Manna

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I think I’m beginning to understand manna. Give us this day our daily bread.

It’s not just having a houseful of hungry boys, although that’s something, to be sure. Almost every day there’s a trip to the store to stock back up on somebody’s favorite something. Food and security go hand in hand, and a bowlful of grapes can be love. Once a week I load up at Costco. Milk, juice, meats, cheese, snacks. All jumbo size. And lots of eggs – a staple in Colombia, scrambled to order every morning in my Minnesota kitchen. One likes eggs plain, another with ham, and one boy eats his with hotdogs. Shoveled down fast by teens on the run, and who even takes time to notice all that made-to-order care? But oh well. From mom, with love.

Fruit purchases are made every couple of days, from the nearest grocery, and not at Costco anymore. Enormous quantities were being consumed in single sittings, which can’t be good for digestion or budget. So now I bring home just enough. Give us this day our daily bread, and our daily peaches when they’re in season.

But it’s not just bread, or fruit. This manna provision is something more. It’s a way of living, and I’m starting to see it. And maybe it makes more sense in the desert. Desperate. Please, God, bring the manna today.

It’s His provision. All of it. The little graces. Moments of laughter. Homework finished. A new friend. The first hit ever in a baseball game. Man-talk at bedtime. Manna. God provides.

Over the weekend we hit a rough patch. Again. And as I dealt with stubborn boys, fighting back my own emotion, this thought, as clear as clear, crossed my mind. Today this is your manna. What, this? No wonder the people complained. But I knew it was true because the peace settled in from my head to my toes. And, yes. This indeed was daily bread. A chance for Mom to divvy grace. Like manna. And it worked. They ate it right up, and it nourished us all.

Thanks, God, for the manna.

Some days we try to gather ahead. Stash a little manna aside. We worry and fret over things to come. Try to reckon tomorrow today. Stressing over summer boredom while it’s still spring. Anxious thoughts over schoolwork two grades away. And math. It’s always math. At our kitchen table, and our bank account, too. The dentist wants a sum close to five digits to fix a lifetime of neglected teeth. Out of pocket, and we don’t have it. Yet.

Give us this day our daily bread. Today. And we’ll trust you.

There’s wisdom in this daily rhythm. Seeking provision for just today. Taking note and paying attention. Not wanting to miss it when it comes.

And it always comes, this manna. Never have we been forsaken.

I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread (Psalm 37:25).

Discipline

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The past couple of weeks seem to have ushered in a new season. Spring, yes, but something else, too. Here in our home and in our family there’s been a shift. Noticeable. I sense we are in a season of discipline.

Boring as that sounds, or maybe harsh, it has actually been good. A relief, for parents and boys alike. We are comfortable enough, finally, with each other to feel safe. And discipline, like it or not, keeps us safe.

It started with homework, and it required a battle. A few weeks of fighting it out. Kyle sitting long hours at the kitchen table, because he can do the math. And because he’s the stronger voice. But finally, it seems, we’ve found our rhythm. Not that it’s easy, still. But we’re seeing progress. Lots. Lessons accomplished and even exceeded, and all of us with reason to celebrate. Yesterday the boy who needed it most received high praise in an email from a teacher, and there were high fives all around.

Respect is another battle. You can see how they’re testing the waters. Where’s the line? What can I say and still be loved? When does love say that’s enough? Constant testing makes us weary. Teenaged toddlers. It’s true. This week Dad had to draw a line hard. We wondered how it would go, and we were pleasantly surprised. Discipline and security go hand in hand.

I read it this morning in the Psalms, and took note. Joyful are those you discipline, LORD, those you teach with your instructions. (Psalm 14:12) Thank you, God, for this joy.

Today is Saturday. We’ll try to fit in chores between practices and games. This takes discipline, too. I start my mental list before I’m even completely awake. A list of habits still needed. Throw away your trash. Take plates and bowls to the sink. Shoes off at the door. Hang up your towels. Piles of clothes in bedrooms, only. Use a bowl when eating chips. Use a glass when drinking juice. Am I being unreasonable?

Even in this God has a word for me. Another tidbit in my morning reading. Perfectly timed, and I laugh out loud.

Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. (Proverbs 14:4) 

Point taken.

