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Manna… or something like that…

Last week I wrote about provision and the obvious reminder being played over the loudspeakers at the JCP for the last year and a half. (In case you missed it, check it out here.) Today, I’m going to expand on that.

In Exodus 16, God lays out his play for providing for His wilderness-wandering children. Every day, there’s gonna be this bread-ish stuff called manna on the ground. Gather what you and your family needs and ONLY what you need for one day. (Except for the sixth day… #BecauseSabbath). Don’t take more than you need because God has got this under control. You don’t need to plan ahead for what you’ll eat tomorrow. But, if you know anything about the Israelites, you know that they weren’t so great at listening and following directions… (not that I have room to talk, but we’ll get to that later.) So… they tried to keep some “just in case” and here’s what happened:

Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. – Exodus 16:20 ESV

The exception was that on the sixth day, they could gather for TWO days because of the Sabbath. In order to properly observe the day of rest, they could not even gather food for the day. And, even though any other day they kept back extra it spoiled, on that day, it did not.

So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. ” – Exodus 16:24

Reading this passage about manna reminded me a lot of God’s provision in my life. I have gone from a predictable, consistent paycheck from a full time job to working two jobs, one of which has hours that are constantly in flux. While my AmeriCorps position provides consistent income, it constitutes less than half of what I need to pay my bills, pay for gas for the car, coffee, and continue eating food outside of what I scavenge from my parents. There have been months where I have just made that cut-off and there have been a few months with a little more breathing room. But never, in over a year and a half have I been unable to pay my bills.

But it’s more than just provision. My hours are my “manna.” The schedule comes out on Thursdays and I look to see what I have for the following week. I add it to the spreadsheet that I keep that includes how many hours I need to meet the basic budget. Sometimes, in January and February which are slower months, I panic when I see the schedule. Even though I know that it will all be ok. Because I worry that the next week might have even fewer, I take any hours offered when someone calls off, which is God’s provision for those lean months. Unfortunately, that mentality often carries over once hours pick up and I’m getting more than I absolutely need to begin with.

And that’s when things start to get wormy and rotten. See, I have one day off a week from both jobs. It’s Sunday. I often tell people when they ask if I’m working on Sunday that it’s because “Sundays are for the LORD.” And that’s true. I do things at church on Sundays. But Sundays, like the Sabbath, are more for ME than they are for God. They’re a day for me to rest, recharge, and connect with God through church and small group. Sometimes, hours I’m offered are on Sundays. I, for the most part, do not take them, unless group is canceled or I don’t have to work the following day at school (or JCP).

Sometimes, when I’m feeling greedy or like hoarding the manna, I pick up shifts for no good reason, including Sundays. And it almost always backfires. For example, a few weeks ago, someone was giving away a Sunday afternoon shift. I had no plans in particular that day but I still had church and group. I took it anyway, knowing it would mean a busy day and that it would mean 13 consecutive days of work between both jobs. And, knowing that I had my quota of hours for the month already in 3 weeks in. See, greedy hoarder. Well, that week I ended up with a double ear infection. I couldn’t hear out of either ear for a day and one ear for over a week. Yep, I had to call in sick, something I’ve only done twice in the entirety of my employment, canceling out the “extra” hours I picked up.

After that week, I’ve tried to be more mindful of what I need versus what I think I need. It has helped that nobody has called off for hours I could pick up lately but still.

What’s your manna? What are you hoarding just in case? Is it money? Is it time? Is it your talent or an ability? What are you sacrificing in order to gather extra and make sure you have more than enough? Maybe you’re not hoarding anything but you’re having a tough time trusting that the manna will be there waiting in the morning. How can this passage in Exodus help you trust Him more?

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I Love the Way YOU Hold Me

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you. – Isaiah 41:13 ESV

I started working at JCPenney in November 2015. It has taken me literally 19 months to figure something out. Before you start thinking I’m a terrible employee, I’m not. I’m good at my job, most days. Not to brag but they kind of want to clone me. That would probably be a mistake. But whatever. No, the thing I figured out has to do with the JCP Playlist, the 17 songs played on repeat throughout the day. Mixed among a myriad of Pop/Rock (including my lip syncing go-to “Hello” by Adele) is “Hold Me” by Christian artist Jamie Grace.

