What a Penny Press Taught Me About God


On a bench outside a tourist shop in La’ie, Hawai’i, my friend and I found God at the bottom of her purse. Last November, I flew to O’ahu to celebrate one of my best friend’s wedding. A few days before the ceremony, those of us in the bridal party met up with one of our mutual friends. We spent the lunch hour feasting on smoothies and chicken, and wandering through the local shops, checking off last minute Christmas shopping. My friend and I had finished while a few of our mutual friends were still exploring the wares. We sat on a bench chatting when, all of the sudden, my friend interrupts.

Oh my gosh, Bryce, please tell me you have a quarter. Across the walkway she had spotted her current tourist obsession: a penny press. Since I have a large international readership, and I’m not sure how universal gimmicks like these are, a penny press is basically a machine that “stamps” pennies (the lowest level of US currency) with an image or phrase reminiscent of the tourist location. You can see some brief examples here. Because the owners of the machine have to make money, they typically cost 51 cents – two quarters and the penny you get pressed. It’s not expensive, but in an age of credit cards and tap-to-pay, change is hard to come by.

Throughout the trip, one of my Bryceisms of the moment was saying “Provision!” whenever something unexpectedly good happened. It was my way of reminding myself that God provides. I had been in the midst of praying really big prayers, and I needed the reminder that my God was faithful, present, invested. I dug around in my wallet and found a quarter. In her wallet, she found a penny. The machine, though, cost 51 cents. We needed one more quarter, and we had exhausted both our wallets. There was nary another quarter in sight. Ugh. Let me check one last place. She reached an expectant hand into her bag and pulled out a quarter, fat and shiny, completely in the wrong place.

See! I told her. Provision! She strutted those 51 cents over to the penny press and walked back with a treasure. About a month later, she texted me about it. I had completely forgotten this experience. It was her prayer, her penny. Completely unmemorable to me. In her text, she told me she was running late to work and that, every time this happened, she got a terrible parking spot in her downtown parking garage. There’s never a spot if she gets there after 9. When she rolled into the garage, at a crisp 9:06, she spotted a miracle: a parking spot close to the front. You already know she yelled, Provision! Since then, she’s texted me a few other times, small reminders that tiny, significant miracles can happen. She told me she wants to get matching “provision” tattoos. Maybe at our next friend wedding, we’ll sneak out to a parlor and make it happen.


I was raised in a faith tradition that was nervous about these kinds of associations: mistaking the secular for the sacred. They warned about “over spiritualizing” something. Was that really a sign from God, or just a regular coincidence? Was God providing for you, or did you just get what you needed? Is the Enemy attacking or are you just hangry? I’m currently reading Tyler Staton’s book Praying like Monks, Living like Fools. In it, I came across a line that was balm against this reductionist theology:

If we effortlessly judge the parking space prayers of someone else, sure that we know the priorities of an incomprehensible God, our spiritual lives are suffocating and restricted while their God is ever involved, interested, present.

Tyler Staton, Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools, page 118

I’m not saying there’s no place for a word of warning against over spiritualization. We’d be wise to test voices and experiences. But I think there is something to a staunch observance of God in the middle of the most mundane parts of our lives. That one experience finding a quarter on a bench in La’ie has provided bountiful encouragement to me over the past few months. In the midst of health crises my family has faced, I’ve thought about the provision of that quarter and the provision of my friend’s parking space. If God is that interested in showing up for the little things, why do I worry if God will show up to the big things?

The truth about our prayers is they can always get bigger. They can always get more urgent. Recently, I had another friend video chat me to catch up. Towards the end of the call she submitted a prayer request for a friend of hers that was just diagnosed with cancer.

What do you think? Is that a big prayer or a small prayer? An urgent need or a flippant want? If you’re my friend or I, that’s a big and urgent prayer. If you’re the woman with cancer’s kids, that’s a massive, breathtaking, knees-on-the-floor, anguishing prayer. That’s the prayer of your life.

But if you’re reading this from war-torn Ukraine, earthquake-ravaged Turkey, colonized Kingdom of Hawai’i, that’s a prayer you don’t have room for. Sad, maybe, but unexceptional.

