The Dialogue of Prayer

The Dialogue of Prayer

Answer me, Lord, in your generous love;

in your great mercy turn to me.

–Psalm 69: 17

In our lives, we often look for answers. We ask questions all day just to get an answer. What time is it? When will my package arrive? Where are my keys? What’s for dinner?

Of course, there are other questions we seek answers for. When did our marriage fall apart? How long do I have to live? Will I ever feel whole or happy again?

When he wrote this psalm, King David was in the midst of great turmoil and trial, pleading for God to answer him, and begging God not to forget him. However, the first time I read this verse, it sounded a little demanding. I’m sure David knew that God heard him, but it might have felt like God was sitting silent in Heaven, and the words poured out before David could stop them: “Answer me, Lord! Don’t You love me? Don’t You care?”

As the mother of a four-year-old, I sometimes can’t stop the words either, and they spill out in frustration: “Answer me when I’m talking to you!” Not a phrase that strikes me as something that the God of Heaven would tolerate, and in the book of Job, God answered in a way that would make anyone quake in their shoes. “Gird up your loins now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:3-4).

We can be assured that God hears every single prayer, every single cry of frustration, every single sob and howl and scream. We can also rest assured that no prayer–not even one–goes unanswered. We have to ask ourselves: Did He just not give me the answer I wanted? My son could tell you that he’d like every answer to be yes: “Yes, you can have another cookie. Yes, you can stay up late.” And I delight in saying yes–but only when it’s good for my son. God is the best Father, and He knows what answers are for our good.

Our part is to open ourselves to God, letting Him know that we are willing to listen. I was shocked to learn that our prayers do not move the heart of God, in that they do not change His will, which is so high above our thoughts that we will spend eternity plumbing its depths. However our prayers are crucial to aligning us with His will. When we pray, we come into God’s presence, taking time to be still and search His heart. “Search me O God and know my heart,” said the humble psalmist, trying to cultivate stillness within himself (Psalm 139:23).

So the next time you find yourself wondering, “Why didn’t God answer me?” Stop, be still, and listen for His answer.

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Counting the Cost

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’”

-Luke 14:27-30

I am thankful I decided to follow Jesus when I was seven years old, some thirty-seven (as of the time of this writing) years ago.  I knew with all of my heart that there was a God Who loved me and gave His Son so that I would live forever in Heaven. Since then, my journey with Jesus has progressed, admittedly with a few steps backward and sideways at times.  At this moment, however, I find that I am experiencing a season of profound growth. I’m thinking about my faith and my journey with Jesus in new ways.  

This morning I was listening to Mass being said on EWTN, and the above verse was part of the Gospel reading. As I listened, it struck me that the decision to follow Jesus can be simple enough that a young child can understand it, but can be serious, heavy, and complex enough to ponder and explore for the rest of someone’s adult life.  

In the light of Jesus’ warning, the reality that we must take up our ‘cross’–our personal failings, trials, and doubts–makes this commitment a serious one.  Looked at from the outside, such an undertaking seems rather dire. Give up everything? Everyone? All the things I hold dear–even my very life? Who would agree to that?

And yet, that’s the beauty of following Jesus. He promises help for the journey. He promises wisdom. We walk alongside countless others who have dedicated their lives to Jesus, received a cross, and are carrying it faithfully to leave it at the gate of Heaven. He is not a crooked salesman, making something look attractive to get you to buy into it only to surprise you with the fine print later.  The Ten Commandments were a preview of the life that Jesus’ followers were to expect.

We must also keep in mind that taking up our cross is not a one-time thing; in fact, our crosses will most likely change over time.  Sometimes it may seem like a small crucifix you could hold in your hand; other times it may seem to be made of stone that you’re barely able to drag around with all of your strength. We will have the opportunity to count the cost every day.  The wonderful thing is that if we are following Him faithfully, we will see our ‘tower’ rise from foundation to roof.

When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, whether we are five or fifty, He allows us to grow into our relationship. As we trust Him more and more over time, we see that even though there is a cost to follow Him, we understand that we are not alone. He gives us strength and courage. He reminds us that He has walked our paths before us. He has everything we need so that we will one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Separation Anxiety

“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” –I Thessalonians 4:13-14

A few months ago, we were having trouble going to church as a family.  Well, let me rephrase that–we were going to church as a family, but sometimes I wondered just how much we were all getting out of the time we spent at church.

This is not to say there is anything wrong with our church. The people are kind, warm, welcoming, and genuine worshippers of God. The pastor preaches from his heart about relevant topics and links them to Bible truth. The children’s program is robust and engaging. Everything should have been wonderful, correct?

