Deliver Us (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 23, 2014)

A friend confided in me recently that she is angry with God because he has not yet delivered a loved one from the noose of alcoholism, despite her years of prayer. I struggled with how to respond, because even though I may think I understand a few things, God’s reasons and his thoughts are far beyond mine. For the record, I believe whole-heartedly that he is fully capable of delivering us from addictions, healing us of diseases and injuries, and intervening on our behalf in ways that we’ll never understand. And yet, I also believe that he allows us to make choices that are harmful because we are his beloved, not his puppets.

We could run in circles asking “Why God?” questions. Why didn’t you fix my marriage? Why didn’t you take away the cancer? Why didn’t you miraculously keep that accident from happening?

The short, honest answer is I don’t know. The four gospels are chock-full of stories of Jesus healing people, and yet he hints in John 9 that sometimes there are deeper meanings to our sufferings. Some of the stories are vague, like Matthew 4:23 (NIV), where it simply states that he healed “every disease and sickness among the people.”

In many instances, the healing is accompanied by praise and/or renewed purpose, like Matthew 8:14, where Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is healed from a raging fever, and she begins waiting on him. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Mark 2, the man took his mat and left; he didn’t sit back down and continue being crippled.

Think about all the times (and there were lots!) in the Old Testament when the Israelites cried out to God: “Deliver us!” … and he did. Then, they went back to their old ways, disobeying the Lord till they got sick of themselves and cried out again: “Deliver us!” … and he did. Round and round they went. How often do we get upset about problems in our lives that were self-inflicted?

God’s deliverance may end up looking like something completely different from what we were asking or expecting. Hold onto hope, even when it is hard to understand.

5 years

Ang and Nathan on benchFive years seems like it should sweep in with some sort of fanfare, but it feels like just another day. I mentioned before that I’m on a journey to reclaim January by making a concerted effort not to let this month defeat me. For the past four Januaries, I’ve slumped into a pity party, and I’m trying hard not to do that again this year.Ang and Nathan by Christmas tree

Still, I do feel reminiscent during this month, especially leading up to today. I miss my brother like crazy, each and every day.

There are plenty of things that make me feel sad, but if I concentrate, there are even more things that make me feel happy … and better than happy, but also joyful and certainly grateful:

  • I got to know him for 30 years plus a few months, and we became good friends.
  • We were baptized on the same day, and I remember it fondly.
  • I will get to see him again some day and never ever have to say goodbye. Hallelujah!
  • Nathan selfieI get to see his smirk,
    • his demeanor,
    • his mannerisms,
    • his smart*ss attitude (LOL), and
    • his facial expressions in his sons every day.
  • I had my personal IT support hotline for years! 🙂
  • I got to meet the love of his life, and I’m doubly blessed that we remain “sisters-in-love” all these years later.
  • I got to receive more bear hugs than I can count.
  • I always knew that he had my back, even when we disagreed.

When you need an ugly cry (Prayer Devotional for the week of January 19, 2014)

Have you ever experienced an ugly cry? I don’t mean the kind of crying you do because you hit your thumb with a hammer or the dog ate your favorite shoes. I’m talking about the raw, vulnerable kind that leaves your ribs aching because even after the tears stop flowing, your lungs keep heaving. The kind of weeping that makes your nose runny and your eyes puffy.

It ain’t pretty, but sometimes it’s necessary.

Sometimes, the way to begin healing the broken pieces is to acknowledge the ugliness. I find it interesting how, in Matthew 5, Jesus’ blessing to those who are humble comes right after his blessing to those who mourn (verses 4-5). There is a sense of humility when you experience loss. Life keeps marching on, while a piece of your heart is left behind, buried. That’s humbling. When we come face-to-face with the reality that we are incapable of controlling the world around us, it’s humbling.

The good news, friends, is that when those wretched moments hit, God doesn’t want to leave us in a state of despair. Jesus said that he would comfort us when we mourn. I like the way The Message goes on to explain in v. 5 about being humble: “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

I know what it’s like when the very air around you feels suffocating, and hope seems to have wandered far away. Yet, I also know what God’s inexplicable peace feels like, and I encourage you to not lose sight of hope. Trust and rest in his promises.

Dear January,

I realize that we’ve had a love-hate relationship for the past few years, and I wanted to let you know that I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt in 2014. Truth be told, I’ve never really liked you, partly because when you come around, I start feeling guilty about all the stuff I had planned to do since the last time I saw you. Seeing your name is a reminder (as if the mirror and closet weren’t reminders enough) of the weight that I know I need to lose. Your name is a reminder of the hamster wheel that my career seems to be stuck in. The picturesque pages in each new calendar remind me of the places I want to visit, the things I want to do, the adventures I’d like to take.

But there is another big reason why I don’t like you. After making it through another Thanksgiving and another Christmas in this new normal (if such a state even exists), you show up in my life unbidden and remind me in no uncertain terms just how long it has been since my brother died. January 23. It’s as if Jan. 1-22 needn’t bother; I’d just as soon skip to the 24th and start the year there. The first twenty-two days only lead up to the day when I want to crawl under the covers and wake up 24 hours later, anyway, so let’s just fast-forward and pretend the day never happened. And yet, every year like clockwork, it rolls around. And every year, I wake up and go through the motions of another day. This will be year five.

You know what, January? I’m tired of dreading you. I’m tired of letting you dictate how I feel about myself and my circumstances. I have some important things to do while you are around this year, and I’m not going to let grief or guilt stop me from accomplishing them. So, feel free to stick around for 31 days again this year. Just don’t expect me to slow down and wait for you to leave.

