Friday, March 19, 2010

Loving Mark and Ed

On Valentine's Day I wrote a story about a developmentally-different man from our church, Mark. (Notice I'm not keen on using the word "disabled.") Sadly, Mark lost his momma this last week, the one person who loves and cares for him consistently.

Mark sits about 4-5 rows in front of us on the organ side in church (though said organ is rarely used). He never fails to greet me. But he always sits by his lonesome. It's the way he likes it, the way he's comfortable. His older brother Ed, on the other hand, who is also developmentally different and as sunny as a teddy bear, sits in the middle of the auditorium with his good buddy Joe--right in front of Pastor Chuck, so he can feel like he's a part of the action. (At least that's the way I see it.)

So when Mark was oddly missing from his usual Sunday morning post and Pastor Chuck announced that his mom had died, I was beside myself. Excuse me, but what in the world?!? Lord? Are you at all aware that these two men rely on her protection and her nurture? Where could they go? Who will take up their cause? Who will make sure Mark is sitting five pews in front of me come 9:15 on Sunday mornings? Oh, sadness...

So I've tried to pray for these brothers. And yesterday I stopped in at the funeral home before the service, mainly to hug them. A church friend, Carol and I, told them we loved them and that we were praying for them. After a few bear hugs, Ed said with a cheerful grin, "You ladies are so sweet." After that comment, I wanted to take both of them home with me.

Today, when visiting church, I started a conversation with a lady about how Ed and Mark are the orphans referred to in James 1:27:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

And today, I am asking myself this question: with no nearby relatives that I'm aware of, how can we as a church take up their cause? This is the messy, tricky, question-filled, groaning of my heart today. So as I write this, I ask: will you pray with me that God will provide a way for them? That our church will know how to respond and be obedient to God's Word? That in all of this, we'll discover what it means to care for orphans in their needs? Dear Jesus, please help us. Soothe their pain today. Take up their cause and defend them. Use us to love them, and love them well. Amen.

I've never done this before on this blog. But if you're with me on this, please add your prayer below.

Monday, March 15, 2010

When grown men cry

I'm fresh off the Synergy 2010 women in ministry conference and my head is spinning. More on that later...but while I was in Florida, I visited with one of my favorite authors.

Trudy Harris, a retired hospice nurse and director, wrote a book called Glimpses of Heaven that I marketed while working for Revell/Baker Publishing Group. When the manuscript hit my desk, my father was in the process of living/dying with cancer. Several people on the pub board committee said the book provoked "allergies." I'll tell you the truth. It made me weep.

The 44 short stories--sharing the intimate experiences of those dying as God showed His love for them in unique ways--have been known to provoke tears. It has sold over 250,000 copies. Trudy has received hundreds of emails and letters in response, and she is faithful to answer each one. (Not to mention signing copies in every airport she flies through.)

Here is the bottom line: God loves us, everyone. And He will go to great lengths to seek us out and to redeem us from our sin, even when we are at death's door. This is the message of the book and the message of Trudy's life: in the few days I spent with her, her phone rang off the hook with those who needed hospice advice, prayer, visits, etc. In her "retirement," she's got a clear calling on her life, and it's beautiful to see her embracing it!

But here is the highlight of my visit with Trudy and her husband, George:

Last Tuesday night, Trudy and I attended a Catholic men's club event where she was the speaker. George is a regular attender, and let's say there were about 70 men in attendance. And exactly two women. There were ice buckets filled with beer. There was a huge bowl of cheez whiz that guys dunked their fritos into. The menu was corned beef and cabbage. There were no salads or lemonade. It was the antithesis of most of the "ladies' events" I've attended.

We were outnumbered, for sure.

But as I sat and waited for Trudy to speak about hospice and God's love for those who are in the dying process, I looked out at these churchgoing men, most of whom were over the age of 50. I was testing out something I learned at a Synergy 2010 workshop: I heard that most men present a "stoneface" in public, because they do not want to appear to be influenced. (We females are more likely, on average, to smile and nod.)

So as Trudy shared her heart-tugging stories of God's love for children who were dying, for those who would see something "beautiful," for those who experienced an angel waiting for them, I looked out at the sea of masculine faces. They became quite serious, as a group, and then some of the faces began to soften. I imagine they were thinking of their father or their mother, their child or their sister, someone they loved and lost.

And it was all I could do not to stand up and cheer. This is why: in the beginning, God created male and female, his A-team, his Blessed Alliance (Genesis 1-3). They were to work together for His Kingdom and to rule and subdue the earth in a reciprocal relationship. But so often we mess up God's plan for our male/female relationships. So often we're divided along gender lines.

