Answered Prayers in a Fallen World

For years when parents complained of sleeplessness I had simultaneously sinful responses: “If I get to be a mother, I won’t ever complain. I will also teach my children to sleep.”

So God decided to give me three bad sleepers as children, and the snickerdoodle is the worst of the three. The cheesedoodle is the best, by far, and he’s a sleeping champ now. The girls, however . . .

Monday night was a doozy for me. The cheesedoodle, always tired on Mondays, had been woken a little after 6 by his big sister who has been waking around 5:45 for three weeks. At 6:15 Monday evening he climbed into bed and said good night. I didn’t hear a peep from him after that, and what was in my mind was: “6:15 is when he’ll wake tomorrow morning. Oh well, the mackerdoodle will already be up.” and I sighed. By 8:45, when neither of my girls had fallen asleep and both were having their age appropriate levels of mental break down, I completely lost it. I snapped. I couldn’t take it any more. I felt like climbing into my own bed and leaving them to fend for themselves until their father got home from work.

Eventually I found out that the mackerdoodle – extrovert extraordinaire – hasn’t been sleeping because she is lonely, now that she has her own bedroom and no roommate yet. I put her on the couch in the cheesedoodle’s room and within minutes she was snoring. The snickerdoodle still wasn’t having any of it, until Jonathan arrived home an hour and a half early from work and within minutes she was asleep under his influence.

My nerves felt all bunched together. My stomach was churning. I had 90000 things to finish and it was already almost 10 pm.

Jonathan prayed for me, and in that prayer he said, “Our children are an answer to prayer beyond what we had hoped, but even answers to prayers are tainted with sin. . .”

Oh how I needed to hear that. Even an answer to prayer is tainted with sin in this fallen world. The fact that I couldn’t handle being a mama for a moment has no bearing on the fact that my children are a wonderful blessing and I thank the Lord for them. Having a hard evening doesn’t nullify the miracle.

Whatever you’re praying for right now, hear this: when the Lord gives he gives us so much that it boggles the mind and it overwhelms our hearts and our minds. But it will still come to you with the curse of sin in a fallen world. There will be moments that you will want to hand the abundance back to the Lord. That doesn’t change the blessing, it’s just the reality of answered prayer in a fallen world.


Instead of Wasting Your Time Today . . .

. . . I think you should read this post instead of anything I would write about being pregnant.

Here’s a quote to whet your apetite:

“If we are bereft of joy and the light of God’s face, the answer is not introspection. The answer is extro-spection –gazing upon the glories of all God has done for us in Christ.”

Some of the Nitty Gritty

Ask the pastors and missionaries in your life (and I hope you know several) about their seminary years and the answers might surprise you. Once you get past the humorous stories of last minute papers and language mistranslations, chance are that you’ll begin to hear different stories: miscarriages, pregnancy loss and hospitalized kids; strange personal health struggles, robberies, fires and property loss; often struggles with depression, marital strife and even the fundamentals of the faith. There are a few reasons for this: some of it is just the age and stage of life at which most people attend seminary, some is the unusual physical and emotional stress of the seminary experience, but there is a very real element of spiritual struggle in the mix too.

This week the son of one of our friends asked his mother when Daddy was going to come and visit again. Our next door neighbors are trying to wean their daughter from a gastric tube, while dealing with an infant suffering from the same severe reflux that caused the oldest to have the tube inserted. One family has had two miscarriages in three months and two others are unable to conceive. One of Jonathan’s fellow students has developed a heart arrhythmia, and others are facing depression. This is the nitty gritty of seminary life.

When we ask you to pray for us, we don’t mean that as code for “send money and gifts.”  We really mean, “please pray for us,” and for the other people you know who are taking this same journey. First, we recognize that the study of the things of God will always face opposition from the spirit of this world, and secondly, scripture tells us that “. . .If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” (1 Tim. 3:1) A noble task requires preparation and that preparation is not limited to parsing Greek verbs and discussing whether or not the covenant of works was merit based. These men are being prepared to lead the body of Christ which is comprised of clay vessels who are broken, struggling, suffering, hurting and otherwise crippled by the fall. How can they stand up to lead from the pulpit unless they have first lived the struggles of life?

Will you please pray for Jonathan and for his classmates, not that they will be spared the trials, but that they will be able to see Jesus in the midst of the storm and be able to cry out “Jesus, save me.” Please pray that they will have the wisdom and discernment to hear and read and see truth and to continue to preach the gospel to themselves and to each other.

Please pray that the nitty gritty of seminary life will prove to be a fruitful, rather than crushing, experience for my husband and his fellow students.