Word Pictures

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This morning I read something that made me smile. It was part of Joshua’s story, in the Bible. The leader of Israel had been reminding the people of God’s covenant. (And some of you who know me well, will know I always get excited about a good covenant story.) So on this particular occasion, Joshua renews the covenant with the people, and he reminds them of its meaning, and then he does this:

As a reminder of their agreement, he took a huge stone and rolled it beneath the terebinth tree beside the Tabernacle of the Lord. Then Joshua said to all the people, “This stone has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness to testify against you if you go back on your word to God.” (Joshua 24:25-27) 

Do you smile, too? A stone with ears? A rock as a witness?

What’s up with that?

It’s a word picture, of course. The Bible is full of them. And this week, it seems, my own head has been full of them, too.

Word pictures are keeping me sane. Just now as I write, three come to mind. Three word pictures God has used to anchor my soul in this season.

First there was Betelgeuse – the star – and a soul-stirring presentation from Louie Giglio. I’d seen it before, but last week I watched it again, just when I needed it most. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you really ought to set aside 30 or so minutes to be inspired. YouTube How Great is Our God, or Indescribable, either one, and it will rock your world, I promise.

It did mine. Because there’s no better remedy for doubt than an eyeful of reminder that God is bigger than big, and he’s got it covered. All of it.

Word picture number two was a dartboard, used in Sunday’s sermon. Pastor Randy stood on the stage, throwing darts at a target. He said, This is you, every day. Life is throwing stuff at you. People are throwing stuff at you. Sharp things, that hurt, and stick. And you don’t have a choice about the darts, but you do have a choice about whether or not you let them stick. The quicker you pluck them off, the freer your heart will be.

And that helps, somehow, in this season.

Finally, there’s this. A story and a word picture from Ann Voskamp, and it, too, was just what I needed. The old cahoot ran in his boots – was the opening line. And in true Ann fashion she paints a picture of an old farmer running an ultra-marathon, over 500 miles, in overalls and workboots, and winning the thing. Because he ran through the dark. Never stopping.

And that, too, is a word picture I can use.

Believe

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I woke up this morning feeling discouraged. It happens sometimes. More often than not my thoughts in the morning are a continuous flow from the evening before, and truth be told, last night I was just plain grumpy. There was cause, and I could justify. Dinner was more work than worth it. Questions about homework were met with resistance. Computers meant to be tools for school, really just excuses for distraction. And by the end of the day I was entertaining serious fantasies of loading up laptops and I-pads and driving to the nearest lake. Returning innocently free of such burdens – I have no idea where they’ve gone.

Kyle suggested we pray. Reminding me, it’s the only thing that’s really working right now. And he’s right, of course. Just a day or two ago God surprised us again with another answer to prayer. I said it then, and I meant it. That’s it. I’m done doubting. I believe. God’s got us covered. From now on.

Good grief.

It was a miracle, really – what happened. Early in the week, maybe Monday, Kyle said he had decided to pray for changes of heart. He would pray the guys would get sick of computers. On their own. Praying they’d desire a change of pace. Activities and play, without screens.

The very next day it happened, just like that. I was at home with the guys. They came in from school and settled there at the kitchen table, laptops open, eyes fixed, like always. I prepared a snack, tried conversation. The weather is gorgeous. A great day to be outside. They remained planted. I grabbed some work and headed to the deck. At least one of us would take advantage of 70’s and sun in April.

A few minutes later I poked my head back inside, and much to my surprise, the kitchen was empty. Computers abandoned. There were noises outside. I followed them, curious. And there in the driveway, much to my amazement, I found boys on bikes. Smiling. Happy.

It lasted all night. They went from bikes to shooting hoops in the driveway. From there to the batting cage. Hours passed, it was time for dinner. And still they played. A miracle.

And Kyle was right. It’s the only thing that’s really working right now. Prayer. Not nagging, begging, enticing, or controlling. But praying.

And so we did. Again. This morning, a car full of teens backing down the driveway, and Kyle and I sitting hopeful by the window, thanking and asking.

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

Worthy – Again

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I read something this morning that gives language to something I have experienced in recent weeks. An ah-ha in this story, and a gift from God. Let me explain the experience first, and then I’ll share the quote.

