Almost two weeks ago I reached a milestone in my life. I celebrated my 40th birthday. I use the term “celebrated” loosely, because my birthday dinner was a frantic trip to the McDonald’s drive-thru so that I could make it to the PTSO meeting at the elementary school where my son was having his chorus performance.
Two years ago, as I looked ahead to this momentous occasion, I envisioned marking the date with a themed party including all my friends and family from far and wide – great joy and revelry! I’m a party person. I love a party! Especially one I don’t have to plan.
I gave my family fair warning. I heralded the forthcoming arrival of this auspicious date. Everyone in my family knew…..but no one planned anything. Yes, there were some cards and a cake after the PTSO meeting, but there was no grand celebration with friends and family, no romantic getaway with my husband, nothing to make this day different than any other day. (In all fairness, he did make some attempts at planning a night out or a trip, but he waited too long and dates were booked with ministry and kid events.)
I was devastated. Depressed. Disappointed. Let down. – Yes, you can point out that it may have been petty of me to feel that way, but that’s how I felt.
Numbers have special significance in Judaism and the number 40 is symbolic of a time of preparation. (Days of rain for the Flood; Years before Moses left Egypt; Years Moses spent as a shepherd; Years Moses led the Israelites; Years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness; Days Yeshua spent in the dessert before his ministry began; Days Yeshua spent with the disciples before he ascended to heaven; Days from the 1st of Elul to Yom Kippur) I saw this year as a marker in my life – not that I have arrived and I am now “prepared” – but that G-d would be moving in significant ways.
As I took a few days to lick my wounds while my husband vowed that we would plan that 40th birthday trip for next year, G-d made a connection for me. There are plenty of times when we enter into a season or stage in life with a certain amount of expectations or plans for what we will see on the other side. When we get to that place and it looks nothing like what we had pictured, do we allow our disappointment to cloud our vision? Can we stick it out – have faith in G-d that he has purposed to give us the best – and wait to see the blessing?
My birthday fell just after Passover, a holiday where we celebrate the miraculous exodus of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. When we sit down to the seder, we recount the story of slavery and plagues. We talk about the four “I wills,” our promise of a life as free people in our own land.
I will take you to be my people, and I will be your G-d, and you shall know that I am the Lord your G-d, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the L-ord. Exodus 6:7-8
But we don’t talk about what happened after we left Egypt, full of hope and promise. After journeying to Sinai where they would receive the tablets from the hand of G-d, the Israelites camped there for 2 years!!! I am sure they were busy preparing the tabernacle and all it’s elements, but other than that, they were stuck in the middle of a desert with not much to do.
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Numbers 11:4-6
Imagine all that good food in Egypt. It sounds like it was a veritable bounty! But they conveniently forgot that little part about the SLAVERY and the edict from Pharoah to KILL ALL THEIR BABIES! Whoops. Must’ve slipped their minds.
I can’t be too harsh on them though. As humans, we tend to forget the bad things that have happened to us – a form of mental self-preservation. So at that moment, their lack of food variety was a pretty pressing matter. In their minds, all they could see was that they had left a land with abundant food and come to a literal desert with bland manna cakes. This was certainly not the life of freedom they had pictured.
Even Moses, who was so set on being the great liberator of his people was having serious doubts about the situation.
Moses said to the L-rd , “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness. Numbers 11:11-15
I appreciate how Moses just lays it all out there with G-d. He has the chutzpa to say, “Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth…” – basically, “They’re not MY responsibility! This is not what I signed up for!” And then he says the ancient version of “Kill me now!” – I bet there was sarcasm mixed with seriousness in that statement. He was done. He had waited so long for this moment – a victorious trip through the wilderness from Egypt, and all it turned out to be was 40 years of kvetching.
He had to deal with 40 years of kvetching, but how many times did Moses meet face to face with G-d? How many times did he ascend the mountain and spend days in G-d’s presence? For Moses, the journey was difficult, but the blessings were tremendous!
Right on the heals of the manna debacle, as the Israelites were faced with the opportunity to enter the Promised Land the first time, the fear of what might be on the other side overwhelmed them. Perhaps the fact that their initial hopes for an easy life post-Egypt had been dashed at Sinai led them to be hesitant to enter the land after they received the report of the spies.
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt. Numbers 14:1-4
When expectation didn’t meet reality, the children of Israel were ready to return to slavery. As the saying goes, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” Joshua and Caleb tried to talk some sense into them, but there was no convincing them that G-d would make a way for them, and that this was the path that he has chosen. They expected it to be easier, better, different. Their fear was bigger than their faith in G-d and it kept that generation from receiving the blessing of the Promised Land.
In my 40 years on this earth, and almost as long walking with G-d, I have learned one thing that is always true: the way that G-d wants to take us is rarely easy, not often what we planned, and always requires a measure of faith. If we can trust him, he will take us places we never fathomed and bless us in ways we never expected. While my 40th birthday was not what I expected, I am standing on the promise that G-d’s plan for this season of my life is greater than anything I can imagine.
Now to Him who is able to do far beyond all that we ask or imagine, by means of His power that works in us, to Him be the glory in the community of believers and in Messiah Yeshua throughout all generations forever and ever! Amen.
Jennifer Caracelo serves alongside her husband, Rabbi Jude Caracelo, as the rebbetzin and Graphic Designer and Media Coordinator for Keren Ohr Messianic Synagogue in Savannah, Georgia. Deciding to put her degree in English Literature and Judaic Studies to work, Jennifer founded Neshama in June 2017 to create an online community for Messianic women. As a recovering craft addict, she tries to fit time into her busy schedule to knit, sew, and read. She has passed on her love of period drama movies and Bollywood films to most of her six children and even her husband.