Lent 2020: We Need Him a Lot

…the people God uses don’t have to know a lot of things, or have a lot of things–they just have to need him a lot.
Jesus called out to them, “Let’s go!”

My creative collaborator and I created a day-by-day prayer card to guide our church and unify our prayers during Lent. Of course we had no idea how the world would change from the time we created it to its actual season of use. I’ve been struck repeatedly at how God directed the choice of prayer prompts to specific days. For example, our first week of shelter-in-place included praying for patience, trust, hope, joy, love, and faith; the second week began with perseverance and also included kindness, humility, and flexibility—all qualities we need heaping doses of these days.

I tucked the prayer card into my Jesus Storybook Bible as a bookmark/prayer reminder. Today while I read, I couldn’t help hearing my working-from-home pastor-husband on a call discussing the numbers of people in our church and community who need help as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and how our church is preparing to mobilize in response. The conversation moved on to our local and global mission partners struggling to meet the needs of those they serve, and who quite sadly may be unable to continue by the time the pandemic has run its course.

Today’s prayer prompt is to pray for those who need help…

Jesus, we all need help. We all need you a lot, now more than ever. Help the helpers, Lord, and be extra-especially present to all those who need help in body and soul. Amen.

Now come on, helpers. Let’s go do what we can do!

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Ponder

I read today’s one word writing prompt yesterday—ponder—and woke in the wee hours pondering the word, chewing it, twisting it this way and that. It reminds me of wonder, only one letter different, and the comparison delights me as word play often does. I see ponder in neon flashing through the dark night, leading me to wonder, to wander, to meander.

Now daylight, I leash up the dogs and meander our wonderfully walkable neighborhood. I notice two hawks, spiraling through the sky above me. NorCal is experiencing a remarkably early spring; likely it happens every year but it always surprises me with joy. I don’t even need a jacket. A light breeze sometimes strokes my skin, yet warm sunlight permeates everything. The grass is green. Trees have buds, and bulbs push their green fronds through the ground. Those lucky to have sufficient exposure already bloom in yellows and pinks. I stop to take pictures.

Ponder: to think about carefully, to consider, to meditate. Ooh, I like that last one. I sometimes refer to my dog walks as “moving meditation.” I ponder, wonder, wander, meander, meditate. I pray.

Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. —Psalm 111:2

On My Mind

This weekend as I deadheaded the roses going crazy in our front yard, a woman came to mind, an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in some time. I have no idea why she popped into my head.

As I do when someone comes to mind, I prayed for her.

Thinking of the one woman brought another woman to mind. I’m not sure if they’re friends, but I met them around the same time. So I prayed for her, too.

This week our church is holding a kids’ camp, 330+ kids and 150 volunteers swarming our campus with joy, laughter, crafts, song, skits, and other shenanigans. It’s a magnificent mess and one of the best weeks of the year.

Yesterday I saw both women who’d come to mind over the weekend. I told them each, separately, that I’d thought of and prayed for her over the weekend. One had a fluke encounter with a cow while hiking with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop and has a broken shoulder; she might be facing surgery.

The other looked at me skeptically: “Well, that’s odd. Did you hear what happened to me Friday?” On the way home from setting up her camp area, she noticed two dogs loose in the road. She pulled over to help them, and one seriously attacked her; she had to call 911 and required stitches in the back of both thighs.

We looked at each other. I said, “Well, I guess you really needed some prayer…”

She said, “I sure did! Thanks for praying.”

Random, but not random at all…

Last night I had a lonely, woe-is-me moment. Then I wondered: God had put two women on my mind seemingly without occasion. Who might have me on their mind? Who might be praying for me, unbeknownst to me?

 

Thankful Thursday – Fall Blooms

About this time six years ago, a few weeks into Tween’s second grade year, his teacher found me admiring bulletin boards in the breezeway.

She said, “Hey, can you give me a tip? Tween doesn’t seem to realize he’s in school.”

I immediately replied, “Oh, give him some time. He’ll realize it’s no longer summer by, let’s say, Thanksgiving.”

I wasn’t joking, but let’s all take a quick moment to imagine her dramatic eye roll…

(In my defense, c’mon, this is California! With the amazing weather, he was in the pool weekends and after school until Halloween…!)

