Red-letter Day

Yesterday was what I like to call a red-letter day.  In fact, if I still kept a paper calendar I would get out a red sharpie and circle July 23, 2015 so that I would not forget it.

It started first thing in the morning.  I worked with my first student, who is autistic.  Just a few weeks ago it was difficult for him to describe any object beyond its color — usually black or blue — and its shape — typically a circle or a square.  Yesterday we looked at a small picture of a pile of nails.  I took the picture away and asked him what he had seen.  He said, “nails”,  of course. When I asked him what they looked like,  he said they had a circle on the top.  “Yes, good!” I said.  “What else?”  “They are sharp on the bottom.”  “Yes!”  Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but for my little guy, it’s a pretty big deal.  He used a complete sentence and he moved beyond his generic descriptors to something more specific.  That, my friends, is worth marking on the calendar.

It didn’t stop there.  My second student has been known to be quite noncompliant — to the point of refusing to work, day after day after day.  Yesterday appeared, at first, to be another one of those days, but for some reason, we started our session with some talk about her toys and she began to work with me.  We were moving forward slowly in our lesson when one of the supervisors joined us to do some ‘pacing’ — this happens quite often.  The more senior members of the team come and interact with the students to push them a bit and determine how to best tweak their lessons for the most impact.  The supervisor asked me to do a task with the student.  I wasn’t quite sure of the method, so I invited her to show me her ‘special way’ of using the materials.  I was so glad that I did this — she made several changes in the setting and the climate of that lesson.  She worked with the student for about fifteen minutes.  I watched, took notes, and learned a whole lot about how to work with this difficult little peanut.

I had two more students before I left for the afternoon.  Walking to my car, I checked my phone for messages and emails.  We had been exchanging information with the financial aid office at our daughter’s university.  They wanted to verify some information we had submitted, so we had sent documents back and forth over the last few weeks.  It was exhausting and tedious, but we kept at it. When I saw an email from the officer we had been working with, I opened it to find that the school had decided to give her another huge chunk of grant money — so much, in fact, that she will not have to take one of the loans that she had been approved for!

Then, I received a text from another daughter who said that an employer had contacted her out of the blue and wanted to interview her over the phone — that day!  The position is almost a perfect fit for this particular daughter, her skill set, and her interests, and she hadn’t even applied for the position!

And the news kept coming!  It was like it was my birthday and people kept arriving with gifts that I wasn’t expecting — healing for this person, encouragement for that one, resolved conflict here, restored relationships there…

Late in the afternoon, my husband arrived home from work with the day’s mail.  He was carrying a package from my mother — I had mentioned that my rubbermaid containers kept disappearing, so she sent me a whole new set!

I am telling you, it was a red letter day!

So, I grabbed my dog and my phone and headed out for a walk.  I called my mom to thank her for the gift and I started telling her about all the good things that had happened yesterday.  I kept saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!”  She said, “I know it’s hard to believe, but just think of all the time you have spent praying for these things.  God says, if you ask for it, He will answer. I know you weren’t expecting Him to answer all in one day, but He answers whenever He wants to!”

Yes, He does!  Sometimes the answers trickle in so subtly that we might not even realize that they are answers to prayer.  They can slip by me unnoticed, and I take them for granted.  But, when He overwhelms me with answers all in one day, I can hardly ignore His work.  It took my breath away.

This morning, I did my devotion which I always follow with writing in my prayer journal.  I follow a pattern called PRAISE — Praise, Repentance,  Acknowledgement, Intercession, Supplication, and Equipping.  When I got to the Supplication section I recalled all the prayers I had written for ‘my people’ over the past several months.  My mother wasn’t wrong — they have been many.  I never doubted that God was hearing them; I never doubted that He had my people in the palm of His hand.  But it sure was wonderful to sit in amazement and watch so many answers all in one day.

Matthew 7:

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

Uniquely Made

I did it!  I got through all seventy days in the book Whispers of Hope: Ten Weeks of Devotional Prayer.  I’m pretty sure it took me closer to twenty weeks….but I did it!  So, what did I do today?  I turned back to day one and started all over again!  Guess what, I didn’t remember a thing from day one — it was like a new experience.  That’s the beauty of middle age.

