It was forty days after the accident. I had been jotting notes down all day, everything having to do with bread. God was reminding me that He is a good Father who doesn’t give a stone when I need a loaf of bread. And He was also nudging me and saying, remember what I had said about staying with me on this, and how I would give you manna on the way to the promised land?
I did remember, but I couldn’t quite put the pieces together. I thought the LORD was speaking into the article I was preparing to write that night, but the more I tried to fit these puzzle pieces into the shape I thought they should be, the more I found they just didn’t fit. I had thought the message was about how no one is ever more compassionate to us than God, and how He sustains us on this earth until we get to heaven. And while both of those ideas are true, they would not fit into the box I was trying to shove them into because they were not the whole truth. God wasn’t just saying that He understands and feels my pain, He seemed to be saying He alone could do something about it. He didn’t only have compassion on me, He was promising to provide for me.
Why was God always talking to me about bread when it came to Ethan?
Not a stone when what I need is a loaf of bread.
And if the manna was just about getting by in this life here on the way to Eternity, then why did God have to let things get so incredibly good with Ethan? In fact, what was the point of any of it? Why did my manna turn into a feast if he was never the “bread” that the LORD was going to provide for me? It all felt very confusing.
I was sitting on the floor of my room, the warm glow of lanterns illuminating this secret place. My journal was open on the floor, my wrestling becoming visible as I wrote in the margins and drew arrows to this idea and that, crossing out paths that came to dead ends, all these memories with Ethan where the Lord had spoken and pointed things out to me, mingling with the verses that were flooding my mind. There was something here, but I couldn’t find it, at least not with enough clarity to write an article, not with enough clarity to write a coherent sentence, it would seem.
“Go look at the context.” He said to me again. He had been urging me to look at the context of the good father, bread, and stone passage all weekend. I don’t know why I was so slow to listen, perhaps I thought I knew what I would find there.
Everyone kept telling me God cries with me and He feels every hurt, so I guess I had started assuming that this bread statement just meant God had more compassion on me then all these people who kept apologizing for what God had done to me. But what good was compassion without action when it came from the one person who had the power to change my circumstances? And then I thought about the way Ethan loved me. I thought about what he would do if he had the power to protect me from this pain.
I thought back to the time I had gotten a creepy voicemail on my phone in which some mysterious caller had taunted me by name. Ethan had texted me right after that and I had told him about the unsetting call. Twenty minutes later, there he was in my office. I hadn’t expected he’d come, the thought actually never occurred to me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I had to make sure you’re okay.”
I smiled, still a little shocked, “I’m fine.” No crazy guy had come in to threaten my life yet. I assumed I was fine. I had decided to shrug off the call.
“Are you sure, because I can just stay here while you work.” Ethan had offered, concern etched onto his handsome brow as he sat down at my desk.
“I’m fine, Ethan,” I tried to reassure him with my confidence that all would be fine. I noticed his dress clothes, then, the shirt and tie, “Don’t you have to go to work tonight anyways?”
“Yeah, I do, in just a little bit.” He checked his watch, “You want to come with me?”
“Why would I come to your work with you?” I asked.
“You could just come and sit in there so I’ll know you’re okay.”
It was a wonderful gesture. So loving, so protective.
“I want you to be close enough for me to protect you,” he had said, concern still etched onto his forehead.
I was so stunned by his need to protect me from this possible danger. It drew my heart to him even more.
Yes, he would do anything in his power to protect me from harm, to walk me through a challenge, to help me overcome all fear. He wouldn’t just sit off to the side in passive compassion, he would act in some way on my behalf.
And then I thought to a time when Ethan was out of state and he called me just to “brag about me” he had said. He was a flood of such specific and lavish compliments that my head began to spin as I listened to him pour his affection into me over the phone. These where not the typical lines of flirtation and flattery, these where the honest words of a man who saw the beauty in the design of his beloved from every angle. His words were specific and crafted just for my heart, he was letting me know that he saw me, my depth, my passion, my particulars, and he was loving each new layer.
No one had ever said such things to me before. So overwhelmed was I by his love for me that I was literally dizzy from it. I had never expected anyone to love me like that, I had not even thought to dream of it. And as soon as my head stopped floating enough to think, I thought to myself (I think I even said out loud to him over the phone), “If a man can love me like this, then I have not begun to fathom the depth of God’s love.”
