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

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The Prize is in the Process

One of the things I like about the instruction I am doing right now is that we don’t give grades. We don’t design instruction to meet a finish line; instead, we celebrate every step of the process — every attempt, every mistake, every win. All day long, I cheer on my students (and my staff) for showing up, for trying hard things, for taking chances, and for participating in the process.

It’s scary to participate in a process that you have no guarantee of finishing or winning. Would you register for a 5K if you didn’t think you could at least finish? What if every time you have attempted a 5K you have collapsed before the first turn? Who of us would sign up for something that has — for us — repeatedly ended in failure?

That’s what my students do every day. Students typically come to Lindamood-Bell when other attempts at reading or comprehension or school in general have ended in failure or severe difficulty, and we ask them to work on the thing that is most difficult for them — five days a week, often two or more hours every day. Even showing up is difficult for most of our students, yet they do show up. So we celebrate even that. We greet them enthusiastically, and we clap and hooray when they try something — especially something that has seemed difficult. The instruction is more focused on the process than the product, and, unfailingly, each of us — the students and the teachers — are changed.

These kids have taught me that the prize is often in the process.

My friend, Marv Fox, says in his soon-to-be-released book, Become, that all things are necessary steps toward achieving our goal. He sees every challenge, every setback, as an opportunity to build muscle that will propel him forward. If he bombs at a public speaking engagement, he learns from that experience — he evaluates the steps he took in preparation and delivery and determines what he can tweak before the next opportunity he has to speak. He doesn’t stop speaking because he bombed; he sees the ‘bomb’ as an opportunity to learn and grow — to be changed by the process.

Marv is not alone in this belief, of course. Yesterday, I participated in a conference on prayer. One of the presenters, Connie Denninger, co-founder of Visual Faith Ministries, reminded participants that everything that happens in our lives is part of our spiritual formation. She said, “I wish I wouldn’t have had to go through some of the things that I have, but they have brought me to the place that I am.” Part of her story is that, as a pastor’s wife, she had never been comfortable praying. When Connie’s mother died at a relatively early age and Connie felt that she had lost her best prayer warrior, she was devastated. Who would pray for her now? In answer to her question, God put Connie on a journey toward a life of prayer that she now chronicles through her blog. In fact, this ministry, formed with friend, Pat Maier, now involves others in Visual Faith communities across the country. Connie and Pat have invited others to join them as they celebrate their process.

For the past several months, I have been reading and writing my way through a book called The Artist’s Way. Each chapter invites the reader to engage in a rhythm of writing every morning (the morning pages), and exploring activities that invite creativity (artist dates). I really did not want to read this book (in fact I wrote about it here), but committing to this process has been transformative. Each morning, as I show up, I find reason to celebrate. I am amazed at what I find myself writing on the pages and how my attitude shifts from the first line to the last. My morning pages have no goal. I have not determined that I will write for 30 days or 60 days or a year and then quit. I have just decided to enter the process of writing every morning and to watch and see what happens. The process alone has been the prize.

Several months ago, my husband was asked to help lead the prayer conference that I participated in yesterday. He is invited to all kinds of events, and I don’t always join him. I have to be judicious about what I say yes to; I always have to be mindful of how much gas I have in the tank. So, when he told me he was going to be part of the prayer conference, I didn’t initially intend to go. He was leaving on a Friday afternoon and would be gone until Saturday night. After a long work week — all that cheering and clapping and such — I knew I wouldn’t have gas in the tank to travel to Lansing and participate all day long on Saturday. I knew that for my weekend re-fuel, I would have to be on the couch.

However, a week or so ago, I discovered that the conference would be live- streamed! So, I sat in my pajamas, with my dog by my side, and joined the discussion of five individuals who have committed to the process of prayer. They shared what they’ve learned by choosing to make prayer — conversation with our Father — part of their everyday lives. They haven’t determined to try prayer for 30 days or 60 days or until their prayer gets answered. They have chosen to daily enter the process and see what happens.

None of the presenters said that they have discovered the key to prayer or that they have arrived at some destination in their prayer life. Rather, they celebrated the fact that they get to join in what God is doing because of the gift of prayer. They each acknowledged that they often have to overcome obstacles to continue in this commitment, but they all affirmed that the activity of prayer itself — the process — is transformative.

I won’t be able to share in one blog post everything I learned yesterday by sitting on my couch and joining others in listening, thinking, writing, and praying, but I will tell you that my choice to show up and invite the change that comes with entering a process was rewarded. I learned. I shifted. I grew.