Instead, last Tuesday night the Blessed Alliance was in full force, though our numbers were 2 to 70. As the men listened and their hearts were moved by Trudy's stories and ministry, I saw God's image, through male and female, reflected fully. In agreement, for a common purpose. Wow.

Afterwards, the younger club leader approached and said he had been brought to tears--quite a feat, since his wife had only seen him cry once. Ten to fifteen of the men brought a book to be signed by Trudy and offered up their own stories of loved ones who have died. With tears, one man even asked for prayers for his sick grandchild.

Yes, grown men do cry. More importantly, men and women still form the Blessed Alliance each day in marriages and board rooms, factories and ministries, relief efforts and seminary classrooms. We're better together than apart. Thanks to the Catholic men's club for illustrating this so clearly last Tuesday evening. I won't be forgetting it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I pray. How about you?

This is it. The final week of my online Principles and Practice of Prayer class. And I can't begin to tell you what I've learned about talking to God.

Well, first of all, that it's not all about talking. 

A good deal of prayer should be about listening, before I even open my mouth. Responding to what my Abba-Daddy is trying to communicate to me. Orienting myself to his presence and moving at His pace. It's been said that prayer is one of the biggest time savers in the world! It helps us to prioritize our days and avoid unnecessary conflict and to do items. It helps us to walk in grace.

But this listening quietly before God thing also happens to be the most challenging thing about prayer in a facebook/twitter/cell phone/texting/look at me world. Seriously. God is forever asking, "Will you unplug for awhile and meet with me? Let me love on you and equip you with the grace and love that only I can offer?" 

But we never even hear His wistful whisper, because our iphone beeps, our BFF starts chatting on facebook, or we are attempting to best our personal record at multitasking. 

"In quietness and confidence shall be your strength..." says Isaiah 30:15. Except that we are rarely ever quiet--so we go on limping along, lacking the only true source of strength and confidence.

But if you want to know what the most astonishing thing about prayer is, after all these weeks of reading books and Scripture and writing and actually praying, it is this:


Astonishing, isn't it? Prayer actually works. James 5:16b, The Amplified Version: "The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man [or woman] makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]."

Over the last several weeks, I've watched videos and read articles that offer astonishing answers to prayer that came when God's people were broken before Him, acknowledging their need for Him and begging for His involvement through intercession. People have been miraculously healed. Empty gas tanks on a remote river in Hanau, Papau New Guinea went for 45 additional minutes with no gas in them after prayer. People turned from witchcraft. God supplied George Mueller with miraculous supplies of food for orphans on prayer alone--no requests were made to other humans. Just to God.

But I have to tell you the truth. The most exciting thing about answered prayer is that it can happen to you personally! After you understand that God is not a genie-in-the-bottle, and you get excited about joining Him in His work, He responds!

That is how we ended up helping a young woman detoxing from drugs only 24 hours after I prayed that God would make me sensitive to the Holy Spirit so I could be used in a powerful way for Him. In order for this to happen, my physical therapy was mysteriously cancelled and my schedule freed before I got the email that help was needed.

That is also how I started praying for a friend one night and God told me to set aside my prayer agenda and to pray differently. Later I found out she needed protection that exact night, and that is exactly how God had redirected me to pray!

And that is how a dear friend experienced an incredible God-moment breakthrough in a relationship last week that we have been praying over for more than a year.

God, however, will not always answer our prayers in the way we asked. Thank goodness! 

In His infinite love, goodness, and all-knowingness, He will answer them for the best possible good of His children, and He will start answering the moment we pray. Just because you cannot see or feel Him working, does not mean that your prayer has not unleashed a powerful force in the heavenlies. Keep at it. And ask your Abba to teach you how to pray. That is one prayer He is waiting, even at this very moment, to answer.

But be prepared. Those prayers offered in faith can move heaven and earth. You may find resistance, but God's power is greater.

One of my favorite prayer stories involves my then three-year-old niece Cassie, who I sat down at a picnic with a few summers ago. As soon as we started eating, she blurted out: "Stop it, Jesus!" loudly. I stared at her, wide-eyed. "C'mon, Jesus, stop it!" she cried. It took only a few more seconds for me to understand that Cassie's pigtails were blowing in her mouth, and since she knew Jesus created the wind, she was insistently asking that He cut it out. She said, happily, that He did!