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Oatmeal Boxes Bob and Me
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‘Where are You?’ I silently raged as I stormed into my home. ‘Where are You now?’
I’d already blown it in the front yard, the volcano of my uncontrolled anger erupting, allowing its lava to spill out onto my children and husband. My family took the explosion in stride with somewhat silent shakes of their heads. ‘Again,’ I read on their faces.
They made their way into my day first at work (‘dust and allergies,’ I’d explained to co-workers) and again now. They burned the insides of my eyelids and down my cheeks, hot reminders of my latest failure.
‘Where are You?’ I asked again.
In May I had remarried the father of my four children after seven long years of divorce. After several years of single parenting I dreamed of eased stress, future adventure and emotional intimacy. For the first time I allowed myself to feel excitement about a future with the man I had never stopped loving.
But three weeks after the ceremony our fifteen year old daughter cornered me. “I haven’t had a period,” she whispered, and my heart stopped.
She’d taken a ride home from school with a young man in our community, she explained through tears, someone who’d once attended our church. Although he was several years older than Stefanee she’d always had a crush on him. And, even when she was little, he’d always been nice to her. They stopped on a quiet street to get caught up and before she really knew what was happening they were kissing and, “I think I’m pregnant.”
So our new life was filled with morning sickness, doctor’s visits, and our family’s adjustment to the news of an unplanned and unexpected pregnancy.
We can do this, I thought as I watched our daughter confess her sin before the church.
We can do this, I thought as we watched our child turn into a very obviously pregnant teen and listened to her cry about the taunts and smears of her classmates.
“We can do this,” my husband and I assured each other as we researched, advised and decided to allow Stef to make the decision to parent or allow adoption.
Our granddaughter arrived the evening before Valentines Day. Long-legged and red-haired, she entered the world curious and strong—and besieged by colic.
Days became unbelievably long, nights incredibly short. I lay in bed into the wee hours as Sydnee cried and wailed and my now 16 year old struggled with a tiny new baby.
Spring break came, and with it news. The lead teacher in the classroom where I worked as a teacher’s aide would not return. Our classroom, designed for two teachers and a part-timer, would be one adult short for the last 12 weeks of school.
“We want you fulltime,” I was told. “Your teaching certificate will keep us legal until we decide what to do. With you and Mrs. Smith in the room we probably won’t hire until next year.”
I loved the class. The kids, always a handful, were bright, curious and loving. I viewed these children as my mission field, even on days when they were the cannibals and I found myself in the proverbial cooking pot.
“I can do this,” I thought as I slipped into the role abandoned by the regular teacher.
“We can do this!” Cindy, the co-teacher, and I assured each other. We already knew we taught well together and looked forward to the freedom to teach ‘our style’. We shared Bible verses every morning and prayed silently everyday for a fruitful harvest from our little mission field.
But with the class came years of undone tasks and a haphazard, unfamiliar organizational system.
“Have all this straightened and stored within the month,” we were told. “There will be no overtime and no unauthorized hours spent here.”
And so we began cleaning out closets stuffed with equal parts activities and junk, files overflowing with paper and cabinets full of half finished work.
“This is going to be harder than we thought,” I told Steve as eight hour days turned into ten and eleven unauthorized hours, bumping into our kid’s sports schedules, church and family time.
He nodded grimly. “I think we can do this,” he said.
But then the shop where he worked began lay offs. “Last one hired, first one laid off,” he told me as he broke the news. “But just because we can’t see the window doesn’t’ mean God hasn’t already opened it.”
“We can do this,” I said quietly, but I didn’t feel so sure.
A couple of Friday nights later I managed to race into the house 32 short minutes before my middle daughter’s softball game.
“We need to leave soon,” Meagan reminded me as I rushed into the kitchen.
“Everyone grab a sandwich!” I called. “That’s dinner!”
“Again?” Currie complained again.
“There’s no milk or lunch meat.” Josh called. “Did you forget again?”
“Did your dad remember milk or lunch meat?” I snapped. I thought of my day, a million things waiting to be done, as opposed to his day of empty hours, and boiled. I felt pangs of guilt as the words left my mouth, aware of the turmoil the layoff had created in Steve. But my frustration ruled, and I put all my emotional force into the words.
“No I didn’t,” came the deep, grunted response from our bedroom.