The message of day one, or at least the message I got today, was that God is creative — He has made each of us exquisitely unique.  We were not created to walk identical paths.  We were each created for our own path.  Isn’t that amazing?  God created each of us for our own path and He alone “knows the plans” He has for us.  That’s why we need to hear from Him every day, because He’s the only one who knows our unique needs — the only one who can give us specific made-to-order direction.

So why have I spent so many minutes of my life checking with others, comparing myself to others, and judging others? I look at someone else’s path and I think to myself — well, that’s a different path than mine — it must be better or worse.  Then, having passed judgment, I try to adapt my path to make it more, or less, like that other person’s path.

I know I’m not alone here.  In fact, our society — schools, businesses, governments — exist to provide equality or sameness to the masses.  They are trying to be fair, or to motivate us to purchase, or to create order.  And, to be fair, I think we are bent toward wanting to be ‘just like everyone else’.  We want to fit in, to blend, to belong.

However, all of our attempts at trying to be the same, blend in, and belong ultimately force us to deny our uniqueness. Now, we don’t seem to mind uniqueness if it comes in the form of exceptional athletic ability, extreme good looks, or undeniable wit.  But what about uniqueness that creates physical challenge, an odd appearance, or cognitive difficulty? We seem to make concessions for ‘those’ people, don’t we?  What about the kind of uniqueness that believes differently than we do, tackles problems in ways we haven’t thought of, or decides to go against the flow of the masses? Do we celebrate that?

Or do we ridicule it? If we are conservative, do we ridicule the liberals? If we are liberal, do we berate conservatives? If we went to college, do we judge those who went straight to work? If we choose simplicity, do we frown on those who treasure extravagance?

My, oh, my.  I do believe we have a tangent (or two, or three) here, ladies and gentlemen. Let me get back to the point.

God created each of us uniquely.  We are not the same.  He has specific plans for each of us — “plans to prosper and not to harm” us.  Sure, sometimes humans point us directly to the plans God has for us, but more often, we get distracted by looking at what others are doing.  Sometimes so distracted, that we forget to check with the Creator himself.  Who knows better what is best for us than He?

If you’ve read my blog for more than a day, you know that I don’t check with God first, I try to tackle everything myself.  However, in this next chapter I am being challenged to turn from my old ways, to turn toward His Word, to consult with Him about my path.  It’s a day-by-day challenge for me.  That is why, kids, I am going to spend the next ten (or twenty) weeks continuing to develop my prayer life.

Once again, I need the bonus lesson.

Psalm 139:13-14

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I am fearfully, [uniquely], wonderfully made.

The Sweet Battalion Strikes Again

So, yesterday I was sitting around the table with the other members of the battalion (To meet the battalion, check out https://kristinsnextchapter.com/2015/01/14/my-sweet-battalion/).  We are one week short of finishing our study on The Sermon on the Mount.  In discussing the section on Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7-8) the question arose, “If God does not need to be encouraged, convinced, or coerced, why might He not answer a request made only once?”

Right?  I mean, seriously, why can’t it be like a work-order system.  I log-on and enter all my requests in the system and God just answers them ‘in the order they were received’ or even ‘the order of most importance’.  I told Him about our financial issues.  I told Him about my health.  I told Him about my desire to work just a little bit more. So, He knows. He’ll get to it when He gets to it.

When I was teaching in St. Louis that was the system for getting things done.  Our building supervisor wanted everything submitted through the system.  He would clear it from the system when the issue was ‘resolved’.  Why can’t God work like that?  Why can’t I just wait for the email that says the problem has been ‘resolved’?

Well, let me tell you.  I really appreciated our building supervisor.  He did take care of issues that were entered into the system.  He was also gracious enough to come ’emergency style’ when there was a spill or some other urgent matter. He did not complain. He came, he saw, he fixed.  But I’ve got to be honest and tell you, that unless I had an issue, I didn’t really spend a lot of time talking to him.  Sorry, Bob.  I mean sometimes we ate lunch at the same table.  His kids were in my classes.  We went to the same staff functions.  But I think Bob would agree that he and I were not best friends.  I went to him when I had a specific need; he did his part to meet that need.