After I’d spoken the words aloud, I realized their truth deep in my being: not only does Tween transition slowly, but our whole family stinks at transitions.

You may see us going through the motions. We may be in the right place at (mostly) the right times, getting things done. But that doesn’t mean we’re organized, on top of things, present to the moment. We may–or may not–be any of those things, depending on the hour, day, week, minute…

Six years and so many transitions post-epiphany, you’d think we’d know to anticipate our bad transitions. You’d think wrong, my friend. Oh no, every time, whatever season, we find ourselves once again thigh-deep in the muck, repeating for the umpteenth time: “Oh, yah, transitions…”

And again, and again, and painful as each one of us has to come to our own conclusions about how we individually and as a family are weathering the current storm.

Locally and globally, we have had a weird-weather fall. In NorCal, we’ve had record-breaking heat (115 should not happen here!), followed by mellow days, then more heat with thunder and lightening storms, now wind and my allergies are threatening to do me in. Still, I’ll take it over the storms that hit Houston, the Caribbean and Florida, or the earthquake in Mexico.

Then, this:

These fantastic flowers burst forth in my front yard. The pink one is the size of a face!

My soul stills in wonder at their beauty, and I remember that all things bloom in their time, in their season.

Including me, us, this family.

Due to date miscommunication-confusion, a friend showed up when I wasn’t at home. She left flowers. Cut flowers from plants I’d purchased for her, that she planted, that continue to thrive. The gift keeps on giving, flowers and friendship keep blooming.

Nine days ago I noticed my gratitude journal, forlornly forgotten in this transition-season; I jotted some thanksgivings, and promptly forgot it again. Today I tucked in a print-out of a poem, shared by a friend and meaningful in this time. I will add more personal items tonight. I need gratitude, especially now when transition makes discipline difficult.

Banksy recently posted on Twitter: “The only thing making you unhappy are your own thoughts. Change them.”

And with our dear St. Anne and the communion of saints we pray: Help, Thanks, Wow!

Any one of us might point to demanding circumstances, taxing days and long hard nights, excuses all–many understandably so!–for being unhappy. Thanks changes our thoughts. It keeps us in the now, present to the moment whatever the feels it holds, and gently/forcefully unfolds in time an as-necessary different perspective.

Let’s give thanks for the season, for its unfolding, its blooming, for the unpredictable beauty here and yet-coming.

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How Do We Pray?

walkAs we walked the trail, my friends talked about dealing with stress: exercise, meditation, therapy, hypnosis…

I said, “Or you could pray.”

They expected that from me, but I didn’t expect their response: “Well, you know how to do that. We don’t know how to pray. Maybe you need to pray for us every morning.”

On the spot, I grabbed them in a hug-headlock and started praying. It’s not that complicated, but we seem to make it more complicated than it needs to be. I talked to God our Father, asking Him to wrap them up in His loving arms and soothe away their stresses as they learn to rely on Him. Walk over, we grabbed a cup of coffee and went our ways.

That conversation certainly motivated me to pray for my gals, but it also broke my heart a little. These friends come to church and hear people pray regularly. Still, they feel ill-equipped to pray themselves.

I’ve been church-going and praying all my life and I still don’t like to pray out loud. I love me a good Bible study but don’t relish out-loud group prayer. Which meant, I thought, I didn’t know how to pray.

I remember the moment, about a decade ago, when I had an epiphany: I pray all the time! I pray as I read God’s Word. I journal my prayers. When I’m alone in the car, I keep the radio off so God and I can chat on the go. I pray as I walk. When someone comes to mind, I pray for them (and then get in contact to see how they’re doing – there is often a reason I’m thinking of them). I pray with and for my kids. I listen to music that leads me to pray. And on and on.

Why did I think I couldn’t pray? Because my introverted tendencies make it uncomfortable for me to pray in groups. It can feel too intimate. I don’t know what to say. I feel a responsibility to those I’m praying with to “get it right” even as I stumble over words. None of which provides an adequate excuse for not praying in groups. I still have to do it. Praying individually and in groups grows me as a follower of Jesus.