Except my four-year-old son did not want to go to the children’s classes. When he thought of being without us, he became frightened and clung to us all the harder. We reassured him over and over that we were close by and we would be there to pick him up after the service. Thankfully, over the course of a few weeks, his fears diminished.  Now he eagerly looks forward to church, and enjoys singing, playing, and learning about God with his peers.

Watching my son deal with anxiety at leaving the familiar for the new made me think about how we sometimes feel anxious about leaving Earth for Heaven.  When we die and leave our earthly bodies behind, we will step into a life we could never have imagined.  We see glimpses of what this new life will look like in the Bible, but some of the images may seem frightening. Legions of angels? Strange creatures that fly and continually shout about God’s glory? Gates made of pearls and streets paved with gold may be a little easier to imagine, but they’re still a lot to take in.

Heaven will be dramatically different from what we know, but the one thing that will remain familiar is God’s love for us.  Jesus will be waiting for us, loving us as much as He did while He was on earth.  We will be reunited with family and friends gone before.  We will be able to fully know–and be known by–people we never met on earth. The life we lived on earth will seem like such a short time in the face of eternity.

Like my son, we may worry about leaving the familiar for the new. Some good ways to prepare our hearts and minds are:

  1. Pray and ask God to ease your fears. He loves us and knows us intimately, and He cares about what worries us.
  2. Read about Heaven in God’s Word (my favorite passage is Revelation 4). Look up Heaven in a concordance (a book about topics discussed in the Bible, and where to find them). Some Bibles may also have keywords in the back with references for each subject. Visit an online Bible site (such as Bible Gateway) and search for Heaven.
  3. Read accounts of people who have been given glimpses of Heaven. While these are not a substitute for Biblical truth, they can be exciting and encouraging. Try “Heaven is for Real” by Colton Burpo, or “90 Minutes in Heaven” by Don Piper.

God has always meant for Heaven to be our true home.  We will have new bodies, meant to last forever. We will be able to spend eternity worshipping and praising God. There will be no more sin and no more death. Now that’s something to look forward to!

Heroes and Idols

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD; “Plans to help you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11

Since becoming a mom, I’ve followed the blogs of many moms. These moms remind me that I’m not alone in the challenges of motherhood, and give me glimpses into the lives of the precious people that make up their families.  I’ve never met most of these ladies in person, but I feel as if they’re old friends.

 

One mom in particular–Ellen*–never fails to disappoint. Her website isn’t fancy, but on its electronic page she has faithfully recorded the triumphs and trials of her large family for the last several years.  For me, Ellen seems be the example of what true motherhood looks like.  Ellen homeschools her large family, and manages to do so in a small house where there’s a place for everything and everything in its place.  Her family rarely eats junk or fast food, everyone has chores to do, and they regularly venture out into the countryside for fun rambles.  They enjoy singing hymns together instead of watching television, and when they do watch TV the programs are carefully chosen for the whole family to view.

 

The most admirable thing about Ellen, in my opinion, is her faith.  When she and her husband found out they were expecting a child with Down Syndrome, at first she cried out to God in confusion and pain. Fearing for the health and the acceptance of her child, she made connections with other parents of children with Down Syndrome, and learned all she could about the practical side of caring for her new baby. Reading through the archives on her page about this period, I was brought to tears many times as she poured out her raw emotions. When her beautiful daughter was born, Ellen endured the news of her child’s serious heart defect (common in children with Down Syndrome), and again found strength in her faith that God had a plan far bigger than her comprehension. I read with astonishment how the staggering cost of her baby’s surgery was miraculously covered by generous donors–many of whom did not know the family personally–and praised God when the surgery was successful.

 

As I continued to read Ellen’s blog, I watched God’s plan unfold like a gorgeous rose.  The faith her family had gained while raising their new daughter inspired them to adopt a child from overseas with special needs, and then another–all while birthing two more biological children.  I read story after story of God’s provision during their adoptions, and marveled at how all three of her children with special needs were thriving thanks to her tireless efforts.

 

After reading yet another heartwarming entry peppered with adorable photos, I would close the page and sigh. I came to motherhood later in life, and unlike Ellen, I aspired first to having a career rather than having a family. Now that I was a mom, it seemed to me like Ellen was everything I wasn’t.  I didn’t exactly compare myself to her, but I most definitely aspired to be her. I thought to be like her was to be the best kind of mom, the ‘Proverbs 31’ woman come to life.

 

Then in the midst of what seemed like a perfect life, one of Ellen’s precious adopted children died in a tragic accident. It was a long time before Ellen could write about the event, despite the reassurance us followers gave her that she could safely pour out her grief to us. Slowly, Ellen returned to her blog, giving us the barest glimpses into the horrific day that her child was taken from her.