During the season of Lent we are reminded how unexceptional we are, how meaningless our lives and the things we work towards are. My friend’s friend is one of almost 8 billion people. Although her life is massively significant to those of us that know and love her, her life is dust. She doesn’t mean anything to the vast majority of people alive today. She means everything; she means nothing.

Ecclesiastes, one of my favorite books of the Bible (which I did a series on you can find here), does a great job balancing our profound significance and insignificance at once. I’ve had verse 9:9 stuck in my head for months now, but Eugene Peterson’s translation of 9:7-10 captures perfectly what I’m trying to get at here:

Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure! Dress festively every morning. Don’t skimp on colors and scarves. Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it, for there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 MSG

If you’re a foodie, you know the deep satisfaction, the vast importance, of a good meal. If you’re into fashion, there are few things better than finding the perfect accessory. If you’ve ever been in love, there’s no place better than being snuggled up in their arms. Vast, indescribable importance. And yet, the author reminds us, this life is meaningless. Even the biggest, most important aspects of our life are snuffed out. We die, a matter of decades after we’re born. Vast, indescribable unimportance.

If you want your god to be infinite, they’ve also got to be intimate.

In order to combat White Supremacy, God also has to understand the importance of a good lūʻau. In order to cure cancer, God’s got to have a seat at game night. If we want to trust that God can answer a once-in-a-lifetime big prayer, we have to have a testimony of small prayers God’s answered too. We don’t need them so God will answer us; we need them to remind us God answers.

You might think I’m over spiritualizing a penny press, but what I know is that God has used that moment on a bench to constantly and consistently remind me over these past few months that God can fix my marriage. God can maintain my sobriety. God can get me a parking spot when I’m overwhelmed and running late. God can gift me laughter in the middle of an episode of Abbott Elementary when I’ve had a stressful day.

God provides for me in big ways and small ways, because He is my Father and He does everyday life with me. He’s interested in it. He loves me. He has full custody of me and it isn’t enough for Him to just show up on holidays or when I really, really, pretty-please need something.

I serve a God who presses pennies; I serve a God who ceases war. Nothing more, nothing less.

God offers provision every single day if I only remember to look for it.




Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram or Goodreads.

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The Tyrant

We’re supposed to give up our love for them?

Knock at the Cabin

It is not enough only to have martyrs for the faith, people willing to die for the thing they believe in. We also need people willing to live under the threat of death, to endure a long life of suffering. Martyrs receive maximum suffering over the shortest amount of time. The ones who live endure varying amounts of suffering over a long amount of time. In evangelical America, many are willing to die for their faith; few are willing to live, to stomach what it means to endure.

You have heard in said in recent weeks that there is a revival in America, a reawakening of the Spirit on this land. I believe this is true; I can feel it in that hollow space carved into my heart. The Tyrant is tightening his gallows. Laws are being passed and censorship is sweeping our communities. The limits of grace have been set forth by human hands. The Tyrant is getting anxious. It is always, has always been like this. Darkest before the dawn. Defeat makes tyrants desperate.

I believe that there is a revival in America. I believe that God’s about to free some captives and fell some tyrants. I believe that I’m about to find myself in the wilderness, but that my children are going to feast on milk and honey. I believe that freedom is coming for the captives and I’ve felt it for a while.

For too long, though, I believed that captivity would be coming for The Tyrant. I needed to believe that my righteousness and my rightness and my rage would be redeemed. In Matthew 21, we see Jesus’ rage as he flips over the tables in his Father’s temple, condemning in righteous rightness. Rage has a holy and celebrated place in our worship. But rage is not the thing that saves the world.

Don’t miss this, friends. Rage cannot save any of us. Rage is balm for the suffering, a reminder that they are seen. Rage is a warning to repentance, a reminder to The Tyrant that human authority is just animated dust waiting, again, to crumble. Rage is important. Rage is necessary. Rage is not the thing that saves the world.

“While we were still sinners,” Paul writes, “Christ died for us.” The rage of God was righteous. It was right. It was deserved. It is only because the rage is inflicted on the undeserved. It is only because grace is undeserved that the world is save. Sacrificial love, which is a fancy way of saying suffering, is what saves the world.

God is on the way to loosen chains. God is on the way to set the captives free. God is on the way to fulfill good promises.

Promises that require suffering. Good that requires love. Freedom that requires the purging of righteous rage for peace and love that make no sense.