Yes, commitment to the process takes time, but as I’ve learned from watching my students and from being a student, the process has power to create change. So I’ll continue to show up and to participate in yoga, in writing, in prayer, in life. I’ll sign up, even if I keep falling down, because the running, the falling down, and the getting back up are building muscle, preparing me for what’s next, and propelling me forward.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus,

Hebrews 12:1-2

Pray continually

People who have read my blog often ask me if I mind being so transparent.  Does it bother me that everyone can see my thoughts, witness my frailties, know the specifics of my challenges? Nope.

I’m kind of a right-out-there kind of a girl.  I always have been.  I am sometimes jealous of those who are able to conceal their true feelings, withhold information, or refrain from commenting.  I mean, I’m learning…I am 50, after all…but at heart, I’m truly ‘what you see is what you get’.

And where else should this be so than in my personal blog?  I just pointed out yesterday that one of my main purposes in writing this blog is to reflect.  I do this best through writing and not holding back.  Now, I do realize that not everyone functions this way.  It’s just the way I am wired.  I often, as I have written numerous times, don’t know what is going to pop out of my fingers until it does. I surprise myself.  And while, at least for the sake of blogging,  some topics are off limits for me — such as what happens in the bedroom or the bathroom — I don’t want to suppress myself or compromise the integrity of my writing.

I read somewhere this summer — I’ve read so.many.books. about writing this summer — that writing is all about finding your truth.  And, for me, writing this blog is, if nothing else, an exercise in telling the truth.  Often that truth is framed by what I am studying in the Bible on a particular day, so when my devotion this afternoon was about prayer and Daniel’s faithfulness in his daily exercise of prayer, I knew I had to go there.

So here I go: I’m not a faithful pray-er.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of prayer — I do!  It’s not that I don’t know what to pray for — I do!  It’s not that people don’t share their requests with me — they do!  It’s not that I’m so busy that I don’t have time to pray — I’m not!  I have no excuses!! I just am not a faithful pray-er.

That is why I started reading the book by Beth Moore, Whispers of Hope: Ten Weeks of Devotional Prayer.  I started reading this book over a year ago!  I’m on my third time through.  The idea is that you read a devotion every day, and at the end of the devotion,you write out your prayers.  Wouldn’t you think this would be a great fit for me?  It is!  In fact, I have written about the effectiveness of this book in this blog before!

[Oh my gosh, guys, I just Google searched “Whispers of Hope” and “Kristinsnextchapter” and I found a whole bunch of blog posts written by … Me! That is super weird!]

So the concept is great, and when I am disciplined about reading my daily devotion, I am usually good about writing down my prayers in my little notebook.  In fact, I’m on my second notebook!  However, you can probably already guess that I’m not super disciplined about doing my daily devotion!  I’m about as disciplined with my devotion as I am with my blog.  And I’m a little less disciplined with daily prayer as I am with either of those!

This blog entry is turning into true confessions of the poorly praying pastor’s wife.

Gulp.

But I haven’t given up. I am a work in progress.

I have champion prayer warrior examples all around me.  I have mentioned before, our great pastor friend, Rev. Wm. Gatz whose life-long ministry is teaching others the power of prayer.  His prayer life is inspiring. I think he’s been praying for our family for well over twenty years at least weekly, if not daily.  I don’t believe I know anyone who prays more, with the exception, possibly, of our good friend, Laurel, who I haven’t seen in years.  We haven’t lived in the same state in over ten years, but I am confident that Laurel prays for me and my family regularly.  That is terribly humbling for someone who often forgets to pray for her own husband and children, let alone anyone else.

Just this week, a good friend, who recently received his first call as a pastor mentioned on Facebook that he is creating a prayer wall in his new office.  He was soliciting requests to put on his wall.  You know I was one of the first to submit a request, but it never occurred to me that I could create my own prayer wall.  (Ok, I do realize that it just occurred to me now.)

So, I just had an idea. While I was in Boston last weekend, I was standing in the kitchen of one of my daughters.  She and her roommates use the front of their fridge as a white board to keep track of what items need to be purchased and who did what chore last — brilliant.  I have also been in the bathrooms of friends who use the mirror to list the prayer needs of family and friends.  So, I’m thinking that if I use a dry-erase marker on the side of my fridge that faces the sink where I stand to do dishes several times a day and on the mirror I stand in front of to dry my excessively thick hair each morning, I would find two (or more) times each day to be reminded to pray.

