Late night prayers, revisit

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Since I posted on Monday about prayer and my habit of trying to work everything out on my own before I consider lifting my requests to God, I’ve woken several times in the middle of the night. From that supine position of near-sleep, I find I’m less likely to jump into action mode and more likely to grumble a prayer, “Lord, I’d really like to get back to sleep, would you mind holding on to this worry for me? Would you please guide me toward a decision? Would you care for this person I’m worried about?”

I’ve not been a consistent pray-er over the years, but I am continually provided with opportunities to improve — like waking in the middle of the night. I first posted this piece in December of 2014; I repost it here in August of 2019.Whether you choose to read it or not, I pray…

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prayer helps

Over the weekend I talked with my 90 year old godmother, who has now lived for over a year in her home alone — ever since her husband, my godfather, fell and broke his hip. She is so sad and lonely; her load is heavy — managing a home, driving to and from the facility where he lives, and dragging herself out of bed every morning. One thing sustains her — prayer.

I saw my mother this weekend, too. She has chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and severe joint pain throughout her body. Each day for her, too, is a struggle — getting out of bed, managing her symptoms and the side effects of the medication she takes, and completing the tasks that give her life meaning: preparing meals, sending care packages, and praying for her grandchildren.

Life has taught these women the power and solace that can be found in prayer. They have learned that, more than anything else, prayer has the ability to affect change — on the grand scale and in their every day lives.

I’m no expert at prayer. I’m a novice — I have good intentions and I love to dabble, but I haven’t developed the discipline nor done the due diligence that lead to excellence.

My first reaction to any problem is to strap on my gear and get busy finding solutions. It’s muscle memory from years of survival in the trenches. See problem? Find solution.

In fact, just last night I was watching news reports about two mass shootings over the weekend — one in El Paso and one in Dayton. From my tired Sunday afternoon haze I practically jumped to my feet, incredulous: Why is this still happening? Why haven’t we done something? These are real people with real families! We need an immediate buy-back program, followed by a targeted approach to identifying people at risk, and an extensive program for eliminating hate speech and bias and building strong relationships among the diverse people of our country!

I was on a roll. And we do need to act. Immediately. But all my sputtering in my living room on a Sunday evening won’t likely make a difference. I might play a role in ending gun violence in our country, but my frantic single-handed strategies don’t usually get me anywhere.

Eventually I run out of steam, and I begin to hear a faint sound calling me to prayer.

Someone recently said to me, “Don’t talk to me about prayer. That helps you; it doesn’t help me.” That’s not entirely wrong.

Praying does help me. When I pray, it’s often because I can no longer keep trudging along under the weight of the overloaded backpack of worry, concern, hope, and expectation that I find myself lugging around. I collapse under its weight, drag it into my lap, and pull out some of the weightiest pieces.

I take a good long look at each one and then hold it up for examination. I see a pair of hands extended toward me, waiting to accept each burden.

I lift each concern, each person, each hope as I say, “Please…..would you? I trust you. You’ve got the power… the wisdom…the patience…to manage this. I do not. You have the perfect answer. I do not. I’m so tired of carrying it… Please…do your best… heal… restore… redeem… renew… forgive… support… please.”

And this does help me. It does. When I lift my burdens to the hands that are strong enough to carry them, I’m lighter, and hopeful, and relieved, because the God who created all things is able to do what I cannot do. He is able to take those items from my backpack and transform them into beautiful treasures– reminders of once-worries, once-pains, once-griefs.

But that is not all.

My prayers, your prayers, our prayers combined don’t just help us — no. They transform the world. They call upon the Almighty, the One who owns all the might, and they enlist His power, all the power, and He, our great Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer takes JOY in answering.

But, sadly, prayer is not the first place I turn. No, I’m pretty strong, so I can lug that backpack around for quite a while as I climb rocky trails of possibility, moving boulders and downed branches out of my way. I am confident that I can solve each dilemma, rewrite each tragedy, and heal every hurt.

I’ve got stamina, too. I can wake up in the morning with a plan for how to restore a broken relationship and rehearse reunion scenarios in my mind all day long, alternating settings, dialogues, and supporting characters. By the time I fall into bed, I have imagined countless scenes and accumulated unfulfilled hopes by the dozen, but I haven’t brought two people back together again.