Guest “Blogger” Today: God’s Faithfulness In Cancer

I’ve known Melinda since before I can remember. When we were preschoolers and our parents were younger than we are now, we were neighbors in a trailer court while our parents saved for, and then built, houses. We’ve been in Sunday school, christian school, high school and even college together. Our oldest children are weeks apart in age, and our second children are hours apart, so when I found out that I was unexpectedly expecting our third, I had to find out if the pattern was holding. Instead I learned that she was battling thyroid cancer.

On February 13th she shared a testimony in church and she sent me a copy. With her permission, I am sharing excerpts of that testimony here:

Thyroid cancer IS cancer.  But this is the cancer you want to have, if you have to have one.  It is, (altho’ not in my case) usually contained just to the thyroid, It is very slow growing.  It is very easily treated.  And the survival rates of people who live for decades after the disease are in the ninety percentiles.

If it does spread to the rest of the body… for example, my big toe…it is still classified as thyroid cancer not big toe cancer,  as it was spread by means of thyroid cells that have moved around in the body.

Yes, this is cancer and yes, it has spread to my lymph nodes.  Yes, that is much more serious than having it contained just to my thyroid and honestly, could I die from this cancer? Yes…. but not likely.  I want to be really clear on this…..thyroid cancer is not a death sentence for me.  The only, and I mean only way that I will die from this disease is because the good Lord Himself has decided that it is time for me to go home…and, I, by His grace, am at peace with that.

I guess this is what brings me to the first thing that God has been doing in my heart.

You see, I have always been someone who has been afraid of everything. As early as I can remember in my life, I was aware that fear was my constant companion, from childhood until present day.  It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it is being afraid of the future, or the past; being alone or being in public; afraid of building relationships with women or being more afraid of losing those relationships once I had them…  I, normally, am a very anxious person.  The fact that I am able to stand here and tell you I have cancer and then not fall to the floor in an overwhelming sense of fear and despair is evidence in itself that God is working in my life.

Psalm 29:11 says, “the Lord gives His people strength, The Lord blesses them with peace”

Shortly after my diagnosis, I was sitting in my living room feeling sorry for myself and feeling all the fears that come with having a disease like this when I was reminded of a song that we used to sing in Sunday school when we were children.  The words went something like “count your blessings, name then one by one, count your many blessings see what God has done.”  I decided to take that song literally and began to look around my home and started to count, one by one, the blessings in my life.  Think of it. Right now each of you are sitting on a comfy pew in a warm building.  I have been in places where there were neither the pews to sit on nor a building to worship in.  Count how many pews we have in here.  Go home and count how many pillows are in your house, or blankets, or eating utensils.  Every one of those things are material blessings that people in this world, everyday, live without.  Think of every single garment of clothing you have.  Think of every book in your house.  Everything.

After I thought about that for awhile, I started thinking about the “could have beens” in my life.  I could have been born in Haiti, Rwanda, or the Congo and not only be facing thyroid cancer, but all the rest of the poverty and war that they face daily on top of it.  I could have been born in the brothels in India, or the human trafficking ring that babies are born into daily.  I could be living anywhere else in this world and not have a clean clinic to go to get blood tests, Or have a nice, clean, warm home to come back to after surgery is finished.  Or even more personal, I could have been diagnosed with any other cancer that do not have the positive  prognosis that my cancer does.  Or I could have MS.  Or I could have severe arthritis that cripples my day to day living, or go through what some have to face every second day and be on a dialysis for the rest of my life.  When I really begin to look at the “could have been”s in the area of disease and diagnosis, I realize how truly I am blessed.

Then I thought about the people in my life and thought about the fact that I am living within minutes of my parents home so they can help me with my children when I am in treatment.  The fact that I have a hardworking husband who survives on minimal amount of sleep, but has no problem coming home to help with the housework and kids at the end of a long day, just because I am not feeling good.  Or the fact that I have two beautiful, completely healthy children running around my house.   Or the fact that God has blessed me incredibly this year, with new relationships with Christian women who have grown to be the most loyal and genuine friendships I have ever known in my life.

Then to realize that not only do I have  all those blessings in my life, , but also I have been blessed to be born into a home that taught me the one, true God, to be living in a country that allows me to worship this  true God….and then to  know this true God  personally and to be able to face this horrible trial with  the  One, who is not distant and uncaring, but who weeps for my tears, who understands my fears and is beside me to give me  grace to make it through every day.

Romans 8:28 say, “And we know, that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  What a privilege it is to be able to know personally this great, true, God who can take horrible situations and work good out of it for those who love Him.  This is not a fairytale coping mechanism that I am relying on when I need to escape from reality…this is how our faithful God is able to  take a very fearful person, in the midst of a very real and  anxious place and help her see the thousands of blessings He has poured out upon her.  I am truly, truly blessed…and this I know for sure.