I get why it was included. It could easily be sung about a boyfriend or husband, someone who holds you, is by your side. Someone you can’t stop thinking about. Someone who makes each day special. But if you read about the song, Jamie Grace herself says that the song is about relying on God:

“Love is all about trusting in God to hold you no matter what you are going through. I’ve had a lot of experiences in my life of needing to trust in God to hold me. He’s the only one who is going to be there. That’s what the song is about, knowing that God is there to hold you and the joy that comes with that knowledge and understanding.” (BEHIND THE SONG WITH KEVIN DAVIS

Anyway, it’s one of the songs I hear at least 4 times a week at work, probably more. And it is a message that I need reminded of every day that I’m there. And every day that I’m not there, if I’m being honest. When I first started working there, I had been let go from a full time job with benefits that payed decently well for our area. I had paid time off. Insurance. Anyway, I lost that job unexpectedly and started at the JCP shortly thereafter. I stressed about getting enough hours to pay my bills. I stressed about being a failure. In January 2016 I took a second job at a local school as an AmeriCorps member. I have a small classroom and I do homework help with small groups. I stayed at JCP to supplement that stipend. I stressed about my bills, but I have paid them all on time. i stressed about having to work constantly but I have consistently had one day off a week and sometimes a couple at a time. Through all of the uncertainty, it’s been hard work but He has held me.

In a few months, my AmeriCorps contract is up and I will be back to one job. I could stress about hours. I could panic. While I am at a loss as to what I’m going to do with my life, I know that He holds me. I know there is a plan. We were talking about God’s provision at small group the other night and how I can face the upcoming change in employment status with greater confidence by looking back at where I’ve been and remembering that I’ve been ok and often more than ok. Although, if anyone has career path suggestions, I’m open to them. I don’t know what I want to spend the next 40 years of my life doing and some insight would be great! 🙂

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this song ended up playing at my workplace. And every time it plays, now that I’ve figured it out, I’ll take it as a reminder that I don’t have to worry. I am being held.

Here’s the song, in case you’re unfamiliar.

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Missing Out

Today one of my 7th grade girls was having a mini meltdown. Phase One was because I thought it was wiser to do her homework with me instead of putting it off so we could play a game, especially since she has track practice and a concert tonight. I managed to sort of solve that and she worked quietly with my help for a while. Then while she was working on Spanish homework, we got to phase Two. She realized she would be missing food day in her Spanish class and it was the WORST THING THAT COULD EVER HAPPEN TO ANYONE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. I mean, I’d be upset too if I was missing it for a dentist appointment or a funeral or because I was sick or something. But this student will be missing food day because she will be on a trip to Boston for Whale Watch Club. I said to her, “You need to stop thinking about the things you’re missing out on and focus on the awesome things you get to do instead.” 

Man. How many times do I get so hung up on what I’m MISSING that I neglect to enjoy where I’m at? I mean, yes. I’m missing out on a lot of things my peers are doing right now. Marriage, amazing careers, families, European vacations, buying houses, etc. It would be awesome to be able to afford some of those things or to experience others. And I could focus on the things I’m missing. In fact, sometimes I do. I get stuck in a cycle of discouragement and disappointment in myself for not being “successful.” But I am attempting to learn to not only be CONTENT in where I am but to love it. I can’t take expensive vacations. But I CAN take long weekends occasionally to visit friends and family and do fun and inexpensive things. I’m not married, but I can invest in deep, meaningful relationships with my friends. I don’t have a family, but I can still freeze my face off at my friends’ son’s baseball game. My career might not be amazing but I’m investing in the kids I work with at school and my coworkers at JCP. I get to buy 2 chocolate chip cookies on Tuesdays and share them with my friend while we take a break. I get to say yes to so many cool things that I couldn’t say yes to if I had the life I think I’m missing out on. 

Someday, I’ll probably enjoy those things I’m missing out on, just like someday, this student will get to try Spanish food during a class party. But today, I need to focus on the fun I get to have rather than what I don’t. 

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Dear Hypothetical Nonexistent Future Husband,

My friendships aren’t training me to be your wife.

