Prayer: A Conversation with God

This past Sunday our pastor had an excellent sermon on the power of prayer. One of the things that was notable for me personally was it revealed to me how much I have changed in the past 4-5 years.

One of the things he started with, was that the topic of prayer in sermons is often right up there in terms of difficulty for pastors and their congregations as the topic of money is. I would have to agree with this. Because prayer is something we as Christians know we SHOULD do, but struggle to do, so guilt and all sorts of related emotions often come into play.

4-5 years ago I would have listened to this sermon and been invaded with that guilt. I would have been confronted with the reality that my prayer life was, in fact, lacking. This time I didn’t. Something else struck me, but not guilt. What struck me this time, as he went through his message, was that over this period of time I have learned to engage in praying all sorts of things, and in fact, all 12 on one list he had. Not equally, but all of them.

Wow. What a change in my life. And it wasn’t me. It was God. And it wasn’t quick. The process has been slightly over 4 years. And it wasn’t easy. I wrestled with God many, many times. I still do. But God called me to it, He kept at me in it, and He has been faithful.

Have I gotten answers to all my prayers? Absolutely not. Have I gotten answers to any of them? More than a person might think. And the answer wasn’t always, or even often, yes. (And not getting a yes doesn’t mean we get a no, God isn’t so black and white). Most often the answer was simply that I got to know God better. I learned more about who He is, His character, His beauty, His awe inspiring magnificence. I often asked God for something, and He gave me Himself. But isn’t that the best answer Friends?

Now, I know this may come across as arrogant or boastful. In fact, the sermon started with scripture on not praying in public places just so others would see us praying, and think highly of us. Ouch. That’s what hit my heart hard and convicted me this morning. Because between you and me, I love attention. OK, not all attention. But I love attention in the form of a public audience (introvert that I am, I am energized and inspired speaking to small or large groups). And I love attention to my writing – that would be likes/loves and comments on FB and my blogs, but I also love people telling me later what I wrote spoke to them. So I had to ask myself, when I offer to pray publicly, am I seeking to be thought of as good, and Holy? The truth? I don’t always know. (I’m going to have to pray about that!) I do know that I often do it because I feel called to it, like an actual pull on my heart and soul. But now, I am going to work on discerning better if, and when, my pride comes into play. Because pray is my gift, it is my ministry, and I really do want it to be about God, and for God. But I also know pride is one of the sins I struggle with the most.

Let me end with this. Intercessory Prayer is one of my two primary spiritual gifts (the other one is mercy). It is not everyone’s main spiritual gift, or one of their spiritual gifts at all. And that’s just fine. We don’t all have, nor should we, the same giftings. What good would a body do with all elbows and nothing else?

So please don’t ever feel guilty reading something I write, or listening to someone else talk about their prayer life, and feel bad because your prayer life is different. Yes, God wants you to pray. He may be instructing you to pray more often, or differently. That is between you and Him. Don’t base expectations for your prayer life on someone else’s. Instead, learn from His Word about what prayer is, and how to do it. (Back to great sermon on that this morning). And as you are led, seek help and fellowship with others in your prayer life. For yourself, for your God and King.

And know this, God doesn’t want perfect, polished prayers. He doesn’t want someone else’s prayers. He wants yours. Just as they are. Right now. Today. Come as you are. Pray as you can. Just talk to Him. In the end, that is the sum of what prayer is, conversation with God. And He longs to talk to you.

God is the Master Gardener

I don’t know about you, but when I plant I seed, I want it to grow RIGHT NOW. So I water it. I make sure it gets sun. I till at the soil. I watch the spot I planted, obsessively. As if watching it will make it grow. I pray it will rain just enough, but not too much. I pray it will get sunshine. When the rain/sun equation become disbalanced, I panic. And I worry. Because panic and worry are very effective for causing needed change, right? I know you agree.

The waiting seems long. So very long. Where is my plant? It should have sprouted by now. I water, watch for sun, till, stare. I begin to up my level of worry and panic. I see other sprouts coming up, and then springing to life. And I’m left with a pile of well watered, well tilled, well prayed over soil. I begin to despair. I planted a harvest, but there is nothing to reap.

Dear Friend, have you ever been in a situation like this? Are you in one now? I know I am, in more than one area of my life. I’ve planted, I’ve tended, I’ve prayed. I’ve done my job, and I have, admittedly also tried to do God’s. I’m sure you can imagine how well that has gone. But it’s so hard to wait. I hate waiting.

