My Shavout Encounter

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread.

I come from a reformed Protestant background. We don’t keep many feast and festivals. In the way of sacraments, we take a minimalistic approach. I love the stream of Faith I come from, but I take the Apostle Paul’s word to heart when he said, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). A friend wrote that verse for me in a card shortly after Ethan died. At the time, I could not understand what she was trying to tell me, but I felt God in it, shaping my soul, and I am just now beginning to see. 

Yes, I love the stream of Christianity I currently live and work within, but I love other streams of Christianity too. And I want them all. I do not want to be confined to a small picture of how to express my faith, I want all that I find covered by the Blood of Jesus to be mine. I want the rhythm of ritual, and the unexplainable power and wonder of the Holy Spirit. When I open the Bible, I want to exercise proper hermeneutics as I discover sound doctrine, and I want to be the awe-struck recipeient of the secrets of God given to me by the Holy Spirit’s voice.  I want to open the Scriptures and be able to construct theology while marveling at literary beauty and technique. I want to see through the lens of a foreign culture while letting it shape my own.

Even though I came from a reformed, protestant stream, I have a thing for Orthodoxy… for example, I love liturgical calendars—both Christian and Jewish, and especially together, in the overlap. 

There is something about being aware of the times and seasons that bring me into that unbroken circle of the Messiah’s story reaching deep into the past and moving forward, toward restoration. Something about it makes me breathe deeper and slower, I feel rooted in the historical and eternal connectedness when I am aware of where we are in the calendar and daily engaging with it. 

The year I met Ethan, I began using a liturgical calendar as my daily devotional, reading through the Scripture lectionary as the year moved through Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost—we often talked about this place of sustainable rhythm I was finding in the seasons, a place to remember and believe. The next year, the year Ethan died, his family brought me into the Jewish calendar of feast and festivals. They taught me the cycle and meaning of each feast held within the Hebrew calendar. Ethan’s mom invited me over for tea and cookies and opened up the scriptures for me of when and where and why the Jews were commanded to keep each festival. Ethan’s dad would send me books and video links of teaching on a Hebrew understanding of words, and seasons, of past events and present ones. In that same year, they hosted the first Seder I ever went to, and I held back silent tears flowing like a river just under my surface as every metaphor encapsulated in every beat of this ancient celebration had come to mark me forever—my story was becoming one with Jesus’ story and there would be no way to unravel the glorious weave of me into His tapestry.

Of all the Holidays, Shavout, (also known as The Feast of Weeks) is my personal favorite. Shavout takes places 7 weeks after Passover and in the Greek New Testament it is known as, Pentecost, which means fifty because it occurs 50 days after Passover. Shavout… seven weeks. Pentecost… fifty days. Its a festival that’s reward is found in the waiting. 

Shavout is a grain harvesting festival originally commanded in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16. Over the past two years, the Jewish agricultural cycle has become my spiritual rhythm, secrets from God to help me know where we are at in this harrowing journey we are taking together. There were hints of it, poetic strokes in God’s language of bread and scenes painted with the textures of rain, beginning the year I met and fell in love with Ethan, but those hints were like faint whispers in the background, seen only with soulful eyes, the fullness not known until I looked back and the Father unfolded His brilliance before me. Those whispers were leading up to the years that would follow, when they would break through the surface and become the world I lived in. God’s language of Promised Land agriculture became the symphony playing all around me, I was becoming aware of each rise and fall, every note, every movement, it was setting my pace, shaping my mind. 

They first broke through the surface, these agricultural metaphors of land and rain and rivers, of bread and wine and oil, the night Ethan died. As I sat in the waiting room, flush with the numbness of shock, the Father said to me “I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when what you need is a loaf of bread.” 

And then again four months later when within a week, a family member was diagnosed with Cancer, my family was being broken by actions of manipulation and betrayal, and then to really drive the knife in, Ethan’s dog died (that beloved dog’s death nearly broke me… its hard to explain, the human soul endures so much and then it reaches its tipping point–losing Emma felt like it might do me in), and I cried out to God, “If you are all-powerful, why don’t you do something? I cannot take anymore!” And He in all love and with the power to upright me, whispered out of Isaiah 28:28, that He would not thrash the grain forever, but just enough to separate the grain from the husks and straw. 

But that was just the beginning of these whispered words of wheat. A little time went on and then the winds began to blow, fierce winds that burned my surface until I felt stripped and raw. In one long season it looked as if I faced one test after another, could it all be taken away without any bitterness taking root? Could it all be taken and I still believe that God cared about my hopes and dreams and purpose on this earth even more than I did? Could it all be taken away and I still be able to see His goodness at work in my life. 

