The Effects of Earnest Prayer

My husband started off last night’s sermon in the first chapter of Titus. That particular passage held no special meaning for me but the page in my Bible was the beginning of a whole new life.

You see, several years ago I was in a mess. Not the drug-fueled haze of my youth or the anxiety of a drawn-out custody battle but rather the turmoil of what’s known as the Snowball Effect.

We’ve all experienced this at some point in our lives. One thing happens, then another, then another…and suddenly, you’re trapped in an avalanche that you never saw coming.

Mine started when the kids left home. When you have kids close together in age, the time between the first one leaving home and the last one leaving home passes by in one big blur. And when you have said kids at such a young age, the adjustment from kid to mom to empty nest feels like your entire identity has been erased. Suffice it to say, I had the empty-nest blues.

Then came a move that I wasn’t ready for. It had taken me four years to adjust to leaving my hometown and it was time to move again. My new teaching job was already difficult when I got news that I needed a major surgery.

Before I knew it, I was in a very dark place. Misery may love company but company doesn’t love misery. Family and friends backed away as the black cloud of gloom surrounded me, making me feel even more depressed. (It’s easy to see when you are out of that fog, but it’s hard to understand why you feel abandoned when you are in it.)

While recovering from the surgery, I made the decision to leave teaching and took a job as a full-time children’s librarian. That job brought me such joy and being out of a failing school district relieved a great deal of stress.

But like anything, it was two steps forward and three steps back. I was still a victim of my own making, creating chaos where there should’ve been none and still biting back daily tears of regret as I rued the time I’d wasted when my kids were younger.

I was so blinded by this grief that I forgot from where my joy came.

I’d like to tell you that one day I woke up, started praising the Lord, and life became perfect.

But it didn’t happen like that.

What did happen was that I was dusting my bedroom one day and I picked my Bible up off my nightstand. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that the only time I’d even touched my Bible in months was when I dusted. Sure, I talked about God but I wasn’t talking TO Him. Task-oriented, all I wanted to do was finish my cleaning so I could watch television. But I had enough conviction that I flipped open the Bible, where it landed on Titus, and wrote, “Lord, help me. The only time I pick my Bible up is when I dust.”

I didn’t write any more; I didn’t follow up with a prayer. I didn’t join a Bible study or start reading scriptures. That’s all I said. That was all I HAD right then.

But it was enough.

That short, sincere prayer started the wheels of Heaven moving.

I’m not even sure I attributed what happened next to my little prayer. All I knew was that I started seeing light where there once was darkness. My body got stronger and my mind got clearer. I started praying again. Within six months, my husband was offered another church and I was asked to be a full-time outreach minister. This time, I was ready to go wherever He wanted me to go.

My life changed to one of service, joy, and peace. Being a full-time minister, especially in today’s times, is one of the most rewarding jobs I could have. I have the pleasure of serving side-by-side with my husband and I have been able to pursue my long-held passion for writing. I love our laid-back country life with our front porch rocking chairs and our loyal dogs, and in just a few months, Grandbaby #11 will make his appearance.

I’m not sure what trajectory my life would’ve taken without that prayer, but thankfully, I don’t have to find out.

Sometimes a simple, earnest prayer is all it takes…

“It’s because you were raised in a Christian home…”

My mom and I were talking last night about our latest music preferences in the car. We share an XM satellite account so we often discuss new stations that we find or which stations have turned into 24/7 Christmas music.

My latest fave has been the Siriously (sic) Sinatra channel. Which, I will ironically note, is the kind of music my sister and I used to negatively dub “Momma Music”. Mom has been listening to the Broadway channel.

In fact, she said, she’s been singing Footloose around the house ever since we went to see ASH’s production of it last time I visited. I remember the soundtrack well. Sherri and I loved our Footloose cassette and sang it over and over. In fact, we loved it so much that we got our younger cousin, Summer, a copy for Christmas one year.

I’ve shared this story often over the years, pointing out my embarrassing naivete, and felt foolish as I repeated it to my mom.

