How do I Pray When ___?

Pray about it! I declare. Pray without ceasing, the Bible tells us. Prayer changes us, I promise. I write about prayer, but do I truly believe it? Absolutely. Except sometimes life gets in the way of our best intentions. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer and then passed away in spite of all the prayers my family and friends prayed, I floundered. Not just floundered. I flopped. Fell, tumbled, stumbled away, pretending I was okay while knowing I’d never be okay again. God hadn’t saved her life. The only thing stronger than my anger was my denial about being angry. When I watched my neighbor carry his six-year-old son Henry to the hearse parked in the driveway between our houses, after Henry had succumbed to the brain tumor that distorted his beautiful face, the ache in my heart was almost too much to bear. Even though he wasn’t my own child, my heart was broken. And I had trouble finding words. When my daughter missed more school than she attended her senior year and had to be hospitalized three hours away from home for a week at a migraine specialty hospital, and clients needed brochures and ads turned around quickly, and my other daughter needed ankle surgery, and my dad was diagnosed with pre-cancerous cells, and money wasn’t coming in to my graphic design business account, I was more inclined to curl up in a ball and take a nap than I was to pray. It was too much to try to wade through it all. When the British man who had devastated me in college by ending our...

My Summer Prayer

Dear Lord, As You—and anyone who has ever talked to me for more than five minutes—know, summers are a struggle for me. I’m certain I sound like a terrible mom when I say that. And maybe I am a terrible mom. I don’t know. I’m just being real. I’m used to having some space to myself at home—a desk that I clear in the mornings and which remains clear unless I clutter it again. I’m used to being able to sit all day without turning on a TV so that I can work, to let my thoughts and ideas incubate in the silence. It’s not like I’m sitting on the couch eating bon-bons. But this quiet space is where I create. I’m used to juggling appointments and errands and the items on my to-do list with limited restrictions, which normally center on drop-off and pick-up times at school. But now there are bodies in my house. People talking, sitcoms on television, questions about what’s for lunch and can I go here and oh-no-I-forgot-I-need-to-be-there-in-five-minutes! My kids are older now: more self-sufficient, less demanding of my attention. So really, this summer is going to be different than those in the past. But this feeling of dread I associate with summer remains in me still. So, Lord, I am asking for Your help. With each drive to the school for basketball or soccer or conditioning or summer PE, let me not feel inconvenienced, but instead let me enjoy the time with my son while he’s still too young to drive himself. Let me marvel at his changes, enjoy his music, listen to...

Prayer for Spring

Spring is really all about new beginnings. The new year is known for that, but those beginnings—to me, at least—are more about pushing through the hectic cheerfulness of Christmas and being granted relief from the chaotic frenzy. It’s dark and cold—physically, and sometimes emotionally. We’re drained and ready for something new, so we start talking about fresh starts. But this season, spring… it’s about emerging from the cold and stepping into the warmth. It’s not about what we’re coming from—although that makes the destination that much sweeter—but where we’re going, what we’re seeing. New growth. New life. Spring is a reminder that time comes and goes, seasons change, but there’s always a fresh start. It’s a reminder that change is beautiful. That there is hope. That no matter how tired and worn we get, we will find ourselves experiencing another time of growth. Thank You, Lord, for this truth. For the realization that nothing escapes Your notice. That nothing is too small or insignificant to be made beautiful. I’m grateful for the ways that You change us, for the ways in which You help us grow. For the tenacity You give us to push through dry ground—or arise in the midst of storms. I’m thankful that big things can come from small beginnings. I’m in awe of the potential that can bloom when I let myself grow in the light of Your love. I’m in love with the colors of new life: their intensity, their passion, their richness. With the flowers and big blue skies and sunshine. With the potential that seems to float on the breezes. Sure, sometimes...

