Manna and Quail
“At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD.”
There are a few milestones of a Christian life that pop up along the way, that serve both to assure you of your progress, and remind you that it’s a long journey to heavenly perfection. You’re not there yet, but you’re getting closer. The big gate of confession and repentance. The bridge (or water under it?) of baptism. The signpost of divine calling. There’s a particular big rock overlooking the desert where one sits, reads the Pentateuch, and suddenly gasps, “Oh my God, this is me. I am an Israelite.” And sometimes chunks of that big rock break off and whack you in the head a few times along the way, when you read Exodus and graduate from rolling your eyes with exasperation and groaning, “Whhyyyyyy did they never leeeeearn?!!?” to hanging your head in shame, lamenting, “Why don’t I ever learn? Why am I so untrusting? Why am I so ungrateful? Why do I forget the LORD, my God?”
We often say we’d like to see a miracle. The most trustworthy source of truth, the television, tells us that miracles come with a twinkling eye, a little tinkle of chimes leading up to an orchestral crescendo, and a lot of hugs and tears and happily ever after. This pesky thing called life does not follow the director’s script. Our miracles are subtle, sometimes unnoticed, and sometimes, quite frankly, dull and annoying.
Maybe the first morning manna appeared, it sparkled with the dew, and the people, with twinkling eye and tinkle of a goat’s bell, gasped, “What is it?!” They tossed it in the air like confetti, sprawled out and made manna-angels, slo-mo ran into their lovers’ arms through a field of manna, glorious manna! Or maybe they looked at it like Americans look at vegetables and with furrowed brow mumbled, “WTF?”
Either way, it wasn’t long before they got sick of it. And quail too. We read back on their journey, usually licking the coffee and donuts off our fingers as we turn the pages, and shake our heads. Oh, you ungrateful Hebrews, you’re starving in a desert, and would rather go back to slavery and melons than eat manna for a while on the way to Paradise? God is doing a miracle for you! How can you complain?! (brushing off glazed and powdered crumbs from the book of Exodus.)
40 years. They ate the same old “what-ness” every. single. day. for. 40. years. Enter the Lyme life.
For whatever reason (Lyme, leaky gut, mast cell disorder, lectins, autoimmunity, all of the above) I’ve slowly become overly sensitive or allergic to everything. I can’t eat gluten, dairy, corn, soy, nuts, coconut, butternut squash, cauliflower, pickles, ferments, broth, alcohol, and I’m not supposed to eat tomatoes, eggplants, spinach, potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, curry, cinnamon, coffee, tea, sugar, honey, syrup, bananas, pineapples, avocados, strawberries, citrus fruit, dried fruit, grapes, salami, chocolate, factory-raised meat, or eggs.
The jury is still out on manna.
With every new sensitivity comes an overwhelming sense of defeat. I thought going gluten-free was hard. It was not. Dairy-free was painful because… well because cheese. Soy, I discovered, is hiding in everything from pasta sauce to hot dogs to granola. It was a miserable diet. Then I found out about corn. Corn (the seed of Satan himself) is being grown cheap and abundantly and stuffed into everything. EVERYTHING. The meat you eat: fed on corn. The salt in your shaker: laced with corn. Everything gluten-free: substituted with corn. Every pill I was taking to stay alive: filled with corn. My strict diet became depressing and isolating. THEN I found out about histamine. That’s a fun one, because histamine levels vary according to how long the food has existed, what it’s paired with, and individual reactions of your own cells. So there is no definitive high-histamine avoid list. It’s a “find out the hard way how much you’re going to swell up and itch” list with a few pointers. My diet became unsustainable.
In case you haven’t noticed, society revolves around food. We don’t just get together, we go out to lunch. We don’t just talk, we get coffee. We don’t fellowship, we break bread. When you have to prepare everything you eat from scratch, with an exhausted and arthritic body, eating is a chore, not a social activity. My life revolves around the kitchen and the over-priced farmer’s market. It takes all my leftover energy sometimes to get through the grocery store without crying in hopelessness.
Every single day I eat a ton of green-leaf salad with olive oil, and a stir-fry of onions, carrots, some green vegetable, cabbage, and chicken. Frozen preservative-free fish. Rice, rice, and more rice. Quinoa ‘til I barf. Oatmeal. And thankfully, I am able to eat eggs (knock on wood.) When I’m lucky, I have the energy to bake gluten-free rolls. When I’m really lucky I feel good enough to follow a recipe with some actual flavor, and maybe even cheat with some nightshades. Chocolate and sugar take a toll. Sometimes I pay. Once in a while I dare to test beans.
Every day. Every. single. day. No restaurants, no take-out, no dates, no tastings, no free samples, no picnics, no parties, no drive-throughs, no potlucks, no festivals. Unless I do two week’s worth of planning and preparing, physically and mentally.
I complain. A lot. I make it just out the grocery store so I can burst into tears in my car and try to see my way home. I go to the freezer knowing darn well there’s nothing in there that isn’t going to take 40 minutes to cook, and cry. A lot. I throw my hands in the air and vow to go on a hunger strike against tick-borne diseases, because hunger doesn’t hurt nearly as much as bloating, itching, heartburn, or encephalitis. Oh that I were back in Egypt, overweight, unhealthy, and blissfully ignorant, but oh-so-well-fed on peanut butter and calzones.
I have never gone to bed without food (I won’t say “hungry,” thanks, cortisol). Sometimes I sit down to something delicious and realize a culinary miracle has occurred right before my eyes. Sometimes dinner comes only in a fit of tears and a concession to pea crisps and a frozen turkey burger patty. But it always comes. Sometimes I don’t make the best choices and suffer discomfort. But every day, I find something to eat. And I survive.
We are so unsympathetic to the Israelites, not only because we’re so well-fed, but also because we can see the big picture. We know their journey ends in 40 years (coulda been sooner if they weren’t so hard-headed!), we know they build a kingdom, we know Jesus comes to save us all. But we forget, in the vastness of our own desert, that we have a big picture too. I hope with every fiber of my being this doesn’t last 40 months, and sometime in there I hope to taste cheese again before I die. For now, I must walk through the desert and gather my daily manna. I don’t know how long. A mushy stir-fry and dried up chicken is not the miracle I had in mind. But there are people who are worse off than me. There’s a Promised land waiting somewhere at the end of it, and a sweet, intimate, grace-filled journey to feast on in the meantime.
“He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna… that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord… For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing… and you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you...”
“Beware, lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth. You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power.”
from Deuteronomy 8