That’s it.  I’m gonna go start my lists right now.  You know I’m gonna let you know how this goes, right?   Wanna give it a try with me?

I Thessalonians 5:17

[Start, and then} “pray continually.”

Guys, He’s God

Have you felt the oppressive weight of hopelessness?  It seems that everywhere I turn I hear the message of doom and gloom.  Just this morning I heard reports of yet another devastating terror attack — this time in Brussels.  For the past several months the political rhetoric has fostered fear and hatred. I myself have been troubled by the uncertainties in my life. It seems that people all over the world are feeling desperate — hopeless.

What kind of hopelessness drives a person to strap a bomb to himself and willingly die while taking out the lives of others? What kind of fear causes people to lash out at complete strangers? What kind of desperation keeps me awake at night?

It’s the kind of fear that has forgotten that God is God.  It’s the kind of hopelessness that believes that our future is in our own hands. It’s the kind of desperation that wonders how life would’ve been different if I would’ve made different decisions along the way.

This kind of fear and hopelessness is not new; “there is nothing new under the sun.” The Israelites, standing at the base of Mount Sinai, while Moses was talking to God, started freaking out because he was taking too long.  They were literally bearing witness to the presence of God and they forgot about Him! So, turning to their own resources, they fashioned a golden calf, yes, that’s right, a baby cow made out of their jewelry. And, they started to worship the freshly minted calf, saying that it had brought them out of Egypt.

Say what?

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  I mean much more ridiculous then strapping a bunch of explosives to one’s body and walking into a crowded subway thinking that that will solve the world’s problems. Much more ridiculous than thinking that my 401k will give me security. Much more ridiculous than imagining that I will be happy as soon as I drop twenty pounds. Way more crazy than staying up all night wondering if I made all the right parenting decisions.

Those Israelites, man, they were crazy.

But no crazier than me. They had merely turned their faces away from the mountain and, that quickly, had forgotten that their salvation was right in front of them. I’ve turned my face, too. Over and over again. I have taken my eyes off of God and looked instead to my own strength, or the strength of those around me, to be my salvation.

What was I thinking?  That God was taking too long? Wasn’t I bearing witness to His presence and His power in my life?

Mm-hm.  I was.  And still, I turned.

Over and over I have found that I am not my own salvation. In fact, when I turn to myself, I unfailingly make my situation even worse than it was to begin with. Just like the Israelites.

You would think that God would get angry.  You would think He would say, “That’s it.  I am done with you. We’ve been over this. I’m not giving you another chance.” But He doesn’t. He pulls us close; He says, “I’ve got you. It’s gonna be ok. Remember, I’m God.”

Oh, yeah.  Guys, He’s God.

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

    where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Bent on turning

Why am I amazed every single time that God reveals Himself.  I mean, He does it so often, you would think I would begin to expect it. Yet, I am always surprised.  Consider this.

Way back in November, my Wednesday morning Bible Study battalion started discussing what we would study next.  Several studies were suggested, so we considered each of them as we made our decision.  Right before Thanksgiving we decided to study Jennifer Rothschild’s Hosea: Unfailing Love Changes Everything.  Well, that was November, and then Christmas happened, and I forgot all about what we would be studying.

God took me on a journey through December that landed me in January, longing to turn back to my good practices of Bible study, prayer, and blogging (read my post ‘Turn at any Time’).  In fact, this idea of turning starting churning around in my head last January when a couple of friends and I were meeting once a week for what I’ll call ‘prayer talking’.  Each of us was embracing the idea of repenting, or turning.  We were deciding together that we had been walking the wrong way and that we were willing to turn around and walk back toward God.

Actually, I just took a scroll through my previous blog posts and saw that like the thread of ‘healing’ that I mentioned yesterday, there is also a thread of repenting — of turning.  Perhaps you, like me, find yourself learning the same lessons over and over again.  Learning and forgetting.  Straying and turning.

So, when I joined the battalion this morning to start our study, the one that we chose last November, I could hardly keep myself from gasping when our leader paraphrased Hosea 11:7: My people are bent on turning away from Me.  Yes, Lord, I am!  I am bent on it!  And you see it!  You’re speaking to that tendency in me!

God used Hosea to speak to this tendency that is common to humans.  He knows us!  He knew that we would take his love for granted, that we would wander to look at any little shiny thing that caught our eyes.  He knew that when we did this we would feel guilty, helpless, unloveable and beyond hope. So, He gave us Hosea.

