Let’s talk about faded lettermans. Were those giant coats in school colors a tradition in your hometown? In mine, they were basically an institution, right along with friday night football lights. I grew up in town small enough to have only two schools – one K-7 elementary, and one 8-12 high school. So as soon as I was in eighth grade, I felt like it was my job to figure out who I was going to be– for the rest of my life. And when there is only one stoplight in your town and the volunteer rescue squad is run by the same two brothers that also own the only grocery store for 5 miles … you know that everyone will know ALL your business. By winter of eighth grade, I saw my goal: to have a letterman coat as amazing as Julie’s. She was a senior, a multiple-sport athlete, a good student, and had metals covering the entire right front side of her coat. I mean, come on – it made NOISE as she walked. How cool is that?
I begged my parents for a letterman coat. Letters are received for competing at the varsity level… I was an eighth grader. They finally gave in to the expense, with a declaration that I better wear that coat every. single. day.
In eighth grade I lettered in three areas. As the years went on, I added bars, more letters, patches, and as many medals as I could collect.
Fall of my junior year, the band was getting ready to go down to the field for the National Anthem and I had my coat over a chair for a friend to take down for me so I could wear it in the stands. I watched as two eighth grade girls walked over to my coat, touched it, and started talking. “Woah! Look at that. I want MY coat to look like HERS!”
I. Had. Arrived. (not to mention… I was a year early.)
Those “I have arrived” moments in our lives – aren’t those a great feeling? The Bible is actually full of those moments, but what I love is that there is always more to the story. The writer of Exodus picks up a story that you have to go back to Genesis to totally understand. There’s Joseph’s back-story, and how his family’s been in Egypt for generations. And government transitions in the Bible were not like the American election every 4 years. We don’t know for sure who actually wrote it down, but this was definitely Moses’ story to tell, and it’s pretty important that he did tell it.
Here’s the story of what happened after Israel thought they’d arrived:
Exodus 1: 6 Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7 But the sons of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty, so that the land was filled with them. 8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Behold, the people of the sons of Israel are more and mightier than we. 10 “Come, let us deal wisely with them, or else they will multiply and in the event of war, they will also join themselves to those who hate us, and fight against us and depart from the land.” 11 So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.
Pretty soon this passage goes into the story of Moses, but I gotta tell you, that last part hit me.
We went in two chapters from being welcomed with open arms, our lives are saved, here’s some land… to ugly bullies appointed to push them down with their own burdens.
It’s an interesting journey to break this down and really look at what happened, and how it happens to us, too.
We have to really understand that IDENTITY. These were the sons of Israel. Their identity was their heritage, so much so that we don’t even know their names. They were born there, but their forefathers had to immigrate, to escape for their lives. But instead of living with that knowledge of the hard work and the journey, they were just being fruitful and multiplying in an easier land, with easier choices handed to them. They were living the Egyptian Dream, generations layer. They were probably not connecting any challenge or hardship to their bountiful life of reward.
When I looked at Julie’s coat, I didn’t see hours of practice, weeks and months and years of training for that medal. I just saw the championship moment, the awards podium moment. When we look at others, that’s what we see. The highlight real. We don’t see the months and years of process and practice to get to who they are now in the moment.
I want to keep talking about identity here. It’s such an important part of our lives as leaders, as individuals, as parents, as children of God.
Step one: What have you used in your life define your identity?