manna and muffins

Last week a friend sat in my kitchen while I cooked dinner. She lives overseas, in her husband’s home country, where they care for children from their community (among many other things). As we chatted, and I chopped, I said something about not knowing exactly how much I was fixing. “It’s okay, though,” I said. “God taught me awhile ago that no matter how many gather around the table or who shows up unexpectedly, the food will stretch. There will always be enough.”

She laughed and then her face grew serious as she told me of a conversation she’d had with a well-meaning friend not long before. “She said my husband and I had taken on too much, that we shouldn’t have taken in all the kids, that it’s too much stress on our marriage.”

I stopped chopping and looked at her. “What did you say?”

She shrugged. “I told her I didn’t think we had any more stress than any other cross-cultural marriage, and, besides, what were we supposed to do? Turn the kids away?”

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, a place God describes in the book of Jeremiah as “a land of drought and deep darkness,” they understood they were completely at the mercy of God. They had no capability of providing for themselves. He had put them in a place of utter dependence.

And God provided. Manna fell from the sky, and there was always just the right amount of it. Some gathered “more, some less. But when they measured it …, those who had gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.” Those who purposely gathered extra—in case the Lord didn’t come through the next day—found their leftovers had worms, but on the Sabbath Day, when no manna fell from heaven, the amount gathered the day before was miraculously enough.

The Israelites forgot this as soon as they fell into some natural resources. “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things,” God said. But in the apparent ability to nurture one’s own sustenance, to provide for oneself—they forgot God. (See Jeremiah 2:6-8)

Even the slightest bit of abundance makes us, too, forget that every meal, every resource comes from God—just as much as the manna did. There is no sufficiency outside him. ALL we have is gift, is manna, given to nourish us and given to be shared—and to miraculously multiply in the sharing. Do we believe this? Do we believe God will stretch what he’s given us when we stretch out our hand to press it into the palm of another? We have been given the privilege of witnessing, like the disciples, the loaves and fish mysteriously expanding, being enough—and MORE—for everyone, filling and overflowing needs, becoming abundance.

But this miracle of multiplication and abundance cannot be set in motion without our sharing what is perceived as “ours” (money, talents, time, resources) with others. Sometimes, though, the miracle is hidden from our sight, and we continue to worry, to wonder, “Did we give too much? Will we have enough for us?”

Oh, to realize that the answer to this question is ever and always “NO!” In and of myself I cannot provide enough. But God has and IS enough and more. If we are honest enough to ask it, the question beneath is, “Will He have enough?” but we dare not ask that question because to say it out loud seems sacrilegious, a bit blasphemous, because, after all, of course he has enough. He’s GOD!

But what are we saying when we make the question instead about our own resources? Are we suggesting we can be sufficient without him? that we’d like to make it on our own? Are we essentially saying, Thanks but no thanks, God; I’ll call out when I’m really in dire straits, but I’ve gained some independence, you know. Grown up into a responsible adult, capable, hardworking.

Oh, but God didn’t grudgingly give the manna, and he didn’t provide the land with its resources to get the Israelites off his to-do list. He longs to provide for us; he longs for us to depend on and trust him.

There is reason Jesus calls himself—in one of his many, many self-descriptions—the “bread of life,” the sustenance that takes us through our days—and not stingily. A page from Lauren Winner’s book Wearing God* comes to mind. She writes, “I once asked a circle of people from church, if Jesus is the ‘bread of life,’ what kind of bread is He? Not a one of them said, ‘He’s that small round wafer we use at Communion.’ I wrote down their answers. I think they make a good prayer:

a bagel

rye

toast with jam

morning glory muffins

chocolate tea bread

rosemary ciabatta

my grandmother’s sourdough

my grandmother’s challah

French toast

a crusty baguette

“This gorgeous list,” Winner writes, “expands our attention from the usual thought ‘if God is bread, then God meets my needs,’ to the category of delectation.” I might add, if God is “morning glory muffins”—which sound both delicious and beautiful—then he is “company bread,” meant to be shared. He is the challah made by your grandmother, a gift that begs you to gather others around your table and enjoy with you.

All—I’ll say it again, all—we have is gift and we must, as disciples, lose the stingy, grabbing mindset of the world that fears dependence and scarcity far more than it fears separation and estrangement. Mother Teresa told us “…we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Share your bread,

Learn belonging,

And discover the abundance of God.

 

 

 

Manna and character

My oldest is now 12!!! I can’t believe it. Here she is cutting her cake while a very anxious Jake looks on.

Some roles and jobs/careers are so much a part of our lives that we have a hard time knowing what we would be like without them. Would we be different people? Yesterday I wondered what I would be like if I’d never had my children. (I have to admit that I sometimes ask this question and think, “I’d be more peaceful!”)

Maybe I would be more peaceful, but I think I would also be less flexible, more uptight, more serious in a not-good way. I’d be less aware of my own faults, less willing to seize joy in the unexpected, and less willing to expose my messiness (literal and figurative) to others.

God has given me an amazing gift for my character in the form of my children.

In any role that is so much a part of us that we can’t imagine life without it, it can be easy to forget that this role is a gift, not just a gift for others or a gift that brings enjoyment to US, but a gift that is meant to shape us and remind us.

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, gathering manna morning after morning (except on the Sabbath), they forgot that the manna was a gift. They forgot that it was the very thing that kept them alive. They forgot that the manna was teaching them some incredibly important principles:

  1. To trust God in the moment. He was already providing direction with the pillar of cloud/fire. Now He was taking it to an even deeper level and reminding them that even their daily food was a gift from His hand. Without Him, they would not survive, but He had promised to provide for them—and that promise applied to even the food they ate.
  2. To believe that God will continue to provide. The Israelites tried to do what we ALL do when we’re given a gift: they tried to hold onto it, to hoard it. They thought of it as THEIRS. But hoarding the manna didn’t work. The extra had worms the very next morning. It stunk!
  3. To be grateful, to remember it’s a gift and not take it for granted—or worse, to complain about it. God told Moses to preserve some manna in a jar. “’Let … it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” Ex. 16:32.
  4.  To be creative with what God gave them. He told them they could bake or boil, even shape it into cakes. Maybe some of the Israelite men even figured out how to grill it! God knows our tastebuds. (In Deuteronomy 14:26 God talks about celebrating the tithe to the Lord. He tells the people to enjoy “whatever [their] appetite craves.”) The manna was good to the taste already, but God gave them freedom to create other flavors with it.

That certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but I can learn a lot from just these four things. After gathering manna for years upon years, the Israelites got pretty used to it. They thought of it simply as a job they had to do every day. It gave them food. It had to be done, blah, blah, blah.

Sometimes I have the same attitude toward my roles—my gifts. Being a wife, mother, writer, tutor, friend, neighbor… These are GIFTS to me, and with each gift come lessons that are meant to make me more and more like Christ.

Lord, help me to trust You in each moment for all my roles. Help me to trust that You will never leave me on my own to accomplish the work that You’ve called me to do. Help me to be grateful for it, and help me, please, to be creative in it, to take great JOY in it. And, finally, Lord, may I be shaped through it to look more like You.