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…

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?

If God subscribed to the Cancel Culture…

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cancel culture.  a way of behaving in a society or group in which it is common to completely reject and stop supporting someone because they have said or done something that offends you.

Uh-oh. Right off the bat, I’m in trouble because I know that I have (sometimes willingly, sometimes unknowingly) said and done things to offend people. My kids, my parents, my friends, my coworkers…..look, I mess up. Even now, with my life devoted to Christ, I still sometimes say the wrong things. Does that mean my life is over? That I should be ostracized?

Worse yet, what about all the times I’ve offended God? Has He canceled me?

I know that we are in a very divisive climate right now. Some of it is completely unnecessary and some of it is long-overdue. I know that my perspective comes from a place of privilege and my eyes have been slow to understand the plights of others at times. But I’m striving to listen, to speak out, and to be a light in a darkening world.

I won’t always get it right.

Fortunately, my circle is small enough that my mistakes are largely ignored. (Except by two of my daughters who’ve deputized themselves as my own personal woke police!) But for others, people in positions of power or just plain celebrity, it’s one strike and you’re out. I just can’t get on board with this.

Where’s the grace? Where’s the forgiveness? “Canceling” someone (or their business) over something they said that offended someone is just perpetuating the hatred we are trying to move away from. People search social media pictures from years past just looking for some reason to vilify someone.

So many things have happened in the past week, both in my real life and in the news, that all boil down to this cancel culture and I’m very unsettled.

A reality star came under fire this week for a photo of her wearing a Yeezy jacket with a Confederate flag on it from 7 years ago. My question is not why Kanye West could make it but she couldn’t wear it, but why someone is going through 7 years of photos to take this girl down.

Another reality star attended an antebellum plantation party in college a few years ago. Not only are people upset with her, they are calling for the head of the popular host who defended her. I’m from the South; I get it. But excusing it feels like throwing a match into an already uncontrollable wildfire. While he may permanently lose his job over defending her, I admire that he stood up for her.

Yesterday I read about a mayor in a small Texas town who posted a rambling message about how people who froze to death were stupid and it was their own fault. I was shocked by his statements but was even more surprised to see he resigned the next day. Was this the first time he said or did something so offensive? Was a heartfelt apology even an option? Or are we back to one strike and you’re out?

I’ve always wanted to run for office. I’d love to serve on a school board or a city council. I love being a part of a community and I love making my voice heard even more! I know I’d be a great elected official. But I figured out long ago that the offices I held would only be appointed ones. People do deep dives to dig up dirt on elected officials and you barely have to turn over the topsoil to get me canceled in today’s culture.

What if God operated on the one-strike-you’re-out policy? I’d have been out a long time ago. He sent Jesus just so we wouldn’t be condemned by our mistakes. He gives grace when we don’t deserve it. He shows mercy for us even when we are at our worst.

Education is good. My eyes were really opened when I took a church member, a non-English speaking Latino, to the ER. He was days, if not hours, from having to have his foot amputated. When I stepped out to make a call, they wrapped him back up without treating him and discharged him. I was appalled. It wouldn’t have happened if I’d have still been in the room and it certainly wouldn’t have happened if I had been the patient. I fought through the system to get him treated (staying with him every step of the way) and after 8 weeks of wound care, he was healed. It was my first experience seeing privilege from the opposite standpoint and it made me understand so much more.

I had another epiphany just today, one that made me thankful that the Lord continues to open my eyes and heart. We were having breakfast at Waffle House and one of the servers had a birthday crown on with the dollars pinned to her shirt. I’ve seen this for years, always thinking it was crass. I certainly didn’t grow up this way, I’d think.

I didn’t grow up that way, I thought today. I grew up with lavish birthday parties and presents and cake. Most of the people who wear birthday dollars never had such luxuries. That money is probably all they get. I was humbled and ashamed for not realizing this before.

I am doing my part to be understanding of the plight of those around me. We should all strive to see things from others’ perspectives.

But we should also all give grace and forgiveness when others fall short. Just as God so freely gives us.