Is that the kind of relationship I want with God? Do I just want Him to respond to my needs?

One member of our battalion is Chinese.  We were having this discussion yesterday and she said that our conversation reminded her of a Chinese tale.  I will try my best to repeat what I heard.  She said there were three brothers who were all doctors.   The youngest of the brothers was the most famous doctor because he was known to cure patients who were near death.  Many patients who had no other options came to this youngest brother doctor and were healed.  His fame grew and grew.  So one time he was taken (to the emperor?  to the news station?  I can’t remember.) Anyway, someone asked him who of the three brothers was the best?  Certainly he was, right?  The youngest brother doctor said, “No.”  Certainly he had healed many people who were near death.  And the second oldest brother had also cured many illnesses.  But his oldest brother, he said, was the best because people came to him when they were still healthy, before they had a need, and he could tell them how to live in ways that would prevent illness and premature death.  He, the youngest brother said, was certainly the best doctor.

My sweet Chinese friend said, “When we follow God’s Word, we avoid the consequences.”

I really wasn’t going to go to Bible study yesterday.  I have been having a bad week.  I am emotionally drained, physically struggling, and not up to interacting with others.  But, it was my day to bring the fruit.  Sigh. So, I stopped at the store to buy fruit and grudgingly carried it into the little classroom where we meet.  We watched our video and discussed prayer, then as we closed, a woman across the table, who really doesn’t know the details of the internal storm that is raging in my head, offered prayer on my behalf.  A melting occurred inside of me and my body began to sob.

I hadn’t put in that work order.  But I have been going through my routine of Bible study and prayer for what I hope will one day amount to ten weeks (and then some).  And in this position of need — in this posture of dependence on the One who knows what I need before I ask, I received peace in the midst of this ugly storm.

That, I think, is why God doesn’t always answer a request made only once.  He knows that when we take this posture of dependence and need, He can meet us and heal us.  He can lead us around situations that may otherwise lead to dire consequences.

I want to take that posture. I want to be dependent in a way that requires moment by moment acknowledgement of the One who cares for me so much that He is carrying me around in the palm of His hand.

Isaiah 65:24

Before they call, I will answer;

while they are yet speaking I will hear.

Prayer

Back in November I picked up a little book from the library : Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer.  I just checked the calendar and realized that I have been trying to get through it for 14 weeks!  Today I read day fifty-five of seventy. Now lest you worry that I have overdue fines by now, I did actually purchase the book a couple of weeks in.  I have found that it is a nice complement to my regular Bible study.  In fact, I have noted in this blog a few instances when the messages of my Bible study and my prayer guide have overlapped.  Some people call that coincidence.  I call it divine orchestration.

Clearly I am not very diligent in using this prayer guide every day, but apparently God can work with my timing.  This morning, in my regular Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount, we focused on the portion of Scripture that urges us to “Ask, … Seek, … Knock…”  Clearly this is about prayer.

Let’s back up a minute and remind ourselves that for a while I was, as I say, “not on speaking terms” with God. (See https://kristinsnextchapter.com/2014/09/13/coming-out-of-the-desert/).  I believed that God was distant; I had no interest in bringing my personal cries and requests to Him.  However, since I began this Next Chapter, I have been trying to do things differently.

I’ve blogged about my change in exercise and nutrition.  I’ve written about my new pace.  And, I think I’m at a point where I can write a bit about prayer. I’ve got a long way to go, but I believe I can say that God and I are speaking again. It may be awkward at times and not as regular as it may be one day, but we are in conversation.

Probably the greatest hindrance to my prayer life is my need to be strong and in control.  I’m a take-charge type of girl.  I see what needs to be done and I do it. It is very difficult for me to admit that I need help.  Prayer is all about admitting that I am powerless and needy.  He is God and I am not.

In fact, the very postures that people around the world use for prayer are an acknowledgement of being in the presence of power.  In prayer we bow, we kneel, we lie face down. We praise God for His greatness while acknowledging our limitations.  In this posture of humility there is no escaping the raw truth — I need God.

