“Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp” – Frederick Buechner. When I was eight, I sat on the blue stairs, listening to the gurgles that my aunts pool made, while flicking water with my toes. The movement created small ripples, unlike the larger ripples at the other end where my sister’s played Marco Polo, collected floating rings, slid down the fiberglass half-pipe, and did the cannonball off the diving board. When it came to swimming, I was a scaredy-cat, but sometimes, when I felt brave, I’d stand in the shallow end of the pool, and bend my knees scooching down to submerge my shoulders, and then scooching a little more to submerge my earlobes, but never fully immersing myself. A few times, I tip-toed down the cement slope, hugging the wall and white-knuckling the sides, while my sister’s coaxed me to let go. Maybe not literally, but theoretically we do this all the time. Rather than trust a God we cannot see, we hug the walls of life and white-knuckle the things we can see. I never let go of the sides.
I never dove off the diving board.
I never slid down the slide.
The Hebrew word for faith is Emunah meaning, support (Strong’s #530), and is an action oriented word. One example in scripture is when Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms in Exodus 17:1. It says, “His hands were steady (emunah) till the going down of the sun.”
The Hebrew word aman stems from the root word emunah and means to “severely trust or rely upon.” It’s where we get our English word, amen, which means, so be it.
The Hebrew adds texture and contour to what trusting in the LORD with all our heart; and leaning not on our own understanding really looks like.
When my kids were young, God showed up in a real and tangible way, and when my faith gets low, as it does from time-to-time, I like to remember this story:
We’d put our last $2.50 in the gas tank on the way to church that morning, and on the way home the gas-guzzling Chevy sputtered into the gas station, where the engine cut off. Without saying a word, my husband and I unbuckled our belts and began hunting for $2.50 in loose change (the exact amount we needed to get home). We stuffed our fingers into the cracks; poked our heads under the seats; ripped up all the floor mats; and rummaged through the backseat to find a melted clump of crayons, Animal Crackers, half chewed Cheese Puffs, and gooey Gummy Bears that clung to our fingertips like Spider-Man Silly String at Halloween.
We counted the change in our hands, which totaled a whopping twenty-five-cents.
My husband dug in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened the billfold wide and dumped it upside down like an empty cereal box, and then held it open for me to see inside. He shrugged his shoulders and said matter-of-factly, “We’re jacked!” before flinging his wallet onto the dashboard.
For a few minutes, we sat unmoving and speechless.
Then out of nowhere, he reached onto the dashboard and retrieved his wallet. What’s he doing? I wondered, watching as he opened it again and peered in. His eyes lit up. His shoulders squared back. His mouth smiled. My brows made question marks as I leaned to peer in. Inside were five one-dollar bills. They were perfect without so much as a wrinkle or a fold, hot off the press, and sticking together like new bills do.
William Wordsworth said, “Faith is a passionate intuition.” He’s right. So whatever it is you need, faith says, “Look again!”
Dance the Night Away
Another tangible story of faith is when Ethan, my youngest started middle school. That year, he decided to play the trumpet. We didn’t have the money to buy a trumpet at the time, so our friend loaned us hers. During the year, Ethan came home excited, because the band teacher told him that he had a knack for playing the trumpet and wanted him to switch to the French horn. Ethan explained how the technique of blowing in the French horn was harder and that most couldn’t do it. “That’s well and fine,” I said, “but we don’t have the money to purchase a French horn right now.” Upon that, he frowned and glumly walked away.
That same week, Ethan’s friend came over, and they went across the street to play in the woods behind the Dollar General. Not long after they left, they came bounding into the house. “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” Ethan kept saying, while holding a dirty, dinged-up French horn in his hand.
“Where’d you find that?”
“In the woods,” he said, panting. “I tripped over it chasing Kelvyn.”
“You tripped over it?”
“It was sticking up in the dirt. I thought it was a root,” he explained with sheer exuberance. “I can’t wait to see if it works!”
After he scooped out the dirt and the baby spiders that had hatched, he wiped it down, and rubbed a thin layer of ketchup on the brass to shine it. Afterward he took the mouthpiece from the trumpet and blew into the horn. It sounded like a disgruntle elephant and at the same time, the most beautiful sound on earth. “It works!” he shouted, “I can’t wait to tell the band teacher!”
I heard someone say once, “We do not preach faith that we might not have trouble. We preach faith that we might overcome trouble,” which connects me to something else someone said, “Sometimes faith and doubt make great dance partners,” which takes me back to "sometimes faith can sound like a disgruntle elephant and at the same time, the most beautiful sound on earth."
Furthermore, I’m reminded of a story that my friend Ann told. How that when she was little, they didn’t have food in the house, and at bedtime she prayed and asked God to bring them some. Even more specifically, she prayed for God to bring her Oreo cookies, because they were her favorite. The next morning, she said, "There was 12" of new snow on the ground and bags of groceries sitting on the porch." Ann's eyes welded with tears as she said, “There wasn’t a single tire track or footprint in the snow, and one bag was filled entirely with Oreos.”
Faith is not rigid and cold and aloof. Faith is expansive and trusting and leaning. Faith works from the inside-out. It creates ripple effects; first, it starts in the heart with a hunch or with a passionate intuition; next, it ignites the soul; then it becomes visible and tangible, like a three-story-ark, and Abraham’s three-day journey with sticks and fire, and baptism, and communion, and baby dedications, and anointing the sick, and French horns, and Oreo cookies; and is far reaching. Faith is both combustible and incombustible. It is both visible and invisible. It is both inward and outward. Faith sparks faith and creates long lasting ripples in the universe that others may lean on, trust in, see, touch, hear, expand from, and light their candle wicks with. So maybe you haven’t tripped over a French horn in the woods lately, or maybe you haven’t had money appear in your wallet just yet, but faith is believing the unbelievable. Faith is looking again, and again, and again expecting to see results.
“Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.”
So let go of the sides of the pool, do the cannonball, slide down the slide, pull out the mats, grab your wallet off the dashboard, empty out the spiders, shine the dings, apply for the job, take the leap, make the offer, say a prayer, and more specifically believe as a child, ask, and have Faith Like Oreos.
I Am M.O.R.E., are so are you!
(And yes, the French horn in the blog picture is the actual one Ethan found in the woods.)