An Omer of Manna: Finding Joy When Life is Hard

Finding Joy in the Journey

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to a group of homeschool moms. As I was praying about what to share, I realized that the most important thing I can share with anyone is what Jesus has done in my life.

Our stories of redemption and grace hold incredible value. 

So I shared. I shared about my wilderness seasons. And I shared about manna.

“When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’”

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.”

(Exodus 16:14-18)

Manna in the wilderness. Joy in the journey.

I was twelve when I made my first Happy Book. Our family was going through an excruciatingly difficult time. A wilderness season. I wasn’t sure how to handle it, but I knew God could. So I got a little notebook and started filling it up with Bible verses, little comics and sayings, and other things that reminded me that even in hard times, God gives us joy.

Manna in the wilderness. Joy in the journey.

When I was 17, my body started to puff up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. And like dough, if you poked me, the indent would stay. My Mom took me to the doctor who ordered some rush tests. The results came in on a Friday afternoon and the specialist saw me on Monday morning. I was nervous as we headed to the hospital for my appointment.

I was even more nervous when I heard these words: Kidney disease.

I started treatment right away. As a teenager, the treatment seemed worse than the disease: I gained weight. I sprouted fine hairs on my face and neck (thank goodness I’m blonde). In the middle of each afternoon, I would get shaky and tired from withdrawal as the morning medication would wear off. But at night, as the evening dose kicked in, I would start to buzz. I could only sleep for a few hours. Every few days, my body would crash.

But the worst part was the emotional side effects. The medication causes mood swings, and I experienced them to the extreme.

I was a mess.

But even in the mess, I knew that God was in control. And that He was good. I went back to my notebook, my Happy Book, over and over again. I added scriptures and little things that made me smile. I found hope, joy and laughter.

I began to make little books for other people who were going through hard times.

Manna in the wilderness. Joy in the journey.

My disease was non-degenerative, which meant that there was no lasting damage to my kidneys. But it went in and out of remission several times over the years.

“The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.” (Exodus 16:35)

Sometimes, wilderness seasons last a long time.

When I was seven months pregnant with our second daughter—our oldest was 18 months—my husband lost his job. The economy was in a downturn at the time, and the only job he could find was an on-call position cleaning a hospital. I was only working part-time at that time and wasn’t eligible for maternity benefits, and we didn’t know from day to day whether my husband would be working or from week to week what our income would be.

But God always provided. Every bill, every need. Even some of our wants.

Manna in the wilderness.

We decided that my husband should go back to school and I would go back to work full time. Only, things didn’t go quite as planned. The economy was still recovering and finding a job was hard. And in the middle of it all, the kidney disease relapsed.

I got out a new notebook, and began to write down all of the little blessings that I knew were gifts from heaven in a hard season. A gratitude journal. A way of remembering that God gives us joy in hard times.

The Israelites grumbled in the wilderness. Although I, too, grumbled many times, I was determined to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. So I filled up line after line in my notebook.

The way the sun ignites the ice-coated trees.
My daughter’s smile.
A warm cup of coffee.

Little things, but each one was a gift. Manna.

After what felt like forever (it was only a few months), I came off kidney treatment and landed the job of my dreams working as an executive assistant to a City Councillor. My husband and I were so excited. Stability. Finally! It was like a weight lifted off.

A week after I started my job, the specialist called. My test results hadn’t come back clear like they were hoping. I would have to go back on kidney disease treatment again.

I was devastated. How would I function in such a high-stress job while having to deal with the side effects of the medication?

And then, two weeks after that, we found out we were pregnant.

Pregnant?

Pregnancy puts added strain on the kidneys, and they weren’t even functioning properly to begin with. Obviously, I couldn’t stop treatment. You sort of need your kidneys. But what would the treatment do to the baby? Would the baby be okay? I cried for days.

There was so much strain on our marriage during this prolonged season that I wondered sometimes if we would make it through. But God was with us, strengthening us and loving us even in our mess, providing joy when we needed it. Manna in the wilderness.

At some point during that time, I stopped writing in my gratitude journal. Instead, I started using my camera to capture the moments that I knew were gifts in a challenging season. If you follow me at all on social media, you know that I photograph everything. It’s because I’m grateful. And when things are difficult and I feel discouraged, I go back through my photos and thank the Lord for providing joy in hard times.

We’re on the other side and life is easier now. Our little girl came through unscathed and brings us so much joy. Our marriage is stronger. We’re stronger. But I’m thankful for the lessons learned through our experiences.

Finding joy when life is hard

I know that some of you here have been through unimaginable tragedies. I can never understand the depth of pain that some of you face on a daily basis. My life probably seems like a piece of cake in comparison. But when I talk about joy in the journey, it’s not just something I’m making up because I like alliteration and it sounds nice.

I truly believe that there is value in looking for and being grateful for all the joy that God gives us in hard times.

This is something that has been tested in my wilderness seasons. I’ve wrestled with depression, anger and anxiety. But even in the middle of all of that, God has reached out His hand and showed me love. He’s showing you love too.

The question is, can you see it?

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”

So Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar and put an omer of manna in it. Then place it before the Lord to be kept for the generations to come.”

As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved.

(Exodus 16:32-34)

It’s so important to hold on to the faithfulness of God. To look for joy in hard times. For me, it was a Happy Book, then a gratitude journal, then a camera. For you, it might be something different.

Find your omer. Preserve it.

And never forget God’s faithfulness in the wilderness.

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