That long season of fiercely stripping winds began just a few months after Ethan’s death when all my married friends and cousins had babies (a total of 6 babies were born in my immediate circles that spring and summer) and my body ached to hold life within it the way theirs did, my arms longed to cradle life the way theirs did, my motherhood longed to be called into action the way theirs had. 

Next my friends, dear friends who had walked with me through the darkness of losing Ethan began to move far away to distant lands like Virginia and Tennessee, places that felt impossibly far from California, and as I prepared to say goodbye, I felt the loss sharply, and in a strange way it was as if I was losing Ethan all over again. 

Then my sense of purpose was tested as my brother and one of my dearest friends went without me to Africa—to the country I had once dreamed of living and working—while God specifically told me I was not to go on mission with them this time. That was followed by the epic failure of an intense creative project that I had poured my heart and soul into and the shame I felt over letting down those I had collaborated with. Next God clearly asked me to give up all my local outreach and social justice ministries I was overseeing, and I was set to chanting over and over again, “I trust you, I trust you, I trust you,” until I believed it enough to let go of everything I was trying to build my life on as I sought to find meaning without Ethan. 

Also that year, my little sister got married to the man she had started dating the same time Ethan and I had begun dating, and I was caught in a whirlwind of joy and pain as I walked beside her through all the wedding planning, the decisions, the meltdowns, and the excitement of them starting their new family together. 

Everyday was a tightrope walk of being present to every emotion without being swept away on the tidal wave that threatened to take me under its influence of hopeless, bitter, unbelief. And it was in that long, painful season of stripping away every form of purpose I reached for, that the Father leaned in close and whispered that these fierce winds are meant to separate the grain from the chaff. He would give me bread, but bread came from wheat, wheat that had to be cut from the field, thrashed, winnowed in the wind, and finally ground into dust to make flour that would make bread. 

The year I met Ethan I often fantasied about trekking up some desolate fog endowed mountain where I could be trained in the ways of life by the all-powerful, unbreakable, master of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I look back now over the years that followed Ethan’s death, and I see exactly that happening. Even in that season of stripping, Jesus was teaching me how to live and love like Him, present enough to be powerful in life, strong enough to be unbreakable even in death.

After the winnowing came the crushing. That season caught me off guard. I emerged from the fierce winnowing winds with something pure and solid. I looked at the grain unpolluted by chaff and I felt that I understood something of what God had been up to. I felt whole and stronger then ever. I had lost sight of the bread, and was nearly satisfied with this handful of pure grain we had emerged with. But God had not lost sight of the bread He was going to give me. He dropped me suddenly into a grinder, that obliterated the pure grain into a fine dust. I did not understand. I could not see God in the crushing events that followed. I felt like the enemy was taunting me with his victory, standing on my neck, crushing every last shred of life I had within me. I was Job, tearing my clothes and covering myself in ashes. How could this be? Why would God let me and all that was my life be destroyed beyond repair. I sobbed into the fine flour my God had made from my life and mistook it for dust and ash. I thought the end had come and He had walked away from every promise. And then one day, in the quiet, after hours spent crying and pouring over Scripture searching for a shred of hope, He whispered, “Now we are ready to bake bread.” 

So is it any wonder that Shavout, the Festival commanded to celebrate the grain harvest is my favorite. In the crushing, He is making a feast for us. 

To me, the most fascinating thing about Shavout is the passing of time between Passover and Shavout, for tucked in-between these two is another feast. Just a few days after Passover is the feast of Firstfruits. Its strange to me that Shavout is counted from Passover, but Firstfruits, like Shavout, is also a harvest festival in which the Hebrews were commanded to give an offering to the LORD. 

In Leviticus 23, we find the LORD telling Moses that the people are to take the sheaf of the firstfruits of their harvest to the priest. This was to be done in the new land that God would give them—their promised land. They were to take this first sheaf of their harvest and wave it before the LORD as an offering—and it was a statement of faith. It took faith to offer the first fruit because there was no guarantee that there would be more. When the first bit of something good comes, the first breakthrough of spring after a long hard winter, the temptation is to cling to that “sheaf”, to hide it away and fear it ever being lost because its all that you have. But God asks them to give it in faith, right in the midst of counting the Omer (the span of time between Passover and Shavout). Give what the LORD has given you and trust Him to provide the full harvest. It is a small offering, on the Feast of Firstfruits—in its entirety, it consists of one lamb, one sheaf of wheat, a food offering mix of flour and oil and a drink offering of wine. Just a lamb, some grain, oil, and wine. It reminds me of the widow’s offering, when she gives all that she has. It is small, but it is everything. And you give it, while saying over and over to yourself that God is good, that He is a good Father who knows how to give a loaf of bread when you need it. You give it in faith that Jesus came to bring life abundantly, that He doesn’t want you to live in poverty, not of possession or of soul, and that the only way to abundance is to give everything you’ve got, hold nothing back. Nothing. 