And from then on, it was as if a path had been cut for a river of God’s love to flow through my mind. Whenever Ethan saw me and fought for me, protected me and loved me, each time it was an expanding of my understanding of God’s love. I knew God’s love for me would always exceed human love, but God was demonstrating a love for me through Ethan that I had never before had the capacity to even imagine. It became a pattern of thought, I never received Ethan’s gestures of love without it somehow expanding my ability to receive God’s love. If Ethan cares what I think and wants to know how I feel about this, then so must God. If Ethan feels angry that someone treated me unjustly, then so must God. If Ethan goes out of his way to protect me from harm, then so must God.
God’s promise of bread, the manna, the feast, His constant reminder that He is a Good Father, it had to be more than passive compassion. Whatever it was, it had to make me feel at least as loved as Ethan would make me feel if he were here, right now, I reasoned.
The words came again, “Go look at the context.”
I looked around for my Bible. Suddenly the need to see the context was urgent. I rushed to my desk, to my bookshelf, to the other bookshelf. I was spinning in the room like a mad woman in need of her Bible. When I finally found it, it was there under my journal all along. I threw it open and filed through to the Sermon on the Mount as fast as my fingers would turn the pages.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it wall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks you for a fish, will you give him a serpent? If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)
That wasn’t about compassion at all, really. It was about asking and receiving. But still I wasn’t understanding. I looked at the footnote, see parallel Luke 11:5-13. I turned there like a woman on a hunt now, I had to figure this out. I imagined finding that aha! moment and hearing Ethan say, “You cracked the case, Holmes. Good job.” I would get there… I had to.
I opened to Jesus’ words in Luke:
“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door in now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise up and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish will instead give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
I sat back and scratched my head, bemused. So this passage was about asking and asking persistently and trusting in the heart of the Father to give good gifts… but not automatic gifts that he gives regardless of what I do, these were about gifts given because the child has asked. So “I am a Good Father. I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread” was an invitation to ask, and ask persistently.
I looked again at the Matthew passage, “how much more will your Father give good things to those who ask him!”
And then, very clearly, I heard God say, “Ask Me.”
My heart started pounding then. Within my spirit, I could see Jesus standing before me, arms spread wide, palms open like he was ready and willing to hand me whatever I asked for.
“What do you want me to do for you?” He said.
Now my heart was racing, because at the same moment I heard his question, I also knew with a sharp clarity of mind that I wanted Him to bring Ethan back. And it didn’t feel like wishful thinking, this was after all, the God who made Ethan in the first place, the same God who rose Jesus and a host of other individuals from the dead. It was a bolder request than I had ever made in my entire life, but it was not beyond what He could do. And here He was before me, asking me to ask Him for it.
Tears were streaming down my face as I knelt in the lantern light on my bedroom floor. Did I dare speak the words aloud? Could I voice my deepest need? Could I risk my desire? For a fleeting moment I thought I could not be so bold and I almost asked God instead to just make me okay with this reality and help me feel better about it, but I did not ask for that. My God could do more than that! Ethan deserved a risk bolder than that. And so with a shaky voice I croaked out, “I want you to bring Ethan back.” Then again, a little louder, “I want you to bring Ethan back.” And then with conviction and strength, I said it a third time, “I want you to bring Ethan back.”
Sobs took hold of my chest and I bowed my face low until it was touching the floor. I whispered through sobs into the carpet, “You are a Good Father. You are not going to give me a stone when I need a loaf of bread.”
What in the world was happening? I thought to myself. Was I losing my mind or was God really suggesting that He might answer my request, that this was the bread he had been wanting me to ask Him for all along?
Then I thought of how many times I had heard people in the last month say that Ethan was so happy now he wouldn’t come back even if you begged him. I didn’t want to ask something of the LORD that was unloving to Ethan, and so I amended my request, “Father, I want you to bring Ethan back, but if doing so is not what is best for Ethan, then could you lift the veil into Heaven for just a moment, let me see it, let me see him, something to put my mind at ease, a picture to give me your perspective?”
I clicked off the lanterns and climbed into bed trembling, wondering what was going to happen next.