I’ve already offered a number of ways to pray individually. In addition, my friend Nancy has written and artfully illustrated a booklet of prayer ideas that you can download for free as you learn to Pray More. There are boatloads of books on prayer, but my new favorite is Fervent by Priscilla Shirer (written for women but don’t let that stop you, guys; the principles apply to everyone).

Some tips for praying together:
* Listen to what others pray for and agree with their prayers instead of composing your next prayer.
* Pray short prayers, using normal language.
* Silence is okay!
* Let the Spirit lead the direction of your prayers, each prayer building upon the prayers of others.
* Remember that God is your audience, not just others in the group.
* Use Scripture as God brings it to mind.

The good news? My friends are learning to pray. Like anything worthwhile, it takes practice. But they are reading daily devotional books and leaning on God throughout their (still stressful) days. As they pray, I suspect they are falling deeper in love with Jesus. Which, by the way, has been my regular prayer for them since that day on the trail.

Don’t Give Up

Persistent defines Teen well, one of his stronger personality traits.

We have snakes in our house because of Teen’s persistence. I said yes to geckos but NO to snakes. For years, Teen argued, researched, debated, cajoled, prayed – and believe me, we had long conversations about how God answers prayer: yes, no, or not now. Teen said, “God’s already told me Yes.” I said, “He hasn’t told me, so keep praying.” Teen persisted in prayer – and parental petition – until God eventually nudged me that, in truth, I do love my son more than I fear snakes. His room occasionally smells like the reptile house at the zoo, but we have also grown closer as a family as we facilitated Teen’s pursuit of his passion.

platinum ball python

platinum ball python

We let Teen attend a rave because of his persistence. We said, Absolutely Not! He told his friends Maybe. He worked out details and presented a “logical” case for how it could all work at minimal parental cost/effort. We combated his case with facts of our own: the risk of alcohol and drug exposure high on that list. Days, weeks, months of his arguments eventually forced us to address the possibility that he might find a way to sneak around us. So we said yes, and got sneaky with our qualifications: Guy picked him up after the event and planned a following full day of activities that would feel great if he behaved and terrible if he didn’t – built-in reward or consequences. There’s more to it than that, but short story: we all had a great weekend, and the experience strengthened Teen-parent trust.

Teen went snowboarding this weekend because of his persistence. A month ago he tore a ligament in his elbow. In a cast for a week and a brace for two, he began physical therapy this week. He leaves with his rugby team for nine days in Italy in less than three weeks; they will play and stay with Italian teams and have training sessions with the Italian National Team – an unbelievable opportunity for which he needs to be healed. Mama thinks snowboarding is an unnecessary risk, not to mention expense. But again, Teen worked out all the details, paid for the lift ticket and rental equipment, and arranged for the parent-chaperone to call Guy with reassurance. Praying for safety, I also recognize that his responsibility in the past deserves increased independence.snowboarding

We can’t take credit for Teen’s persistence, but we also modeled persistent prayer. As a toddler, he wanted a sibling and we wanted a second child, so we prayed. Years later, including a year of failed fertility treatments, and still no baby. We began to pray for contentment if God intended us to have only one birth child. Two months after our last fertility treatment, we discovered we were pregnant, and Tween was born when Teen was five and a half. Looking back, what felt like God’s silent treatment in response to our faithful prayers we now see as God’s patient timing – some of our richest friendships have blossomed with parents of Tween’s friends, relationships we might have missed if Tween had come earlier.

As a family we prayed persistently about how we would spend Guy’s sabbatical time. For two years we prayed and pursued spending a summer in Peru; God shut that door and directed us instead to His provision of two glorious months in Costa Rica. The experience was truly more than we could have asked or imagined, but clearly not more than God could provide.Cocoally CR watercolor

Jesus tells a story in Luke 18 intended to encourage His followers to always pray and not give up. He closes the parable by asking whether He will find faith on earth. The combined sentences have me wondering: Do I have enough faith? If the persistent widow had stopped petitioning the unjust judge for the justice only he could provide, her case would never have been settled. What might God do if I looked with eyes of faith for the things only He can do – and ask for them? What might God do if I faithfully pray and don’t give up?