Love,

Cherilyn


I saw a blog post on a Christian site about things you can do today for your future spouse. Being someone who hopes to have a hypothetical nonexistent future spouse, I read it. Read is probably the wrong word. I skimmed it, reading certain sections if they stuck out to me. I nodded my assent at things like making wise financial decisions, making health a priority, working hard, sharpening your mind, etc., even though you should do all of that anyway to be a well-rounded human being, with or without a spouse.

But then I got to one that I couldn’t just let go of so easily: cultivate community. I read eagerly, hoping to see something like, “Your spouse shouldn’t be the only person you rely on because he or she is a human too. Having deep, meaningful friendships outside of your marriage allows you to not become dependent on one person and reminds you that we are the body of Christ and we are not all the same.” Or something like that. Instead I read this: view your close friendships as practice for marriage (paraphrased).

My friendships throughout the course of my life have taught me much about relating to others. I have learned how to love unconditionally and without an agenda. I have learned to serve, even when I would rather selfishly whine. I have learned how to forgive and let go of little and big things, even though it’s not very pleasant and I still struggle with it. I have been encouraged and have learned how to better encourage the people I care about. I have learned what quality time is and how to fight for it with the people that matter most. My closest friendships have taught me what it means to be fiercely devoted to other people, to a degree that most of them don’t realize.

But they’re not practice for the “real thing.” They’re not training wheels that you take off once you figure out how to be a good spouse and get married. And they are certainly not placeholders for your spouse. They are friendships, a fundamental part of the human existence, whether you are single, married, widowed, divorced. Whether you are a child, a teenager, a twenty-something, middle-aged, or an octagenarian.

Sure, friendship should teach you how to be a better spouse. But only in that every relationship you have should be teaching you how to be more Christ-like, which is something you should be doing anyway. So here it is: cultivate community to become more Christ-like, whether or not that will benefit your hypothetical future marriage. Cultivate community and friendships because your spouse shouldn’t be the only person upon whom you rely. He or she is a human too. As a matter of fact, not to get too spiritual or anything, you should be depending on Christ, not people. (But I get it, friends are pretty great.) Cultivate deep, meaningful friendships outside of your marriage so you don’t become unhealthily dependent on one person. We are the body of Christ, each of us as individuals make up the body of Christ. Not as a couple. As a person.

Don’t spend your life practicing or training to be a good spouse. Spend your life being a good friend and becoming more Christ-like.

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Reasons My Cat is Meowing

I love my cat, as I’m sure you know. He’s a goofball. He purrs super-loudly. There are mornings that he’s so cute I find myself rushing to get out the door because I get distracted petting him. But he has his quirks that can be annoying. For example, he meows. A lot. Basically, whenever he’s not sleeping. These are just some of the reasons, in no particular order, that he is meowing.

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  1. There’s a door closed somewhere in the house. He’s sure something cool is on the other side.
  2. He forgot that it’s -15F and he thinks he needs to go outside. When I open the door, he sniffs at the air then turns around.
  3. He wanted a piece of my apple but he doesn’t like apples and thinks I should give him something else to eat instead.
  4. The bathtub doesn’t have any leftover water he can drink. Also, his water dish is too full.
  5. His sister is laying somewhere where he wanted to walk. (To be fair, she does hiss whenever anyone walks by…)
  6. I’m in another room and he thinks I’ve abandoned him. He doesn’t want me to pet him or look at him. He just wants to be adored from a few feet away.
  7. I decided to talk on the phone within 6 feet of him and my voice is too loud.
  8. I won’t let him have the milk left in my cereal bowl.
  9. He thinks he heard a can opener. 20 miles away. I’m supposed to give him tuna now…
  10. I made him move off my pillow so I could go to sleep.
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I’m _______________’s Best Friend

Confession: I play Trivia Crack. I happen to have retained a lot of obscure knowledge from various sources, not the least of which is my participation in Scholastic Challenge in high school. (Yes, it IS as nerdy as it sounds!) I actually started playing Trivia Crack at the behest of my friend’s ten year old daughter. And then, as the name implies, I became pretty addicted. I have approximately 17 ongoing games with various people. Sports is my worst category. (Shocking.) And I will basically play anyone who asks.

trivia-crack-wallpaper

A notification popped up the other day, indicating that I had a “in-game” message from someone. I had recently been ranting about the spam messages I’d been receiving and half expected it to be yet another game cheat message I would have to delete. When I looked at the user name, I knew instantly who it was. It was the friend of my friend’s ten year old daughter. The message read as follows (names changed, of course. No one has a single letter for their name. That would be ridiculous): Hi Cherilyn this is L’s best friend G. I do soccer with her 🙂 !!!