Another thing that I feel that God is working in my life is on the issue of faith, and what does that mean to me? And how does faith show itself in my life.  What does it mean to say that our faith is often refined in the fire?  I know that in my past, everything thing that I have learned for sure about the Lord, has been learned from inside the fire.  It has mostly been from the depths of despair, grief or shame that I have been able to see the truths of the Lord so clearly, that then built a firm foundation of faith beneath my feet, giving me the strong foothold I needed to stand on for the next time I needed to face the fire.

One of the deepest  lessons I ever have learned, that I find myself going back to over and over in these past 12 months, came less from my fiery trial as it did some dear friends of mine.

When I was a young adult I had the privilege of spending my summers working at a local Bible camp.  One summer, one of the camp leaders gave a devotional about faith and about the attributes of God and he ended it by stating this, “I am confident that God is Sovereign and God is good, the Bible says it to be true, so I believe it”.  Not long after, this man’s young son was diagnosed with cancer and in the midst of all the pain and suffering that he and his family went through I again had the privilege to hear him say at another camp meeting, “the Bible says that God is Sovereign and God is good, so I believe it to be true, not because I feel it to be true, but because His Word says it is”.

His son eventually died from that horrible disease, and a few years later I heard him preach that same message again, “God is Sovereign and He is Good”.   I just did not understand that, and in my ignorance and arrogance I asked him, “How can you say that? He didn’t’ just die, he suffered and died, he was a child…HOW is that Good?”

I will never forget as he and his wife wept and said to me, “Melinda, we don’t know why a child, our child, had to go through this.  We just don’t.  Melinda, there were days when everything we prayed, the opposite happened.  We would beg the Lord, that just that one day, just the ONE day, that our son would have less pain than he did the night before….we’d beg .for God to be merciful  in that one little way, that one day….and you know?…. THAT would be the day our son would scream in agony worse than he ever had before.  It was so bad that one day I ended up running out of the hospital down the street until I found a park and threw myself on the grass before the Lord and asked the Lord WHY? Where is the goodness? Why did everything we pray for the opposite happen? How is that good? And that was when the Lord began to work in our hearts and teach us what faith is….

Faith is being sure of what we hope for and CERTAIN OF WHAT WE DO NOT SEE….in those moments there was no way that we could SEE the goodness of  God…but we KNEW  that the Bible said it, so it had to be true…Faith is believing the truth because the Bible says it is true….not because our experiences say so, or our feelings say so, not because our prayers get answered but because THE BIBLE SAYS IT TO BE TRUE and nothing else. The Bible says God is Sovereign and He is GOOD…faith is believing that to be true because that’s what HE says…even when every experience you are going through says it’s the opposite, even when every fiber of your being is screaming “it’s a LIE”, even when every single thing around you says it is NOT true….you grab hold to that Word of God and you CHOOSE to believe it for that very second ,  and then  you CHOOSE to believe it again…and again and again…you CHOOSE to believe the truth because that is what it is…TRUTH….Melinda, sometimes we had to grab hold of it for that one second, and then grab hold of it the next second, and the next, and the next until a minute had passed…and then we had to  grab hold of it again…but THAT is what faith is….being certain of what we can not see… believing Him to be who He says He is and do what He says He will do  because that is what His Word says

It took me a few more years before I went through enough heartache and humility before this truth sank deep into my heart, but when I look back, I marvel at how faithful our God is…He used someone else’s horrible situation, to teach me about faith, which in turn built the foundation for what I have to face today.

My precious friends and family, I stand here speaking to you only by the grace of God and I want to tell you….our GOD IS SOVEREIGN and our GOD IS GOOD…no matter what the outcome in my life.  No matter what happens in the tomorrow.  Whether I am healed of this disease, or whether my worst fears come true and my children are left motherless.  My God is Sovereign and my God is GOOD. I do not know what tomorrow holds, but I do know Who holds it in His hand and I choose to put my faith  in Him and believe that He will do what He says He will do.  When surgeries and treatment dates are delayed, He is Sovereign.  When each test comes back with a worse diagnosis, He is good.  It does not matter what I FEEL about those things, He is faithful to His Word and He is Sovereign and He is good.

