The prayers of strangers

It wasn’t the typical Sunday morning but I’m not quite sure what typical means some days. My sister was visiting and going with us to chapel service, her first in the recovery community.  Hudson was leaving town immediately following the service and before I walked out of our house I had a message from a friend in another town asking our men to pray for JW.

As I set up the computer for the media another message flashed across my screen: please pray for JR’s wife and then the needs of another not asking for prayer but I knew it was needed.

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Every week there are those sitting in silence, doubting prayer, wondering why theirs wasn’t answered or if they should even ask for prayer. We’ve all trivialized our problems because those of another sounds greater. We’ve sulked because we’re still waiting for the last 10 prayers to be answered and now we aren’t even sure we believe.

It stays in my mind, this woman of the faith who has never met one of the men she has asked to pray. She knows of their brokeness, of the reasons they’ve had to put humility aside and walk through our doors. She’s heard me tell the stories and these are the ones she wants to pray, for one they don’t know either.

My faith is shallow and impatient. It doesn’t wait long and its doubt comes quick. My faith reaches to people I know, I’ve seen their lives and heard their hearts and maybe, maybe, I’ll whisper my need to them.

I know these men and I know God and I know the broken are just the ones God uses to crash my arrogance and pride. I know he hears the hearts of those whose hearts beat for Him and nothing beats louder than a heart needing to be made new.

We prayed for the known and the unknown. Some are praying still. I don’t understand the mystery of prayer. I’m not too good at it, at least the way it seems it should be done. I hope I’m wrong about that. I hope I’m wrong that it needs to be always done on my knees in a quiet room with no distractions and no less than 10 minutes, preferably 15 minutes. Doesn’t that sound right?

You thank and praise, which seem the same to me but I heard someone say they’re different and you should include both in your prayers.

You admit and request and you wrap it all in gratitude and that I know it right because how can I not be grateful to the One who somehow holds it all.

Mostly I pray in spurts. In the moment as it comes to me like seeing a request on Facebook and sometimes I touch the screen and say a prayer. I know I’ll forget if I don’t say it just then.

I pray with my eyes open a lot because I’m driving or at my desk or someone comes to mind while I’m cooking. It always too little  but God isn’t the one measuring prayers by word count or eyes closed.

I don’t know why she asked a group of strangers, men with addiction problems, to pray for her friend. I do know God has heard their prayers. I know her faith in God is why she asked and not her faith in people. I know her faith has helped strengthen mine.

 

Where Kindness Leads

Moving as much as we have, much was lost. Or tossed, or given away. Most of it just stuff but time reminds me of the photo’s  dad had that didn’t end up with me or my brother. I’m surprised there are a  few cherished things that found their way to our home.

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mamas songbook songbook note

The books and bibles are well-worn and today I finally glued the spine back to one of the family bibles and a songbook given to mama. Kind words were written inside from the giver and I was quickly reminded of the kindnesses that have spread across generations.

Notes written in books, a delicate handkerchief from a pastor’s wife when I was a teenager, funny pictures with friends who could bring out silliness in me. I wondered if I’ve been as kind in return.

me and Suzi

I thought I had the correct change when I walked in to get a soda. But I’d mistaken a penny for a dime, plunked the money and drink on the counter and said, “I’m short a dime and going to the car to get it.” Walking back in, a young man walking out said “I gave her the dime”. Kindness from a stranger.

I am moved by kindness. The simple gesture of a coworker offering to walk me to my car when night has come, someone holding the door open, these ordinary everyday acts, I don’t want to miss the grace of giving and accepting.

My mind goes to the gentle rhythm of a melody from long ago….

It’s your kindness that leads us to repentance, O Lord

Knowing that you love us no matter what we do

Makes us want to love you too.    – Your Kindness Leslie Phillips

“His kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Romans 2:4b TLB

The rest of the verse is hard. It talks about our stubbornness and our refusal to turn from our sin, from our own desires rather than His. The verses talk about his judgement that will come. But, God wants to move us with his kindness, His benevolent patience.

God, help me to be moved by your kindness, swayed to put your ways above mine. With each kindness shown me by a stranger may I see your face, your hands, your grace. Forgive my stubbornness. May my heart be turned to you.

The scary and the safe

The message was about running away from God.

Claire’s post in SheLovesMagazine was about hiding from God.

Two days, two words about God and our inclination to hide from him, to run away when he calls.

Like children when they know they’ve been caught, Adam and Eve hid from God when they went against his will. Their Creator who walked with them in the evening, who had fellowship with them and loved them and only wanted their best, they thought they could hide from him. He had created the very place they called home and all the hiding places were his but shame blinds us.

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God told Jonah to go to a specific place and preach to them, to tell them they needed to change their ways. Jonah didn’t want to go. He didn’t like the people either, or he didn’t like their ways and he especially didn’t want to be the one to tell them they needed to clean up their act. And he didn’t have social media to contend with!

