Fan of Prayer?

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “#1 Fan?” as a guest writer. Here is the fifth installment:

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It had come as a shock. She simply placed her hand on my arm and with sympathy in her eyes and her voice barely above a whisper she said, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.”

I choked back a sob and then tears silently streamed down my face and I spent days in depression. At church one Sunday during worship, I was singing without really worshiping because I knew if I really got into it even for a second, the tears wouldn’t stop. So I stood singing at a whisper begging my eyes to stay dry. And I heard in my Spirit

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)

And I choked back a sob and then tears silently streamed down my face but I suddenly felt peace. And when depression and despair threatened to overtake me again, I used my sword and repeated back out loud

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

I prayed it over and over and over until my heart caught up to my head.

Months later I had another shock. This time it was another woman but the words were the same, “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.”

I didn’t cry immediately this time but hen the tears did come, the were followed by anger, not sadness. And one day I decided it was time for God and I to have it out. And I sat at the coffee shop with my hat low and my Bible open and forced myself to read even though I didn’t want to. And as I poured out my heart in my journal and absorbed these words from Job, God once again brought peace.

“From out of a storm, the Lord said to Job: Why do you talk so much when you know so little? Now get ready to face me! Can you answer the questions I ask? How did I lay the foundation for the earth? Were you there? Doubtless you know…” (Job 38:2-6)

And when anger and frustration threatened to overtake me again, I used my sword and repeated back out loud

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Why do you talk so much when you know so little? Doubtless you know…

I prayed it over and over until my heart caught up to my head.

Months later yet again, the shock was in seeing an incredibly strong and vital heartbeat. The words this time were “Congratulations! Everything looks great!”

And I choked back a sob and tears silently streamed down my face and I was thrilled and scared all at the same time. And from that day forward, the most difficult part of the pregnancy was mental as fear tempted to overtake me at every turn. Each appointment, each ultrasound and each night I feared the worst. And when my thoughts plagued me, I had to conjure up all the scripture I could and pray over and over. I fell asleep countless nights praying Psalm 139:13-15

You are creating his inward parts and are knitting him together in my womb. I praise you — regardless of how you make him, he’s made by you — fearfully and wonderfully. His frame is not hidden from you. You are weaving together the fabric of his being intricately in the secret place. I choose to believe this and I choose to believe you…I choose to believe…I choose to believe.

It wasn’t until Paxton was born and safely in my arms that I could rest that he was okay. And I held him and poured over him and thanked God continually for giving and not taking away this time.

Praying scripture during this season didn’t answer questions I had of God. I still don’t know why God allowed me to get pregnant twice if it was going to end in miscarriage. I don’t know why Paxton came perfectly healthy and beautifully into the world. But what praying scripture did do was make it okay for me not to know. The more scripture I read and the more I prayed, the more it didn’t matter why things happened the way they did. It gave me permission to trust blindly. It gave me permission to feel sadness and depression and anger and fear, but showed me I don’t have to remain stuck in those dark places.

There was power in those dark places. But I had to reach up and out to get to it.

“Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how!” (Ephesians 6:18, The Voice)

Fan of the Church?

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “#1 Fan?” as a guest writer. Here is the fourth installment:

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We took turns in what we affectionately called “the hot seat.” The five of us would gather around our sister, our friend…each laying a hand on some part of her back, her arm, her knee. We’d speak scripture over her, or lift up a word of encouragement. Most often we’d sit in silence…waiting to see what the Lord would have us to pray. Those were the moments that were the most special…the moments where God seemed to shout from the rooftops, “I AM, AND I LOVE HER!”

Often we’d enter into our meeting time without the usual pleasantries…we’d just nod hello, sit down and begin to pray silently, unloading our baggage from the day, the week, the month. We’d exhale…often very, very loudly…and just embrace the presence of the Lord in that place. And we’d stay silent until it was time to speak. We always just knew when it was time — when it was time to meet, when it was time to pray, when it was time to speak.

God had it all under control.

And then He would speak. And when God speaks, He creates things, and He created hope and joy and peace and grace…just tons and tons of grace…and He created life where there was dry, weary and tired bones.

We didn’t limit our group to just us five…but most often it seemed that we were the only ones that could meet. And we couldn’t have created a more eclectic group if we’d tried. Different seasons of life, different careers, different strengths, different weaknesses. But when we met together, it just worked. As if we were each a point on a star…shooting into opposite directions, but united at the core. As we walked into each other’s houses, our identities, our personas and our facades just dropped at the doorway. We met together as nothing more than women desperate to hear from God Himself.

And that was always more than enough.

