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 Bittersweet Answer


It feels as though, more often than not, answered prayers are bittersweet. From my mortal lens, I can’t tell if it feels this way because it’s true, the frequency of bittersweet answers outpaces the saccharine ones, or because we in our mortality are more likely to notice when things don’t go how we planned more often than we are to notice when everything is going exactly as we’ve planned. I suspect the reason may be the latter. The reason why is worth reflecting on but for now I want to talk about why the bittersweet answer stings and where we go after.

On the surface, we all claim to want clarity. Whether or not you’re a person of faith, we’re searching for answers on why we feel this way and what’s coming next for us. For example, just the other day, one of my friends asked the astrological expert of the group what the start of Gemini season means. “It’s bad. Probably fine for you, but not for us Pisces” she responded. Whether it’s the star season, or a closed door, clarity is sobering. It forces us to face a long awaited answer with the fullness of its truth. Sobriety, as any recovering addict will tell you, is great, but there’s a reason addictions are so common and why they last so long. We don’t really, truly want to face the world sober. It means the pain is in focus and we have nothing to buffer it.

A bittersweet answer can be the death of a dream. Maybe you have feelings for someone and you get the call that they’re moving away. Maybe you’ve been interviewing for that dream job and you get a rejection email. Maybe you miscarry a pregnancy. If we live our lives as instructed in Proverbs 3:5-6 then we bring all things to the Godhead and live according to the answers They provide. Yet that doesn’t always feel like good news.

In Isaiah 54:8 we are reminded that the Lord’s ways are not our ways. That disconnect often stings because we are so sure about that person, that job, that life, that plan and path for ourselves. And for some reason, even though we’ve thought of everything, even though we’ve seen how good and right that path is for us, God’s ways are higher and God disagrees. And it stings. It’s allowed to. The death of a dream is deserving of our grief for it. That’s the bitter.

A bittersweet answer can also be the belaboring of a nightmare. Maybe you’re in a relationship that makes you feel suffocated more often than held, but God asks you to stick through it. Maybe you’re at a job you hate or feel abandoned at, and while God is telling everyone else Go, God’s telling you, Stay. Maybe your kids are extra challenging these days and while all your friends are enjoying time with their kids, yours feel like a chore, and God is saying keep working. Things will get better, you’re certain, if you can find someone else, take a different position, or have healing for your kids. Yet God’s higher ways leave you where you’re at. The nightmare bites and it hurts and it’s allowed to. That’s the bitter.

The sweet is that God is answering at all. In the moment of clarity, it feels like slap in the face, and yet the alternative – abandonment – is not kind either. Recall the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 13. When God is silent, we are also stung by the silence. We long for God to deliver us and speak balm into our souls. The sweet is that even in a bold, red-lettered, capitalized no, God has heard us and answered. There is a miracle in that. Now that we have an answer, we can begin to pick up the shards of our broken dream and reimagine what they might form instead. Now that we have an answer, we can plant our feet to stay in the fight. We have a direction again. We know despite our circumstance we will see goodness while we are alive.

We can be confident of this goodness because after God tells us that Their ways are higher and better than our ways, God says:

For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11 NRSV

The closed door does not mean God is done working. God is just not done working yet.


We are not alone in this tension between the bitter and the sweet. If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you might know that my morning devotional has had me in the Old Testament for a while, specifically Leviticus and Numbers, books I typically don’t read. As I’ve been going through, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: The Israelites constantly have their mouths full. They are either stuffed with heavenly manna (God’s provisions and fulfilled promises) or complaints (human anxiety that God will not deliver on said promises). I see so much of myself in that tension, caught between the dead dream and the hope for the new one. Throughout these two books, the Israelites have repeatedly complained to their leaders that they should have been left to die and rot in Egypt. They are so consumed with the promise not coming at the right time, not being the right thing, that they are willing to trade in the coming glory for the devil the know.

It is a timeless human temptation to cling to the dead dream and bemoan the continuing nightmare. Yet I believe that the love we invest in unrequited people and stillborn babies is not wasted. I believe that the interviews and the jobs we endure will teach us skills for our career. I believe that the patience we give our children will make the waiting worth it. Our dreams are dead, yes, but they taught us to reach for more. Their fantasy gave us a taste of the coming glory and for that I am thankful. Our nightmare continues yes, but the struggle will give us the tools to climb the mountain so that we may enjoy it when we reach the top.

I leave you with two reminders from the Psalmist about the relationship of sorrow and joy. Sorrow is defeated by joy in the morning and sorrow is used to water the plant that brings joy. Mourn for your dream for those tears will fertilize an even better one. Endure the nightmare because the morning always wakes us from our slumber. The bitterness and the sweetness.

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).

Follow him on FacebookInstagram, or Goodreads.

Curious why we don’t use he/him pronouns for God in this post? Click here.

The Prayer Against Safety

Lies We Believe About Ourselves and Others

Day Five: The Prayer Against Safety

Let us not be shamed into inaction. Let us accept our human condition. Let us name our fears with weak tongues.

Name your fears in prayer. Throw your burdens upon the shoulders of a God.

Grant us courage to dispel the myths of this world’s priority of truth. Grant us strength to shed the shroud of safety. Grant us the humility to ask for help.

Ask to be lifted out of the grasp of fear in God’s timing and through Their means.

Intercede and smash this golden calf in my life. Intercede and smash this golden calf in my country. Intercede and smash this golden calf in my world. Mold us into the Kingdom Come. Let there be no Child that goes hungry and no Child that has more than they can handle. Let no one make a weapon out of me. Let no one cause me to hate that which You have called me to love. Let no devil or demon, unbelief or doubt, cause me to fear death more than I fear the presence of anything in or around me. Let me love.

In all things, at all times, in your ways and your forms,


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