For a while, I was perhaps a bit afraid to admit that truth.  But instead of acknowledging the fact that I was afraid, I was, as I’ve often described, soldiering through the difficulties of life, bandaging wounds, putting on tourniquets, and trying to resuscitate the wounded.  My life was in crisis!  I didn’t have time to admit that I was incapable of handling it! I had work to do!

I’ve described over and again where that soldiering left me — wounded, exhausted, and in desperate need of leave.

So, lest I jump back into battle and start to handle things in ways I always have in the past, I keep reviewing the lessons I have learned through this grace period.

So my nugget for today:  Great freedom and relief come from setting down my weapons, taking off my combat gear, lying face down and crying out in helplessness to the One who can actually help me. That being said, in order to experience that freedom, I have to be willing to take a risk — to trust that He really does have me, that He really does love me, that He really won’t let me down, that He really is the God of the universe.   He won’t let my world fall to pieces if I place it in His hands.  In fact, and we’ve been over this, it is already in His hands.

So, here’s the plan.  I destroyed the weapons. I burned the gear.  I’m turning away from my own resources which are pathetic at best.  I am turning to the Creator and Owner of all things, my Father, who indeed does have me, does love me, and is the God of the universe.  He certainly won’t let me down.

Psalm 102: 1

Hear my prayer, O Lord; let me cry come to you.

Late night steam-of-conciousness

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, no more fears…

Jeremy Camp

It’s almost 7:00 pm and I have actually been up and moving since the other 7:00 today.  Yet, I didn’t fit in a work out.  I haven’t blogged.  I haven’t even watched any junk TV.

What did I do?  Well, I drove across town for an oil change — but I had the wrong time, so I had to reschedule.  I salvaged that trip by going through the car wash.  I came home and mixed up some gluten-free/dairy-free coconut-banana muffins. I sampled one before half of them were sent to my husband’s coworkers.  I got Starbucks.  I read about forty pages in a book I am editing.  I grabbed a quick snack before driving across town again for an appointment.  Three hours later I drove back home.  I made some baked swai and tried a new recipe for quinoa with kale, then shared both with my husband, along with a couple of the muffins from earlier in the day.

And what did this out-of-the-ordinary day yield for me?  Some good food, that is to be sure, some movement on my editing project, yes, and possibly, just maybe, a little shred of hope.

My  appointment  was with a doctor who practices integrative medicine.  Prior to going I had to submit my whole health record including lab reports, family history, a food diary, and list of medications.  I also had to physically carry in all of the medications and supplements that I currently take. The nurse did the usual measurements — weight, height, blood pressure, and temperature and then left me to wait for the doctor.

As I sat there waiting, utter fatigue flooded over me.  I could feel two years’ worth of frustration pushing up through me and trying to force its way out of my eyes.  Why did I think this doctor appointment would be any different?  Why did I think this doctor would have any answers, any solutions, or even any far-fetched schemes that might help me feel less-tired, less achey, less pathetic?

By the time she walked in almost twenty minutes later, I was feeling a bit defensive.  My answers to her first two questions ended up sounding a bit sharp, so I paused and said, “I’m sorry.  I am tired. I’m tired of feeling sick and tired. And doctors’ visits are very stressful.”  When she answered, “I’m sure they are stressful,” the tears threatened to spill over, but I checked them.  I took a deep breath and tried to answer as honestly and politely as I could for the next hour.  Yes, hour.

“Do you have any pain-free days?” she asked.

“No.”

“Well, let’s start there. Let’s see if we can get you a pain-free day.”

Seriously?  Pain-free?  I think she believes she can do it!  It’s going to take some work on my part.  But, what have I got to lose, besides some pain, right?

So, we started today with more blood work.  Ho-hum.  She changed the dosage on some of my supplements and removed some of the others.  Tomorrow I will do a ‘saliva test’. Then comes the hard stuff.

I agreed to do an ‘ultra simple diet’ for seven days.  It involves lots of veggies, rice, broth, and some shake mix stuff.  And it excludes almost all caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and virtually everything that isn’t veggies, rice, broth, and shake mix stuff.