The counting of the Omer… its a very curious thing. An Omer is another word for sheaf, but it specifically is referring to a tenth of the ephah (which is an ancient Hebrew way of measuring grain). What I find curious about the counting of the Omer is that they are counting toward the fullness of what they gave a tenth of. The counting of the Omer is all about preparing to receive. 

At Shavout, we receive the fullness of what was given in Fatih at Firstfruits and what we have been waiting for during the counting of the Omer. 

Shavout commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. They had the first passover while still in captivity, enslaved by the Egyptians, just like Jesus comes to cover us in his blood while we are still in the land of our captivity before salvation. Once they are set free, in a dramatic moment of God’s power and precise storytelling genius, perhaps only surpassed with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God parts the Red Sea and the Israelites pass through unharmed while God closes the Sea in on their enemies behind them. This too, is like our baptism into the Faith, a powerful statement of freedom, the mark of a new life. We were rescued in our captivity, but we no longer identify as slaves nor live in fear as slaves do. We are a new people, preparing to receive a new culture. This is what happened at Sinai and again at Pentecost.

Jesus dies on Passover, is resurrected on the Feast of FirstFruits and the Disciples receive the power of the Holy Spirit at Shavout, or Pentecost as they called it in the Greek. Its stunning really, but why the specific gap of 7 weeks or 50 days in between Passover and Pentecost… why the wait? The wait of the Old Testament grain harvest makes sense, it takes time for the full harvest to grow, but why the same wait for the spiritual reality in the New Testament? It was, after all, still on the feast of Firstfruits, on the evening of the same day Jesus rose from the grave, that Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 20:22). So why didn’t the Holy Spirit fall on them in power right then and there, the moment Jesus “breathed on them”? Rather they waited on the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus said, “receive the Holy Spirit” and then they waited for the Holy Spirit to come, they, just like all the generations of Jews before them counted the Omer that year, preparing themselves to receive. 

I, too, find myself living these days right in the midst of the Omer Count.

Shortly after discovering the depth of meaning in the Feast of Firstfruit and Shavout, I knew exactly the Firstfruit offering the LORD was asking of me and it took FAITH to give it. Now I wait, preparing to receive the fullness of what I have given.

I sit here waiting in a number of ways—in a personal promise and an eternal promise. All of us are in that strange already and not yet of the Kingdom. All of us in Christ are living in the wake of liberation, new life, new land and yet are still waiting for the fullness. But I experience this on a specifically personal level as well. I am the grain that grew from a seed … first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when that grain was ripe, He sent for the sickle because the harvest has come (see Mark 4). The swing of the sickle knocked the wind out of me. The thrashing nearly destroyed me. The winnowing winds swept me raw. The grinding into flour crushed my life into dust. And now it is time…. time to bake bread… time to celebrate Shavout… time to receive the full harvest of all the LORD has promised. 

In the coming days, my sheaf of wheat will be exchanged for two loaves of bread waved before the LORD. A double portion. A life come full circle. In the crushing, He is preparing a Feast for us. He is making all things new. 

What Do You Want Me to Do For You?

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread.

By this time, I was spending everyday after work at the cemetery, not to grieve, but to pray. I found it to be a quiet, distraction-free place where I could sit for hours and pour over scripture to seek the face of God. I was trying to mine out what faith actually was and how I could know if mine was the active, genuine article or just the passive, counterfeit of it.

I was asking questions like where does faith originate from, me or from God? And how was it that it had the power to move mountains? What was faith not? How was it not mustering up meaningless willpower? How was it not misguided assurance about false hope? What was the faith that Jesus seemed to be so laser focused on teaching his disciples to have and how is that different from the deception of “name it and claim it” sensationalist self-centered false doctrine.  

One thing was very clear, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). And through faith God works miracles, produces fruit, and tells amazing stories of glory (See the Bible… pretty much all of it).

