We spend our first Sunday after Johnny's birth worshiping together at St. Joseph's hospital. Cheyne pulls up a chair next to my hospital bed where I'm holding our new bundle of joy and he randomly opens a page in The Jesus Storybook Bible. It opens to the story of Abraham's test - where God asks him to sacrifice Isaac.
This is why bible college teaches you not to leave things at random, but to approach the bible methodically. To avoid these seemingly inappropriately timed messages.
"Um, we'll read that story some other time" he says, sheepishly, letting out a slight chuckle to relieve the pain that shot through our veins as we're reminded Johnny doesn't really belong to us.
"Yeah, we don't want to scar him with his first bible story!" I joke.
And we basically ignore the story of Abraham and Isaac for the next two and a half years.
We ignore the story while we work hard to build up our savings so we have a soft cushion of cash to fall on when I let go of my job. We struggle, we try, we worry and we fight as God directs and provides by giving and by taking away. We don't read the story. We try to be creative to make 35% of the income we had before cover the expenses, but the dollar is not made of rubber and does not stretch easily. The numbers tell us we need to sell our beloved cottage. We don't read the story. We post a "For Sale" sign in our front yard while I am supposed to be nesting for the little girl growing inside me. We clean the house for showings and we mourn the coming loss of our river view. We don't read the story. We don't know where we're going next but we're trying to obey...and we don't read the story. We place things in God's hands, and take them back. We try our hardest, never reading the story.
Twenty eight months later, I go to a Mother's of Preschoolers (MOPs) meeting. I'm emotionally worn out from treading in a sea of financial challenges and hiding the fear that if we fail our kids they will blame God. I am exhausted by fighting off the voice in my head - the voice that is telling me that, according to the world I come from, I am committing the worst sin, the sin of irresponsibility.
At the meeting, the speaker finishes and our conversation runs off on rabbit trails. Deb testifies, in tears, a truth I have never thought about:
"...when your children know that you can't provide for them they will see that God provides for them." Yes, that makes sense. Of course they would assume it is us, unless they know that is not possible.
We gather in groups of three to pray and I share the tip of the iceberg of my struggle with trusting in God's provision. I tell them how much Deb's words mean to me. Thuany shares, too. Her husband has lost his job, their only income. Then she looks me in the eye (straight down to my soul!) and tells me the story.
Yes, that story.
She tells it with all the Brazilian passion, zeal and joy that only true faith can cultivate. She isn't just telling me, she is living it and believing.
She asks me "You know the first time God was called 'The God Who Provides' in the bible?"
The first time? I don't know.
She tells me...
When Abraham is asked to sacrifice Isaac. That's when He is first called The God Who Provides.
Abraham knew God and knew God's desire was not for him to kill Isaac.
Isaac asked Abraham "Where is sacrifice?" and Abraham could have said anything. He could have said, "I don't know" or "It's YOU!" But he didn't. He said "...God will provide" (and I've heard it before in a song and seen it in other scenarios "...all that He asks He provides...)
He said God will provide. And God did.
As she says it I can see it in my minds eye for the first time: Together, father and son, standing side by side (hand in hand?), seeing God provide the ram in the bush.
Yes. Now I see it. Now I know. The first time God is called the God Who Provides children are involved. Not just involved, a major part of the story. That together we walk up the mountain God has directed us to, carrying with us only that which is necessary to do what we've been told, and we tell our children what we know about the God we know - that He will provide. And together, side-by-side, we see God's hand at work and experience His miracles. And because we're not standing in the way, trying to rush ahead and make sure the ram is there in the bush before we tell our child that it will be there, our children can fully see the truth. They see what we see - a miracle. They see Who really provides.
This morning I finally read the story again for the first time. And at breakfast I take a deep breath and open to the page we closed two and a half years ago. In the Jesus Story Book Bible the story is titled The Gift not How to scare your child away from God. I take a deep breath and read it to Johnny for the first time. I don't expect to get through the whole story without blubbering, but it's not nearly as hard as I think it's going to be. Actually, it's easy. It makes sense now. Because all along God has been preparing my heart for this. He's been shaping me according to it's truth.
And I see that this story isn't just about what I thought all along. It isn't about simply holding our children with a lose grip, being willing to let them go whenever He asks, but it's about taking the journey together and seeing together, with our children at our side, seeing God provide.
I try the best I can to explain to Johnny what it means. He's silent. I think he doesn't get it. Then he looks up at me and says:
"God gave me cheerios!!!"
Now I'm ready to start blubbering. I hold him close as can be and tell him yes, absolutely, and I thank God for the cheerios and for the little boy enjoying them, and for all the gifts in between. I thank Him most of all for the work He has done over this time to prepare my heart to hear the story, the full story, and understand it, so that I can walk along this journey with my children.
"...the two of them walked on together. Then Isaac spoke up. He said to his father Abraham, "Father?"
"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.
"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said. "But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." The two of them walked on together.
-Genesis 22:6b-8 ****
Truths I don't want to forget:
*God did not tell Abraham which mountain He would provide on beforehand. We don't always know ahead of time where God is leading.
*God did not specifically promise that He would provide another sacrifice for Abraham, but Abraham knew the character of God and trusted that this would happen.
*We need to be concerned with being wholly obedient, not working out the when/where/why/how's of this journey.