There was stretch, a month or so ago, that was particularly hard. I was grieving, I think, and struggling. I’d wake up overwhelmed by a sense of fear and dread. I’d go to bed anxious. I fought hard to renew my thoughts, to surrender the fear. I prayed almost constantly. God, help me.

I thought the key was in letting go. Surrender. And in a way it was. I’d obsess over the plucky phrase hanging over my desk at church. I hung it there myself. There is only one love language; it is called die to self. The words of Christine Caine, and she is a remarkable woman who seems to have discovered the key to this death. But not me. Every day I’d try to die. Every night there I was still clinging to self. I wanted to live. I was fighting for life.

But still I prayed, and I clung. I was desperate for God. And he heard me. He held me. And gradually, something happened.

The first time I am aware of it happening is the day I listened to a man from church sharing his baptism testimony. He said something that grabbed my attention and held it. Is holding it still. No matter what, God is worthy. God is worthy. God is worthy. I repeated the phrase over and over in my head, for several days. God is worthy.

And then, over the next couple of weeks, something changed in my thinking. Something profound. Looking back, I can see it. I was thinking less about me, and more about God. I was waking up to HIM. My thoughts were being consumed by Him. He is worthy. He is worthy.

Easter came. Resurrection. We sang this song at church. Forever, by Kari Jobe. Forever he is glorified, forever he is lifted high… I sang and I wept and I was resurrected. He is worthy.

These past days, since Easter, it’s like God can’t stop showing off. He’s so obvious. Providing, revealing, softening, transforming. More than I could ask or imagine, and it makes my head spin just trying to pay attention and take note.

So this morning in my reading I found this quote, and I wonder. Is this what happened? Here is it, from A.W. Tozer’s Pursuit of God:

“Be thou exalted” is the language of victorious spiritual experience. It is a little key to unlock the door to great treasures of grace… Reach a place where life and lips join to say continually “Be thou exalted,” and a thousand minor problems will be solved at once.

Tozer’s words seem to describe my experience. Except for one thing. I have to admit it, right away. I couldn’t have done this on my own. I couldn’t Exalt Him on my own. It was His gift. He led me here. Only him. He is worthy.

But it turns out Tozer knows this, too. A few pages later, he adds a disclaimer:

In speaking thus I have one fear; it is that I may convince the mind before God can win the heart. 

No worries. God has won me. He has convinced me. No matter what, He is worthy.

Taking Note

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I need to pay attention to this story as it’s unfolding. Every day there’s something to remember. I’ve started to carry a notebook, jotting notes to myself. I know how prone I am to forgetting. Or not noticing. And with God making himself known as he is at every opportunity, I’d better be noticing.

So today I’m writing to remember. For my own sake. Some new, some retelling, and maybe a bit scattered, so please bear with me.

There is a park not far from here, with ramps for bikes and skateboards. Felipe and Jimmy had been asking for just such a place to take their bikes. They looked online, and found one or two – but always on the other side of the city. And then I remembered a skate park at a ball field where Nils used to play Little League. Not too far away. So Felipe and I drove by to check it out. It was seedy at best. Felipe confided in me. Those guys might be doing marijuana, mom. Thanks, son. I think you might be right. And then, on a whim, we drove to another park, tucked away in a quiet place, near a quiet neighborhood. And there it was. As good if not better than the ones online, and five minutes from home. Only one clean-cut man with a golden retriever in the entire park. We’ve been back a handful of times, and honestly, it’s like God set this perfect park down in the middle of nowhere just for us.

Last week I took the boys to a movie, one Felipe and Jimmy had been dying to see. It was seventh in a series, and neither Nils nor I had seen one through six. But we went nonetheless. I won’t recommend it, given a couple of scenes Nils aptly described as trash. And yet. There were strong redeeming elements. Enough that I could endear myself to the movie, and to my boys. I could enter their world for a couple of hours, and it worked. It really worked. I was a boy mom bonding for the sake of bonding, and nothing else. Not what I might normally choose, but the right choice for now. And I was grateful.

Earlier this week Kyle and I wanted to watch Grant play baseball. A double header on a cold afternoon. Too cold for Colombian blood. It’s freeeezing. They say it often. And they’re right, of course, especially when you’re too stubborn to wear a coat. I dress like a skier, unashamed. It’s Grant’s senior year, and it’s worth it. But what will the guys do for hours on end while we watch 16 innings? I swallowed my pride and sent a text to friend. We’re desperate, can you help? Of course, happy to help. No problem. And my friend drove to school to pick up boys, fed them dinner, then drove them to church and back. And Kyle and I breathed easy for an entire night, wrapped up in blankets in the stands watching baseball.

