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Battle, notecards, prayers for drought and rain

notecard blogI’ve mentioned that I’m learning about prayer this year, both personal prayer as well as intercessory prayer (praying for others) during weekly communion at my church.  During the week I find myself praying again for those I pray with on Sundays, and I decided I want to acknowledge that connection.

I’m not the kind of person who picks up the phone and calls people. In fact, at the moment we have no phone in our house, either landline or mobile. So calling is out. Emailing is a possibility, but I had this idea that I wanted to do this old school. I wanted to write a quick note to people God brought to my mind during the week. The kind of note that requires an ink pen and a stamp.

So, I went online and started to look for note cards, specifically note cards good for writing about prayer. I found a few. Some were expensive, although most of those were gorgeous works of art. Some were average. Some had images and some words. But nothing jumped out as the perfect prayer card. Sure, a simple piece of paper would do, but there is so much more going on here, and I want even the card to symbolize what happens when brothers and sisters pray for one another.

Okay, if you’ve read enough of my blogs or know me personally, you might have figured out I never, ever, ever do things the easy way. I had this amazing idea while searching–I would make my own cards! There are online printers who could print them inexpensively, and then my cards could perfectly express my feelings about what a prayer card should be.

If you’re laughing, that’s okay. I’m some odd mix of perfectionist/control freak/crafting freak/crazy person. And this card idea got all those different parts of my personality drooling. A new project.

First, I wanted a Bible verse, because I believe there is power in the Word of God. Turns out there are a lot of Bible verses about prayer. A whole lot. Tons. Somehow, I found myself in James five. The old classic is there, about the prayer of a righteous man availing much. However, that entire section of James is about prayer. It’s about Elijah praying for drought because Ahab was worshiping false gods. Then three years later he prayed for the rain to return, and after a big brouhaha between Elijah and the Baal worshipers that included fire from heaven, God sent rain.

James recounts this in simple terms, his point being that a normal guy can pray and expect big things to happen. Some of that passage is very commonly quoted. But one verse, one simple little verse, hit somewhere in my gut, and I knew that was what I wanted to express on my cards. The truth of this verse was the truth I’d been looking for, the one I want to share with anyone I pray with.

James 5:18 says “And he (Elijah) prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

It’s about the meeting of heaven and earth, of the otherwordly and the wordly, of physical need and higher need. The phrase “heaven gave rain” might simply mean the sky, but I suspect it means more, because rain has a lot more meaning in scripture, too. Rain has to do with life, with growth. And usually mention of rain is tied to the fact that we can’t control it. Rain and drought are in God’s hands, so rain is a gift from above.

So, Elijah, a man like us, first prayed for drought against the wicked. We still pray for that–for justice, for fairness, for evil to be curbed. We pray against false gods, false philosophies, leaders who lead their people astray. We pray that the kingdom will expand, because that will require the old, sinful world to contract.

But then we turn around and pray for restoration, for a return to the garden where we began. In that garden we knew perfect health. We experienced unbroken relationships with people, and we walked closely with God. We labored with success. I realized this week just how many of our prayers are for restoration–health, family, relationships, jobs, physical needs, rest, salvation for loved ones… Almost every prayer takes us to the garden. It takes us to our need for rain from heaven and fruit from the earth.

Prayer note idea 2Second, I wanted something pretty. The person who opens this card needs to feel special. He or she needs to know I  am taking him/her to God’s throne. My prayer friends need to know how much I value and treasure the opportunity to do that. They need to know they are worthy of God’s blessings of beauty and comfort, whatever situation they find themselves in.

I’m leaning toward images of flowers, maybe because it’s spring, and I’m already thinking flowers and growth and warmth and life. I  want to send not only words of hope and restoration, but images of it, too. Beauty is part of the kingdom. So why not tuck a little beauty into my envelopes?

I need to pray for people all week long. I plan to listen closely and see if he wants me to pray spontaneously for those he’s put in my life, maybe those whose needs I don’t even know. Regardless, I’m soon to be armed with my little cards. Then, of course, I have to use them. Spiritual battle is real, and even my silly little cards will bring it on. But that’s okay. Elijah was an ordinary man, and he fought evil with prayers on a mountain and saw fire from heaven and then rain. I plan to battle with short Sunday prayers and note cards, and I hope to see a few fires and some rain myself.

 

 

 

Finding Celebration

finding celebrationThis year I’ve been thinking through spiritual disciplines,  which are simply ways to keep God forefront in my mind and heart in a world that doesn’t make that easy. Things like prayer, hospitality, journaling, retreats, worship, etc.

Last night I was looking through my new favorite book, which has all kinds of disciplines in it. Included in this book is a quiz to help a person decide what disciplines might best fit with what God is doing with her now–and because of that I’ve been focusing on prayer, since God is clearly teaching me more about prayer right now.

