"I'm so excited, Mommy!" Paul shared the night before. "I can't believe we're going to the Cleveland Zoo!"
We've wanted to go there for ten years, but owning a house and repairing it frequently swallows up these dreams all too often. Saturday was Educator's Day, gifting us with four free tickets.
So, there we were after all these years. The animals were wonderful to observe. We all felt pretty blessed, except that Peter's OCD took away his smile most of the trip, and Mary's anxiety over storms and car breakdowns reared its ugly head as well. Beth's arthritis means she can't walk all over the zoo like a typical six year old. Thirty minutes in and she needed a stroller, over which I received some surprised and nasty glances due to her height and age. To some, she looked pampered and spoiled and lazy in her stroller and I had to consciously ignore the stares. I knew it wasn't fruitful to dwell on them.
The day seemed to represent life in all its messy gloriness. Legitimate heaviness was there, sure, but if I chose to focus on it, I missed the blessings all around...my excited little girls, Mary skipping with joy all over the zoo, Paul making sketches of the animals, and God's glory reflected in every creature.
Life is astoundingly hard. Sometimes the days just seem full of uphill climbs. Sometimes it seems there's nothing to look forward to but more hills the next day. Hope can get lost as our chests and hamstrings burn from the exertion.
I encounter ugliness, but I also find God's grace around every bend, eclipsing the pain. He doesn't make the pain go away, I'm afraid; that isn't his modus operandi most of the time.
Instead, he changes our perception of the pain by passing his glory over it. Our pain remains, but we're distracted from it by his awesome display of glory. Awe struck by his love, we lift our eyes off of ourselves and weep with joy over his presence.
He provides sustenance for us daily, just as I bake and provide the daily bread here. Homemade bread has no preservatives; you can't bake ahead even if you had the time. You bake and eat, bake and eat, bake and eat, as though it's manna in the desert, falling at just the right time.
Is there security in this method?
Well, it depends on whom or what you're depending on for your security. If you're depending on Momma, then no. Sunday morning I don't bake bread. I get six people ready for church. Saturday morning I get distracted by trying to catch the house up and sometimes forget to bake bread.
So, no. Momma's method for delivering bread is only secure five out of seven days...not very good odds, with two breadless days.
God's manna delivery is secure, if we seek first His kingdom. We don't need to awake with anxiety, wondering if our hunger will gnaw away at us all day. We can awake with joy, knowing God will provide.
Abraham put his son Isaac on the alter in Genesis 22 and appeared to be ready to murder him. How strange, I've always thought. What parent goes through with those motions?
Isaac inquired about the source of the burnt offering, saying “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
And Abraham want on preparing to burn his son.
The Offering of Isaac - Genesis 22 (source here)22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go tothe land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy[a] will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
Should I give the tithe on Sunday, knowing he'll provide for the broken door next week? Or do I fix the door...or the toilet...or the rusting bottom of the van, whichever the case may be, and then put the leftovers in the offering plate?
If your pattern is to store up your manna, then you'll choose to forgo the plate until your broken things are fixed...if that ever happens. If you look to God daily for your needs, knowing he doles out as needs arise, then you'll confidently have money ready for the plate--and not any less than last week.
The longer I live--the more that goes wrong in my life--the more I see exactly why Paul the Apostle uttered it: To live is Christ, to die is gain.
Nothing matters except the Gospel. Jesus didn't save us so we could enjoy conveniences and perks. He didn't save us so we could have everything working well in our bodies and minds and houses and cars, or to have the time or money for the things we want.
He saved us hoping we'll identify with him in suffering, bringing him glory through our weakness, our ills, our dependence. He saved us to be banners of love, receiving from Him vertically and handing out His spiritual riches horizontally. He saved us to advance the gospel through us.
To live is to walk with Christ, even on the narrow, uphill, barely-there trails. To live is to never wonder if the manna is really coming. To live is to know that His grace is sufficient, his love divine and perfect.
To live is to know that a place is prepared for us in our Father's House, and over the next bend, He's waiting for us.
On the trail to the next bend, we need only focus on the blessings all around--the trees, the singing birds, the toiling insects, the hidden crocuses, the wild daffodils, the smell of the pine, the sound of the needles and leaves under our feet, the blue of the sky. The blessings all around us are his graces, his majesty, his glory, his very presence.
Come with me. Cast all your worries away and get lost in the blessings, excited at knowing we'll be face to face with Christ soon, as faithful servants, not ashamed of the gospel.