I said hi and stuff and she asked if I wanted to play Trivia Crack with her. I said sure, of course. I always feel bad though, playing with kids. Sure, a lot of the questions are easy enough that they can get them but still. I try not to beat them too badly and I hope for a lot of obscure sports questions so that I’ll miss more. But I digress. This post is not about my philosophy of playing games with my friends’ children and their friends.

“Hi Cherilyn this is L’s best friend G. I do soccer with her 🙂 !!!”

That introduction of herself made me smile. And the more I thought about it, the more I smiled. I didn’t really know if they’re best friends but L’s mother verified that that terminology would be fitting.

I’ve introduced myself in a lot of different ways. “Hi, I’m Cherilyn, David and Charlene’s daughter.” “Hi, I’m Cherilyn. I’m Charanna’s sister.” “Hi, I’m Cherilyn. I’m Margie’s (Bruce’s, Laurie’s, Brody’s, Leslie’s, Hope’s, Casie’s, Rachel’s, Christen’s) friend.” “I’m Cherilyn Wise. I work with the after-school program.” “I’m Cherilyn, I used to work in the dining hall. I’m sorry for your loss.” (That last one was recent, and basically really awkward because I’d actually met the individual before but assumed I wasn’t memorable enough.)

Again, I’ve digressed. But isn’t that a great way of introducing yourself? Not just friend, but best friend. What confidence in their friendship that shows! I’ve had some very good friends from middle school on. I’ve called many of them “best” friends. For the most part, they were best friends. But things change over time and now they’re not. But the surety G has in the friendship she shares with L was impressive. Since college, I haven’t had that kind of confidence in my friendships. I worry that people pretend to like me and that one day they’ll wake up and decide to stop being my friend. (Before you start professing your love and friendship, stop. I won’t believe you anyway. But it’s ok. It’s my problem and I’m working on it.)

The nature of friendship has been on my mind lately, for a lot of reasons: some books I’m reading, Valentine’s Day and its impending focus on love and relationships, and generally just being stuck in my own head. And possibly a short essay I helped L write during the best snow day I’ve ever had.

What is a friend? What is a best friend? As a former English major, classic literary friendships jump to the forefront of my mind. Tom and Huck. Holmes and Watson. George and Lennie. At the thought of that last one, I jumped back. I still vividly remember reading ahead of my class during my senior year. I still remember how angry I was, not necessarily at my teacher for “making” me read about *Spoiler Alert* Lennie’s tragic end, but more because I couldn’t talk to any of my classmates about it. (Look at that, another digression.) Anyway, none of them really fit what I was thinking of; Tom and Huck get into a lot of trouble together, Holmes and Watson solve crime together but it’s really all about Holmes, George literally shoots Lennie to save him from being caught and likely killed by an angry mob.

So I started thinking about friendships in the Bible. The first one that came to mind was that of Ruth and Naomi. (L had actually been writing about that particular friendship last week, which is probably why it was on my mind.) I wonder if Ruth would have said, “Hi, I’m Ruth. I’m Naomi’s best friend” to people she met when they went back to Naomi’s home. She certainly sounded like a best friend when she said,

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16 ESV.

That sounds like best friendship to me. And if we were to keep reading, we’d find that she acted on the promises she made.

Then there’s David and Jonathan. I can easily imagining both of them introducing themselves as the other’s best friend. I Samuel 18:1-4 ESV says,

“…the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”

Again, if you continue reading, you’d see that these two behaved like two best friends would. And when Jonathan had died, David remained true to his friend, seeking out Jonathan’s son and taking care of him.

I started thinking about who I would call my best friend. Based on the above criteria, I don’t know if I have a best friend right now. But I have about three people that I talk to about the important things in my life. We do things together, when we can. We talk on the phone. We text throughout the day. And I love them. I would do pretty much anything for them. Truth be told, I love them more than mozzarella sticks, which is kind of a big deal. I also thought about who would call me best friend. That one I don’t really know. I think I’m a pretty good friend. I just don’t know if there’s anyone right now who would call me their best friend. Which is ok.