And then there’s a story I’m embarrassed to tell. Friends who are like family bailing us out, giving a gift we don’t deserve, because they heard through the grapevine we have a need. Money is tight. A little crazy right now. We’re grateful. We are. But it’s been hurting my pride all week. I’d rather be on the giving end than the receiving.

God in the details. Jimmy loves baseball. Felipe discovered the weight room at school. Luke comes home just often enough to keep us sane. Nils and his friend in the house behind us, and someday that story will need to be told.

Oh, here’s a good one. Random, I warned you. Last week Grant drove to a church north of here to pick up a trailer. It was a gift, passed forward. Equipment for a mobile church, worth 10’s of thousands, given with no strings attached. And with a cool story. Years ago a thriving church donated a trailer full of gifts to a brand new plant, and it’s now being shared with Grant’s church in Des Moines. We remember it well, the initial donation. It was Kyle’s parents, leading the way. Their thriving church, their gift. Passed forward twice, now to a grandson. How awesome is that.

More. Lots more. Every Thursday morning, early, I take breakfast to school, and I meet with students to pray. Lately our numbers have dwindled. Two or three faithful. But yesterday before I left a thought popped into my head. Pray that God will surprise you today. Okay. And I did. Surprise me this morning with who shows up. Minutes later I was setting out doughnuts and juice. I turned toward the door and in walked two tenth grade boys. Nils’ buddies from baseball. I laughed out loud. Do you guys know you’re an answer to prayer?!

Oh, I could go on. But there are things to do today. So I’ll keep my notebook handy. I’ll pay attention, and take notes. For next time.

Grace

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A couple of days ago an old friend stopped by church. He poked his head into my office to tell me he’s been reading my blog, and praying for our family. He said he’s been praying a specific prayer – that God would surprise us with moments of grace when needed most. And those words he spoke into my afternoon were just such grace.

It had been a long day already, and it wasn’t over. It was the first day back to school for the boys after a long spring break, and the return of school was a relief for parents, but a bummer for teens, and everyone left the house grumpy. I headed to church, mind spinning, hoping to get a grip on work left neglected after too many days off. All day I felt scattered, flighty. My mistakes were glaring, and I felt fragile.

I left church frazzled, late for a son’s baseball game. Aware of the importance, the first game of the season, and even though he’s sixteen I know he still looks for me in the stands. I didn’t want to let him down. I grabbed my cell phone to check in with Kyle, letting him know I’d be late, asking him about his day. As I said good-bye I noticed the sheriff’s car in the oncoming lane, and glanced at my speedometer. Ten miles over the limit. And me on my cell phone. I was sure I was busted, slowed down in anticipation. But no. No lights. No ticket. And I said it out loud. A surprise of grace. I’ll take it.

Grace continued into the evening. Boys came home happy. Dinner was lively. There was homework without complaining. An email from a teacher complimenting one teen on his hard work. All that hard work over spring break, grueling hours of homework, and it was worth it, after all.

By the end of the day it struck me. We’ve been relatively happy for several days. Peaceful. I count back. It’s been since Friday. This tangible shift in the mood of our home.

The first several days of spring break were exhausting. Kyle and I managed work schedules so there’d always be a parent at home. One teen’s mood was dark for days on end. There was too much nagging over unfinished homework assignments. We labored to find constructive activity to fill each day, with resistance at every attempt.

But toward the end of the week, something changed, and the change, so far, has lasted. And if I had to point to the source of the change, I’d have to credit grace.

The grace of Good Friday.

Friday night seven of us went to church. It was the very first time since becoming a family all of us worshipped together. Sitting in one row. Singing the same songs. Sensing the same Spirit.

We did it again on Sunday. Easter. Once more we were seven at church, and the Spirit was strong. Language didn’t matter. It was more than words. And I’m willing to say, looking back. This was the turning point. The grace of meeting Jesus together. His grace softening us. His grace making us sweeter.

Prayers being answered, and moments of grace surprising us.