It’s been 11 years since we first met. Our lives are in different seasons once again…different careers, different states, different strengths, different weaknesses. Different directions, different successes and different failures. Yet, when it’s time to meet, we just know it — we’re united at the core. And we meet. And we pray as we always did, dropping it all at the door and simply walking into comfortable and welcoming silence. Praying what the Lord would have us to pray, allowing for moments for God to continue to shout from the rooftops, “I AM, AND I LOVE HER!”

It’s an Acts-generation sisterhood. It’s small and seemingly insignificant…literally just a handful of us, walking side-by-side the best we know how. But it’s changed my world forever. And for the better.

“There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed.” (Acts 2:44, The Voice)

Adapted from a post earlier this year.

Fan of Fruitfulness?

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “#1 Fan?” as a guest writer. Here is the third installment:

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She handed me her swim mask to hold as she ran to the water slides. I sat on the edge of the pool — face to the sun — and watched her skip away, her bright yellow mask threaded through my fingers.

As she slipped and slided again and again, I looked around sheepishly. Assured no one was looking at me, I held the mask onto my face and peeked under water.

I had forgotten the joy of seeing life under water, even in just the pool. Baby toes wiggling beneath their floats. Wiser and wrinklier knees butterfly stroking back and forth and back and forth. Strong and muscular legs holding squeals of delight over their heads until they are plunged down into the depths.

I braced myself and looked down at my own body. Above water, my legs were distorted and bloated and pale. But with that mask on, they were normal legs again. They didn’t shift and change and convince me I was something other than myself: I saw I missed a spot while shaving my legs. The pink of my toenail polish was rosier. I really needed a professional pedicure.

It was all so clear.

When did I decide it wasn’t okay to keep wearing a mask? When did I begin believing the distorted reflections of a chlorinated world instead of the truth? The mask protects our eyes from foreign chemicals that burn and sting as we look around when we’re pulled under. And when we choose not to wear it, we just plain can’t see. We close our eyes and are swayed aimlessly, allowing ourselves to be carried along instead of staying in our lane.

I recently plunged into the ocean of a writer’s conference without a mask. I had a dream and a book and a hope, but no mask. And it was a beautiful and amazing ocean, overflowing with life and ministry and Jesus…yet I only saw what was visible while my head was above water. When I fell under the surface, consumed by the waves again and again, my eyes stayed shut and I missed all the life that existed in the depths.

And yet, sweet and merciful Jesus met me there anyway. He saw when I was drowning in currents of insecurity and fear — He saw that I wasn’t seeing. So He got a hold of me while I was trying to learn about writing life-changing devotions and He stood behind me and wrapped His hands around my eyes and whispered to me to look.

And His fingers opened.

There, beyond waves of discouragement and a haunting desire to quit was a sea of life.

And I saw.

And my eyes didn’t burn.

And then He Spoke:

“It’s not about the book. It’s not about the book. Don’t lose sight of the ministry and the mission by getting too focused on the method.”

And I was broken and I wept and I sought refuge in the prayer room and saw some more. And He didn’t say the book would happen and He didn’t say it wouldn’t happen. He simply said it wasn’t about the book.

I needed to let it go.

So I let it go.

Trying to reflect on all He showed me that weekend is like swimming with my eyes closed. I don’t know where I’m going. I’m afraid I’m going to bump into others and interrupt their focused strokes or crash and burn into the sides of the pool and be left with scars and scratches. I continue to look at myself and only see distorted desires and a bloated ego and extremely pale talent, especially compared to all the other swimmers.

But in order to swim and not sink, I have let the Holy Spirit show me in His timing what I specifically need to mediate on. Drop by drop, splash by splash, one stroke at a time. I need to let Him show me which lane is mine and swim in just it, unhurried and steady. So that when I pray and seek and trust Jesus, it’ll be okay to open my eyes because He’s the Mask that protects my eyes from burning. And He speaks what I need to know for this moment in this day. And He reassures me I don’t have to process it all in one stroke…that I can take it lane by lane, pool by pool.

So give Him your oceans and your pools and your rivers and your streams. Let Him guide you through their forceful shores and take away the fear of life.

Let Him show you how to really see.

Fan of the Holy Spirit?

I’m honored to participate in our pastor’s current sermon series, “#1 Fan?” as a guest writer. Here is the second installment:

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My toes were on the edge of the pit and it was very deep and dark down there but I couldn’t stop gazing intently into it. I wondered if it would really be so bad to dip my toe in, just for a second, knowing I’d then instantly run in the opposite direction. Because surely I couldn’t fall in. I knew better and I went to church hourly and I did Beth Moore Bible studies for Pete’s sake. So I stood on the edge and just stared and stared and stared down into it.

