Why Zarephath?

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If you grew up in or around church (like I did), you might associate the word Zarephath with a certain widow. If, however, you’re wondering if Zarephath was a place discovered by the starship Enterprise, let me briefly enlighten you.

Chapter 17 of 1 Kings tells us the story of an unnamed widow who lived with her son in a town in Israel called Zarephath. The only other things we know about this woman is that she was poor, she had no one else to care for her, and she was living in a pretty desperate situation. The town of Zarephath was experiencing a drought, and it had been going on for a decent length of time: a few years, to be exact. At this point, the poor widow and her son had nothing left in the pantry but small amounts of oil and flour, which was just enough to make a “cake” for them to eat as their last meal, and then they planned to simply die.

Well, God had other plans for this widow and her son. What they didn’t know is that they were about to have some company. See, the prophet Elijah had also been having a difficult time finding grub, and God had told him that a widow in Zarephath would provide for him. When Elijah arrived, he asked the widow to give him the cake that she had planned for her last meal, and said that if she would do so, God had promised to provide for her and her son until He ended the drought. Our unnamed friend bravely decided to exercise a little faith, and she fixed the cake for Elijah. And God made good on His promise by never letting her run out of oil or flour, until the day the rain returned.

Now I have grown up my entire life hearing this story in Sunday School lessons and church camp sermons, but it didn’t really hit home to me until recently.

A few weeks ago, my pastor preached from this story, and while he emphasized what kinds of miracles God could do for us, I was inspired a little differently. I decided to Google the name “Zarephath” to see what it meant, and I discovered that in Hebrew, it means “smelting place”.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God performed this particular miracle in a place named for a process that, while known for being extremely harsh, is also known for creating beautiful materials.

Gold ore itself isn’t anything spectacular. If not for smelting, we would never have the pure gold we value so highly. The widow of Zarephath could have starved to death and we would never know about her. But God used a strange, very uncomfortable process—giving up her very last bit of food—to bring about a better thing—providing her food every day until the drought ended. He used something that required a good deal of trust to prove that, even though life was hard, He would take care of her. And that wasn’t the only miracle God did for her. Shortly after this story (but still during the drought), her son died. She questioned why God would seem to go back on His promise, when He specifically said that He would take care of them. But God proved Himself yet again by bringing the boy back to life.

While the miracles of the oil and flour and the resurrected son amaze me, I’m encouraged by the not-so-obvious miracle. God didn’t immediately stop the drought. He didn’t really change her uncomfortable situation. God took care of her in the drought. He was faithful in spite of the circumstances.

I’ve been in my own Zarephath a few times, and God has done some miracles for me there. That’s why I chose zarephath for my blog name. Because if I’ve learned anything about God in my short life, it’s that He will always, and I do mean always, be faithful. He may not always change my situation, and I may get really, really uncomfortable. But He will never leave me, and He will never stop taking care of me. My pastor put it this way:

“When our need is the greatest, God is the nearest.”

I don’t need God to keep my refrigerator perpetually full, or to bring a dead family member back to life. I do need Him to put some things in order, though, and I may have to pray about them for a few years. But in the meantime, I can rest, because I know this:

He will take care of me, no matter how long the drought lasts.

Once Upon a Scar

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I have a reputation for telling long stories. Not bedtime stories. It’s more like I start to tell you about my latest good deal from Payless, and the next thing you know, I’ve told you where and how and when I bought all 50 pairs of shoes I own. (Not an exaggeration, and true story.) And don’t come visit me, or I will give you a full genealogy report as we tour my house.

Some of my favorite stories to tell, though, are about scars. See, I have a scar on almost every finger, and a few on each hand. And there’s a good story behind each one, because A) I’m a klutz, B) I’m a blonde, and C) I’m a blonde klutz. I clash with things like heating elements and giving dogs haircuts with scissors.

It’s fun to tell stories about scars like that, but there are certain scars and stories that I don’t share as easily. Like how I don’t trust people quickly, or why it’s difficult for me to talk to certain people, or how I’ve had anxiety attacks that leave me useless for an hour or two. I would much rather laugh off those scars and tell you instead about the $350 kitten heels that I bought for $3.50.

I assume it’s the same for most everyone else. We’d probably rather cover up our scars and bruises and stuff down the stories behind those ugly marks. Personally, I’m mostly ashamed of mine. They make me look weak and messed up, and goodness knows I want people to think I’m perfect, or, at the very least, that I’ve got my life together. I’m a Christian. I’ve been raised in a stable, Christian environment my whole life. God forbid that that image be tainted by blemishes that would suggest otherwise.

…but, no, actually. No, God would actually forbid that I have that attitude. For one thing, who am I kidding? We all know none of the rest of us have perfect lives, so why even try to propagate THAT myth?? Furthermore, our scars, our stains, our bruises, our ugliness: they glorify God. No, really. My pastor’s wife, Sis. Jeannie, once stated that “scars show that you’ve healed.” Such a simple statement, yet so profound.

Life is going to throw stuff at you and it’s going to hurt you. And there are two ways you can react.

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You can choose to let those hurts fester and ache and never heal, and then, for the rest of your life, wear your wounds proudly to show everyone how damaged you are. You can make them into a lovely little chip on your shoulder and then become super sensitive to everything.

Or you can choose to let those hurts hurt as you find ways to heal. You can choose to be open with God and let Him fix you where sin broke you. You can choose to seek out honest, trustworthy people who will listen to you, pray for you, and walk with you as you heal. And before long, you will have a beautiful scar to show what God has done.

Yeah, I said a beautiful scar. Sure, the marks themselves look weird and they feel weird. For me, it hurts to try to function when you have anxiety screaming in your ears that you’re a complete and total failure and that everyone you love and respect will never be proud of you. But that’s when I can say what Paul said:

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Even though the scar itself may be ugly, the story behind it can be a beautiful testimony of how God loves us and how He cares for us and how faithful and patient He is when we are hurting and broken.

And not only does our story glorify God, it also serves to show the love of Jesus to others. Two years ago, I wrote some words to a friend of mine going through a horrible trial. I truly believe God gave me the words at the time, but I had no idea that I would need those same words myself today.

“Those cracks are painful, and messy, but He will smooth them and gradually ease their pain. Those holes are ugly, and they ache, but He will fill them with His presence, and He will slowly shrink them, over time…God has never needed perfect people or perfect families to spread His witness. Perfect people, if they exist, don’t need God. Hurting people, broken people, flawed people need God. And He wants these imperfect people. So it makes sense that He can best show His love to broken people through broken people. There is our purpose.”

So don’t be ashamed of your scars. Don’t use your wounds as an excuse for bad behavior, or a crutch to gain people’s sympathy. But don’t be afraid to tell the story of your scars, and don’t be afraid to share what God has done.

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