Archives for July 2017

On Giving Up Vague Prayers for a Well-Defined Faith

While the house sleeps, I curl up in the stuffed green chair to pray on quiet summer mornings. I find myself searching for words beyond the perfunctory request for God to “bless” my day, my children, my endeavors. “Bless” is shorthand for all of the needs around which I can’t form words. I don’t even know what it means, or what I want him to do for me. My prayers carry a vague notion of wanting–desires unformed and ill-defined.

This summer our family sits in an ellipses, those three small dots that indicates a pause before the end of a sentence. Autumn will enter with a flurry of change for each one of us: two new schools, new family dynamics, a new vocation. We need more than the blessing of God. We need wisdom, comfort, peace, and guidance. We need eyes and ears attuned to the Holy Spirit. We need each other. New friends. Courage. Confidence in Christ. We need a renewed reverence and the ancient words of scripture buried bone-deep from which our muscle memory rises.

We need more than blessings. We need answers.

Shelly Miller’s book Rhythms of Resthas been a faithful companion this summer, and her words have encouraged me to find words of my own as I pray. She writes:

I’m learning to say what I want with greater clarity and definition, even when it feels uncomfortable and presumptuous, because I don’t want a mediocre life as a result of vague prayers and ill-defined faith. When you are tired, depleted, worn out, and weary, imagine Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you want me to do for you? Jesus often receives one’s question by responding with another. I feel this question, rather than hear it, as I re-learn how to pray. What is it I want? By sitting with this question all summer, and allowing it to take root in the deepest parts of me, I discover with greater clarity what we want and need as a family. I discover that the things I thought I wanted are not always the things God wants for me. I discover that prayer is less a vague collection of “bless me’s” and more of a conversation.

The “God bless…” prayers feel like throwing a handful of dust in the wind. The wind sweeps them away, and I am left holding nothing but unknowns. As I become more specific in prayer, and I define my needs before God, I find the words to tether me to Him. I know what it is I want–wisdom, a friend for my child, an open door, a willing spirit–and I ask for it. When Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” I sit with open palms and robust prayers as I wait for him to answer.

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Do Shelly’s words resonate with you too? Do you pray in generalities or with a well-defined faith? How have your prayers changed as you’ve grown in faith?

Practicing Peace in the Face of Fear

I am afraid of heights. Tight spaces. Physical pain. My husband’s driving, and dying in a car accident (see husband’s driving). I am afraid of the vice of Vegas. Snakes and scorpions. Running out of gas on a lonely highway, or losing my way while driving. More than anything, I am afraid of the wild unknowns that wait for me around every corner. Fear is a frequent and unwelcome companion.

When my husband first proposed the idea of traveling west for our annual summer vacation, I felt the immediate tug of apprehension on the hem of my heart. What ifs jostled for space with why nots. As I sat curled up on the sofa, he grinned while photos of red rock formations and joshua trees flashed across his computer screen. He lured me in with the promise of new sights, scents, and the salt-licked waves of the Pacific Ocean. He knows the subtle ways fear strangles adventure, and he persisted until I could see nothing but the fingerprints of God imprinted deep into the dry earth of the desert. I wanted to run my hands across the grooves of them.

We spent two weeks tracing the hand of God across the American west this month, and every day I woke up to the hot breath of a fresh fear. My small-time, irrational fears may seem insignificant–something to be ignored, or brushed aside–but I have spent a lifetime trying to conquer them. Fear is a living, breathing beast that threatens to steal my joy, my presence, and my peace.

I didn’t vacate on my vacation–every nerve ending sparked like live wire as I faced my fear of heights while hiking the Grand Canyon, drove hours through the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert while my husband napped beside me, and as I sat wide-eyed through the terrifying switch-backs zig-zagging down the steep hills of Sedona. I drove an ATV in the dry heat of the Arizona desert, and managed to lose my way on an electric bike on the hills near Solana beach. It was everything an adventure should be.

I returned home feeling like a kid who accepts a challenge and repeatedly waits for her mama’s eyes to turn her way, “Did you see me, Mom? Did you see me?” I am proud of myself for accepting small challenges because it gives me courage to face the larger ones that will surely come my way. I wasn’t fearless, but I took courage by the hand, even when that hand shook and nervously clutched its way towards freedom.

I discovered that standing up to fear is the same thing as practicing peace. It’s an invitation for peace to make its home in me when I feel the least capable and least confident. Peace rarely descends like a dove, instead it is practiced through small acts of courage which put fear in its rightful place.

Fear continues to keep company with me, but it takes up a smaller space today than it did last week, last month, even last year. If you find yourself in a place of fear today, whether small or large, I encourage you to consider what it would look like for you to practice peace through small acts of courage.

I’m cheering for you.

Saying Goodbye to the Familiar to Make Way for the New

My husband sat in the driver’s seat and popped his head out of the window, saying, “Say goodbye, this might be the last time you see your car!” I touched the side of the sliding door and said, “Goodbye, faithful friend.” I tried to summon tears, but really, that’s a bit dramatic, even for me, and he drove away. He was right, he came home from the dealership without the mini-van, without the car stuffed full of a decade of goldfish crumbs and half-eaten lollipops. He came home without the car that carried my three walking hearts for the last ten years, the one that drove us endless miles across America–captured every argument, every sweaty post-game crowd of kids, every morning goodbye in the drop-off line.

My son recently told me when he thinks of his childhood, it’s colored with memories of Splash Mountain, Cracker Barrel breakfasts, and the smell of despair (his own) from too many hours spent shopping at the mall. When I think of my kids’ childhoods, I think of the silver mini-van. It sat at the heart of everything. I was a mini-van mom, a role I rejected and complained about initially, but one I grew into over time. I grew with each deep conversation, each carpool kid, and each trip to a new, unexplored location.

There is nothing like the ministry of a mini-van to our kids and to our community. It is a microcosm of life on wheels.

We have entered a new season, with two teens and a tween. One kid is months away from driving. The five of us are rarely together in one place, but I still spend most of my time on the road, shuttling each one to their own activities. The mini-van served us well, but we have put that season behind us, before I feel ready. Sometimes, you don’t realize you’re in a new season before you’re knee-deep in the muck and mud of it. We have entered a new season of parenting, with our oldest only one year away from flying from our nest.

It is strange to think I’m no longer the mom wrangling three littles, or shuttling kids to elementary school. I’m no longer the mom who cuts out paper hearts or buys teacher’s gifts or takes photographs at the Daddy/Daughter dance. I’m the mom who cheers from the sidelines of their lives, while they run and run and run towards their future.

This is the goal, isn’t it? To work oneself out of a job. To move from season to season and let ourselves and our children expand into them, and grow with them, rather than fight the change.

The mini-van is an impermanent thing which gave us permanent memories. The lacrosse sticks, school books, and dirty clothes strewn around my house will not litter the floor forever. But the memories are the scent that rises, the one that brings us back to times of love and frustration and growth, this sweet smell is a fragrance we never forget. It smells like sacrifice and permanence and chocolate cake.

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I found this post tucked away in last summer’s archives, and I thought it could use a re-visit. Once again, big changes for our family lie on the other side of August, and my role will change with our new season of family life. We will say goodbye to good things to make way for those things that are better.

Are you facing big changes in your life this fall? How will you grow with them, rather than put up a fight?

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