 

As she did so, I realized that Ellen was tired, and had been exhausted–emotionally, spiritually, and physically–for months before the accident. Everything had been piling up until she blamed herself for not being ‘mom enough.’ I read post after post where she chronicled her struggle not to blame herself for the terrible accident. She mentioned that it was hard to think of or speak of that day without becoming physically ill.

 

Even as Ellen discussed the need to share her responsibilities with others, I continued to believe that the only way to be a ‘true’ mother was to be willing to spend every ounce of my strength and every moment of my day (and night) for my family. I still held Ellen up as my yardstick, and I felt I was falling short of her example. In the midst of my hero-worship, I forgot that Ellen had given herself a too-rigid yardstick, and like me, felt she was failing miserably. I doubt very much she would have felt anything but shame had she been a fly on the wall as I talked about her one day to a dear friend of mine.

 

My friend stopped me in mid-sentence. “I know you think Ellen is the greatest mom in the world, but that’s not you,” she protested.

 

“I want it to be me,” I countered. “Ellen’s a real mom.”

 

My friend continued to explain. “There are many types of moms in the world. Aren’t all of them ‘real’ moms, too?”

 

As I pondered that, my friend dealt another blow to my dreams of being a ‘perfect’ mom: “You have gifts and talents that Ellen doesn’t, and she has gifts and talents that you don’t. She aspired to be a mother from girlhood.  You had other dreams–a career, a master’s degree–and you pursued them with no less fervor than Ellen pursued hers.”

 

I tried again. “I want to give my kids the best. Doesn’t that mean homeschooling, and natural living–and learning how to be compassionate to others? Doesn’t that mean having them witness firsthand about God’s provision?”

 

My patient friend wasn’t deterred. “I’ve seen you take great care in what you choose to feed your kids. I’ve heard you talk about using natural products around your home. You make many teachable moments during the time you do have with your kids, whether it’s counting how many blue cars pass by or talking about where clouds come from. You stop to give homeless people money and snacks when your kids are in the car with you.” My friend shrugged. “I think you’re doing just fine, without having to be someone you’re not.”

 

It was both a sobering and reassuring moment when I took Ellen down from the pedestal where I’d placed her. I didn’t have to feel I was being selfish to want some ‘me’ time. I didn’t have to feel guilty for having a career or buying the occasional Happy Meal. God wasn’t going to bless Ellen any more (or less) than He was blessing me. God would still be glorified through my life as much as He was through hers.

 

I wish I could say that I’ve never thought about being like Ellen again, but that’s not the case. Every now and again I have to remind myself that God has me right where He wants me at this moment. He knows the desires of my heart. He also knows what His plans are for me, and since He made me, He knows me better than I know myself.

 

The best thing I can take from yearning to be like Ellen is that she was given grace to accomplish the things God asked her to do–even walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And because we serve the same majestic, omniscient, grace-full God, I know that she and I both will receive that grace in full measure right where we are.

*Not her real name

This Day is Like No Other

Did you ever just try to get through a day? Some days rush by; others feel like a slog that you can barely drag yourself through. I’ve many days where I look up and go, “What happened?” as well as “Ohhhh if I could just get through this day.”

When you’re young and single, I think these days tend to happen often. You don’t have anyone (yet) to think about, and the days when all I had to be concerned about was what flavor of Top Ramen and episode of “Good Eats” (Alton Brown is my homeboy) to watch, days just flew by without my really noticing. When you’re a kid, you wait for two days: Christmas, and the day school lets out for summer vacation. All other days are just to get through.

Since I’ve become a parent, however, I’ve realized with increasing clarity that every day has a moment, or several moments, that need to be savored. Like today for instance: My family was enjoying a rare Saturday all together (my husband Bill is a mail carrier, and Saturday is a workday for him). We splurged and took a drive to our favorite restaurant, then came home and either napped or watched some TV. Bill and my son, Jaxson, retired to our bedroom, where Jaxson watched videos on YouTube Kids and Bill snoozed. I goofed around on Pinterest for a while, checked my email, and decided to sign up for some online training for writers (more on that in a future post). I was in the middle of listening to a podcast when Jaxson came out and asked me to sit with him. I told him I would be there in a minute, and he hopped up on the couch with my phone to continue watching his little show. It was at that moment that something pinged inside me–the podcast would be there. My son wanted to be with me. So I shut off the computer and went to hang out with him.

Was it a teaching moment, with me drilling him on numbers, letters, colors, etc? Were we sharing a profound moment that he’ll remember forever? No, but one thing he WILL remember is that his mommy spent time with him. We just sat there together (if I’m truthful, I’ll admit that I dozed off in the middle of reading a book).