“Then I guess we’re out,” I stormed, “because I don’t know when I’m supposed to do it all!”
The words swept in the direction of my spouse. I waited for an apology. None came.
The game was tight; a real battle to the end. We cheered the girls, we moaned at the umpires, we jumped up and down and even indulged in sodas. The girls played hard and won in the last few seconds.
The stress of the day, the weeks and the year began to dim.
But, as the seven of us loaded into the Suburban, the bickering began, this time over something as unimportant as who sat where. Pointless, mindless quarrelling had become the norm in our home. Tonight it collided headlong with the emotion of the week.
“Not another word until we get home!” I shrieked. I smacked the console to emphasis my irritation. Steve glanced at me and cocked an eyebrow.
After one small breath of silence it began again; the petty garbage of teenaged brothers and sisters.
‘I cannot do this,’ I thought as the SUV pulled up in front of the house. I jumped out and started for our home. And then the volcano exploded.
‘Where are You?’ I silently stormed.
‘You promised to be here through all this junk. This was supposed to be the year where we became a whole family again. So where are you?’
God whispered the answer to me later in the middle of a star filled night. “Oatmeal boxes and Bob,” He said silently.
“Oatmeal boxes and Bob,” He repeated.
The stories were strange and different, but they both spoke of God’s faithfulness.
“Look,” Cindy ordered.
I looked, more concerned about delinquent paperwork than anything she might have uncovered for our upcoming unit. A week long study of farms was approaching and Cindy was sorting through toys, putting away unneeded items and pulling out things that would work.
She held up a silo top, yellow plastic freshly scrubbed. “Three times I’ve tried to throw this away,” she said, “and three times I’ve known I needed to wait. But I couldn’t find the base.”
“Won’t be much good without the base,” I said, glancing back to the file in front of me.
“I know, but look!”
I did, feeling the push of a fast approaching deadline. “What?”
She smiled. “This morning I started to throw away an oatmeal box. Well, not a box, but one of those canister things, you know?”
I nodded impatiently.
She held the canister up and slipped it under the silo. “A perfect fit! All we have to do is paint it red.” She arched her eyebrows and tilted her head. “Do you know what this means?”
“We have a silo for the farm unit?”
Cindy shook her head. “No! Don’t you get it? It means God is aware of our needs! Not just big needs, but the tiniest, most minute things—ridiculous things like one piece of one toy for one unit! He’s interested in us, down to the littlest detail, no matter how small it seems to us. We really are His children; He really does care for us!”
The phone rang. I answered.
“Coolest thing ever,” my sister’s voice rushed through the phone lines and into my ear. “Coolest thing ever! I woke up in the middle of the night and knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that I was supposed to pray for Bob. So I started praying, you know. Just praying that God would protect and guard him and lead him and that Bob would be willing to hear His voice and accept His will and guidance. And then it occurred to me; I don’t know anyone named Bob.”
“You don’t?” I asked as the torrent of words stopped.
“No! Not a soul. Not at church or work or anywhere else. I thought, ‘Hey, God, I don’t know a Bob. Why do You want me to pray for him?’ Know what God told me?”
“He told me that He knows Bob and that’s enough reason. And you know what occurred to me this morning?”
“You don’t even know Bob?” I asked, not quite caught up.
“It occurred to me that if God cares enough to have me wake up in the middle of the night to pray for Bob, and I don’t even know him, then He cares enough about me to have strangers praying for me, too.”
“If He cares enough about this Bob guy to have me wake up to pray for him then who knows how many people He’s had praying for me! He could be waking up people I don’t even know, dozens of people, maybe, because I don’t know how many people were praying for Bob last night—maybe a hundred!”
‘Where are You?’ I ranted.
And He answered, ‘Oatmeal boxes and Bob.’
And I knew.
He was there. He’s always there, caring about the smallest detail of my life, no matter how insignificant, how minute. Aware of my hurting, frustrated spirit, concerned so much that who knows how many strangers were awakeded at midnight last night to pray for me and my family, not just in abstract, but by name.
Just like Bob.
In a way nothing has changed. I have figured out, two years later, that my life will always be challenging and my ministries will always be intense. Irritations will creep through my armor and frustrations will flare.
But when they do I will remember:
Oatmeal boxes, Bob, and me.
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