Prayer for the Hopeful

Hope—such a beautiful thing. It’s the perfect take-away as we leave the Easter season behind, because everything that happened in the crucifixion—all the pain and injustice and sorrow and mockery and loss—all of it gave way to hope. We’ve messed up. We’ve failed. Lost. Hurt. Been broken. But we have Jesus, and He gives us a fresh start. Thank You, Lord, that Your mercies are renewed daily. Thank You for being a God who has the final say, who fulfills the greatest sacrifice, who has overcome the world. We worship You because You know the end to our stories. You hold all the answers, restore the fragmented pieces of our broken lives, and make us whole again. Because Your story is also ours: The darkness came. And then You rose up out of it. You are our hope. You embody everything that is and was and is still to come. Everything good and beautiful and perfect and right. And so we can go on, no matter what we are up against. Because we are never alone, and You are always victorious. Help us, God, to let go of our cynicism, our fears, our disbelief. Let us grab hold of every shimmery wisp of possibility. Let us see how the tiniest bit of light banishes the darkness. One word, one touch from You and we are changed. Barriers fall and love pours in. You are the answer to every question we ever asked, the solution to every problem, the joy to overcome every sorrow. So we lean on You. Rely on Your strength. Trust in Your goodness. And remain forever hopeful....

Prayer for the weary parent

Lord, I am so tired. Yes, of course I love my children. I adore them. I’m grateful for them, for their own unique quirks and personalities, for the ways they make me laugh, for the joys they’ve brought into my life. I sometimes look at them in wonder—usually as they sleep—amazed by Your creation. Awed by their perfection. Humbled by the powerful emotions they bring out in me. Honored to be given the chance to be part of their life, to be in a position to influence and teach and guide. But at the same time, I’m weary. It’s hard to be a parent, to make decisions that aren’t easy and won’t make me popular. It’s difficult to enforce the rules, day after day, to monitor behavior and ask them to pick things up and remind them to do homework and to not take it personally every time they resist. To not be hurt by disrespect and disagreement and rebellion, whether large or small. It’s exhausting, constantly fighting to get my kids to see reason. It’s challenging to know that I can’t make all their choices for them. I can’t protect them from bad decisions, I can’t ensure they never face harsh consequences, and I can’t do everything for them. And really, I don’t want to. I offered them to You when they were born, and I trust You to lead them and take care of them. I want them to learn from their experiences and I believe they are strong enough, smart enough, and capable enough to succeed (in all the different kinds of ways we measure success). I don’t want to overstep my...

Prayer for the Overwhelmed

God, it’s too much. No matter how hard I try, how good my intentions, how little I sleep and how much I work, I can’t hold it together. Why do I feel like I have to? Why do I expect to be able to handle it all, fix everything, and do it without breaking a sweat? Why do I let myself drown in worry and sorrow, sadness and fear? Wash over me, Jesus. Wash away the emotions that drag me down. Lay Your hand on my weary head and calm the tumultuous emotions. Break the chains of things that weigh me down. Carry this weight, Lord. Carry me. And let me not worry that I’ve failed. Let me trust only in You. Renew the drive inside me and give me energy and hope. Make a way. Clear paths, open doors, transform my life. It’s Yours, Lord, and I give it back to You. Asking—no, begging—You to make sense of it all. To untangle the knots that trip me up, over and over. And let me know I’m not all alone. Remind me that You are with me: that even when I don’t see or feel You, You remain beside me. And no matter how lost I feel, how overwhelmed by the responsibilities I have and the things I cannot control, give me the certainty that it is not too much for You. Never too much for You. Never too much. And if this is not too much for You, and if You are right here with me, then I can do this. I can endure the hard moments, withstand...

When You Want More

Last year I read several posts by bloggers I admire encouraging people to use the cloth napkins and burn the good candles—in other words, stop waiting for some vague perfect or special moment and enjoy what we have. There’s nothing to be gained from locking the nice dishes in the buffet or drinking from paper cups when crystal is available. I loved and embraced that idea. Sometimes it felt kind of indulgent, but the money was already spent (or the gifts already given), so the only way to make them worth the money was to use them. Enjoy them. So I did. And then I expanded that concept—I wanted only the best food. When servers delivered incorrectly prepared meals, I got huffy. I complained about inefficient service. I sulked when things didn’t go my way. I bought clothes because I read that you should love everything in your closet—if it didn’t make you happy, you should get rid of it. I drank better wines and only a certain kind of coffee. And so on. And, truly, I’ve never felt less content. This ugly feeling of dissatisfaction with anything less than perfect pervaded my internal world as well. I started comparing myself to others. Instead of rejoicing for writers who experienced success, I felt cheated. I was unhappy with my weight, so I disliked those who were smaller and healthier and prettier. I became all-too-aware of the loose skin and crinkly lines under my eyes—and the lack of it on those who were younger. I started seeing all that was imperfect about me, about my life, and I felt sad. Insecure....