But last night I was feeling heavy and unsettled. I’m falling into old patterns. I’m trying to organize my space and time and life so I honor God, hoping to grow, trying to get some things in order as I enter a new stage in my life. Last week I finished teaching kids who aren’t mine. This year most of my kids will fly the coop. Most of the excuses I have for not pursuing God as I should are leaving me. It’s time to get serious about this.

However, I’ve been failing at some things. Not praying like I want to pray. Not studying like I want to study. Anyway, I opened my book and started at the beginning. The book has disciplines grouped, and the first grouping is worship. It’s one I’ve barely looked at. So, I looked at it.  One of the first disciplines I saw was celebration.

Ouch. Celebration. I struggle with this, both spiritually and otherwise. Years ago, I would make a big deal out of holidays, birthdays, festivals. But when my husband lost his job eight years ago and we fell back below the poverty level after years of being above it, I stopped with many of those things. Money was an issue, and we were all frustrated with life, and I didn’t have the energy for all of it. In survival mode, I didn’t leave room for celebration.

Now I belong to a church that pay attention to the church calendar, so there are seasons where we celebrate, like Easter, and seasons where we wait, like Advent and Lent, and again, it seems difficult. I struggle to decide how to implement these in my family. They’ve grown accustomed to not celebrating, so they roll their eyes when I try. We’ve become very somber and cynical, and I think it has everything to do with us not celebrating. Not celebrating God as an act of worship–praise–and not celebrating the rhythms God has put in the world, like seasons and birthdays and anniversaries.

Last week in a post I mentioned I was trying to look at goals in a new way. Instead of simply writing a goal for my life and then failing, I am trying to decide why I’m failing. And so I looked at celebration, which used to be part of my life, and tried to figure out what had changed.

First, my family is older. They simply don’t get excited about things. If need be, I can celebrate alone. And eventually, if I can restore some lost traditions and create some new, they’ll get on board. Especially birthdays–I doubt any of them will actually turn down the chance to be king for a day.

Part of it is indecision. I freeze. Should I get a gift? Make a meal? What should I do to celebrate Advent, given the internet has five million awesome ideas? How can we add new traditions to Easter to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection? How can I celebrate God on a daily basis through praise? Singing? Writing? Art?

Being the kind of person who overthinks everything, all those questions make me crazy. And at this moment, I’m not sure how to overcome this one. But I’m going to try.

Finally, I’m tired. I just had a physical, so I know I’m healthy. I’m a type one diabetic, and that can be draining. It takes constant diligence, so I get mentally tired. But the worst offender is simply my schedule. My husband works second shift, and neither he nor I have done well with a second shift life. If I’m going to be serious about living life to the full, I have to sleep better. There is no way around that. I need to watch my sugar levels so I’m not wakened at four a.m. to fix a low. I need to go to bed earlier. I love to study and read before bed, but I have to start that earlier, because I wake up early regardless of when I go to bed. Maybe I have to nap. I know I need to step up the exercise. But however I do it, I have to get more sleep so I can live with more energy and excitement about my days.

So, I have some work to do. Celebration wasn’t on my radar at all. But if I want to reach the world in any way, I can’t do it all somber and uninspired. The Bible is filled with praise. I intend to work through Psalms, especially, and remind myself that God is about joy. Because of him I have a guaranteed awesome future. And celebrating that is important. Celebrating people I love is important. Celebrating God’s creation–seasons and harvests–is important.

And maybe, if I don’t overthink this and simply call out my inner child, I can have fun with this. And then my family can have more fun with life. I want my children to follow God their entire lives. It’s an adventure with ups and downs and smiles and tears. Lately I haven’t been expressing the full scope of this journey. I feel that if I do, my children, my family, and all those around me will see more of God and want to join me in celebration, too.

 

The Horror of the Double Post

computer key

On Wednesday, I hit one wrong button and double posted. People who subscribe to my posts found two in their inboxes, the one meant for Wednesday and the one meant for the following Monday. Today.

And I felt terrible. Feelings of failure. Feelings of fear, because the second post hadn’t been through its final, night-before edit. That second post was important to me, but who reads two posts from the same author in one day? What if people never read my stuff again? What if I lose readers? What if my blogging career is over?

I mean, blogging career? Where did that phrase even come from? I post random stuff from my brain three times a week and don’t make a penny doing it. The questions in my head were telling. I had to be honest with myself and ask why I blog. Why do I write? The things I share, in both my blog and my fiction, come from down deep, and it’s dangerous to share that much, especially for someone who struggles with identity issues, anxiety issues. I could stop writing and live in complete obscurity and never feel certain kinds of stress again. Oh, the peace. What’s wrong with me not to jump at such peace?

