Friday, November 4, 2011

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Tamar ~ Empathy

1028 B.C.

     I step into the courtyard and recognize Tamar instantly. Clothed in silver-gray silks, hair a mass of blue-black waves, she floats from plant to plant, touching a leaf here, pruning a bloom there, not at all the despairing woman I pictured.

     She looks up and smiles. Much younger than I expected, too. “You must be Natalie.”

     “Yes. May we talk here?”

     She sets aside her armful of flowers and perches primly next to me on a large stone bench. “Certainly. I hope the guards weren’t too much trouble.”

     The guards? My knees go weak. The two tall, good-looking (howbeit stern), gentlemen who met me at the door with swords drawn? “No trouble.” They’d only frightened me out of a couple good years of my life. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Tamar. Your story is sadly familiar for many young women today. Can you tell me some of what happened?”

     She clasped her arms to herself and stared into the foliage before us. “I grew up a princess. A daughter of king David. And though my life was secluded, I was happy. Carefree. The palace was mine to roam and occasionally I ventured into one of the villages, though not without companions.
     “One day, after my fifteenth birthday, the king summoned me and told me my half-brother, Amnon, was sick and I was to go cook for him.
     “I learned later that Amnon and his cousin, Jonadab, had conspired this as a way to bring me alone into his house. You see, Amnon claimed he loved me. He had despaired of ever…being with me because of my chaste, guarded lifestyle and this vexation made him sick and thin.
     “When I entered the house he was lying still in his chamber, a sickly pallor on his face, so I didn’t disturb him. I went about kneading flour and making cakes for him to eat, but when I poured them out before him he would not touch them. He commanded that all the men leave and I became curious as to what he was about.
     “He bade me bring the cakes into his chamber, then caught hold of me and said, ‘Come lie with me, my sister,’ lust fervent in his eyes. My stomach weakened and I begged him not to do this folly. It would defame him and I… I would be eaten up with shame. Desperate, I urged him to ask the king for my hand, but he wouldn’t listen.
     “I tried to fight him. I thought an ill and gaunt young man would surely be no match for me. But, weak and malnourished as he looked, he proved too strong. He overpowered me and...f-forced himself on me.” Tamar briefly presses a hand to her mouth and her voice breaks along with my heart. She shivers and a tear runs down to drip from her whispering lips. “I still run from that memory, still have nightmares of his cruel hands and his stale breath…
     “When it was over, my heart felt lifeless, like dry-rotted quark. He looked upon me with such black, murderous hatred. Fear left me spent and trembling, betrayed to my very core. ‘Arise, be gone,’ he said. My mind's barrier of numbness finally caved to those words. I thought I might go mad--wanted to go mad, and forget this ever happened. That he would use me and send me away to bear the burden alone… I had not believed he could be so despicable.
     “He had his ministering servant throw me into the street and bolt the door after me. My bright virgin’s robe brushed my feet and mocked me. Unable to bear up under grief, I tore the multi-colored garment in symbolic anguish and heaped ashes on my head.”

     She closes her eyes and seems to shake the memory away as I stare at her profile. No word in my head seems fitting to say in the presence of such a deep sorrow.

     She shifts her attention to me. “I thought my life ended that day. No man would want me. To remain single and desolate would be degrading, but I believed I did not deserve any happiness or normalcy--that I had brought this upon myself, drawing Amnon’s attention in some ignorant way. Only the inner circle of the palace knew what had happened. Still, my family spared no sympathy. I’ve lived here with my full brother, Absalom, since that day, and even he has told me not to think too much of it or let it consume me.”

     “What about now? Do you still blame yourself?”

     “I know now that, no matter what I could have done, Jonadab and Amnon would still have found a way to…bring their plans to pass. Wicked men do wicked things and no one can make their decisions for them.”

     “Do you think you will ever marry? Maybe if there were someone gentle and kind…”

     Her small, hesitant smile piques my interest.

     “Is there someone?”

     Her lashes lower, pink tinting her cheeks. “Azar`el. He is a widowed silversmith who lives just outside of the palace. His daughters are among the girls I visit when I pass through the village. Sometimes I go to them, other times Azar`el brings them to me. I’ve found that helping motherless girls gives me a purpose I thought I’d lost."

     “So you believe there is hope after tragedy.”

     “If there weren’t, I would have died that first night.” Her dark eyes filled with certainty. “I tried to end my misery, but one of the servants found me in time. I knew after that there was a reason I lived—something God wanted me to do. I didn’t rest until I found what that was.
     “I’ve discovered that we all experience grief of some kind and my tragedy has been used to show many young girls that they are not alone. Had I grown up a pampered princess, never having to endure hardship, my foolish pride wouldn't have allowed me this ministry.” The door sounds behind us and Tamar’s eyes flit over my shoulder. Her face glows like a pink lightning bug. I turn to see a tall, lean man enter. His face is kind and each hand rests on the shoulder of a miniature, dark-eyed beauty. One of the adorable girls smile to reveal a snaggletooth grin.

     “I’d better be going, Tamar. Before I do, though, can you tell me what advice you would have for a Christian writer?”

     She drags her attention back to me and a thoughtful tilt of her head replaces the distracted smile from before. “Take what the Lord has given you—emotions, experiences—whether good or bad, and use them to minister to others. Write from where your heart has been. God does not waste our sorrows. More than likely someone else has felt the same at some point and yours can be the empathetic encouragement that points them to God. Also, don’t despise days of obscurity. Those may be the times God is growing you most and strengthening your bond to him.”

     I thank Tamar sincerely for taking the time to share her heart and head toward the door. The man with kind, dark eyes, hardly acknowledges me as I pass, eyes only for Tamar. The little girls giggle and I give them a wink. I make the short, dusty journey back to my hidden, newly serviced and upgraded time machine with a smile floating across my face.



     Okay, I’m back from 1028 B.C. and here’s the deal. The Bible doesn’t tell us how old Tamar was when her half-brother raped her.
     Also, it doesn’t say ANYTHING about her falling in love later. That was solely a product of my imagination’s ruthless pursuit of a happy ending. To me, that’s half the purpose of fiction. So, meaning no disrespect, I couldn’t write a semi-fictional blog post and leave you in 2 Samuel 13:20 where the Bible last mentions Tamar. I felt terrible for her and I simply couldn’t leave her that way.
     One more thing: I toned the setting down a bit. In 1028 B.C. Absalom would probably still be hiding out after killing Amnon--partly to avenge Tamar and partly, I believe, to secure his path to inheriting the throne.
     Anyway, Joab, David’s chief captain later convinced the king to bring Absalom home again safely, but then a feud broke out between Joab and Absalom. So, all things considered, Absalom’s house probably wouldn't have been the safest, or most peaceful of locations for an interview at the time I chose. To check out the whole story for yourself, go to 2 Samuel 13 & 14. Our next guest will be another princess of Israel--King David's first wife, Michal. This guest was suggested by Nancy Kimball. Thank you Nancy! The post will go up on the 14th.


2 comments:

Marilyn in Mississippi said...

Natalie,I enjoyed this so very much! You are indeed a very talented writer! I'm not just saying that either! When some people begin to write it sound very stiff and is hard to read. Your writing is the opposite. It sounds very believable and natural. I'm looking forward to reading more!!
God bless you,
Mrs. Marilyn

Natalie Monk said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it! That is so encouraging, Mrs. Marilyn! Thank you so much!