One Sunday, as the pull from the pit was magnetic, I simultaneously wanted and didn’t want to go to church. I felt introverted and isolated yet desperate and needy and decided I couldn’t go to my church for fear they would smell the scent of the pit all over me. Instead a friend and I went to visit another church where I felt safer and after a few dizzying deep breaths I walked in and found a place to sit not too close to the front and not too close to the back.

During worship and the teaching I was desperate to hear a word from God that would make it all better, but nothing happened. The worship was amazing and the teaching was incredible but I was missing the pull of God that would be stronger than the pull of the pit. I gathered my purse and started to leave when suddenly a man with gentle eyes and kind words stopped me and said,

“The minute you came through the door, the Holy Spirit told me to pray for you. Would you mind if my wife and I prayed over you?”

I nodded mutely for fear if I opened my mouth I’d fall apart and ooze all over the pews and he and his wife placed loving hands on my shoulders and prayed and how did they know everything they knew? Each word spoke directly to my wiggling toes and the pull of the pit. They said how much the Lord loves me and nothing could ever change that and how the devil is trying so hard to distract and tempt because he knows what’s coming right around the corner for me. And then he, the man, prayed the most unforgettable thing — God was putting barricades on the path I was currently on. He was shutting them down and closing them up and that He was creating a completely new path even that very day.

My eyes were blurry and my nose was runny and I had to wipe my eyes and nose on my sleeve because I didn’t have a tissue, and it was as if Jesus Himself was wrapping his arms all over me in a giant bear hug. He and his wife closed the prayer, I told them thank you so much and I somehow found my way outside to the car. I didn’t even know their names.

Soon my toes were well over the edge of the pit and they were wiggling furiously and I just really thought I’d be strong enough to pull myself back but whoops, there I went down, down, down into the bottomless abyss. I didn’t know about the power of the pit. I didn’t know it was a black hole with no end that left you with a physical feeling of warring between flesh and spirit. I didn’t know the speed with which the pit can suck you in. I just didn’t know.

With each passing day I spent in the darkness, however, I clung to the words the gentle and kind man prayed that Sunday. The words given to him by the Holy Spirit — those were words I clung to. With the hope from those words I soon got a foothold and then I had a handhold and soon I had climbed out only by the grace of God. I was beaten and dirty and my fingers were bloody and my nails were broken, but I made it out and I was still alive.

As soon as I came up for air and saw the sun again and took a deep breath of fresh air, everything changed. My career ended and I started working at church and I met Greg and he started working at church and we fell in love and we began ministry together. And then I discovered that same Sunday the man and his wife prayed for me — that exact day — that was the day the Holy Spirit had also gotten a hold of Greg and Greg had gotten on his face and accepted Jesus.

I’ve never forgotten the kind words that gentle man prayed that Sunday.

God did exactly what God said He’d do. My life was taken and shaken and flipped upside down and placed on an entirely new path. The past was gone and shut and barricaded and has not peeked its face at me, not even once.

Years later, after much redemption and heapings of mercy and grace, I met a woman that my spirit fell in love with the instant she opened her mouth. I boldly asked her if she would mentor me and she agreed and we spent the next year meeting in her home where she would mentor and pray and edify and encourage me. And I’d admire her home, for she was a decorator, and I’d pour over every little trinket and tchotchke, for there were many. Once she invited me to her mountain home for a prayer retreat weekend. As we arrived she gave us a tour and I poured over every little knick-knack there too. When we got to a downstairs guest room, my eyes were glued to a black and white photograph in an ornate silver frame on a hall table.

“Ann, who is this?” I asked as my eyes stayed fixated on the picture.

“Why darlin’,” (for that’s exactly the way she talked) “that’s my daughter and her husband, my son-in-law! Aren’t they precious?!”

The kind words washed over me as I once again looked into his gentle eyes. It was them. I never saw it in all the times I was at her house before. It was them. The couple who had prayed for me years earlier at a church I just decided to go to at a time I was contemplating the pit. It was them. The couple who listened to the Holy Spirit and obeyed and prayed for a very confused and conflicted girl. It was them. I wept.

The power of the Holy Spirit isn’t in the emotions and the hyper-spirituality. The power of the Holy Spirit is in the obedience and the confidence and the boldness of listening to Him and then acting on it. He’s all about action and equipping and encouraging and edifying and enabling us to act in Jesus’ name.

And He’s all about completion. Only God could have brought me as a visitor to a church and met me there and sent the Holy Spirit to comfort me through the actions of a couple who would turn out to be my mentor’s daughter and son-in-law. Only God could have given the Holy Spirit such profound and life-changing and hope-giving words to me on the exact same day my future husband turned over His life to Jesus. Only God can do that.

The whole picture remains unclear and unfinished if the Holy Spirit piece isn’t in place. But when we include Him and allow Him to fulfill the role given to Him by God, it is complete and our eyes are fixated on it because it’s suddenly all so clear.