The truth is though, every seed has an appointed time to grow. It has it’s own timetable, and when we try to rush it, we actually end up causing it harm, rather than bringing about good. I know I’ve seen this play out in my life, time and again, when I’ve tried to do things in my time rather than God’s. How about you? Have you watched in horror as your best laid plans turned to dust, because you tried to play God and do it your way? I’m sure we all have at some point.

So Dear Friend, let me remind you, as I am reminding myself. God can be trusted. He is the master gardener. He made the rain, He made the sun, and He made you. That seed you planted, that mustard seed, it’s doing just fine. It’s germinating. It’s pouring out roots, and soon, in it’s appointed season, it will grow.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Leaving Perfectionism Behind

It’s come to my attention recently that my perfectionism has robbed me of joy. It has robbed me of peace. It has robbed me of sleep. It has robbed me of time. I have allowed it to take over my thoughts, and these thoughts have caused me massive amounts of stress, pain (physical AND emotional), dissatisfaction, and frankly, misery. My perfectionism has had a very high cost, and I’m tired of paying it.

Perfectionism is sneaky. It hides in plain site. The worry we feel over the way our house looks, the way WE look, how we come across to others. Trying to wear the right clothes, drive the right car, live in the right neighborhood. Spending hours more on reports, presentations, proposals, business plans than we need to. Expecting more of ourselves in a day than can be fit in a day. Running our kids from sports event, to classes/lessons to social events. Running ourselves to work, to civic groups, to service projects, to get togethers. We’ve got so many plates in the air we can’t breath.

Perfectionism causes us to focus on our weaknesses and minimize our strengths. We’re never good enough for ourselves, how could we possibly be good enough for anyone else to love us? We don’t want anyone to see our weaknesses, they are hideous and embarrassing. We are just fine, thank you. Sure, we are going through a trying time of life, but we are just fine. We can’t let those cracks in our soul show. And we don’t need your help. Worse, we don’t want your pity. Because if we show our weakness, that is what will happen, right? You will pity us?

Perfectionism is control. We must prevent chaos, in our minds, in our bodies, in our souls. There must be order, in our homes, in our jobs, in our families, with our friends, in our community. We will be powerless if we lose control and allow imperfection. And powerless, we will crumble, we will crack, we will implode. We, can’t, let go, of the reigns. Without control we spiral back into our anxious discomposure.

But we’re tired. We’re lonely. We’re sick. We’re burned out. We, just, can’t, keep up. Dear Friend, do you, like me, suffer from the aftermath of perfectionism? Are you, like me, ready to embrace a different way of thinking, being, living? I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how. But I do know this, God tells us that He gives the weary rest. He speaks to the storms and they are still. He gives strength to the weak. And He is in control. He can be trusted. He is the only one who is perfect. We are simply imperfect people loved by a perfect God. And He loves us in all our imperfection. I want to embrace these things. I want rest, peace, and joy. How about you?

God’s ugly duckling

Have you ever felt like the ugly duckling? Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror, and wondered why God didn’t make you beautiful? Have you ever felt left behind, simply because you thought that the way you looked made you unworthy? Have you spent years of your life thinking the reason you were still single was because you weren’t pretty (or handsome) enough? Have you felt too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, skin too blotchy, proportions all wrong, hair unruly, face not symmetrical? Have you ever just felt ugly, and wondered how anyone could like you because of how you look?

I have a lot of confidence in myself, in a lot of areas, but not this one. The truth is, I make sure I let others know how beautiful they are, because they are. But inside myself, I just feel hideous and unsightly. Do I feel like this all the time, everyday? No, thankfully. But I feel it often. And no matter how far I think I’ve come in believing my looks are fine, sooner or later, something comes along and crashes me back down.

I don’t diet. I get tired of people talking about dieting all the time. When my body gets too heavy for itself, I make an effort to change my eating to healthier habits. I make sure I am getting the exercise I can. Then I do my best to stick with this. I want to be healthy. I don’t want to be thin for the sake of being thin.

I don’t wear much makeup. I used to not wear any, but somewhere in my 30s I decided to wear some, sometimes. I personally don’t like the look of too much makeup on anyone. I prefer seeing people’s real face. I don’t wear high heels, except short blocky ones cause frankly they are comfortable for flat arches. But I don’t need shoes to make me taller. I don’t wear low cut tops, or tight outfits. I want to be comfortable, not fit some standard society sets in front of women that isn’t about who they really are. I like people who look like themselves. Just the way they are. I find that beautiful.

