Thursday, September 29, 2016

For the Days When You Know You Need to Pray.......But It's Hard To Do

It's something all of us *know* we are supposed to do.
I think many of us want to pray.
I'm guessing that for most of us, we try to do it, too.

I know that personally I've tried many times to start a prayer journal.
I've set up prayer schedules, and prayer lists, and prayer times.
I've visited prayer closets, and signed up for prayer vigils.
I've read books on prayer, and I've read different bloggers thoughts on how to start praying.
I've learned acrostics to pray more intelligently.

But for me, all of those attempts were lacking on thing.....
actually praying.
Being raised by godly parents, having many godly mentors, and being raised in a good church, I've heard about others having prayers answered.
I've seen it in my family growing up.
I've even had prayers answered myself.

I still wouldn't say that I had a consistent, real prayer life, though.

Several years ago, we started a family devotional time.
We would read a little bit of Scripture, and then John would pray for our day.
Then one day John mentioned that we really needed to pray about our upcoming rent and some things with our landlady.
Since I have an awful memory, I asked if I could write it on a card.
I could pull it out at breakfast, and then I would remember to remind him to pray for the situation.

Over time we began to slowly add cards.
We didn't plan it all out specifically, it just kind of happened.
I found an old basket, pulled out our stash of 3x5 cards, and slowly our prayer basket grew.
We added our missionary prayer cards.
After Christmas I added all the family pictures we'd been sent.
One day John thought we should add our supporting churches.
I added a stack for the missionaries we know and pray for here in Ghana.
It gave us a chance to bring our family's needs and things we felt should be prayed for before the Lord, together, as a family.

And then one day, something unbelievable happened!
That very first prayer card, the one about our rent and our landlady got answered.
Out of the blue!
It was a matter we thought would have to be dealt with when the rent came due, after lengthy discussions with our landlady and her lawyer.
Instead, God prompted her to send us a letter, months before our rent was to be paid {we pay two years at a go, here!}, with all our concerns already answered......and we hadn't asked her any of the questions yet.

You would think that I would grasp the power of God's working in this situation, but as excited as I was, I didn't really dwell on the fact that God was answering these simple prayers we were praying every morning at breakfast.

Since that day several years ago, our family has seen God answer numerous prayers, both big and small.
Sadly, since I'm made of forgetful flesh, I've doubted God's guidance recently.

We have a lot of things we are praying about right now.
BIG things.
Things that need answers.

I've been tempted to worry.
I don't exactly need the answers right now, but it sure would be nice.
Every morning when we pull out the cards, the Lord reminds me that He has it under control.

And then last week rolled around.
We got an unexpected email, which led to a skype call.
This was followed by another phone call from a friend far away.
And suddenly, God has answered prayer after prayer after prayer.
After silence for so long, He simply opened the heavens and dropped the answered prayers right into our waiting hands.....
right on time, if not a bit early!

I share this with you today not to boast about how well I pray,
or what a spiritual person I am,
or to garner applause,
or gather praise.
I write this so that if there is someone reading who has a burdened heart,
who wonders if God is listening at all,
or struggles with the discipline it takes to pray,
that maybe this will encourage that one to
write it down
and pray that prayer
and wait patiently to see God answer.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

New Mercies

So this is what we've been doing the last several weeks.....
a lot of living
and working
and serving
and ministering
and learning
and growing
and making messes
and crying
and reading
and writing
and feeling worn out
and feeling full of joy
and feeling overwhelmed
and feeling hopeful.
His mercies and His strength are new every single morning.
I couldn't be more grateful.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

For the Days When Nothing Goes as Planned.....

We started something new on Monday morning ~ our first meeting of our little homeschool group.
It is nothing fancy, and isn't going to grow any bigger.
It's just the little circle of missionary families that are working with us right now meeting together from time to time to learn something.

We had a very long weekend we'd just finished {having a day of special studies at church most of the day Saturday}, so I was looking forward to a productive week.
In my mind everything was planned out nice and orderly.
On Monday, a dear friend was coming to teach our group how to make traditional tie-and-dye cloth.
She was to arrive at ten o'clock; we'd learn a bit; our group would be finished by two o'clock, and then some of our friends would come for a cook out.

On Tuesday the carpenter would come to install the cabinets in our slowly-being-renovated kitchen.
We'd jump back into school Tuesday while he was doing so.
He'd be done with installation by the end of school, and then as a family we'd clean up the construction mess and have a bright and shiny new kitchen {something we've been working towards for five months!}.

We'd have a lovely week of school following the excitement of Monday and get lots accomplished.
Hopefully we'd even get the last box of school things we were waiting on! week hasn't gone like any of that at all.
My friend got delayed on Monday.
She didn't arrive at my house until ten minutes after one.
We still had a great time learning from her, and our cloth turned out beautifully {if I do say so myself!}, but it didn't go according to plan.

I ended up not getting to cook supper until later than I'd planned.
Our sausages didn't get buns made to match.
We had a wonderful, refreshing time with our friends.
But, it wasn't how I'd thought it would go.

When we started clearing out our kitchen Tuesday morning for the carpenter, we realized that we better deep clean everything before he arrived.
Dad called a "lifeschool day" and everybody jumped in to help.
We did a good dose of spring cleaning, but the carpenter never showed up, which meant that the entire contents of my kitchen were now piled in our front living/dining room.

The carpenter called Wednesday morning and said he was on his way, so I started a load of laundry {which after several off-schedule days I was woefully behind on!} and headed into the school room with the girls.
He finally arrived to drop off the cabinets and inform us he couldn't install them right then.
At that point my washer started making strange noises.