Yes, I am agreeing to go off caffeine….except for green tea — bleh! — for seven days.  I am warning you now so that you can steer clear of Ann Arbor, spend extra time in prayer, and read my posts with compassion.

I’ll be cleansing my body of all kinds of toxins, she says.  I’ll be creating a blank slate, she says.  We’ll be able to know more then, she says.

I looked at the instructions for the ‘Ultra Simple Diet’ for a long time.  It doesn’t look like much fun at all. But I kept hearing her words in my head, “pain-free day, pain-free day, pain-free day…” She thinks it can happen.  No medical professional has dared hope with me for that in two years.

If I don’t try, I won’t know.

So, I bought the liver cleanse, the probiotics, and the shake mix stuff.  I’ve gotta go to the grocery store to get the specific veggies, fresh herbs, and organic whatevers I am going to need.  And I’ve gotta take two days, at least, to wean myself off caffeine.

This could get ugly, folks.  Good thing I re-committed to prayer a couple of weeks ago; I think it’s gonna be a requirement.

Ultimately I know that God can give me pain-free days whenever He chooses, with or without an ‘ultra simple diet’.  So far, He has provided emotional and lifestyle healing through this illness.  I am not sorry about any of that.  I don’t want to go back to being a soldier kicking butts and taking names. And, the only reason I stopped being a soldier was because I could no longer physically keep at it.  I crashed.  And burned.  And limped.  And moaned.

I am moving slowly and intentionally now because that is all I can do.  If I am physically healed, will I continue at this pace?  Or will I go back to soldiering? Is two years long enough for me to learn this lesson?

I don’t know any of those answers.

I want to be still and know that He is God.  I want to use my gifts to His glory.  I want to rest in the palm of His hand.

I have a pastor-friend who prays each morning that my illness will be completely reversed.  He tells me this every time I see him.  I tell him that not all healing is physical, and that God is blessing me through this illness.  But guys, he is an eighty-year-old pastor and he is praying for me every morning. 

I do want physical healing, if God has it for me.  I also want to be content with whatever He gives me.  I want to hold on to the lessons I have learned in the last two years and continue to learn more.  So, I’m gonna give this doctor’s plan a try, and at the same time, pray to the Great Physician that my healing will be complete.  I know it will be one day, perhaps even on this earth.

James 5:16

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other

so that you may be healed.

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Saved from our distress

Psalm 107:10ff

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners in iron chains

because they rebelled against God’s commands

and despised the plans of the Most High

That sounds serious, doesn’t it?  Certainly no Christian would rebel against God’s commands or despise the plans of the most high.  Come on, after all that God has done for us, would we go against His will?  Probably only out of ignorance, right?  We wouldn’t willfully rebel….

Would we?

I have lost track of how many times I have used this blog as a confessional.  I think what started as a chronicle of my journey after teaching in St. Louis has become an expose’ of my internal life.  I wasn’t planning on that.

But, as I have mentioned, I am a little obsessed with telling the truth…whether or not you, or I, want to hear it.

So, you know that book on prayer that I picked up at the library?  Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer?  Yeah, well, I think it was written with me in mind.  It was copyrighted in 2013, before I knew that I would be moving to Michigan, before I knew I would be leaving my job, before I knew that I would be given this grace period.  Yet, it seems that each day the message is specifically for me, designed to call me back from whatever it was that I thought I was accomplishing in my soldiering years.

I knew better.  I knew that what I really needed was daily time in God’s Word, daily prayer, regular support from friends, but I chose, over and over again, to ignore those facts and keep soldiering on by my own strength. And I found out I am pretty strong, but not strong enough.

Nobody is, really.  We were designed by a Creator who wants to continue to help us, who wants relationship with us, who doesn’t want us to go it alone.  He’ll let us give it a try, yet He won’t leave our side while we are trying.  Even more, miraculously, graciously, He will be ready to talk even before we are ready.  He will be placing things in the path that direct us back to Him.  But, you know, sometimes we want to sit in the darkness, in chains, because we’re being willful.  And stubborn.

And, even then, He pursues us.  Psalm 107 says that He sometimes “subjects [us] to bitter labor”, or maybe lets us get utterly exhausted in all our striving and soldiering.   We “stumble, and there [is] no one to help.”  So, finally, (sheesh), we “cry to the Lord in [our] trouble, and he [saves us] from our distress.”