And yet, somehow, deep down, I seem to have bought the cultural stereotype that I should look a certain way to be attractive. How did this happen? And why have I spent my whole life thinking of myself as the ugly duckling? This won’t do. It’s time to let God do a big work in me here.

God does not make ugly things. The world does. God has made each and every one of us in his image. And God is magnificent, splendid, awe inspiringly beautiful. And He made each one of us in His image. I’m going to work on internalizing that. I’m going to plant it as a mustard seed in my heart. I may not feel it today, or tomorrow, but I am going to trust that this is a stronghold He longs to take down in me.

Dear Friend, is this a stronghold for you too? If it is, you are not alone. This fallen world has seduced us into thinking things that are not true. Come join me as I learn that I am beautiful just as I am. And you are beautiful, just the way you are.

I sought the Lord, and He answered me

It’s hard to trust God enough to let go, and let Him, isn’t it? It’s hard to trust God when things seemingly don’t go our way, or as planned, or perhaps even slower than planned. It’s hard to trust God when we struggle with health issues, particularly when those health issues have gone on for 20+ years, with no sign of a cure. It’s hard to trust God when money is tight, and we’re busting ourselves trying to make ends meet. It’s hard to trust God when people let us down, especially people we are close to. When we lose loved ones to death. It’s hard to trust God when we lose loved ones who are still alive, when relationships of many forms end for myriad reasons. It’s hard to trust God when we desperately want to reconcile with someone, but can’t, for whatever reason. It’s hard to trust God because life is hard, even with all the luxuries and opportunities we have in this day and age. There are so many, many reasons why it is hard to trust God. And yet, that is exactly what He has called us to do. It is what He has very specifically laid on my heart to do this year, as I work through old (and frankly new) hurts and disappointments, finally leaving them at the foot of the cross, because I can no longer bear the weight of carrying them alone. He has asked me to trust Him as I finally let go of my black balloons of unforgiveness. He has asked me to trust Him as I leave my comfort zone in my professional, personal, and spiritual life. He has asked me to trust Him in all things, in all ways, at all times. I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and He delivered me from all my fears. It’s only mustard seed faith. But it is enough.

The biggest fear

January brought one yellow flower. February brings many. Watching one change to many brought to mind a great change in my life that happened over the past 4 years. Where I went from a tendency to isolate, to spending regular time among caring people, family, and friends. Where I faced my biggest fear, and where I did it afraid.

Dear Friend, what is your biggest fear? And how has it colored your life? It took me a long time to really pinpoint what mine was. I am an anxious sort, and have perhaps, too many fears. But when I realized what my biggest one was, it helped make so much sense of how I lived, or rather, didn’t live. And knowing helped me address it head on.

So what is my biggest fear? Frankly, it’s rejection. I’m afraid that the people I let into my life, and into my heart, will reject me. I’m even afraid to introduce myself to someone new, because I fear their rejection. I’m afraid I’ll try for something, like interviewing for a job, and be rejected. Working for myself now, the scariest part is putting myself out there, to be potentially rejected by potential clients and people to network with. There are many things I am, and could be afraid of. But this one tops them all in my book.

So how has this colored my life? Well, for years I isolated myself. I had a few friends, but I never put myself out there. As one friend aptly put it, I hid in a corner. I avoided social situations that I was not in complete control of. I avoided volunteer opportunities, group events, parties, and more. And the cost was very high. I spent much of my time lonely, with my face pressed to the glass watching other people interact but feeling paralyzed to join in. And then, as I’ve shared before, my work with Tornado Relief, and honestly with God, brought about much needed change. I was still afraid. But I did it anyway.

Recently, maybe about two years ago, I read something that really hit home with me. I read about something called Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD). In short, it is an extreme reaction to real or, and this is important, perceived rejection. In a nutshell, hypersensitivity to rejection. It’s a very real thing. And it’s a core characteristic of ADHD (which I have). The more I learned about it, the more the puzzle pieces of so much of the emotions I had felt in my life made sense. What’s more, it wasn’t just something that affected me. Almost everyone with ADHD has it. Turns out I’m not the only one who hyperreacts to rejection like me. Knowing this has changed so much. Maybe it’s just not feeling alone in it, maybe it’s knowing it’s part of a biologically based disorder and it’s not my fault. Maybe it’s just knowing. Knowing the reason for things is just something that helps my healing and coming to terms with difficulties.