My friends and family….I need your prayer….I ask for you to pray for me.  I ask that you would pray, obviously, for God’s healing if He should see fit in this situation.  We serve a mighty God and I know that God is able to heal me this very second if he knew that was the way to bring Him glory.  He could take away this cancer and put a brand new thyroid back in if He saw fit.  I ask you to pray that if it is His will to be glorified by my healing then I pray He would

But more than that….I desperately need you to pray that I would trust the Lord with my kids.  That I would choose to believe that He is Sovereign and Good in my children’s lives as well. For all those things that I just shared with you about faith, it is ONLY, ONLY by the grace of God that I am able to speak or live any of it.  However, from the moment I was diagnosed with this cancer I have been battling with an overwhelming sense of fear in regards to my children.  I am constantly thinking “how is this going to affect them”.  Whether it’s just me not feeling good and then not being  a good mom around home, or whether it’s how my absence affects them each time I am gone to appointments, or whether it’s how my weeks away in treatment will affect them. I worry, a lot, about my kids.

I have not been afraid, not for one moment about how this disease will affect me personally.  I am not afraid of death.  I know my Redeemer lives and one day I will stand with Him.  Heaven, to me, is as real as getting in my car and driving to my home.  It’s right there.  I long for the day to be in heaven.  But I do not want to leave my children behind.  My biggest fear in this whole world, the fear that can paralyze me, is the fear that one day, I will be in heaven, and my children will not meet me there.  It sounds ridiculous to say it, because I am very aware that whether I live 4 more months, 4 years, or 40 more years that I can not guarantee that anyways.  The Only One who can guarantee that is the One who I am trusting with my life, but am having a hard time trusting Him with theirs.  It is sometimes hard for me to fathom, that anyone, even the God of the Universe can love them, and parent them better than I can.

I am specifically asking you to pray about my children and that I would be able to leave them in the arms of their Heavenly Father, knowing He loves them more than I do, and that He is Sovereign and He is good.  Pray, that my faith would not be shaken in regards to them.  Pray that I would grab hold of His truth and believe Him to be who He says He is in regards to my children.  Pray that I will choose to believe and be certain of the things I can not see in regard to my children.  Sometimes it seems that in the darkest of night I can lose focus from the truth and surrender to the lies…everything seems worse in the middle of the night.  Pray for me that in those moments I would rest knowing He holds them in His hand.

I take comfort in knowing that we serve and amazing God.  One Who is faithful, Who is Sovereign and Who is good.  A God who is so powerful He could heal me this very moment, but also is big enough to handle it when I question why he doesn’t.  “Our God is not threatened anymore by my heartbreak, fears or questioning, any more than He is threatened by a rainstorm.  He knows the rain will fall.  He knows that I will fail.” And I take great comfort in knowing that I can give Him my deepest hurts and fears about my children and know that He wants to take it all.

I do not know what trial you are facing today.  Maybe it’s not cancer.  Maybe it’s another crippling disease, or a loss of a job.  Maybe it’s the pain of being in a marriage that sadly disappoints you, or the rejection of a friend. Maybe you are in financial struggle, or are grieving the loss of a loved one. Maybe you are just afraid of the unknown in the future.  Maybe your child has cancer, or maybe you are a parent just struggling to give your children to the Lord and to let go of what you can not control…whatever it is, … know this…He has not forgotten you, He is Sovereign and He IS good….

Psalm 62 says, “I wait patiently before God, for my hope is in Him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor come from God alone.  He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.  O my people (my friends and my family) trust in Him at all times. Pour out your heart to Him for God is our refuge.”

Chewing on the Loaves

Mark 6:51-52 (English Standard Version)

51And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52for(A) they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts(B) were hardened.

Our pastor here (as differentiated from our Georgia pastor. I’ve never had two pastors before.) is in the process of preaching through Matthew.  Last week was the feeding of the five thousand, and this week it was Jesus walking on water. First, I don’t think I have ever heard these passages preached back to back, despite them being consecutive and chronological. I have never seen them connected in any way. Second, I know I have never heard the passage of Jesus walking on water in a sermon that wasn’t all about Peter. Those statements were true until this Sunday and I’m still chewing on all of the implications.

I can’t go into all of the gospel truths that Mark brought out because frankly I don’t have the ability, or the memory, to transcribe the entire sermon.  There was, however, one big point that I have been dwelling on all week that I want to share with you: the disciples despaired in the storm because they didn’t understand Jesus’ provision of the loaves.

Mark said it this way: “We don’t get the loaves. Instead, what we apply to the moment is this storm.”

The Lord has provided for us in abundant and surprising ways repeatedly in the past. We have had so many of our own stories in which the Lord has taken a pittance and turned it into an abundant feast with leftovers for all; yet in the midst of a storm, or even a rain shower of inconvenience, I completely forget those moments, applying only the storm. Just like the disciples, I can so often be only moments from the amazing, miraculous provision of God, doubting that provision will carry me through the wind and rain.