But I’m resilient. I can get up the next day and try again on another issue, perhaps the upcoming election, the educational crisis in public schools, or the unconscionable prevalence of mass shootings. I can toss around solutions in my head all day long — examining candidates, exploring school reform, and designing gun legislation. You’d be amazed at what goes on in this mind as I’m driving to work, walking at lunch, cutting up vegetables or folding laundry. I expend all kinds of energy in my attempts to solve the world’s problems.

But all my scene-writing and strategy-planning is not making a difference. It’s merely my futile attempt at managing the items in my overloaded backpack. It’s my way of coping — my way of not sinking under the weight.

And, to be honest, it’s not even soldiering. Soldiers don’t strategize or rewrite history. They obey orders. They execute strategies. They complete missions. They report back.

My writing of scenes and brainstorming of strategies is not an attempt at soldiering, it’s worse –it’s an attempt at commanding. I not only want to carry the backpack, I want to give the orders.

I believe that’s called insubordination.

Sigh.

So much energy expended and none of it is necessary.

In fact, I don’t even need to carry the backpack.

I’m lugging it around trying to find my own answers and solutions, when I’ve been invited (some might say commanded) to turn it over, to lift it up, to surrender it.

And when I surrender it, change happens.

Change in me.

Change in others.

Change in the world.

Because those hands that are reaching out to receive the items I’m lifting up, are able (unlike mine) to heal, restore, redeem, renew, forgive, and support. Sometimes I am invited into the process, and sometimes I’m invited to stand still and behold the work of the Lord.

And that does, in fact, really help me. It changes me. It renews me. It gives me hope and strength.

I know that tomorrow when I wake up, I am very likely to forget all this, strap on my backpack, and start lifting up boulders in search of answers, but I pray that I tire quickly and remember to sit down and surrender my load into more capable hands.

The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.”

Psalm 6:9

Routine, revisit

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I come back to this piece I wrote almost exactly a year ago, on August 8, 2018, because once again, I’ve gotten out of my routine, and I’m trying to get back away from the grumpiness and back to the rhythms that sustain my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

I’m such a creature of habit.  Once I find a groove, I like to stay there. I like to wake at the same time, eat the same foods, listen to the same podcasts, drive the same roads, and watch the same shows. 

Lately, I’ve been getting up at 6am, doing a little yoga, showering, fixing some kind of breakfast egg scramble, listening to my daily Bible reading followed by a favorite podcast, and driving to work. At lunchtime, I take a walk and finish my podcast. Then, on the drive home, I listen to music, make a phone call, or simply drive…

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Grandparenting, revisit

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We’ve had two consecutive weekends of family reunion.This past Saturday, July 27 2019, my mother and her brothers gathered with their children and grandchildren. As we talked and laughed, I remembered my grandparents, the patriarchs of this crew, and the impact they had on me, so I re-share this post from March 2015 — my thoughts on grandparenting.

I have so many memories of my grandparents. I was blessed to have a great-grandmother until I was twenty-four, and grandparents until I was in my forties. Growing up, these three were central to my life. They were at every birthday and major celebration, and we often visited them since they lived just an hour away. Time with my grandparents was a highlight of my childhood; I eagerly looked forward to every visit.

Now, when my husband and I are anticipating a visit with our own grandchildren, I can clearly…

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Making it happen, for 28 years and counting, Revisit

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This weekend we will celebrate 29 years of marriage, so I thought I’d recycle this post from last year to remind myself of how blessed we are to be together in His hand.

Yesterday, when a friend heard that today was our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary, she said, “Sometime we’ll have to talk about how you madethathappen…”

Yeah, so, that’s not exactly how I would characterize the last three decades.

I didn’t make anything happen.  What I’ve made are numerous mistakes, countless swift judgments, and repeated poor choices. I started off strong — making the assumption that I knew how to be the best wife and mother ever, and I’ve spent the last twenty-eight years learning humility. I’m not an expert at communicating, loving, being patient, or putting someone else first. The fact that we’re celebrating twenty-eight years of marriage is not a reflection of our success, but a testimony to the…

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Carrying Sorrow and Finding Joy, Re-visit

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I brought out this post, written in February 2018, on this weekend in July 2019 — a weekend where I simultaneously carried deep sorrow and experienced great joy.

Brené Brown says in Braving the Wilderness says we “can lean into pure joy without denying the struggle in the world” My husband says, “two realities can coexist.”