So what is your biggest fear? And do you trust God to help you work through it, and do it afraid? Because He can. And He will. If you let Him. He is a God of miracles.

Is Trust Hard for You?

Dear Friend, is trust hard for you? It is for me. It’s been dark and gloomy lately. As January is prone to be. And I’ve been dealing with a sea of uncertainties, unknowns, undoings. I’ve been tossed and turned on a sea of fear, doubt, discouragement. Building a business is hard. Living a chronic illness life is hard. Growing older, and watching loved ones age is hard. Changing one’s attitude and perspective, even for the better, is hard. So many questions asked, so many prayers prayed, so many feelings poured out at the foot of the cross. Trust me, God says. And I baulk. Trust? How can I? Varied pieces of my past, present, and future are scattered like jigsaw puzzle pieces, spilled out in chaotic piles at my feet. And I want answers. I want resolution. I want peace. I’m tired God. Trust, He says: Trust me. Outside our house, a yellow flower springs up in the dirt, in a place where flowers don’t usually grow. A yellow flower. Hope Rising. A misplaced seed, blown by our wild Texas winds, sprouts up an unusual marker for January. Long, dark, dreary January. My least favorite month of the year. The month that just, won’t, end, each and every year. So beautiful. So meaningful. Trust. I’m trying God. I’m trying. Here is my mustard seed. It’s all I’ve got. I hope it’s enough.

The Temptation of Non Responsiveness

Do you think that the temptations that the enemy brings before you are unique to you? You bet they are. They are highly customized to just you. I mean, would they be as effective as they are if they weren’t? You could tempt me with drugs or alcohol till the cows come home and I simply wouldn’t care. I’ve never had the desire to try drugs, and alcohol tends to depress me so I only drink one drink when I do. But they are some people’s downfall. You could tempt me with financial gain at the cost of something I find questionable and I wouldn’t budge. I mean, I spent 20 years working in the public schools!

But tempt me with something related to my pride, and bam, down I go. Tempt me with my need for recognition, appreciation and approval? Bam, down. Tempt me with the desire to lash out when I think I have been wronged? Down I go again. And the enemy knows, within my areas of weakness, what very specific things, down to the smallest detail, will set me in a tailspin.

For instance, I am extremely conscientious, and place a very high priority on reliability and responsibility. If I say I’ll do it by Tuesday, it’s done by Tuesday. If I give you my word on anything, I mean it to the 10th degree. If you message/text/email me, I’ll get back with you quickly (ok, maybe I don’t respond to those chain things). The phone is pushing my responsibility thing, but at worst I’ll text and say I can’t talk, call later. Because getting a response makes me feel valued, I try very hard to do this for others. I admittedly forget that I have fairly extreme and possibly unrealistic views on this that even I can’t live up to.

You see, communication is, to me, what gives us community, it’s what creates and holds relationships together. I mean, I am a speech therapist, and communication is our thing!! So non communication, whatever form it takes, pushes me over the edge. I’m not talking about people with actual communication disorders who have trouble with some aspect of communication. I’m talking about people who choose, consciously or not, because they are too busy or not, too scattered or not, to not respond. There are very few things that will ruin my day, my week, or the month of say, January, more than non responsiveness. In any form. My Dr.’s Office literally ignoring my request for help with a prescription until I say I’m going to file a complaint, that’s not responding. The town contractors dumping a port-a-jon on our lawn for the third time in 5 years, reminding me how often our requests for trash not to be dumped in our yard were ignored. Medicaid MCO’s not replying in any way (even that their networks are full), 2 months later. People I know not getting back to me, even unintentionally, subsequently hurting my feelings and causing me to feel unworthy of their time. These things have washed over me like a tsunami this month. Over and over and over. Why? Because the enemy knows that non responsiveness is my kryptonite. It causes me to think, and feel, that not only have people forgotten me, God has.

Well friends, this month the enemy overplayed his hand. Too many of these things at once, and finally, finally I made the connection between said things. I finally saw them for what they were. An attack, no more, no less. And well, as today’s verse of the day that has been circulating on FB says: Resist the enemy, and he will flee from you. So now I’m resisting. I’m resisting with strength that is not mine, but God’s. I’m resisting with prayer (mine and others). And praise. The prayers of a righteous person have a powerful effect. And God is worthy of all my praise. Conscientious communication driven person that I am, I AM responding. I am standing on the Word of the Lord. For He is mighty to save.