I had been ignoring faith for far too long, living instead off some dull, deflated doctrine that says, “God is going to do what God is going to do, best just to accept it and learn to be okay with whatever He gives you.” This kind of approach to God was suddenly no longer acceptable. But what was acceptable? Of that I wasn’t sure. 

And I was still constantly on the search to discover the value behind persistence. I turned to some word studies as I mined a little deeper. From the Ask, Seek, and Knock passage in Luke, I had noticed that the word “persistence” is sometimes translated as “Impudence.” (For the fuller context of this passage as it relates to my story, read the chapter: The Promise of Bread). If I didn’t understand “persistence” very well in this context, I had no idea what “impudence” meant. Yet another translation offered up the words, “shameless audacity.” Persistence was starting to sound less and less like the endless grind of a child’s pointless begging and more like something strong and bold, born of a bravery I did not know but desperately wanted to have. When I looked up this word for “persistence” in the Greek, there was one definition of the original word that opened up the meaning for me, stating “this shameless persistence of which Christ taught relates to carrying out God’s plan with unembarrassed boldness in the dignity of faith. In other words, the shamelessness of a faith-led believer who is not halted by human fears—even when others cry ‘overdone’”. 

This unpacking of biblical persistence was like opening a window upon a beautiful landscape I had no idea existed outside my house. 

I thought of two other verses that I had held close to my heart for nearly a decade now, though I could never really understand what they meant. The first was 2 Corinthians 3:12 “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” And the second, Romans 5:5 “Hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” What was this hope of which Scripture spoke in such outstanding absolutes? 

I thought again to the other night and my secret place of lantern light and Bible and Journal splayed open before me on the floor as Jesus came to me and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

Why had He invited me to ask Him for what I wanted? Why didn’t He just tell me what He wanted to do so that there was no confusion on what I was to set my hope on. What did faith look like here? If faith always originates with “hearing” the word of God (See Romans 10:17). Then He must plant the seed and it is my response to His seed that could either grow a tree or not. Was I good soil? Was my heart soft enough to risk this love? Could I be single-mindedly focused on the words of God enough to not let the weeds of fear and taunts of how impossible this all was choke out the seed He had planted in me? 

Then I began to wonder, would the LORD actually ask me what I wanted Him to do for me? Was such a statement within His character? I didn’t know and so I began asking that God would either confirm and reassure me of His voice and show me what I was supposed to do with it or course-correct me if I was terribly mistaken about all of this. 

And so there I sat at the cemetery, in the rain, asking, seeking, knocking and somehow I found myself in the gospel of Mark and met an impudent man named Bartimaeus. The story unfolded like this: 

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a bling beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 

And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. 

But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” 

And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”

And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; for faith has made you well.” 

And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

The story gave me chills, for there it was in ink on the page of my Bible, Jesus saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

So such an invitation to state our desire and request before the LORD was absolutely in-line with the character and personality of Jesus Christ. 

And there was Barrimaeus, written into the story of Jesus’ life because of his unashamed persistence in the dignity of faith. Others had cried “overdone” but Bartimeaus paid them no mind. Though he was blind, he could see the Messiah and no human fear was going to halt his ability to reach him. 

The Power of His Love

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread., Nothing will separate you from My love.

When I woke up the next morning and there was no Ethan and no revelation from heaven, the pain of disappointment threatened to sever me in two. I felt more broken that morning than I ever remember feeling. I tried to get ready for work, but it would seem I was powerless to stop the flood of tears rushing from me in my anguish. 

The grief of loss is one thing, but to feel there was no sure place to stand in God anymore was a grief entirely too overwhelming for my finite soul. 

I felt so small, so alone, so broken. I had to go to work without any makeup because I could not get the tears to stop for even a moment. It was ridiculous. I cried all the way to work and then sat in my truck and tried to collect myself enough to go in, but it was to no avail. As soon as I almost had myself under control, I would think of the clarity to which I heard and saw the things of the LORD the night before. He had opened the eyes of my heart to… to what? To let me down? To crush my spirit? To leave me feeling more empty then ever? 

I was a complete and utter mess, but somehow I made it though the morning of work. As lunch time neared, I got a text message from Ethan’s dad. He was in town and he said he wanted to talk to me about something if I had time over my lunch break. 

I met him at Starbucks, we sat outside as he attempted to break the ice with a little bit of small talk, but I could tell there was something burning inside of him. Finally, he said, “Makaila, I want to talk to you about the power of God.” 

“Okay,” I said, not sure how to respond to that. 