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I do want my experience to sound a clarion call to other parents. Jaxson’s first year went by very, very quickly, and I often find myself wishing I’d spent more time just enjoying him. The first few months of his life were traumatic for me, as I was trying to learn how to balance motherhood against forty years of doing what I wanted whenever I wanted to. While I absolutely adored him, I sometimes felt frustrated at not getting enough ‘me-time’, and then felt horribly guilty for even wanting time alone. Granted, dealing with spit-up, baby poop, and three o’clock feedings (and yes indeedy three o’clock was his hour of choice) weren’t exactly on par with going to Disneyland, but I spent too much time just ‘getting through’ those moments. I will say that not every moment was wished away, though; I can remember with clarity during those feedings that I felt compelled to kiss that little face over and over again. I would smooth his fuzzy hair, touch his little eyebrows, wipe his little chin, marvel at his tiny fingers.  He’s such a big boy now, but I have memories of him as a sweet baby tucked in my heart. I just wish I had more.

In the musical “RENT,” playwright Jonathan Larson wrote a song called “Seasons of Love”:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure – measure a year?

The cast of the play talks about measuring how many sunsets or sunrises one sees, or midnight talks with a friend over coffee, but that the most important way to measure time is in love. How much love did you give? How much love did you receive?

One of my coworkers likes to do things immediately, and to them, to wait is to waste time. For years they had a piece of art on their bulletin board that had a quote from an ancient Jewish book of instruction, the Talmud: If not now, when? As I have gotten to know this person better, I can see that this quote fits perfectly with their personality. In their work life, action speaks. I have begun adopting this mindset more often, and I have seen my relationship with this coworker improve.

However, the mindset of not putting something off is a worthy one. I would add the caveat of making certain that whatever you turn your attention to has to matter to you deeply. Make time for the things that are most important. Know that every day you are alive on this earth is a gift from God, in order to accomplish His purpose for you.

Stacy Halsted is a young mother of a five-year-old boy named Tripp (cute, huh?). One day when Tripp was two, he suffered an accident that resulted in a massive head injury. In order to save his life, doctors removed part of his brain. For three years, you could see the spot in his skull that was caved in from this surgery (he’s since had a prosthesis that will grow with his skull, but there’s still no brain underneath it). Overnight, he went from a typical two-year-old to a child with significant medical needs. He has made miraculous strides in recovering his health, but doctors are unsure of just how much he will be able to do in later life. His family cares for him and involves him in everything they do, but sometimes Stacy succumbs to the question “Why?” During those times, she recounts how grateful they were that they enjoyed spending time with Tripp, and how glad they are that he’s still with them. I know if Tripp were to be called Home tomorrow, she and her family would no doubt savor all of the memories they created with him.  If you want to follow their story, go to http://www.teamboom4tripp.com/.

My point is this: Today was created for a reason. You’re here reading these words for a reason. Don’t waste it. Don’t just ‘get through it.’ If you’re spending the day caring for a loved one, or working at a dead-end job, or studying, cleaning the house, anything that could (and often does) seem tedious, and you just wish for a better tomorrow–hang on. Find one thing about today that was special or unique. Was it a smile? A hand squeeze from a loved one who can no longer speak? A hug? Someone opened the door for you? A text, or email, or a sale flyer from your favorite store? You made the perfect poached egg, or your toilet is spotlessly clean? Find that thing, and hold on to it.

This day was made for that. This day was made for YOU.

Welcome!

I’m glad you’re here!  If you’re reading this, you just might be like me–a night owl (Mom says it’s hereditary; Grandma was a night owl too) looking for distraction when you really should be in bed.  Or you might be like me, trying to snag some you-time while your family is in dreamland.  Or you could also be like me, trying to contribute something valuable to the world before you journey onward.

Let’s get this settled right off the bat: I’m a Christian. I was raised in a Baptist church, but now I attend a Catholic church. If you want to talk about that, feel free to send me an email. Otherwise we will just leave it at that.  If you stick around long enough, you’ll definitely get the idea that we are a Joshua 24:15 family.

What will we talk about? How about:

  • Raising kids to love JesusBeing good stewards of our time, talent, and treasure

    Fostering and adopting children (domestic and international)

    Living on a budget/cash based system

    Recipes and other adventures in cooking

    Crafts, photography, and books

    Faith-based topics (saints, prayer, Bible study, etc

…and whatever else that strikes our fancy!

What we will NOT be discussing:

  • PoliticsCelebrity gossip

    Movies with an R rating

If those are the kinds of things you’re looking for, it’s a big internet. I’m sure it won’t take long to find them.

Right now, let’s set a tentative schedule for new posts every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (subject to change). Sound good?

Please join me on the journey! Whether you’re on your phone in line at $tarbuck$ or catching screen time while your wee ones nap, this blog is for you. And me. Us. Okay?

Thanks for reading!