As I looked at the cabinets, I realized the carpenter had added a bit of artistic flair to one of the pieces.
I didn't like it at all.
The repair man said he could only come to our house if my husband came to pick him up.
John had a list a million miles long of things to be done, and a repair man from the same place had just been at our house on Monday to fix something else that had broken, so he asked the repair man to take public transportation to the house.
He never showed up.

The carpenter finally arrived this morning with all his tools and his apprentice in tow.
What should have taken three hours was still not done at six o'clock this evening.
Apparently the mason who poured the concrete frames for the cabinets did not ever use a level.....
enough about that.
The repair man for the washing machine called to say he was on his way to our house twice.
He never managed to arrive.

By the time school was out today I was feeling absolutely spent, wrung out, exhausted.
I shooed the kiddos outside and tried to gather my wildly scattered thoughts.
Why did I feel so frustrated?
Why was I on edge?
I knew my mind needed renewing, but where had my thinking gone wrong in the first place?

As I thought back over my week, I started to puzzle out a bit of a design.
It was vague at first, but the longer I analyzed my week, the clearer it became.
My week looked a bit like the beginning stages of our tie-and-dye.
As we were preparing our cloth for dying, our teacher showed us the ways to fold or tie the cloth to gain a specific pattern when we were finished.
I couldn't see how see how it was going to turn out, but if I followed the proper procedure it would produce something lovely.

I started my week with an extensive list of plans.
They weren't bad or sinful.
They were MINE, though, and I wanted them to go exactly my way.
When something arose that I didn't foresee happening, instead of dying to self and letting go of what I thought should happen, I got irritated.
My rights were being trampled on.
Why weren't people respecting my time? plans? needs? way of doing things?

The Master Artist knew what He wanted my week to look like.
He knew where the folds and bends should be, where the dye should pool deeply, and where it should simply wash the fabric with a light color.
He could see what I couldn't.
He understood that I was valuing having my way above all else, and that this week wasn't about my plans at all.
It was about reminding me that His will for my life is far more important than anything I can plan out, and that if I yield myself a living sacrifice,
He can make my life something intricate, beautiful, and glorifying to Him.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

For the Days When You Are Afraid....

I've lost my voice.
Not the one that allows me to speak throughout the day, but the one that allows me to express my thoughts and feelings in this place: this small oasis filled with images and words.
It's been gone for months now.
Oh, from time to time I've been able to croak out a few lines here or there, and I've tacked up a few of our memories, but I've been mostly silent for months now.

I've wondered why the words have been dammed up inside of me.
It's not because I've not wanted to speak out; not because I've not needed to spill all the thoughts out on to {virtual} paper so as to better work through them.
Words have eluded me. Dullness has hung about my mind.

I chalk it up to the fact that we have added two missionary families this year, and our work load has increased greatly.
In the quiet corners of my mind, I don't really think that is it, though.

This afternoon I have a few quiet moments ~ a rarity these days.
I'm chopping  and shredding vegetables for tonight's meal and praying while I do so.
Something inside of me starts to slowly but urgently press against the floodgates.
I feel as if the answer I've been searching for has finally arrived at my door.
I stop to listen, asking God to help me make sense of all the struggles, the overwhelmedness, the confusion I've felt these past months.

"Where has your mind been since January?" the Holy Spirit asks.
As the question hangs, I feel the dam beginning to crack.
The answer has been there, bottled up, waiting for me to look with honest eyes on the truth of this whole matter.

In an instant, I know.
My voice returns, my mind fills with the words that have been missing for so long.
I've been worrying about the future.
I've had no voice, because I've had nothing to say about today.
I've had nothing to say about today {or any other day}, because I've been mentally wrapped up in "what-ifs" and "maybes."

We've been in Ghana over four years this term.
When we leave for furlough next year, we'll have been here for five years straight.
It has been a breaking, building, growing, stretching, cementing time for us, and I'm terrified of leaving my home.

Here is where we know how best to be a family.
The people God has called us to are here.
The church God has allowed us to see raised up is here.
Our life's work is here.
I'm comfortable here.

And come June of next year, I have to leave it for a while.
Of course I want to see those I love and reconnect with our churches {and go shopping at Target, and drink Starbucks hot cocoa, and spend the winter in Michigan, and crunch autumn leaves, and buy books!},
but it is hard to pack up one's entire life and live as a pilgrim, a wanderer.

We've given the last 13 years of our lives to reach these people with the glorious story of Jesus.
And while I know we're not going away forever, it's really hard to want to leave at all.
This is why I've been silent.
My tongue has been tied up with fear.

Fear of transition and change and differences and being uncomfortable and confused and helping our kids transition well.
Fear of feeling out of the loop, and lost, and homeless, and purposeless from time to time.
And the more realistic fears about traveling, and money, and switching cultures, and languages, and having to live by faith in an entirely different way than we are used to.

I've been tongue-tied, because my eyes and my mind have been in the wrong place.
God expressly commands me to NOT think about tomorrow.
That's been the only thing I have been thinking about.

And when I spend all my todays thinking about my tomorrows?
I miss out on every good gift I was handed this day.

I'm like a person whose eyes work perfectly well, but walks around with them squeezed shut all the time.
In reality I'm living like a blind woman, even though I can see.

Today I resolve to open my eyes wide.
To live with seeing eyes and hearing ears, with a feeling heart and an alert mind, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.
With God's help I'm not going to dwell on what is happening next year, next month, or even tomorrow.
I'm going to anchor my mind to this moment.
I will be thankful for the present, counting it as the gift it is.
I think Jim Elliot put it best ~
"Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God."
Today I'm going to strive to live life to the hilt!
I'll let my Lord take care of that.