.  I knew he was the Promised Child, but my boy had a promise, too, and it was enough.

But not for Sarah.  My boy went near hers to play with him when he was weaned, and she raged until Abraham sent us back to the desert.  He said God had told him to, but I didn’t believe it, because God had told me to return, all those years before.

I wasn’t afraid at the beginning.  I knew there was a God who sees me, and he had met me in the desert before.  I told Ishmael.  But the days passed, and the water diminished.  Then one day it was gone.  My boy was so weak.  He would die, and then where were the promises?  I hid him under a bush and went away from him, because I couldn’t bear to see him suffer.  I couldn’t bear to see God break His promises.  Then I lifted up my voice and wailed.

The boy wept, too, the Boy Ishmael, whose name means, “God hears.”  I myself didn’t hear him, so caught up was I with my own noise, but God did.  And then I heard God.  “What troubles you, Hagar?” He asked, as if the death of my son were a trifle.  “Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”

I couldn’t see how my holding Ishmael fast would allow God to make a great nation out of him.  But when I rose to do it, I saw.  There was a well.  I filled our water skin, and gave my boy a drink, and we went on, under the eye of El-roi.

 

Calling Names

All the best husbands make allusions to children’s movies first thing in the morning.

Yesterday morning I rolled out of sleep and my Paul looked over to see if I was awake. “Hello, Truly,” he said as I blinked sleepily at him.

I paused a minute. “What?” I asked. “Was I drooling last night?” This is not out of the realm of possibility, as there are members of my family of origin (including, um, me) who do tend to produce an overabundance of saliva when we sleep. But I didn’t feel like I had been drooling, and I was sort of wondering how my Paul would have noticed unless I was actively doing so right before I woke up and he was watching me. Which would be weird.

It was his turn to pause. “I said Truly,” he repeated. “As in Truly Scrumptious from . . .

“Ohhhh . . . ” I interrupted, suddenly delighted. “I thought you said Drooly. Or Julie. I wondering next if I should ask you why you were calling me the name of another woman.” Particularly as I was not aware of any named Julie in his past.

“Nope,” he said. “Truly.”

“It’s a really good thing,” I said, “that my parents didn’t actually name me Truly.”

He thought about this for a second and then started laughing. Really hard. “Truly Grosser!” he chortled. I was laughing too hard myself to say anything. Because, er, truly–that would have been my name, had my parents possessed the unique blend of cruelty and humour to induce them to give me the first name Truly.

As it was, I have perfectly countenance-able first and second names, and I made jokes myself about my maiden name Grosser up until probably March 3rd itself. Being an awkward person who sometimes likes to capitalise on my own awkwardness, I kind of embraced that name, and in all the months leading up to the wedding, and most of the months since then, I thought I was going to change my last name legally to my Paul’s, but continue to publish, in whatever form (self- or traditional, freelance articles or books) under the name I used when Trees in the Pavement was published: Jennifer Anne Grosser.

But, as TheBro observed recently, not knowing any of the above plans regarding my separate living and publishing identities, “Jennifer A. G. Xxxxx. What a great name for a writer.” He’s not wrong. My new name is decidedly more distinguished and authorly. Particularly with two middle initials–I couldn’t dispense with the Grosser entirely, because . . . well, it’s been part of my identity for my whole life, which, statistically, is probably more than half over.

And by the way. It’s too late for me, but I’ve just decided that I really think husbands and wives should each take their spouses’ name. Or bits of them. There is something in a name that is directly tied to one’s identity, and if the Christian idea of marriage being a joining of two people into one flesh (one life, as it were–almost one new entity) is correct/accurate/useful, even, then it doesn’t really make sense for just one member of the couple (traditionally the woman, but it applies either way) to change that really fairly significant bit of identity, without the other one making the same change. I don’t mean the pair swap names. I mean they somehow combine them. Like those hyphenated British surnames. Or maybe a hybrid.

Nevertheless, my Paul and I didn’t do that, and I was kind of thinking it would be nice to keep a little bit of myself private when there is so much I blab on the internet and, eventually, in books. Although I don’t suppose it’s so secret as all that after all anyway. And I don’t really imagine my name will go down in history as anything special, or anything at all, but now that I have a choice, I’m feeling a little less sure about going down in whatever little bit of history is mine, as Grosser, Truly or not.