Yup.  That was my Bible study today.  The only thing is, I didn’t quite get to the point that I was crying out in my distress…He met me before that.  He swooped in and took me out of my soldiering. He gave me some time to be still, so that I would know, more than ever, that He is God.  Let Him be exalted.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love,

and His wonderful deeds for mankind.

Relentless, pt. 2

You won’t believe what happened yesterday afternoon.  I had already ordered my Bible study on prayer from Amazon, I had already blogged, I had done my editing work and a few other tasks around the house, so I decided to drop by the library and pick up the books that were being held for me.

Remember how I said I had been looking for a Bible study and I had even checked the library for one, to no avail? Was I surprised when I got to the library, picked up my ‘held’ books and found among them a Bible study called “10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer”.  He is relentless!

God knew that I would find the online study with email reminders yesterday, but a week or so ago, He had me request another study (I think I actually requested two or three and this is the one that arrived) because I am just – that – thick and He wanted to be sure I got the point! He wants to hear from me every day!!!

Let me clarify here that I was not actually looking for a Bible study on prayer — that would require yet another change in my life, another commitment, another step in acknowledging that He is God and I am not; a daily confession that He is in control and I am not.

Have I mentioned before that I am stubborn?  It is no small miracle that at this moment I am open to receiving this message from God.  It is no small miracle that I am willing to act on it.  But it is a HUGE miracle that I am actually excited about this next part of the journey.

Seriously, I am a changed woman.  It’s almost laughable!  It’s 8:43am.  By this time last year I had been at work for almost two hours, had prepared my classroom for the day, reprimanded any number of students for uniform violations, missing homework, or eating in the hallway, coached a couple of students on writing projects, met with another administrator, returned a dozen emails, and possibly even had a meeting with a parent.  And I had eight more hours to go! This morning, I rolled out of bed around 8:00am, made my tea, had a cup of homemade granola (delicious, by the way), fed the dog, had a devotion (which was about how we get far away from God — I can’t make this stuff up), and am now sitting in my mis-matched pajamas with disheveled hair trying to decide if I should shower or not before my 9:30 walking date.  On today’s schedule?  A walk, a haircut, and a half-dozen young people for dinner. That’s all.

It’s because of this shift, this opportunity to be still, this grace period, that I am able to see that God is God and I am not — to see that He has been holding me the whole time — to know that I am rescued by grace.  It’s because I am not soldiering on that I can see that the fight was never mine.

Today’s scripture verse?  I had a little trouble finding Micah, but it was worth the search.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy, when I fall, I shall rise;

when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me…

He will bring me out to the light…”

Micah 7:8-9

I have fallen many times. God has been relentless in His pursuit of me.  He has rescued me by grace over and over again.  He has brought me out of my self-constructed darkness and placed me in His light.

Relentless

The past couple of weeks I’ve been a little anxious about a tiny detail in my life — my Bible study.  Ok, it’s not a tiny detail.  It’s a major part of the structure of my day.  I’ve told you again and again about how I get up, feed the dog, make my tea, do my Bible study, and write my blog.  It’s my routine.  And, guys, I got to the end of my Bible study! It was an eight-week course that required homework five days a week and a weekly gathering with the girls!  Now, we are going to continue meeting, but our weekly gatherings are lagging a little behind the daily study, so we need a couple of weeks to catch up in class before we start the next book.

And I need homework — now!

I’ve been looking online for a book study that I can do on my own.  I’ve also checked at the library.  But, I just haven’t found anything.

I got up this morning and had some time to do my routine when I realized that (gasp!) I don’t have a Bible study!!!

So, I thought, certainly there is a solution.  I went to my old standby Biblegateway.com and clicked on ‘devotionals’.  And, a few clicks later found a study for women that drew me in.  It’s topic? Nehemiah and prayer.

Yes, yes, I hear you, God.  I know that it’s good that I have added back the spiritual discipline of Bible study, and I am also aware that although we have spoken to each other recently, we need to start having some daily conversations. 