“If God is the creator of the heavens and the earth, and nothing is impossible for Him. Then He can bring Ethan back to life. I know its been 40 some days and we’ve already buried his body, but none of that is enough to stop God. It would be easy for Him.” 

I nodded. So far, there wasn’t anything for me to argue with from a biblical standpoint, as much as I was not sure my soul could take the direction this conversation was going. 

“People keep telling me to stop praying for resurrection because it isn’t going to happen, but why?” he said. “If God were to bring Ethan back to live out a full life here, it would in no way jeopardize his eternity with God. He would still get that too. And think of the way it would glorify God and build faith.”

Still sound logic coming from a biblical perspective. Images of Jesus raising the widow’s son on the funeral pyre, and Jarius’s daughter, and His friend, Lazuraus were running through my mind like scenes from a movie.

I was never one for drawing attention to myself and creating a spectacle, but as I thought through these images of Jesus, I realized that He often times was. He wasn’t afraid to demonstrate power strong enough to terrify.

And then I thought of my prayer the night before as I wondered if it was loving to ask Jesus to bring someone back to life. And suddenly I realized that if it wasn’t loving, if it wasn’t a kingdom thing, then Jesus wouldn’t have done it so many times, and told His disciples to do it too. 

“I just have been thinking about how much we limit what we believe God will do,” he went on to say, “His love is powerful. Powerful enough to do anything, anything He wants.” 

I nodded, contemplating this, and prayed, LORD, what are you doing here? Why are you stirring all this up? What are you trying to accomplish? 

“Well,” I finally said to my friend, “you have given me a lot to think about. I had a rather rattling encounter with God myself last night. It seems He wants me to remember that He can do more than make me okay in all of this. But what exactly do you think He will do?” I swallowed and mustered my courage, “Do you think He will bring Ethan back?”

“I know He can,” he said with firm conviction, “but will He?” He heaved a sigh, “I’ll admit, its very hard to fathom.” 

I nodded again, wondering what role faith would play in this. And what exactly was faith anyways?

I left that lunch meeting feeling stronger, contemplative, curious. I could feel God in this, but what if we were misunderstanding what it was that He was trying to tell us. I didn’t want to get this one wrong. I wanted to find the path that God was cutting. I wanted to partner with Him to bring as much life out of Ethan’s death as was possible, but was this where it was going to be found? The stakes were very high. I would need to learn a lot more boldness, and find a lot more courage if this was the path the LORD was cutting to victory. 

What do you want me to do, LORD? I prayed. 

Worship,” He said. 

And so I did. I turned on worship music and kept it on all day. I got lost in the worship, finding my home there again. 

Nothing will separate you from my love,” He told me. 

And this gave a me rock on which I could stand a little taller, a little stronger, a little bolder. If nothing was going to separate me from God, then maybe I had all the security I needed to take this huge risk and ask again for God to bring Ethan back to life. 

Of course, I thought of little else that day and into the next. By the following evening, I decided to bounce all this off a another friend of mine to see what she thought of it.

I timidly divulged everything to her. I told her about my encounter with Jesus and His words, the verses He had led me to. I told her about what Ethan’s father had shared with me while at Starbucks. And then I waited for her to reel me in, to turn the volume down, to talk some sense into me. I was used to this friend trying to protect me from disappointment, so I thought I knew how she would respond, but I was wrong.

“God has been leading me to pray the same way,” she had said, somewhat timidly. 

“What?!” I asked, astounded, “You mean you believe God has led you to pray for Ethan to come back to life?” 

“Yes,” she said. “It started with a vision that came while I was praying on the night of the accident. And since, when I asked God to help me understand why He gave me that vision, He lead me to the story in scripture when Elijah raises the widow’s son.” 

This was a most unexpected response.

I told her, “I think I need to pray about this for awhile.” 

I was a bit shaken by the fact that there were at least three of us who had felt God leading us to pray for Ethan to be raised from the dead, even still, 40 some days after his death. Remember, I was the same double-minded character who had been a slave to fear back when I had my man with me, loving me. I was afraid even when there was nothing to fear. Now here I was trying to risk my heart when it seemed I had everything to fear. 

Some might think that I had nothing to lose in my position, but I felt I had already lost my man, I could not afford to lose my God and my sanity as well. 

Nothing will separate you from my love,” He said to me again. 

He kept offering me that same solid ground of His love to stand on. He was assuring me that I would not lose Him, no matter what. But my battle with fear was not going to be easily won. 

“I don’t know if I am strong enough for this,” I told my friend. 

“Strong enough for what?” she asked. 

“Strong enough to pray persistently for Ethan to come back.”