Jesus is here

God is over all things, under all things, outside all, within, but not enclosed, without, but not excluded, above, but not raised up, below, but not depressed, wholly above, presiding, wholly without, embracing, wholly within, filling. —from Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle This time of year, it seems there’s always some talk about the so-called war on Christmas: about people being upset if a store clerk doesn’t use the actual words “Merry Christmas.” People read cards that arrive in the mail and roll their eyes if the sentiment inside ends with “Happy Holidays.” Many of these people react from a pure heart. They love God and want everyone to focus on the point of Christmas, to remember that it’s about Jesus coming to earth—about God drawing near. About His enormous love that prompted Him to come do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. I understand where they’re coming from. I do. And in my heart, I want the same thing—an awareness of God, an understanding of the miracles we celebrate. But I also know this: God cannot be limited. We cannot keep Him out of Christmas, no matter what we call the season. We cannot pretend He is not present, because He is in all things. Re-read the excerpt above. Over, under, outside, within, without, above, below, wholly above, wholly without, wholly within. When we pretend God isn’t present in these holidays, we’re the ones who are deluded. If we want to see more of Him, all we need to do is open our eyes. Open our arms, and our hearts, and our front doors. Open our...

Looking for gratitude

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4 I drove down an Indiana highway recently, marveling at the crimsons and scarlets, the oranges and pinks and golds and yellows, the nearly-purple reds and the rich camel browns of the landscape. I almost couldn’t enjoy the magnificence because I knew it would end all too soon. With the next rain, the leaves would fall, withering and crumbling on the hard earth in preparation for winter. As the colors awakened a joy inside me, they also stirred up something I couldn’t ignore. Because the truth is I do not always feel grateful. What do you want to show me, Lord? Gratitude and beauty are tangled up together. As an artist, I am proud of my ability to observe my surroundings, to recognize God in the midst. I actively look for the Who behind the what, and because I see Him, my prayer life begins with gratitude. As I give thanks, I feel God lean nearer. I see Him more clearly. But what about those moments when gratitude isn’t so simple? When we’re facing loss, bottling up anger, frantically performing for the world, knowing that underneath the façade we’re a mess? What do we do then? Show me, Lord. I filled page after page of a gratitude journal with exquisite details the week I sat beside my mom’s deathbed. Desperate for the redeeming beauty. Desperate to find something to praise God for. But did I find it in the dust motes floating through the sunlight, the curves of shadows...

Why one donut is never enough

When I started attending my church, we had donuts every week in the adult Sunday school class. (I wonder what drew me more at first, the hunger for knowledge or the craving for sugar?) It was part of the ritual – hug a couple people, doctor our coffees, and pass around the flat white boxes of Krispy Kremes, licking the icing flakes off our fingertips. Mmm. I hoped someone would pass, leaving me an extra, but I never wanted to look like a pig by taking two right away. Forget bran flakes and yogurt; I want to start my day with donuts. One day, not long after I began attending our church, I was talking to our pastor, Nathan. I had questions about everything. I didn’t understand the emotions, the jargon, the feelings. People talked about intense spiritual experiences that seemed crazy, delusional – just plain made up. Rather than longing for those moments, I questioned their legitimacy, and wondered how much of it I wanted for myself. I stumbled over “Christian-ese,” the confusing terminology that many Christians use in an attempt to explain complex spiritual concepts in simple words. In particular, I had questions about the “baptism of the Holy Ghost.” The term, as they were using it, refers to speaking in tongues. In my circles, everybody talked about it, but I wasn’t convinced that I wanted it. I didn’t understand it, and I thought possibly I’d be just fine without it. I believed the Holy Spirit lived inside me. I felt the changes in my life. I’d become aware of the presence of God in my daily activities. I’d learned to talk to Him throughout the day, and I thought that was enough. I was tired of feeling...