Hosea was a man of God, who sought out Gomer, a prostitute, and continued to love her despite her unfaithfulness.  This, my friends, is a picture of God’s covenant relationship with us.  God, who is God, seeks out unfaithful humans and continues to love us!  He keeps both sides of the covenant!

Hosea is a love story, friends.  It’s a tale of the unconditional love of God for His people. A love that pursues the wanderer. The kind of love that steps into squalor to find us.  It’s a story of  God’s love that is bent on turning away from anger in order to save us. A love that welcomes us back and embraces us.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled…

return to the Lord…

I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them… 

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;

they shall flourish like grain.

Hosea 14, selected verses

Now, come on, why wouldn’t we want to return?

Repent. Refresh. Reset.

So, as usual, my writing has sharpened my thinking.  I always tell my students this.  You don’t always know what you think until you start writing — so just write something.  You, my dear reader, may think that I write this blog to share my life with you, and indeed that is a nice bonus. But actually, I write this blog to figure out what I am thinking.  Knowing I have you as an audience is an additional check on my honesty.

Yesterday I shared that I will be speaking next weekend on the topic — ‘confidence in Christ’, specifically, how have I kept my confidence in Christ through the seasons of ministry.  Writing what I did yesterday got me to the place of acknowledging that it’s ok if I haven’t consistently had confidence in Christ, or more specifically, haven’t behaved as though I had confidence in Christ.  After all, it’s probably safe to say that all people falter in their faith.  In fact, women who come to a Saturday conference on having confidence in Christ have most assuredly had their moments of doubt.

And, from the comments I received from you, I think that at least some of these women will find it refreshing to hear that others have had a similar struggle.  One of you said that I should be ‘brutally honest’. Another said ‘bring the noise’!  Thanks guys, because you know me well enough to know that that is likely going to happen, whether I plan for it or not.  I am who I am.

One friend reminded me of a conversation that a few of us had last winter.  She simply said ‘Repent. Refresh. Reset.’ And I heard the song of my heart.  I love that those words don’t focus on the sin, as I am wont to do.  Rather, these three words focus on the remedy.  They remind me that in His story, God knew in advance that I would falter.  He knew that I could not remain consistently confident in Christ.  So, he provided a plan.  He said, Come to me all of you who are tired of soldiering, tired of kicking butts and taking names. He said, I will provide rest for your souls. He said, I don’t desire for you to die fighting; I desire for you turn to me, to try my pattern of living, and to realize that my way is much easier (Rathje Revised Version, all). 

So perhaps that is what will fill fifty-five minutes, stories of repentance, refreshing, and resetting.

That’s what this blog is, really. It’s the tale of me repenting of my self-sufficiency, of realizing in my weakness that He provides me with strength, of recognizing that a new way is needed, and beneficial, and blessed.

So, I share a few of my stories, and allow the ladies to share a few of theirs? We devise a way to keep sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness in our faithlessness? We commit to being brutally honest with one another?

Can you imagine the strength and encouragement that could come from such sharing? So many of you shared with me yesterday that you will be praying for me as I prepare for this Saturday.  Thank you!  Would you also pray for the ladies who will join me?  And pray for our time together? Please pray that our confidence in Christ would be renewed.

Acts 3:19

 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

Hope for Healing

About a month ago I read a book given to me by a pastor friend.  I mentioned it in the post, “Praying for Healing.” I was wrestling with the conflict between believing that God can heal me and being content with my current state.  I still am, but some shift has happened.

First, I have begun to pray more consistently for my healing.  In those prayers, I have imagined what it might look like if I were fully restored to the health that I had just over three years ago.  It would be amazing.

Second, I went to my rheumatologist who has declared that my malady is not psoriatic arthritis, but fibromyalgia.  She has been saying this for a year, but this time she was more insistent.  In fact, her recommendation is that I go to a primary care physician who can prescribe medication to manage my pain.  She doesn’t need to see me any more; I just need to accept this diagnosis. Period.

Third, I consulted with my primary care physician, who specializes in integrative medicine.  She believes that I can feel better than I do. She believes that I will one day have a regular schedule again.

So, as any rational person would do, I decided to ignore the rheumatologist. I am not going to see her any more. Instead, I am stepping up the treatments suggested by my PCP.  And, oh yeah, I’ve been praying.  For improved health.  For complete healing of my body, mind, and spirit.  For an understanding of the pace that will work for me.