We were all at Mema’s house in Kansas when Summer’s parents tell us how much she loved the Footloose cassette. So we decide to put on a performance medley from the soundtrack. All is going well until Summer starts singing “You and me, we should be dancing in the streets…” No, no, no! We stop her. It’s dancing in the SHEETS, Summer. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Uncle Ron and Aunt Connie stop us…..we are going to let Summer sing STREETS instead. Their reaction puzzled us. Sherri and I had a little sidebar and decided that Summer must not be allowed to dance on her bed.

I told my mom I was FIFTEEN when that soundtrack came out. I thought I was so worldly by then but I was still so innocent. I missed all the double entendres. I would be in my 30’s and 40’s before I realized that Little Red Corvette wasn’t a car. And that the score they wanted in Grease 2 wasn’t about bowling. The list was long- and embarrassed me every time I’d make a new connection. I’m fairly educated but these songs made me feel like a quintessential dumb blonde.

As I’m sharing this with my mom, somewhere between gratitude for the innocence and mortified for the idiocracy, my mom offers a simple explanation.

“It’s because you were raised in a Christian home…”

She was right. My parents didn’t curse, we didn’t watch R-rated movies, and our innocence was protected at all costs. There was no reason not to take everything at face value because deception and wickedness had no place in our home. Our family life revolved around a Christian school, church, and church activities.

Even when I strayed into a world of darkness, that foundation was so strong it was almost as if there was a gravitational force pulling back to that core. Over and over I’d be drawn back to Him until the running stopped.

Can you imagine if I hadn’t had that foundation of a Christian home? I’d be like a yo-yo who just unraveled and rolled away, never returning to the axle.

I worry for today’s generation. Church isn’t as important to people anymore. Sports tournaments and week-end rest are prioritized over worship; Covid restrictions shuttered many worship gatherings; and parents let children decide if they want to go to church.

Guess what? You’re the parent! That’s your JOB! Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for raising me in a Christian home.

For I Know the Plans I Have for You…

Of all the verses Christians like to stand on, this is a big one. And it IS a great verse, filled with hope and encouragement. However, it’s also one that people often take out of context.

Think of the word of God like a big buffet. Ideally, you’d go down the line selecting a little bit of it all. But if you’re like me, you end up with a lot of meat, some bread, and a dinner plate of dessert. Not very healthy, I’ll admit. But why would I fill up on vegetables when there’s much more appealing foods to choose from?

Unfortunately, we tend to do that with the Word of God as well. We quote verses like God’s plans are for me to prosper without taking the verses in full context. Jeremiah 29 says:

11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.

13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

This promise of God, His plans for you are when you diligently seek Him. He rewards His faithful children.

It is true that it is His wish that none of us perish. He wants to see everyone thrive and prosper and have eternal life. But you cannot be an heir of God unless you accept Jesus. Unless you seek Him with all of your heart.

This reminds me a little of my son in elementary school. He loved school, he loved his teachers, and he loved playing with his friends. He just hated doing schoolwork. If they gave grades for PE and Recess only, he’d have been a Straight-A student.

But they don’t. So every 6 weeks, post-assembly, he’d be upset as his sisters carried home ribbons and restaurant coupons for Honor Roll awards as he remained empty-handed.

“You can’t get the prize without doing the work,” we’d tell him. As a mom, my heart would break for him. As a teacher, though, I was a little indignant. I had my own students that wanted the same rewards as those who’d done their homework and class assignments, as well as studied for tests. This wasn’t about not being a good test-taker or having difficulty, this was about effort.

We have a society full of people with that same childlike mentality today. They want the benefits of Christ without any effort. They want God’s rewards for their life as they execute their own plans.

Sometimes I shudder to think what I’ll see when I see His Master Blueprint for my life. I’ve made peace with the years I strayed from Him but even now, as my entire life is devoted to ministry, I wonder how many times I miss the mark. How often do I end up seeking my own plans and not His? I am comforted by the fact that He would rather I do SOMETHING than nothing (Revelation 3:16) but I’d much rather know that I’m following His Blueprint for my life and not my own.

He does have big plans for you, for all of us. The question is, are you putting forth the effort to receive the rewards?