To follow Christ is to surrender everything – even rightness.

I don’t want to live in an equitable world or a just world. That isn’t enough for me. I want to sit at the same table as my captor. I want to look in his eyes. I want to know him as my brother.

Rage can’t do that. Only love can save the world.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Like him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and Goodreads.

And Shall Return

Mediate on the meaning of today with this song from The Brilliance

Just this past Saturday, I was driving down I-5 North with tears streaming down my face. I was on my way home from visiting a college I’m considering getting my PhD from. The song that was on my radio was Hillsong UNITED’s Desert Song. The lyrics primarily surround the seasons in our life in which nothing is going our way. The psalmist contemplates the desert which leaves her wanting, the fire which tries her, and the battle which leaves her weary and ready for victory. It is, in this way, particularly featured on my life soundtrack when I feel abandoned by God and thrown into the mouth of my enemies. But I wasn’t crying because I have been left by God; I was crying because I have been fulfilled by God.

I have been seen through the desert of poverty that comes with starting out in adulthood. I’ve been relinquished from the fire of doubt and fear of soaring into the unknown. I’ve been victorious over the voices of former bosses and friends who have spoken lies into my life, slandering my sense of purpose and my innate goodness. And I will be returned to those seasons soon. The lyric that kept coming back to me, that I kept chewing on and mediating with, was:

And this is my prayer in the harvest

When favor and providence flow

I know I’m filled to be emptied again

This seed I’ve received I will sow

Hillsong UNITED  © Capitol Christian Music Group

Those last two lines are what was striking me. Even in her brief season of joy, she is focused on the suffering. Even on the mountain, she stares knowingly into the valley’s dark edges. And, sure, it fits thematically. The song is ultimately about that tension between the horror of the world and the unrelenting, tenacious praising of God’s name. She is not blind to what’s coming, even in her moment of harvest. She reminds me a lot of King Solomon in his book Ecclesiastes:

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?

Ecclesiastes 3:19-20; 22 NIV
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the time in the year of the church in which we fast and reflect on repentance and reorientation to the Holy Way of doing things. It marks the season of lent, a time when many siblings give up social media, sugar, or other worldly pleasures in order to make more time for God and the words the Author holds for us. On Ash Wednesday, Christians are marked with ash, remnants from the prior year’s Palm Sunday palm branches. It is a tangible reminder of what we are first told in Genesis, and echoed in the above Ecclesiastes passage: we come from dust and we shall return to dust.

God first issues this command during the Fall of Humankind, after Adam and Eve have tasted the forbidden fruit. Due to the Original Sin, we have been damned back to the dust we were spun from, rather than enjoy the lush garden for perpetuity. We are, however, no longer stuck in the eternity of damnation, thanks to the coming of Christ, and his ultimate sacrifice upon the cross. In six weeks, we will celebrate by throwing off our grave clothes, indulging in feasts, and breaking our fasts. We will enter the Kingdom of Heaven with the Risen King. And then, in a few short months, we will again enter into the season of ash.

I was crying because, yes, I had seen the goodness of God, but also because I knew this was not the end of the story. It may come across as depressing and hopeless to contextualize my joy only via the impending shadow of gloom and depravity. I can understand and appreciate that. But to me, my dear friends, it is beautiful.

If my joy is temporary, I know my pain will be too. If my pain is temporary, my joy will be too. All of it is returned eventually.

If my pain is coming, it makes this season of joy that much sweeter. I know to rest in it, to store up the fruit from the harvest. I am aware that this joy is not earned but given and that is what makes it such a beautiful gift.

All of Christian life is cyclical. We mourn and we cheer. We feast and fast. We win and lose. And in the end, none of it matters, for we are returned to the dust we were born into. It takes the pressure off a bit, for me.

Rest in the dust, you children of ash and bone. Still that soul of yours. Let all of it go for this one day. Sing the glories upon the face of God. Ask the Healer to make you whole. Trust in the cycle of dust to dust, in the meaninglessness of it. In the ashiness of it. In the beauty of contextualizing our now with our later. Our joy by our pain.

Be still my soul and let it go, just let it go. Glory to God. Glory to God in the highest. Be still my soul. Lord, make me whole. Lord, make me whole. Glory to God. Glory to God in the highest. Amen.


For more on seasons, read our Christmas reflection.

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