For the past month or so, my integrative medicine doc has been prescribing some homeopathic interventions.  They are weird. Small tiny pellets that look like the interior of a vintage bean bag come in a small brown bottle.  You put 3-5 of these pellets under your tongue, as directed.  That’s all.  Oh, and you can’t drink coffee.  Tea is fine, but something in the coffee renders the homeopathic remedies ineffective.

And here’s the thing about homeopathic remedies — sometimes they cause a mild flare before they improve health.  And, guess what.  They did.  I was on one of the remedies for just a few days when I had a recurrence of the ocular herpes that I contracted about a year ago.  It was miserable.  I had to see my ophthalmologist and get an antiviral to get it under control. Also, I have had a slow simmer of psoriasis for most of the time that I have been on these treatments.

However, here’s the good news.  I am noticing an increase in energy.  Now, granted, I did just change jobs, so I might be flying on adrenaline.  I did just reduce my hours, so I might not be as exhausted.  But, I am pretty sure this is legit improvement.  I mean, anyone with chronic illness will tell you that the overwhelming fatigue you feel on a daily basis is not something that can just be disguised by excitement or adrenaline.  I have been so exhausted for the past three years that I have been barely able to see to drive home at night.  I have had difficulty forming complete thoughts or sentences after dinner.  I have hardly been able to walk into the house at the end of the day.  But guys, this week I have started a new position.  I have met new students and remembered their names.  I have helped my daughter load up all her belongings for a cross country move.  I have hosted dinner guests.  And, I have stayed up late at night to blog, to read, and to manage family details.

It’s something.  I’m hopeful.  And for even this small improvement, I am thankful.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,

Psalm 108: 1-4

Answered prayers left and right

Does God answer prayer?  Yes.

How do I know?  Because I have been writing down my prayers since November 17, 2014 and I have evidence of things asked and answered.

On November 29 I prayed that two family members would resolve their issues with one another — issues that were prohibiting them from even being in each other’s presence for any amount of time.  In fact, I didn’t just pray that prayer on November 29 — I prayed it over and over and over. On December 22 I asked that these two would turn to each other. On March 30 I asked that God would breathe new life into their relationship.  How did God answer that prayer?  He turned arguments into agreements. He turned yelling into laughter.  He turned suspicion into trust.  He turned avoidance into partnership. He answered my prayer beyond what I could ask or imagine.  I was hoping for a truce; He provided an alliance.

I’ve also been praying consistently that I would find the right kind and the right amount of employment in light of my current health status. On February 26 I asked God to put me and keep me on His path.  On March 30 I prayed that God would show me how much to do and when. On April 21 I prayed that He would help me find my rhythm. On April 22 I asked that God would give me the wisdom to live within the boundaries He has set for me. On May 7 I prayed that He would grant me discernment in my work and in my family. On May 28 I asked that God would give me His pace and direct me to His work.  On June 6 I asked for the physical strength to do the things that He is calling me to. On June 30 I prayed for God’s pace and His way for me.  Lately I have been asking over and over for God to show me how to best use my time in ways that give honor to him.

Let’s digress for a moment to remind ourselves that since April I have been experimenting with employment.  After my ‘time of refreshing’ last fall — a period of time where my health was fairly well-managed, I took a position doing what I love to do — working with children.  For over four months I have been learning and growing along side some exceptionally professional coworkers and some inspiring students at an agency that does intensive instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic.  But, if I’m going to be honest, the pace has been a little much.  It might have been ok if I hadn’t taken on about a half-dozen students outside of work,  but I just love those students — the ones I meet in libraries and their homes. They are adults, mostly, and some high school students, who need one-on-one coaching in writing and English. Interacting with them feeds me.  I have loved working both at the agency and through my tutoring service, but I have also been exhausted — too depleted to offer much to my family.  Hence, the prayers.

“Show me what you want me to do!” “Teach me how to pace myself.” “How much is enough?” “How much is too much?” “How can my gifts be best put to use?”

I had determined that as we moved into fall, I would reduce my hours at the agency and continue working with six to eight students on my own each week.  That sounded like a workable plan.  And then, amidst all those prayers and cries, came an email offering a direction I wasn’t expecting. It threw me a little.