Still, I kept thinking. And I realized that there is at least one person who would introduce Himself as my best friend. But He doesn’t exactly walk up to people and say, “Hi, I’m Jesus. I’m Cherilyn’s best friend.” Nope. I’m supposed to live in a way that shows that He is my best friend. That’s how people know that Jesus is my best friend and that’s how they, ideally, come to know Him as theirs. It’s not a Facebook Friend Suggestion, as Jon Acuff writes. It’s not by me going to church on Sundays and not doing a bunch of stuff that’s deemed “evil.” People are supposed to know that Jesus is my best friend by the way that I love people. I don’t always do a good job.

I need to spend more time praying, reading, listening, etc. My friendships with humans don’t grow by me talking to them once a week about the weather, offering nothing deeper about myself or never listening to what they have to say. Most importantly, I know I need to work on loving people in general more. Because I’m not sure that the message that He’s my best friend is coming in loud and clear. I’m good at loving those who are closest to me. But I often neglect to show love and compassion to those outside of that inner circle.

As for my human relationships, in short, they are one of the most important things to me. I’ve said recently to friends that while I am not 100% satisfied with my job, I love that it allows me to put time into my friendships. It is more important to me that I be able to be the best friend possible to those I care about most. I want to be able to listen to, advise, help, and care for my friends. Being a close friend or even a best friend,  means that they’re stuck with me, no matter what. And that I’m willing, if necessary, to ask hard questions and say hard things. Being a friend means that my needs come secondary to my friend’s. My time, my money, my existence are all at my friends’ disposal, if they need it. (Mind you, I’m talking real friends, not just casual acquaintances. That means the Nigerian prince who insists he needs to wire ME money isn’t included in that.)

So what about you? What qualities do you look for in a friend? Do you have those qualities? Who would introduce themselves as your best friend? About whom would you say, “I’m ____________’s best friend”? And would people know that Jesus is your best friend?

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Success

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends.  To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am twenty-seven years old. I am single. I live with my parents. My Jeep is 11 years old. My job is… alright. Most days.

I have friends who have been at the same job since graduation and have gotten promotions and raises and are experts in their fields, indispensable to their companies. I have friends who are married, buying houses, and having babies. They have newer cars and better phones. They are SUCCESSFUL. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little jealous.

But I was rereading some Emerson the other day. (That’s something English majors like to say to make themselves feel smart. I was REREADING this classic author’s BRILLIANT work! Look at how LITERATE and INTELLECTUAL I am.) But really, I was rereading Emerson. Bits and pieces anyway. And I found this quote. I began to evaluate my life based on these principles.

  1. To laugh often and much: I’d say yeah. I laugh a lot. I like funny things and I have surrounded myself with funny people. Ok, check.
  2. To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children: those people who are more “successful” than me are pretty intelligent. Even though we’re at different places in our lives, I’d say they respect me. As for the affection of children, my middle schoolers like me, as do my friends’ children. So… ok. Check.
  3. To earn the appreciation of honest critics: ok, this one’s hard. I don’t take criticism well… but that’s usually because it’s done maliciously. Let’s see. When my friends are honest with me, I can usually appreciate their candor. So… half a check?
  4. To endure the betrayal of false friends: Oh, yeah. *thinks over several tough experiences* I haven’t given up on people completely. I have made new friends since those occasions. I might not be “over” it but I am ok with it. If that makes sense. So… check.
  5. To appreciate beauty: I am a photographer. I love taking pictures of the natural world around us. I like art and poetry and literature. Check.
  6. To find the best in others: This one is tough. I’m a cynic. I try to get along with most people. I should work on this one…
  7. “to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…” I don’t know. I’m only twenty-seven. We’ll see.

Emerson said that “this is to have succeeded.”

I’m not saying that reading this quote calms all my fears about my future. That’s not a job for literary figures. I’m not saying that this is the only measure of success that matters. Certainly there are biblical standards of success that are also a factor in my life. But not one of these things has to do with how much money I make, what I drive, where I live, or what I do for work.

I am successful, not because of any of the things I have but because of the things I do. I am successful because I try to be the best friend that I can to all my friends. I just sometimes need to remind myself, every time someone I know gets engaged or buys a house or has a baby or gets promoted.