Isn’t it amazing that after all this time God still wants to hear from me every day? I really used to be pretty faithful in prayer.  In fact it was pretty standard for my husband and me to join the prayer team about the minute we joined a church.  Not sure why it was at the seminary that my prayer life faltered, but it happened.   Sure, I still prayed at the beginning of each class period with my students and I bowed my head in prayer at church, but I wasn’t having those daily bare-my-heart to God conversations.  And I’m still not.

But that hasn’t kept God from pursuing me, has it?  A few years ago, my husband was pressing me and pressing me to have a small group Bible study in our home.  Our family was a bit of a mess at the time; our marriage was a bit of a mess, too, if I’m really going to be honest.  Why, on earth, would I want to welcome people into that?

My husband was tired of me putting him off, so he finally said, “this Monday, three guys are coming over at 7:00pm for Bible study, you can join us or not.”  Well, ok, then.  You should’ve seen these three young single guys — a future pastor, a future doctor, and a future physician’s assistant — standing in my kitchen, grinning.  I asked if they had had anything to eat, of course they hadn’t.  Before I knew what was happening, I had committed to making dinner for them every Monday.

It wasn’t long before three guys turned into twenty young adults — seminarians, med students, scientists, and young professionals. Every week they sat around my livingroom — in furniture and on the floor — studying the Bible,  eating, petting Chester, singing, and praying.  I’ve told them, but I’m sure they don’t fully understand, that they were a tool of God to begin the healing in our marriage and in our family.  They were the most difficult group for me to leave in St. Louis.  They were an unexpected gift from God.

And so is my group of sixteen or more lovely Wednesday morning ladies.  This, from the self-described butt-kickin’, name-takin’ soldier who doesn’t need anybody thankyouverymuch.

I read the devotion on Nehemiah and prayer.  At the bottom of the page, part of the actual devotion, were these words…”consider joining our free four-week Bible study on prayer…it starts today, November 17.”

Seriously?  His pursuit is that relentless? Yup.

I went on Amazon, I bought the book, I signed up for the daily email reminders. Guys, I think God wants to hear from me every day.  Starting today.

I Thessalonians 5:17

pray continually

Monday Mess

My head is everywhere this morning.   I can’t quite hold a single thought captive.  I imagine this is what it is like to have ADHD — rapid fire ideas that bear no resemblance to one another.  I have been up for almost two hours and have not yet had one shred of continuity.

In fact, during my Bible study, I got up to order a replacement tray for the microwave — ours spontaneously broke in two over the weekend.  I got back to my study for a moment then remembered that I needed to message my doctor.  Got up to do that, then sat back down to 2 Thessalonians only to realize that my feet were cold and I probably needed socks.  While I was up getting socks, I checked and responded to a couple of emails.

If you give a mouse a cookie…

I think the problem is that my routine is slightly altered today.  You know how it is when you change one thing.  You decide to buy your coffee on the road instead of brewing a pot at home.  This means that you don’t go into the kitchen before your shower, so you don’t see your medicine sitting on the countertop.   Halfway through your makeup routine, you remember that you haven’t taken your medicine, so you stop applying your mascara and go to the kitchen.  While you are in the kitchen, you grab a snack to take to work, walk to the front room to find your purse, and before you know it, you’re sitting in your car in your slip with mascara on one eye.

So, I got out of bed, fed the dog, brewed some tea, mixed my smoothie, then broke my routine and wrote an email to my former colleagues.  That was the beginning of mayhem.  A few people responded which sent me down nostalgia lane, but the thought of an interview later today got me considering my wardrobe.  I noticed a bill I have to attend to today, and remembered I also want to spend an hour or two on an editing project.  I started and interrupted and restarted and interrupted and restarted and finally finished my Bible study and lit the candle on my desk.  I shuffled some papers around and then had to go to the bathroom.

Do you see what I mean?

So now, instead of sitting at my desk to blog, I am on the futon, which means I can’t really see out the window.  Chester, who usually sits under my desk warming my feet, keeps looking at me like I’ve lost my mind.  But that would imply that I knew where it was to begin with!!