Over the years, my oldest daughter has often come to me for advice with a Scenario A and a Scenario B — which option should she choose?  She spends time telling me the pros and cons of each alternative and then I usually say something like, “Is there a third option?”   In the last couple of years, she has started to say the same thing to me.  When I say “Should I A or B?” She will say, “What’s the third option?”

In all my prayers, I was thinking I had the answer.  I knew the current situation, A, was too much; I had determined the alternative, B, would likely solve the problem.  And then, God provided C.

I didn’t know what to do, so I enlisted the battalion and my husband in prayer and dialogue. I tried to stick with option B — my solution.  I really did.  But then I started seeing scenarios in my head that weren’t there before.  I started imagining myself in option C.  I started seeing how option C would provide a pace that I could live with while still providing the interactions that feed me.  I started to see the barriers that I thought existed evaporate.

This morning I told my husband my plan to move toward option C.  A few hours later I sat down at my computer to take some steps in that direction, but as I did so, I shot out a text to the battalion saying that I was moving forward but inviting God to step in and block the way.  It was at that moment that I paused to do my Bible study.  I am not making this up: the theme of today was to ‘not put God to the test’.

He has provided an answer to my prayers.  He has affirmed it through my husband and my prayer support.  Why would I invite him to step in and block the way? Do I need more proof?  Why? Because my faith is small.  Even after He blew my socks off with the answer to my prayers for the family situation.  Even after he provided over and above what was expected in financial aid for our daughter.  Even after he provided a job for our other daughter — one that she didn’t even apply for, doing exactly what she wants to do, in the major city where she wants to live. Even after all that, I still have a very small faith.

He answered my prayer.  He gave me a gift.  I shall say thank you and receive the gift. I won’t second-guess it or put God to the test.  I will trust that this answer is His.

Ephesians 3:20-21

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen

Praying for healing, pt. 2

A week ago I wrote about a book that had been given to me by a trusted pastoral — How Can I Ask God for Healing? When I left you, I was headed to that pastor’s house to return the book.  I read all the way there and still had about 100 pages to go when we walked into his house.  I handed the book to him and said, “I want to return this to you; you can see by the book mark how far I made it.” He said I could keep it longer to finish it.  I replied, “Doesn’t somebody else need it?”  He said, “I only loan this copy out to special people; I would really like you to finish it.”

Well, what do you say so an octogenarian pastor whose speciality is prayer?  Do you tell him, “No thanks, I’m good.” And, to be honest, by that time, I had kind of become attached to the book, I did want to read the ‘rest of the story’.  So, I thanked him and brought the book back home.

While we were in his presence, he pulled me aside and shared several stories of how prayer had changed the lives of people he had been working with.  He wasn’t trying to build his argument; he was simply sharing his awe at the power of God.  I was reminded of his rich history in ministry and of the authority he has in terms of spiritual things.

This week I finished the book.  This morning I turned back to the introduction and started reading again.

(Note to my children and any former students, this is a prime example of my favorite saying, “Anybody can change.”)

Here is the journey so far:

I have an autoimmune disease — or at least something that looks like one. For the last three years I have struggled with extreme fatigue, psoriasis, joint pain, inflammation, and eye irritation.  These symptoms limit my life and have caused us to make major life adjustments — change in careers, relocation to a much smaller home, significant financial decisions, and numerous lifestyle changes including diet, exercise, social life, etc.

Some positive things have come from this situation. We move much more slowly; I have experienced significant emotional and spiritual healing;  I have been freed to write again, which brings so much value to my life. We have praised God in this disease for the ways He has used it to alter some patterns that have needed to be altered for years.

But the truth remains, I do have a disease. Why wouldn’t I ask God for healing?  Let me clarify by saying that I have prayed for healing.  It is a regular prayer of mine that God would heal my body, mind, and spirit.  In fact, shortly after my symptoms started, we gathered many trusted members of our faith community to pray over me.  As I look back and remember all those hands on me and tears rolling down my cheeks, I picture myself hoping God would heal me, but actually feeling that these prayers were step one in accepting the fact that things were going to be different from now on.

Let me further clarify by saying that my husband is a faithful man of prayer; I doubt that a day has gone by in the last three years that he has not asked for my complete healing.  He, and our pastor friend, and probably my mother.

Me, I regularly pray that God would heal my body, mind, and spirit, while at the same time accepting the fact that I am walking in a new reality. And I want to affirm that accepting reality is, by its own right, rather healthy.  Acknowledging that my symptoms are real and not fabrications of my mind has been a struggle in itself.  I really do have limitations even though it may not appear from the outside that I do.  Saying out loud, in the presence of others, that I “can’t” do things has been a monumental step in this new chapter. Is it possible for me to know that I have a disease while at the same time praying for and believing God to heal me?  I think that is the conflict of the moment.