We can hold two things at the same time.

Photo Credit: Anna Rathje

This is hard for me to wrap my mind around.If I am really hurt, I want to really be sad.I want to grieve, mourn, and wail.I want to go all-out Old Testament and rend my garments, put on sackcloth, and smear my face with ashes. I want to fully commit to my feelings.

Once in junior high, I came home at night feeling betrayed by a friend.I ran through the front door of my house, flew up the stairs to my…

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Reunited, and it feels so good! (Revisit)

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As I prepare for family reunions this week and next, I share this post, written in November 2015 and dusted off in July 2019. It celebrates family and friends, and echoes some of the thoughts from last week’s post about eternity.

One of the blessings of moving back to Michigan has been the chance to reunite with people we hadn’t seen in a long time, or at least hadn’t seen as often as we would’ve liked to for a long time. I will never get tired of locking eyes with familiarity, embracing family, or laughing with dear, dear friends.

When we lived in St. Louis, a trip to see our parents, any of our parents, took thoughtful planning, time off work, and long hours in the car. Now that we are in Michigan, we can be with parents in as little as 2, 3, or 4 hours. And often, when…

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Of writing and making meaning

Every week I feel a hum of anxiety around Thursday or Friday….”what am I going to write about this week?” Usually by Friday an idea is forming — an image, a topic, or the sharing of an experience. On Saturday I put words on the page. Sunday is for revising, slashing, and rewriting in order to form a cohesive draft before I fine-tune on Monday morning and finally click “publish”.

Last weekend, I dug out a months-old draft and decided to carry it to completion. I wrote most of the day Saturday — drafting and deleting, writing and revising. By Sunday morning, I had a completed draft. I felt I was about ready to post, so I clicked on the “preview” button at the top of my draft. A dialog box popped up:

I paused, and thinking my most recent changes were the only portion that was unsaved, I took a quick snapshot of the last three paragraphs, and then ‘proceeded’.

To my shock and horror, I lost much more than the last few paragraphs. I lost most of my draft. Because we’d been without power at our home, I had changed locations twice over the weekend, connecting to different internet sources, and had apparently failed to save all of my changes during several hours of drafting the previous day. I fumbled and clicked around the WordPress platform trying to find what I’d lost, but it was all gone.

This Sunday morning, I started with nothing. I had no topic or image on Friday, no drafting on Saturday, not one word on the page at 8:15am. So, rather than staring at a blank screen waiting for inspiration, I just started typing, because that’s what I tell my students, “Don’t just sit there — write something!”

I’m writing from the coffee house at our church while my husband stands one floor above me in the sanctuary, delivering a message about storytelling and how we attach meaning to the events in our lives. He puts a graphic on the screen something like this:

Experience —> Story —–> Feel/Act

He, the therapist (and educator and pastor) explains that all humans have experiences, they tell stories about those experiences, and the stories they choose to tell direct the feelings and actions that grow from those experiences. The stories we tell about our experiences are where we find meaning.

And I realize that I just told you a story about my experience with with my writing last weekend. And I’m starting to tell you a story about my experience with writing this weekend. I’m trying to find some meaning here.

A few times in the past several months, I have come to the keys frustrated — about events that to me seem unjust, inhumane, misdirected, and born of ill motive. On those days, my fingers can barely keep up with the words as they throw themselves onto the page. I dump that draft and then come back later to soften, to add complexity, to explore my feelings, and to find the meaning buried in my messy spill of words.

Other times, when I’m more contemplative, my writing feels like a letter to a friend, a telling of the truths of my life, longing for a listener who will resonate, someone who will say, “Mhmm, I get that.” My fingers move slowly, words coming from my heart and my guts rather than my mind. Often through tears I work to translate emotion into print, to share my story, to create meaning out of pain, joy, sadness, or celebration.

Sometimes I battle thoughts of insecurity, “Why do you think anyone would want to read anything that you write?” Or, fear that I will offend, “Yikes, do you really want to say that? What will your family think? your friends? the people at church?” Or that I will share something too dear and personal for those that I love the most, “Is this story really mine to tell?”

In those moments, I come back to my motive. Why do I write? I write because whenever I put words on the page something shifts for me. As the words form themselves into sentences and paragraphs, meaning takes shape. The shift is subtle. I can’t always tell that it’s happening, but it always does.