Centuries later we find ourselves hiding from our past, our mistakes, our failures, our embarrassments. We run from things we’ve never known like acceptance and grace. Those things that are synonymous with God’s love.

When I am caught in that knowing there is no where I can hide, I feel scared. Even in the face of Love I cower and drop my head in sorrow. I am caught in this tension of fearful and safe. Scared of being known for what I really am. A wayward child who daily takes back her will knowing wilfulness has only led to frustration and disappointment at best.

As children we hid to escape punishment or angering or disappointing a parent. It seems those are the same reasons we hide today. Even from God.

But how can I disappointment the One who already knows? The One who knit me together in my mother’s womb, who knows the spot where the mole use to be and real color of my hair.

I want the day to come where fear doesn’t cloud my thinking and my longing for Love’s safety is my first instinct. God’s grace is waiting.

Earth crammed with heaven?

It’s an old joke daddy loved telling his aunt. The joke about St. Peter giving a newcomer a tour of heaven and as they passed this one area, St. Peter says, “shhh, they’re Church of Christ and they think they’re the only ones here.”

Daddy’s eyes sparkled with mischievous fun telling his Church of Christ aunt this joke more time than she would have cared to hear it. Him a preacher in a different denomination, him a believer heaven would be filled with believers not denominations.

Before you get all up in arms about Church of Christ beliefs, I’m not up on their doctrine and know that in any given denomination there are many different tenants taken to heart. This isn’t about that.

This is about a book title I saw: Earth Crammed With Heaven by Elizabeth Dryer.

This is about the beauty of those turn of words and the possibility that earth could ever possibly be filled with heaven.

But what if our view of heaven is a place with rooms like the old joke suggests?

There’s the post-modern wing with Rob Bell and Brian McLaren readers. The stadium sized area for praise and worship lovers and the acoustically formed concert hall for those preferring the old hymns.

Surely there’s an incense filled area with icons and candles and there must be a street corner somewhere, gold-paved of course, for the likes of William Booth and the Sally bandsmen.

This is ridiculous, of course. Except, except sometimes we live like this. We live thinking more about being right than right living and we make no room in our lives for those different from us.

So if earth were crammed with heaven? This is the only quote I’ve seen from the book, the one that is resting on my mind today:

“In a profound way, our intentionality is a key ingredient determining whether we notice God everywhere or only in church or only in suffering or nowhere. It all depends on how we choose to fashion our world.” Elizabeth Dryer

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Bethany Children's Home 2399

 

 

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It was a question asked when I was in Haiti two years ago. Where did you see God today? And what Ms Dryer says requires intention.

It seems natural to see God in church or while we’re doing churchy things. But if we believe God is all around us, are we looking for him everywhere?

We often mention seeing God in nature but do we see him in spider webs as much as we see him in sunsets? In gnarled roots as much as swaying Palm trees?

I need a redirection, a realignment of my eyes and my views to see a God I believe created the universe. The God who loves the one struggling with faith as much as he loves Billy Graham. 

This is what keeps me in awe with the only One whose love is without conditions or boundaries. He alone gives hope for an earth being crammed with heaven.

 

Five-Minute Friday {when}

When will you be home?

When can you call?

When will you grow up?

When will the pain stop?

When will my prayers be answered?

When do we need to leave?

When do you get the test results?

When are you going to change?

When am I going to change?

And Van Morrison sings the words, “when will I ever learn to trust in God?”

The numbers on the clock seem to creep at an agonizingly slow pace when we ask, when? 

“When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”

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That’s his favorite verse of the old hymn we sing every week at the close of our community worship.

It’s a progression like those good old hymns are. Theology set to music and words we sing as a sending out of these men who have asked, “when will I stop the cycle of addiction, of abuse?”

The first line reminds us of this amazing grace that make the blind see in that metaphorical way. Make us see, Lord, make us see your love for us.

We sing on and the pause comes, the pause before the last verse when he says, This is my favorite. I want to see you there, singing into eternity, singing praise to God.

When we see God, acknowledge his presence and claim that He Is God, when we love him and accept his love for us, when can be now.

Linking up with Kate Motaung and a host of word-hungry, flash mob loving bloggers writing furiously for 5 minutes on the word Kate provides. Stop by Kate’s and join the party.

He Names Miracles

It is the ordinary that God turns into extraordinary.

The ordinary day, ordinary word, ordinary photo.

Every year we take pictures of the residents of our Center and hang them on the Christmas tree in the activity room. A simple grade school project of gluing the photo to a construction paper background, punching two holes to thread ribbon through and hang. I’m not sure why we started doing this. It just seemed to be a good thing, the right thing to do.

Often the men send the photo to a family member; a child, a parent, a proof of life photo.

This year we did it differently and their pictures were put side by side, staff mixed in with residents to fill in an outlined Christmas tree.