Some of it is pride. I admit I look at numbers. Number of readers. Number of hits on my Facebook pages. Numbers of fiction books sold. I realize I won’t get rich and famous for my words, but my pride doesn’t care. It craves validation. It wants me to look put together and organized and like the kind of person who doesn’t hit a wrong button every now and then. Since I’m decent with words, my pride wants me to succeed in words at all times, and it gets upset when I don’t.

Some of it is fear. I struggle with parts of writing. I don’t read reviews. My first fiction book has over ninety reviews. Most of them are very good reviews. I’ve read maybe five of them. I don’t want to fail, and that shows itself in strange ways. When I’m on Amazon, I get nervous because my reviews are there, as though they will simply pop up while I’m looking at shoes or vitamins. Some of  them are bad, and some are personal, as though the reviewers hate me personally for wasting their time with a book they didn’t like, and that’s scary. It’s conflict, and I don’t like conflict. So, fear is definitely a part of it. Fear of failure, fear of people.

Fortunately, there’s another level to my writing. I hope it’s a calling. Whether I share the words or not, they are there. They have been my whole life. And they will be written down in some form. I know that’s as necessary for my life as breathing.

I feel like each post and each book I write has an audience. Someone out there somewhere needs to think  I’m not alone. Someone else understands me today. That’s it. That’s why I share. It’s why I try to be honest, even if I don’t look so good doing it. Maybe one single person out there needs something today. Maybe I’m the one to offer it. I can’t let that one person down. God has given me the ability to connect with written words, so I write words.

I think that’s the secret exposed by my fear of the double post. If I write for me, I deal with pride. Fear.I can fail and look foolish and lose numbers and validation.

If I do it for God, let him validate me and love me and breathe identity into me, then hitting a wrong button won’t be so stressful. A negative review is just words from a stranger. I can focus on touching single souls, single lives, and not think in terms of the masses. And I truly believe most things in life happen between single souls.

I need to dwell less on numbers, readers, hits, likes, and all that stuff. I need to remember who gave me the skills I possess and know if those skills go away, I’m still God’s beloved. If everyone hates my books and drops their blog subscriptions, God still wants me to be his daughter. My room in heaven still waits for me. It’s going to be okay.

And I should relax, because we all hit the wrong button every now and again.

Passion lost, passion found

Passion week palm sunday

AppleMark

Yesterday began Passion Week or Holy Week. In our church, we celebrate Palm Sunday by walking, as a church, through the parking lot or church property, carrying palm fronds, and singing or speaking Hosannas.

This year, our church is in a new location. We now meet in an urban area in a building whose first purpose is to feed the homeless several times a week. There is only one door in or out, so we couldn’t leave one way and enter another for our Palm Sunday processional. Instead, we walked around the block. We passed the entirety of the building that feeds the homeless. We walked past the  coroner’s office. We walked through a less-than-lovely part of town, carrying palm fronds, saying Hosanna.

It felt strange.

A woman visited our church yesterday, and I wondered what she thought of walking around an urban block with a whole bunch of strangers, looking kind of strange. I ended up walking beside her, and after a minute she started to laugh. She admitted this was kind of fun and suggested someone should be filming us.

As we headed past the coroner’s office on an unkempt street with more gravel than concrete, she said something that I won’t forget. Remember I didn’t know this woman. I didn’t know what she believed or how she’d found us or anything about her except she was willing to be part of this bizarre spectacle, and by the end she was saying Hosannas with the rest of us.

“I feel like we’re putting armor around the church,” she said quietly. She looked at me. “We’re putting up a protective wall. Invisible wall against evil. Nobody can see it, but evil can see it, and it can’t come inside.”

Later I learned this woman’s name, although I lost track of her at the end of the service and didn’t get to talk to her again. I hope she comes back. Already I love her smile and her laughter and her insights. I’d love to know more about her and become part of her family. We’ll see if that happens.

All day I thought about those words, especially in the context of Holy Week, the week we remember Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. He set his face to get there, because he had a date with death. He knew we are all vulnerable to evil. He knew we all need protective armor to keep evil out. It wasn’t as simple as walking with palm fronds. Jesus’ armor over us is blood. Because he covered us in blood, we have the ability to call on the Spirit with our voices and palm fronds, to laugh in the face of a dark world as we make spectacles of ourselves.

I’ve been around for a whole lot of Holy Weeks. Sometimes I don’t see it any more. It becomes rote and ritual, and I worry more about what quick bread to take to Easter service than what the week means. It was Jesus’ entire life goal, to set his face to Jerusalem, disappoint a nation who wanted a king, and die a bloody, horrible death. And yet, too many years I don’t get it, don’t feel it, don’t let that truth shake me to my very core.