Miracle Mercy (Prayer Devotional for the week of December 1, 2013)

It’s no wonder why the holiday season is such a difficult time for those who grieve. Part of it probably relates to the weather: it’s often dreary, cold and dark, and seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. Perhaps a bigger issue, though, is that we’re “supposed” to spend time with loved ones around the holidays, so when they aren’t there, the loss is palpable.

I don’t need a TARDIS or DeLorean to transport me back to that night of racing down the highway nearly five years ago, trying to get to the hospital. The too-familiar fear and restlessness are just under the surface, and when the memories hit me unexpectedly, I catch myself at times staring at nothing, while scenes from that night flash through my mind’s eye like a horror movie that won’t end. He’s supposed to be here, sneaking bites of cornbread dressing before our big family dinner and then arm-wrestling me for the last slice of coconut meringue pie.

But he isn’t. And life goes on. It’s times like this when giving thanks is a deliberate choice, because wallowing in self-pity is a pointless endeavor. When you don’t particularly feel grateful for your lot in life, you have to take initiative to find things for which to be thankful. It’s easy to get bogged down in how we feel and forget that God is still on his throne; he’s still the Lord of the universe. And he still cares for you and me more than we can ever comprehend.

In Psalm 107:2a, the author says to “let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story” (NIV). The poem goes on to describe many of the ways that God intervened in the lives of his people, rescuing and providing for them, even when they rebelled against him. Four different times, the poem says, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (NIV). In another translation, that same passage reads: “So thank God for his marvelous love, for his miracle mercy to the children he loves” (MSG).

Miracle mercy, indeed! Friends, I don’t know what you are going through this holiday season. I hope that you are bubbling over with joy, but in case you are struggling (like I sometimes do), I urge you to make a purposeful effort to thank God for his miracle mercy in your life. Don’t focus only on the hard times; turn your attention to God’s goodness and let his peace soothe your heart.

Of birthdays and memories

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My best friend has a milestone birthday tomorrow. As I was thinking about something funny or meaningful to post on her Facebook wall (I decided on this photo for now, LOL >>), I started reminiscing about so many things that we have been through together in our almost-30-year friendship.

We competed on the neighborhood swim team together for a few summers. We went to middle school and one semester of high school together. We attended each other’s graduations and weddings. We commiserated during pregnancies. I even had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of attending one of her C-sections because her husband was unable to be in the operating room with her.

She also met me at the hospital the night my brother died. She drove all the way across Houston — literally, from the south side to the north side — to meet me in response to my frantic phone call. She took my youngest son, barely age 4 at the time, home with her for the night (or was it the weekend? the whole timeline is a blur). Good friends will be there for you in a time of need, but her willingness to drop everything and go above and beyond the call of duty on the worst night of my life will forever warm my heart.

We’ve been thinking about planning a girls-only vacation for the past few years — something nicer than just a weekend get-away … perhaps a cruise! We actually started talking about it before our “25th anniversary” (when a waiter overheard our conversation and thought we were a couple-couple). We still laugh about that night!

It’ll be a while before we can seriously plan our fun in the sun, however. I have my dissertation to finish before I can really let my hair down, but that’s relatively minor compared to what she has on her plate these days. Please pray for my sweet friend’s husband, as he undergoes treatment for stage 3 rectal cancer. She’s a strong, independent woman, and I know it’s hard to accept help, much less reach out and let others know of your need. So, I’m sharing this information because I know many of you are prayer warriors, and I ask you – first and foremost – to pray. If you feel so compelled, please also consider giving at the site linked above.

Here’s to old memories and new adventures!

Worst-case scenario (Prayer Devotional for the week of August 11, 2013)

Imagine relaxing at home one evening watching the news, and you receive a call out-of-the-blue from your boss. Your boss says that there was a hostile takeover of your company and you are being laid off, effective immediately. In the background, the newscaster reports that the stock market closed at a record low, and your retirement plan is now worthless. Meanwhile, a neighbor knocks on the door to let you know that a tree branch just fell onto your car and totaled it. While you are talking, a text message buzzes with news from the vet that your dog died. Then, the police show up to let you know that several family members have been killed in a terrible wreck. How would you react to such a horrible chain of events?

A similarly tragic tale unfolds in Job 1:13-19. Job was devastated with grief by all that happened, but v. 22 reveals that he did not disrespect or blame God for his plight. Things got even worse for poor ol’ Job. He became physically ill, and even his wife thumbed her nose at him. He stood his ground, though, and Job 2:10 says again that he did not mouth off about God.

Three of Job’s friends to came to visit him. At first, they sat with him quietly for moral support, but one by one, they became tired of the pity party. They took turns giving Job some so-called advice about his predicament, and it boiled down to his fault. They suggested that surely, he must have sinned against God, or perhaps it was even his children’s sin that led to their untimely demise. Job did not take the criticism lightly, and he pleaded his case and begged for answers from God.

Job’s story is a worst-case scenario that I hope none of us ever experience. You can read more to find out how it ends, but suffice it to say that Job learned a thing or two about trusting God. There is a lot that we could learn from his situation, as well. How we respond in times of trouble can communicate volumes about our faith. Are we critical, complaining and ranting about how the world is always against us? Do we blame others for our “bad luck” and vow to get even someday? Do we listen to the naysayers and turn our backs on God? God is not daunted by our questions, frustrations or fears. Sometimes, though, what God wants to teach us isn’t just about the solution to our problems. It’s about the process in getting us there.