A collection of oatmeal tins and boxes sits atop the cupboards in our kitchen. I love the look of the old round Quaker Oats and Irish Oats packages, but that’s not why I collect them. There’s a story behind those colorful boxes, and every time I tell it, I’m reminded all over again of God’s loving care for His children.
The story begins in 1975 when my husband of barely four months “dragged” me off to live in New York. Ken was pursuing an illustration career, and back in the day before e-mail and Fed-Ex and the Internet, an illustrator needed to live near the publishing houses. So New York, it was. We were young and dumb, and we didn’t bother securing jobs before we made the thirty-plus hour drive across the nation with all our worldly goods packed into a 24-foot Ryder truck. After all, we had a thousand dollars in our pockets, and a thousand dollars was a lot of money. In 1974. In Kansas.
New York, not so much.
We stayed in a cheap hotel for a couple of days while we looked for an apartment to rent. After paying for the rental truck, the hotel, a deposit on our apartment, and a few groceries, our money was gone. I found a job a few days later, working at a boutique in a mall, but my income was exactly enough to pay the rent. Three months later, Ken was still looking. Potential employers had a don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you policy—not conducive to getting a job if you couldn’t afford the $60 deposit to get phone service. (This was before cell phones, remember.)
Someday I just might write a memoir about our newlywed days in New York, but to make a long story shorter, in those months before Ken found work, we went through a time when we literally did not have one thin dime to our names (the price of a postage stamp and a pay phone call in those days…much to our worried parents’ chagrin!)
For one memorable week, we lived on oatmeal. The first couple of days, we had lovely warm oatmeal with sugar, whole milk, and even a can of peaches to top it off. We literally ate oatmeal—the only thing left in our cupboard—for breakfast, lunch, and supper. After a few days, the peaches were long gone, and then the milk ran out. No problem. We just made the oatmeal a little thinner and a little sweeter. But toward the end of the week, the sugar canister, too, was empty.
We are here to testify that if you must survive on one food alone, oatmeal—even without milk and sugar—is an excellent choice. As my mother always told us as kids, “It sticks to your ribs.” During that week, we were never truly hungry. Oh, we were hungry for something, anything, besides oatmeal, but God had provided a “manna” of sorts, which wonderfully sustained us until Ken finally found a job and we were able to fill the cupboards again.
Many times over the years, we’ve told our children—and anyone else who will listen—of the way God took care of us during that time in New York. We look back on it as a time when God sealed our love for each other as husband and wife, and sealed our faith in Him. We had each other and Jesus—and we learned that is a very good place to be.
Fast forward to February 2009, and my husband comes home from work in the middle of a Friday morning to tell me that he’s been laid off from his advertising manager position after twenty-five faithful years with his company. A very difficult few months—the hardest time of our entire marriage—somehow made me forget all those lessons learned.
And then one day, in the midst of emotional chaos and conflict, an odd-shaped package arrived in the mail from our oldest daughter. Curious, we opened it to find a box of Quaker Oats. We knew even before we read Tobi’s sweet note, what that oatmeal represented. And we cried. We may have forgotten God’s provision all those thirty-five years before, but our kids hadn’t forgotten the story of God’s care for us.
That oatmeal box (we ate the oats) with the Quaker man in the blue hat still sits high atop our cupboards where we can see it every day, an Ebenezer stone reminding us: “thus far the Lord has helped us.” (I Samuel 7:12)
What are the “Ebenezer stones” in your life—those things that are tangible reminders of how the Lord has brought you through a difficult time, carried you when you couldn’t carry yourself? I am so deeply thankful that He is Yahweh-Yireh, Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider.
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