Most importantly, how might persistent prayer change my relationship with God? Teen’s persistence has changed things in our house, including our relationships. We have grown together as we have kept up regular, intense, sometimes heated dialogue. It’s not always easy but it works, and I wonder if I have as much to learn from Teen as he has had to learn from me about persistent prayer.

Connect
Share about a time when you felt like giving up on something important but didn’t.

Study
Read aloud Luke 18:1-8.
Describe the judge. Describe the widow. Put this situation in your own words (vv. 2-5).
Get inside the judge’s mind: why might he have refused the widow’s plea for justice (v. 4)?
What does this passage tell us about God? About prayer?
What is the connection between faith and prayer? Explain Jesus’ question in v. 8.
What does Luke tell us is the point of this parable (v. 1), and what does that mean to you?

Live
How do you handle it when it feels like God hasn’t answered quickly, like He’s putting you off?
Are there some prayers we know God will always answer, and if so, what?
For what have you cried out to God day and night? How did you see God respond?
How would you answer someone who asked, “Does prayer work?”
What will you do this week to persist in faithful prayer?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will lead you to pray more.

Advent 4 – Knowing Peace

Around the time Teen hit middle school I began encouraging him each time he walked away: “Be your best you,” meaning make good choices and do your best and stay true to yourself. You can be yourself, but it takes intentionality to be your best version of yourself.happiness-project

So maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me to discover “Be Gretchen” at the top of Gretchen Rubin‘s Twelve Commandments of Happiness. Fill in your own name and it sounds easier than the reality. I may want to sing like Idina Menzel, or paint like Monet, or innovate like Steve Jobs, but those aren’t my gifts. Sure, I can practice and develop new skills – I can hire a vocal coach, or take a painting or business class – but honestly I probably won’t because those aren’t my gifts; those desires don’t drive me. Beating myself up over a false version of myself won’t make me happy. So I Be Me and employ Commandment #2: “Let it go.”wiz

I saw this on the screen as we watched The Wiz! this weekend. The things each character wanted – a brain, a heart, courage, home – were already theirs; they just had to believe.

Rubin’s pursuit of happiness strikes me as a key to peace: “Be Me” and “Let it go” lead to both happiness and peace. If I am at peace with myself, I have much higher likelihood of being at peace with you. And peace with myself starts with peace with God.

I’m not sure I would know how to be my best me if I didn’t know what God says about me. For example:

God made me – Psalm 139:13-14 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!”

God loves me and saved me – John 3:16-17 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

I’m God’s child – John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Jesus intends me to live a full life – John 10:10 records Jesus saying, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

God has given me specific gifts for specific work – 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other,” and Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

God will help me – Hebrews 4:16 says, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Hearing and believing these truths from God’s Word free me up from discouragement and free me to be my best self. I’m created by God, and God doesn’t make junk. I am loved by God, which gives my life value. I am gifted and empowered by God to do good work and live a full life.

I read this prayer this week, and it speaks straight to this point:

Dear God: Please untie the knots that are in my mind, my heart and my life. Remove the have nots, the can nots, and the do nots that I have in my mind. Erase the will nots, may nots, might nots that may find a home in my heart. Release me from the could nots, the would nots, and the should nots that obstruct my life. And most of all, Dear God, I ask that you remove from my mind, my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’ that I have allowed to hold me back, especially the thought that I am not good enough. Amen.

Blessings on these last few days of Advent 2015!advent wreath

Week 4 – Knowing Peace
December 20-24

Read and light four candlesThe first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another. The fourth candle represents the Gospel of peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Ephesians 2:14-18

Read: Jesus Christ is our peace. On the cross He defeated sin and death and tore down the wall separating us from God. He destroyed our interior walls which kept us from being whole and holy. He shattered the walls that separate us from one another, human distinctions that matter nothing to Him. Christ fought the battles to win peace for us. Come, let us worship the Prince of Peace!

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the good news of peace. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

 

Monday John 17:3 How do you enjoy eternal life here on earth?
Tuesday Acts 10:36 How has the good news of peace through Jesus Christ changed your life?
Wednesday Romans 5:1 How does peace with God affect your daily life?
Thursday 2 Corinthians 5:20 With whom does God want you to share His peace?