We put it in the most visible place possible. We wanted everyone to see the smiles and joy this collage of faces, including two dogs and cat, brings to everyone passing by.

We posted it to Facebook and the comments started with Carlos saying this was a tree of miracles. Miracles with names.

xmas tree of photos

There are named miracles in the bible, The miracle at the Wedding at Cana. The miracle of the bread and fish, Lazarus raised from the dead, the various healings: the blind man, the lame, the leper, the woman with an issue of blood, and so on.

Except for Lazarus, these names are impersonal. The names describe more the event than the person.

What makes a miracle?

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“reading” (signing) scripture

Carlos M

former program graduates join us for worship

former program graduates join us for worship

Is it a drug that cures hepatitis C or cancer? Or Is it a drug that takes away the headache you’ve had for days with no relief?

Is it a little girl who walks away from a plane crash that killed her parents and sibling?

Is it finding your keys?

Are all miracles the same size? Big?

I’ve never known a person to have been healed from a disease in a miraculous way. Meaning, I’ve not known a person riddled with cancer one day and cancer free the next moment. I’ve heard others telling those stories but I’m not a witness.

I’ve prayed for that kind of healing, for family and friends I’ve prayed with an earnest heart for God to heal them and he answered no. No in this physical, earthly life.

Prayer walk on the new property

Prayer walk on the new property

Henry and the guys are Tebow-ing

Henry and the guys are Tebow-ing

Three years ago we walked the property recently purchased, land that will give us space to build an updated and expanded Center for rehabilitation, and prayed for every part. We prayed for the future, for the possibility, for the funding. The money needed is huge and I think to myself it will take a miracle for that so we keep praying. Three years plus, we keep praying.

Are miracles always worked instantaneously?

Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, was called the miracle worker. She taught this deaf and blind girl to communicate. Not in an instant but over time, she worked a “miracle” and gave future generations hope.

I lean toward belief that God is the miracle worker. The only one who can do what is thought impossible.

Maybe I’m being too generous when I call them miracles. Maybe telling them they are miracles is a stretch. Maybe. But I’m willing to take the chance.

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I want Dean and Matt and Steve and Sean and Johnny and Eric and James to know they are miracles. I want Mike and Chris and Art and Randal and Blair and Jeff to know what they tried to change in their strength was done in God’s power.

I want Carlos and Wilbert and Ramon to know what man can’t do, God can and he’s doing it in them.

I want to call His miracles by name and announce that our God is a miracle worker every day.

“Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” Matthew 19:26 the Message

When we see His miracles, we see Him. He is tall and short. Black and brown and white. He has  a Jersey accent and Philly and he says Feliz Navidad as clearly as he says Joyuex Noël, Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 the Message

This God who is too glorious to be seen by human eyes, has made His word flesh and blood and moved into our midst. We tell of His glory that is around us. We pray you will see and know this Everlasting Father, this Prince of Peace, this Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Here we go again

Last year’s calendar has been tossed and the new one hangs or glares as if to say, ‘here we go again’.

At the close of last year I was digging my heels in wanting to slow the earths rotation as if doing so would result in the slowing of time rather than atmospheric calamity.

Things were feeling too fast but once I slowed, once the last party was over and the house stood quiet for a day, I was ready for the break in rushing and doing and performing. I could breathe in freshness of a new day and look expectantly for family to arrive.

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Sunset in Memphis, TN (via my son) #livewonderstruck

Jonathan, Heather, Henry, Debby

It seemed the new day had barely dawned when the talk was about the new year and new words and new habits and resolutions few would keep and fewer make. I brushed them aside as if swatting at flies but, again, time stood up and I took notice.

The last two years I chose a word for the year. The idea sounded good and simple. One word. Easy enough. Until I forgot it just like the assigned prayer partner I forgot several years ago. It happens.

The issue isn’t the word. It’s the expectations I put on myself and resulting let down and failure I feel and for what? I can be hard on myself. You too?

Not learning my lesson or hoping I’m a wiser person because of the failed attempts, I have another word. It may not be for the year (thanks Cindy) or for any specified time. But it is for now.

listen

Listen.

Listen without formulating my response while another is talking.
Listen with focused attention.
Listen to the roar of the ocean and the silence of the sandpipers on the shore.
Listen to the words read allowing them to break or mend my heart, both parts of being whole.
Listen to the words I don’t like, the ones I don’t want to hear. Listen with quiet, slowing my breath to digest and allow God’s spirit space to speak. This will be a test I will fail, often. But one I will repeat again and again.
Listen to the rhythms of life and learn to distinguish between the voices of will and want and the voice of my maker.

As I write those words this one small word seems suddenly bigger. Too much? Perhaps. I know there will be failures but I know there will be victories. Not small victories because how can triumph ever be measured anyway but big?

They will not be my victories. Not alone because they will not be won alone but only with Him. The One who listens each time I call and hears my every breath.