I went home and laid down shakily in my bed and pulled up the covers. It was not nighttime yet, but I felt as spent as a person could, “I think this might destroy me,” I admitted to the LORD. 

“Nothing will separate you from my love.”

Did I believe that? My actions, my fear, my bowing out before the battle had even begun would suggest that maybe I did not. I took a deep breath and pushed the covers back and found my way to my knees there on the floor of my room once more.

“I believe you LORD.” I began to pray aloud, “Nothing will separate me from Your love. I can risk anything. And so, I shall ask again. Give me the strength for the persistence this will require, show me what this is supposed to look like.” 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8: 31-39

The Promise of Bread

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread.

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. 

The Burning Bush

I am a good Father, I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread., I have a Promised Land for you.

The morning came when I had told myself it was time to return to work, but a second panic attack had incapacitated me from returning to anything that looked like normal life. I did not want to let this new monstrous fear take over and define my life, so I called for an appointment, to get some godly counsel on healthy grief.

I had spent the morning at the cemetery planning for the burial with Ethan’s family. I was frozen by the time I left to head to my counseling appointment, partially because it was January and raining, but also because I had just helped his family pick out his casket and I always get frigidly cold when I am distressed.

I was in great need of the comfort of a warm cup of something.

Ethan always made me tea–I loved that about him. I remember the first few times he offered to fix me a cup of tea, I refused and left early only because I was nervous and unsure. I remember the second time this happened, as I was driving away from his place, I chastised myself, saying, when an intellectual, artistic, bearded man with dreamy blue eyes offers to make you a cup of tea so that he can sit and talk with you, you say yes! After that night, I never turned down his offer for a cup of tea again. And memories that I will cherish my whole life through were made during those long (often philosophical and always full of heart) chats over a cup of tea.

What I really needed in that frozen winter moment was for Ethan to brew me a cup of tea, wrap my shivering body in his warm arms and let me talk my heart out as he had so many times before. I decided to stop at a coffee shop on the way.

Without thinking I drove up to my normal stop. The memory of first hearing of Ethan’s accident and the horrific look of fear in my friend’s eyes as she received the news over the phone, hit me like a punch in the gut as I drove up to the same coffee shop where the girls and I had met for Bible study the night of the accident.

I had not thought this through.

I glanced to the spot where I had parked my truck and left it that night. I had never returned for it nor thought about it again until now. Someone from my family must have gone to get it.

I started sobbing as I sat there in the parking lot deciding if I could go in or not. It was like walking back into a nightmare. The feeling of having something irreplaceable stolen from me washed over me like a beating.

I decided I would not live avoiding everything that reminded me of the trauma. I could handle this, I told myself. I wiped the tears off my face, grabbed my wallet and went in. I looked straight at the table we had been sitting at, like I was daring it to take me on. I was toe to toe with the memory of that night, staring the nightmare in the face as it taunted me, but I held my ground. I would not live in fear of that night.

I exchanged my usual lavender latte for a Chai latte and went on my way, wondering how much of my battle I wore on my face. After all, I was still learning what it meant to forgo the mask of the “brave face” and live in actual courage. 

I don’t remember what we talked about, the counselor and I. I don’t remember what questions he asked or what I shared or if I cried or not. But there are two moments during that conversation that I can remember as though they had just happened moments ago. 

First, was when the counselor was being really honest with me and saying how angry it makes him that Ethan, such a great guy, was killed while plenty scum bags seem to get a free pass at life. He was simply stating what looked like injustice to him, and I had wanted to agree. In fact, I wanted to go a step further and let the bitterness of the injustice take root within me, but what I heard in response came from my Father’s voice.

I am a good Father. I am not going to give you a stone when you need a loaf of bread.” 

In all the business of planning for the memorial and now the burial, I had almost forgotten that God had spoken that strange line about bread the night Ethan died. I still hadn’t pressed into that. I still didn’t know what it was supposed to mean to me. 

And the second defining moment came when the counselor suggested that God so rarely explains these injustices. I remember he had said, “the only thing God really promises us in these situations is peace.” 

And like a fire within me, the Holy Spirit roared, “I HAVE PROMISED YOU MORE THAN THAT.”

I was so stunned. I am not sure if my reaction to the Holy Spirit’s words showed up on my face or not, but if they had, you would have seen me, wide-eyed and gripping the chair arms like I had just been hit with a powerful gust of wind that had nearly knocked me over. What in the world did that mean? What else had He promised me? I had no idea. But I was going to find out.