So, as per usual, I read my Bible study this morning.  Joshua and the Israelites marching around Jericho seven days in a row, because God said so, and making the walls “come a-tumbling down”.  As I was reading it, a page from How Can I Ask God for Physical Healing popped onto my brain screen– it’s actually a chart, two pages long, of all the healing stories in the Bible.  Shriveled hands, blindness, leprosy, paralysis, fever, death — all healed because Jesus said so.

Again, I know God can heal me, at His word.  Do I trust Him enough to ask boldly and believe that He will? Or will I continue to pray, “Well, if you want to, it’d be great if you took away this disease.”

I’ll keep you posted.

And the prayer, offered in faith, will make the sick person well;

The Lord will raise them up.

James 5:15

Praying for Healing?

So, a few days ago I ended my blog post with the scripture from Matthew 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”  Sounds simple, right?

I mean, didn’t I just write on Thursday about all the prayers that had been answered?  I have seen the beauty of ask and receive, but in one area I am struggling.

My husband and I have a dear pastor friend — no, he’s more than that.  I will call him a spiritual father — especially to my husband.  He is a prayer pioneer who has spent more hours on his knees than anyone else I know. Since he heard about my illness he has prayed for me every day.  Every. Single. Day. Several months ago he passed a book to me through my husband called How Can I Ask God for Physical Healing? So, knowing that it was from the man who we deeply respect and love, I opened and began reading it immediately, right?  Nope. I actually stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it.

Why?  Well, my reasoning has been that although my physical health is suffering, many areas of my life are much healthier than they have ever been.  Why would I beg God to take something away that He has used to create dramatic change in my life?  I mean, if He heals me, I will probably just go back to my butt-kicking, name-taking habits, right?

When I received this book I thought to myself, “(Sigh), I am not one of those name it and claim it type of people. If God decides to heal me, great.  If He decides not to, that’ll be ok, too.”  I mean, yes, my life is very different than it once was.  I move more slowly, my thoughts get a bit cloudy, some of my activities are limited, but I’m not dying over here.  I could live like this.  I don’t love it, but worse things could happen.  “I don’t need to read a book about healing; I am just coming to terms with the new realities of my life.”

So I was at work the other day when my husband sent me a text asking if I was done with the book; our friend wanted it back. Gulp. No, I hadn’t actually started it.  Later in the day, my husband told me that we had been invited to this friend’s house for a family dinner — today.

Well, that was the nudge I needed.  I read about a hundred pages yesterday and picked up the book again when I got home from church today. Here’s what I have so far — the book does not outline a 12-step process that ‘guarantees’ healing; I don’t know why I thought it would.  It doesn’t tell me all the things I am doing wrong in my life or ways to change so that God will provide me with healing.  It doesn’t say that God will heal me; it does say that God can. 

Of course I knew that.  I have said that all along.  But, further, it challenges me to take a good long look at why I became sick in the first place — I have done this to a degree, but this gives me some additional areas to consider.  It also challenges me to examine my relationship with God and what I believe about Him.  I am fine with all of that, but I am getting to the sticky part of the healing prayer topic– you may have heard this language before, I know I have. Trusting God for healing. Using authoritative faith. Believing God for his promises.

Now, to be fair, I am judging the second half of the book before I have read it…and I am planning on giving the book back to its owner in just a few hours. I am not sure I will finish it.  So, why am I blogging instead of reading?  I think because I am not sure I want to totally invest myself in ‘believing for a miracle’.  I mean, I do tend to invest 100%.  And the book has already told me that God may choose not to heal me.  What if I ‘believe for a miracle healing’ and I don’t get it?  Will I be angry with God and give Him the silent treatment — again? I don’t know that I want to take that risk.  I think I would feel better about just accepting what I have been given, walking in this path, and not questioning it.

You know what I mean?

But nagging in the back of my mind is this thought — why don’t you just finish reading it?  will it kill you? is it possible that you could learn something or reshape your thinking? why are you so closed to this topic?

Ok, ok…I have another hour before we have to get in the car.  Let me read a little further and see what I find.  I’m trying not to be stubborn over here.  I’ll let you now what happens.

John 16:23-24

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name…

Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.