The black balloon of forgiveness

Do you struggle with forgiveness? I know I do. So let me tell you a story. One Sunday last fall, my pastor did a sermon on forgiveness that had a surprise element. Black balloons. At one point, I am not sure exactly where in the sermon, he asked the question: “Do any of you have anyone in your life you are struggling to forgive?” Sure, of course I did. Didn’t everyone? “If you do, raise your hand” he went on. Now wait a minute, that is a public admittance. But I did, because it was true. I had more than one someone I was struggling to forgive in one area or another. And frankly, at that moment, shocking though it may sound, I was having trouble forgiving God. I know, right? Why would we need to forgive God, He is perfect. Yes, He is. But I was mad at Him. So very, very mad. About many, many things, with the main underlying one being my chronic illnesses that had taken so much away from me.
 
And I raised my hand, thinking surely everyone in the congregation would, because I figured everyone had to be struggling with forgiving someone, it was just so, hard. Frankly, it was a lifetime journey for me. To my surprise, maybe a third of us raised our hand. And I scored myself a black balloon.
 
The black balloon represented the unforgiveness those of us who held one had toward the person, or people we were harboring unforgiveness toward. And the sermon went on, you know, about forgiveness. At the end, our pastor said: “Now if anyone is feeling led to finally let go of that unforgiveness, right here and now, let go of your balloon.” I held on tight. I was not ready. I hadn’t been ready at the beginning of the sermon, and the message, albeit a good one, was one I honestly already knew, and well, had been struggling to follow. It wasn’t that I didn’t know God asks us to forgive. It wasn’t that I didn’t know that forgiveness is, in fact, a gift we give ourselves. It wasn’t that I didn’t know forgiveness brings peace. I knew all that. But I was mad, mad, mad. Mad at the couple of people I held in my mind. And mad at God. It would be dishonest for me to let go of that balloon. I wanted to let go. I still want to let go. But here is something I won’t say too often, about anything. I don’t know how.
 
As when we raised our hands and received a balloon with my expectation being everyone would raise their hand, I didn’t expect almost everyone but me to let that balloon go. They did. Only a very few of us held those balloons. Again, I was perplexed. How can someone, in the course of 20 minutes, simply decide to forgive? I had decided many times. And then time passed and I undecided. Because if I am having trouble forgiving someone, the hurt goes deep. It isn’t some small thing. So I brought my black balloon home. I confess I popped it before getting in the house because the dogs like balloons and I just didn’t want them messing with it. But it wasn’t really popped. In fact, it is still not popped. But I am ready to pop it. If I only knew how.

God doesn’t make ugly things

So, I had one of those profound conversations with God this morning. I’m not a person that often laments my physical appearance. Nor am I one prone to try to lose weight to achieve a certain cultural standard for women like so many women I see. I don’t have, nor want, fake anything. I sometimes wear makeup, but I do it for fun and for me. Frankly I feel I look the same with or without it. I confess I do enjoy a good pedicure. It makes me sad to see so many women of God try to achieve some false beauty standard the world puts worth. And yet, all of us, even me, are victims to the lies the world tells. Perhaps you are familiar with the one that says to be attractive women need to be first and foremost, thin. With an hourglass figure. And of course, other parts that aren’t thin (as if that’s a normal combination!). Following that, flowing long hair, perfect skin, and bonus if you are tall, tan and have symmetrical cheek bones.

Now I’m a smart person, and I figured out, even as a young kid, that God just hadn’t made me like that. I also realized at a young age, that I was born to stand out, not fit in. And for the latter, I am most grateful, it has carried me through years of living in a body that can’t achieve cultural perfection if it wanted to, but also a brain that is, to best describe it, neuroatypical.

But sometimes, even the me with a certain air of confidence finds themselves attacked at their weak spot. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I find that I am comparing myself to these women who have achieved this epitome of beauty, even if it took an airbrush. And sometimes, it breaks me. So this morning, I finally just had to ask God about it. “God”, I lamented, “Why didn’t you make me beautiful?”

God’s answers often blow us away with their simplicity, don’t they? We expect the type of long explanation we might give to another person when asked such a profound question. But the truth often is just very simple.

“I did.” God said. “I did.”

Dear Friend, God’s answer isn’t just for me. It is for you as well. He made you beautiful. He made you. You are beautiful. God doesn’t make ugly things, the world does.