During our service yesterday, a man was reading from Isaiah 52/53, speaking of Jesus being pierced and crushed for us, that our iniquity was laid on him, and before he finished reading his voice was breaking and tears were falling. He got it. He hadn’t forgotten or lost his passion for passion week. I listened to him struggle, and I looked at the words, and I looked ahead at a stranger who reminded me that I don’t have to bleed for safety now. I have armor, and the weeping man in front was reading about the source of this safety, the horrible, terrible event that rescued me, that covered me with protection.

I have said before that I’m thankful for tears. I’ve been a stoic for much too long. Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I saw the words again, felt the pain again. The passion stirred. The Spirit spoke, perhaps wept at the memories of the beloved son in his moment of loneliness and isolation when God turned his face away. I heard that heavenly weeping, that shudder from the past, when God made everything right in the world by letting something go terribly, terribly wrong.

I hope you spend time this week reflecting on Jesus’ final week on earth, on his purpose, his goals, his pain, his blood, and his victory. The world doesn’t care, and I live in the world, so this week will look like most other weeks. But I plan to set aside time to think and read–and obviously to blog, which is another way I think–and let the stirrings of passion fan into a flame.

I am armored. I did nothing to get that. Evil can’t get through the wall. A very real person did that for me, and this week, I hope to grow closer to him and not take any of his life or death for granted.

 

 

The Information Swamp

Information swampNone of my grandparents are living, and I regret that I didn’t have closer relationships with them. I don’t remember hearing their stories about growing up, getting married, what it meant to be a mother in the thirties, forties, fifties.

My parents are alive, and I know more of their tales. My dad is in his mid-seventies, and I’ve heard stories of killing chickens for dinner, his old dog, his life in another era, another time. Being a storyteller myself, I love stories.

I am now in a place where, biblically, I’m the older woman. Titus 2 tells older women to help the younger ones love their husbands and children. These older women, like all of the people in Titus’ church, likely were new believers. They might have raised their children while following pagan gods. They got married in societies with no godliness. And yet, Paul says their current love for God, along with the experience of age, makes them valuable mentors.

Flash forward.

A few years ago, a group of experienced moms and I held a luncheon for pregnant moms in my church. Between us, we moms had well over fifty years of parenting experience. Probably closer to a hundred. We’d seen it all. We asked the moms-to-be if they had questions for us, if they wanted to talk about anything. Their answer? Please recommend some good parenting books for us.

Ouch.

Information. It’s the god of our generation. Everyone has internet access at their fingertips all the time. People, especially young people, are swamped with information. And it looks pretty, written by people with lots of letters behind their names. Experts. We are also a generation that worships expertise. Expertise on the internet–even better. It’s impersonal, never corrects us, and lets us feel like experts ourselves. And it feels like a guarantee. Follow the experts and the result will always be a happy, adjusted, perfect life.

But what about wisdom? I’m pretty savvy with the internet. I can find the same information. But I process it differently. I have experience. Many years of life experience. When I see new information, I weigh it against the experience, fit it into different grooves, discard more of it, treasure it differently.

Having been a parent for more than a quarter century, I can safely say parenting and even marriage advice swings on a pendulum. Wide swings. Every five years or so a new expert applies a new twist to parenting, and the pendulum goes. Let a child console himself sometimes becomes entertain a child every second. Demand obedience becomes never wound a child with a harsh word. And then back again. It swings, and young parents swing along. And I want to say something. I want to help the struggling parent who finds the edges of the pendulum hard to navigate. I want to share my experience so they can settle closer to the middle, balanced and less nauseous from the wild ride.

But I pale compared to the bright, shining information on the internet and in books. I’m a relic. Old fashioned ideas. Not an expert. I might ruin a child because I don’t know the new rules. I haven’t read today’s shiny expert.

It’s hard to be a Titus 2 woman in an information swamp. I sink and slog around in the mush, and I don’t know how to be useful. And I watch others sink and slog, too, and I feel so powerless to help.

Maybe we can take hands and form a chain. It would mean all of us giving up the desire to do it alone, going solo with the information out there on screens. It means sometimes admitting we did things wrong–or are doing things wrong–because life isn’t foolproof. Nobody has all the answers. That’s what mentoring is about. It’s truly a two-way street.

I’m willing to extend my hand. I’ve been there. But I haven’t read the latest books. I don’t know the newest terms. I won’t recommend the best experts. All I can offer is what I know, both victories and failures. I can process new information through a different perspective. I’d love for younger women to take me up on it, knowing sometimes I have failed. They will fail. All of us fail. I would love to be part of a chain of people dragging through the swamps to the higher, drier ground. And I still latch on to older hands, because I’m not done yet, either. The chain goes on.

When God led Paul to write Titus 2, I doubt he made a mistake. I ache to be valued because of the things I’ve seen and heard and learned along the way. My hand is out there. Wherever you are, there are probably old hands who would grab you, too. Latch on. Some truths and wisdom are timeless, and I think God wants us to keep it and pass it down. If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have put Titus 2 in that big old book of his.