It’s going to be an interesting day.  I think I’d better make a checklist:

  • finish blog
  • attend to previously mentioned bill
  • work on editing project
  • blow out candle
  • shower
  • dress for interview
  • swing by library
  • go to interview
  • drive to gym
  • workout
  • drive home
  • eat
  • sleep

With this kind of start to the day, I think I better just take a few minutes and pray — that God would put things in the proper order, that He would direct my steps, that He would focus me when I get behind the steering wheel today, and that He would allow me to attend to the people who cross my path.  I’m kind of a mess today; thankfully, He is not.  He knows the craziness in my head; He will order the details of my day.

Phew!

Isaiah 26:3

You keep [her] in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you,

because [she] trusts in you.

Rejoice always?

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,

give thanks in all circumstances

I Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Seriously?

Anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows that I am not very skilled at concealing my emotions.  If I am mad, my jaw is set, my gait is clipped, my words are sharp.  If I am sad, my face droops, my steps drag, I grow silent.  My demeanor can do nothing but reflect what is going on inside of me.  I am not one of those people who can just smile and say that everything is fine when actually, it isn’t.

So, I struggle with these directions from Paul.  I can’t be fake; it’s not in my DNA.

In fact, way back in 1988 when I was doing my student teaching at Concordia High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, one of my cooperating teachers told me that in order to be a better teacher, I had to ‘stop wearing my heart on my sleeve’.  He wasn’t the first one to tell me to check my emotions.  It started with my great grandmother, Elsa, bless her heart, who told me that my face was ‘going to freeze that way’.  True.  And, I’ve already mentioned that I was voted ‘moodiest’ by my high school classmates.

I actually don’t think I was any moodier than anyone else, I just was incapable of containing it.  I ‘wore it on my sleeve’.  Yeah, not very attractive.

So, when Paul says, ‘rejoice always’, I think “Well, dear Paul, I will rejoice when there is a reason to rejoice, and mourn when there is a reason to mourn.”  And then I remember that there is, for me, always a reason to rejoice.  Even when I was a hormonal adolescent, I did actually have friends who cared. When I was overwhelmed with student teaching, I had already found my future husband who had been crafted by God just for me. When I was fighting my way through the metaphorical desert in St. Louis, even though it was a difficult time, God was still providing for our family in every way.  I did have plenty of reasons to rejoice.

However,  I did also have reasons in all of those circumstances for legitimate emotions — sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness.  But, I believe that humans are complex enough that we can simultaneously mourn and rejoice.

On Sunday, I got a call from a friend who had recently lost her mother to cancer.  She is simultaneously mourning and rejoicing.  She is so sad for herself and her family because her mother was a gift from God. However, she is also rejoicing that her mother is with Jesus, free from pain, free from suffering.

Of course Paul’s instructions are right.  If the only good news we had was that God had sent His Son to die in our place and pay the debt for all our mistakes, that would be reason enough for rejoicing.  Wouldn’t it?  And yet, most of us who are able to read a blog on the Internet have so much more to be thankful for.  Even if our job is not what we had in mind, our family is struggling, our health is failing, and our finances are in the toilet, we can rejoice.

It’s important to see the next instructions from Paul — “pray without ceasing”.  Paul was aware of the circumstances that can cloud our reason for rejoicing. I mean, let’s be honest, he was continually run out of town, thrown in jail, beaten up, and yelled at. Yet he says to us, “give thanks in all circumstances.”  Really, Paul?  You’re locked in a jail, chained up, probably filthy and starving, and you are ‘giving thanks”?

I can only conclude that Paul was able to rejoice and give thanks because of the fact that he ‘prayed continually’.  In the middle of his circumstances, he acknowledged that God was God and he was not.  He knew that God was holding him in the palm of His hand. He lifted up his situation to God and then trusted that God would “work all things together for good”.

It’s hard to be thankful and rejoice when I feel like I have to solve all of life’s problems by kicking butts and taking names.  It’s much easier when I acknowledge that I don’t have control of the situation, but God does.  He loves me and has always done what is best for me. When I release my stuff up to Him, and offer Him thanks and praise,  I always end up rejoicing.

Ok, Paul, I admit it.  You’re right.