Even in my re-telling of last weekend’s lost draft, I see the variety of stories I had the opportunity to tell, I could’ve said, “Sorry, guys, I had an excellent draft, but I lost it. I’ll try again next week.” And certainly the world would’ve kept turning. Or, I could’ve told the story of what an idiot I am — how could I make such a careless mistake? WordPress even warned me! Instead, in the moment, I chose a different way: I gathered myself, and began step by step to rebuild what I’d lost, telling myself over and over, “You can do this. You are not finished. The thoughts that were true in the first draft will find their way onto the second draft. Do not give up.”

I had an experience, I told myself the story of persistence, and I was able, through my frustration, to rewrite the post. All 1400 words of it.

And in coming to the keys this week, having no topic in mind at all, and telling the story of that experience, I have discovered that writing about my process of writing is really writing about more than just that. As I sit in the coffee shop below the sanctuary where my husband is preaching about Jesus’ storytelling and His way of making meaning, I’m being prepared for when I will join him for the second service to take in the meaning he’s been making.

He’s been pouring over scripture, writing his own thoughts, creating the slides that appear on the screen behind him, and practicing his delivery. He’s been staying late at the office, getting up early in the morning, and reviewing his notes as he lies next to me before falling asleep each night.

He, all week, has been putting words onto a page, watching them form into sentences and paragraphs, and, he’s been writing stories, and, in the process, has been making meaning.

I can’t speak for him and how his process works, but I can tell you how it happens for me. Never do I know, when I first sit down, what I will ultimately say in my writing. I come to the page and write about what I have experienced. I share my stories and am often surprised by what I learn as I draft, re-read, revise, and edit. I pay attention to what I keep and what I toss — what resonates and what is dross.

And usually, I discover that the pieces of life that I’ve put on the page have somehow transformed into meaning. It’s as though the experiences have been crafted, or at least allowed, by a Creator who delights in story. The one who wrote us into His own story — imagine it! — allows us the time and space to experience our own stories. He invites us to see the intersections, the co-existence, the interconnectedness — to find meaning.

A lost draft becomes an opportunity to build resiliency. An empty page offers a time to reflect. An hour in a coffee shop becomes a necessary pause — a chance to write and see the making of meaning.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Matthew 7:7

Mutual Friendship, revisit

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This post, written in April 2017 and dragged back out in July 2019, was written before my current friendships really had a chance to show their strength. They’ve now proven themselves even stronger than I thought. I hope to one day reciprocate the kind of love and support I have received from my friends.

I have underestimated the power of friendship. If I sit and think about all the people I have loved or been loved by over the years, I have to admit that I have taken my friendships for granted. I have had the kind of friends who drive hours just to meet me for lunch. I have had the kind of friends who drop what they are doing to stay with my kids for the weekend. I have had the kind of friends who, after having not heard from me for months, will pick up the phone…

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The Great Crowd

When I was about twelve years old, I sat on a folding chair at a long table in confirmation class watching my pastor draw a line — probably 10 or 12 feet long — on the chalk board. He said, “Imagine all of eternity as this long, long line. If this line fully represented eternity, it would keep going beyond both ends of this board and never end.” I listened attentively and mentally extended the line and put little math class arrows on both ends. He then, with one quick dab of his chalk, touched the line and said, “your life is that dot.”

I have no idea, forty years later, what the context of this illustration was. He probably intended to convey the power of God to exist beyond my little arrows, but I missed all that. I had already, way before age twelve, lain awake at night pondering the vastness of eternity — how, I wondered, would I endure a never-ending life in heaven? What did never-ending even look like? I imagined myself floating in a vast black expanse and I was terrified.

Such thoughts kept me awake at night.

But this, this image of my dot-long-life compared to the expansive line of all eternity shifted the focus of my fear from that endless expanse of time to the insignificance of my life. I was one little dot. God must care very little for me — just one of many million dot-sized-lives. How in the world could he hear my prayers? Certainly my voice would be drowned in the cacophony.

Those thoughts could keep me awake, too.

Eternity and and my relative insignificance in its scope are difficult concepts to grapple with, so I learned over time to mentally place all such thoughts in a mental file marked, “to be understood later”. With those images safely tucked away, I have avoided wakeful nights fearfully spiraling alone in the dark expanse.

Not too long ago, my current pastor was teaching from Revelation (hear the sermon here). The content of Revelation, like the topic of eternity, has also been for me fairly daunting, what with all the beasts and horses and blood and fire. Unable (or perhaps unwilling) to wrap my mind around the imagery and symbolism, I typically place all Revelation-y thoughts in that same closed file folder –“to be understood later.”

So when our pastor said that he was going to “explain” a passage of Revelation and then share the application, I may have mentally rolled my eyes. I was already prepared to stash this sermon, too, in the file. However, as he used the language of Revelation to paint a new image of eternity, I felt compelled to take some notes.

An image that stood out was of the church — the collection of all believers in Christ — which he said is spread over time and space and is enduring into eternity, strong and clothed in majesty. As he spoke, I saw images of my grandparents and their parents and grandparents and all the parents and grandparents of all the people I know and love and many that I did not know, spreading out in all directions from me into time and space. I saw all these hundreds and thousands as though they were standing in the dark sky among the stars, a great cloud of witnesses — witnesses who had endured all the attacks of the evil one, all the traumas of their years, all the distractions of their days –bearing witness among the stars.

I imagined them cheering me on, like spectators that line the course at a marathon. They were standing resolute, watching my journey and saying together, “Come on! Come on!”

It dawned on me that they had already run this course — they knew what was coming, the challenges I would face, the relief that would be provided, and how far I was from the finish.

I shouted at them in disbelief, “Really? You finished? You made it?”

“Yes! Keep going! You can do it!”

“Easy for you to say! Can’t you see I’m struggling here?”

“We struggled, too!”

“You did?”

“Of course…sometimes for long stretches.”

“This has been a very long stretch. I’m tired.”

“He’s got you! You’ll make it!”

I turned my eyes back toward the road, pressed forward by their voices. Of course they were right. My difficulties are not beyond what is common to man, surely I have not be given more than I could bear.

“Keep your eyes up. Relief is coming!”

What had I been thinking, that I was the only one who struggled? Did I think my challenges were more difficult than those of anyone else?

I glanced to my right and saw an older man, sweat band across his forehead, eyelids at half-mast, jaw slack. His faded singlet exposed his thin, leathery arms. His feet, in worn trainers, pounded the pavement wearily, one step after the other.

In front of me, I saw a pony-tailed girl, clad in neon-orange and fresh kicks, trotting beside her dad who intermittently dispensed encouragement: “Gatorade just ahead….drop your shoulders and that cramp will go away…you’re doing great!” She determinedly pumped her arms, believing his words.

What had I been thinking? That the road would be easy? Hadn’t I expected that it would take work, focus, and determination? Hadn’t I realized that life is full of ups and downs, unexpected turns, and difficult paths? Where had I gotten the message that if I got it right, I could avoid trouble, tragedy, and pain?

Why hadn’t I realized that my focus should not be on avoiding trouble, but on responding to trouble? What kind of person would I be in the face of difficulty? The kind who stomps off the course? Or the kind who grabs a cup of Gatorade, leans into the encouragement of those who have gone before, and keeps stepping?

Anyone who’s run a long race knows that crowds gather at the starting line and at the finish. They also often show up at easily accessible mile markers, but on the steep inclines, the difficult hair pin turns, and the long desolate stretches, the sidelines are often empty. You might see others far ahead on the course or others way behind, but you can feel pretty lonely as you hear the sound of your feet hit the pavement and struggle to control your ragged breaths.

Yet at these times, when the cloud of witnesses has seemed to evaporate and the cheering has gone silent, a still small voice can be heard.

In the world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

See, I have engraved you o the palm of my hands.

And before you know it, you’re rounding a curve and you can hear the roar of the crowd, “Come on, come on! You are almost there!”

Your knees start to lift, your face starts to smile, your pace picks up. You run to join those in front of you, as you turn to those behind yelling, “Come on, we’re almost there!”

This picture — this new picture — of a great crowd of those who have gone before cheering the rest of us on — this one I won’t tuck into that file. This one I will keep out on my desk, on the dashboard of my car, on the doorposts of my house.

I am not a solitary dot on the line of eternity. I am one of millions of dots forming a visible cloud — a collection of those to whom God has been faithful. The expanse of eternity is large enough for all of us, and not so large that I will feel alone.

That won’t keep me up tonight. Not at all. In fact, I plan to sleep in peace.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”

Hebrews 12: 1-3