All week I’ve been praying that in the storm I will be able to apply the lesson of the loaves, and I thought you might like to hear what I’ve been pondering.

For the rest of the sermon, you can click here and listen to “Deadly Distractions.”

A Realization Born of Frustration

On Saturday my life got really old.  I woke up cranky because the cheesedoodle decided that 5:50 am was a fine time to get up and play  thankyouverymuch.  Jonathan had to work 10 to 4 which is my least favorite shift because it wrecks the entire day.  To compound it, he had to run a catering order, and didn’t get back until well after 6.  I was tired.  I was sick of never seeing my husband and sick of being “housebound” or at least neighborhood bound.  I was sick of hemorrhoids.  (Sorry for the over share)  I sat on my front porch while my kids played and I just felt sorry for myself.  I am sad to say that I felt sorry for myself for about 24 hours, or maybe a little more.

At some point on Sunday afternoon, I realized something.  One day, Lord willing,  Jonathan will graduate from seminary.  When that happens, there will be families in the congregation to which the Lord calls Jonathan who will be living lives that look a lot like mine has the last year and  a half: families in which the husband works two jobs just to barely make ends meet, and sometimes not even.  Families that don’t have “regular” schedules and can’t make plans beyond a weekly schedule.  Those families aren’t going to have the light at the end of a four year tunnel that I have.  They won’t be able to look into a defined point in the future when life won’t look the way it looks for them now.  For those families, life can’t get old.  It’s what they’ve been given, and they’re called to be faithful in it.

There was a time when I thought families like that just weren’t trying hard enough.  There was a time when I would have considered those families “not committed enough.”  I don’t think that any more, and I think walking this path the Lord has set out for us will make us better at loving whomever the Lord puts in the congregation my husband will shepherd.  I praise the Lord for this four year tunnel with a huge light called “graduation” at the end of it and the hope of something bigger and better.

And now I’m praying that when I get there, I won’t forget how these years have felt.  I’m praying that I won’t fall back into the trap of thinking of the pastorate as “suffering for Jesus” and the occasional evening or early morning meeting as “above and beyond.”  I’m praying that I can walk sympathetically alongside those families, and help them to be faithful in the calling they have received, rather than burdening them with the expectation that they should mold themselves into the white collar suburban shape of the western church.

I’m praying that I quit feeling sorry for myself, and begin to see this as yet another big old patch of sanctifying sandpaper, wearing down my selfishness and pride and making me into the pastor’s wife He wants me to be.

In Which I Learn A Lesson About the Mercies of God and the Body of Christ

When I first found out I was pregnant (and by first, I mean between the second and third pregnancy tests) I blurted out to Jonathan in a fit of emotion and angst, “How can we tell anyone about this?”

My concern was two fold:  first, I felt like we were announcing boldly and unapologetically, “Look at us.  We’re being irresponsible!”  How could we be seeking support from people and adding another mouth to the family?  I was hearing all the critical words I had ever expressed about certain large families (I don’t count my own 3 as large) being rained down forty fold on my own head.

Secondly, I could think instantly of five of my friends who would LOVE to be surprised by a pregnancy, who weren’t in seminary trying to raise support and who, in my mind, should be having their turn about now.  How could I tell them about this?  How could I be this woman that people turn to with infertility questions and be pregnant with my third child?  I felt like a fertile fraud and it was even worse that I was feeling sick and tired and overwhelmed.  How could I tell these people that I wasn’t 100% delighted in this experience?

So obviously we did tell people, and the responses have been . . . well not at all what I feared.  Not one person has said, “Oh no!”  Not one person has said, “What, you don’t know what causes that yet?”  Not one person has responded with anything but complete and total delight at the provision and healing of God.  They realized what I failed to realize:  this isn’t about me.  It’s about what the Lord does in and through me.

My favorite response came from a friend and fellow summer Greek wife who said, “When I heard your good news, I just wanted to say, ‘Okay God, now you’re just showing off.”

And that fraud thing?  Since announcing my pregnancy I’ve had three e-mails from women wanting to talk t me about the infertility from which I have been healed.  They didn’t seem to think that a sudden pregnancy in my husband’s first year of seminary disqualified me from sharing what the Lord taught me when I was begging him for just one shot at being a mama.  They didn’t see me as a big fraud, they saw me as the recipient of God’s mercy and that makes them hope for their own mercies from God.

I had forgotten something:  God doesn’t work so that we can be comfortable and relaxed.  God works so that others will rejoice in Him and trust that His promises will be fulfilled in their lives too.  Instead of asking “How can we tell anyone about this.”  I should have been asking, “How can we not tell anyone about this?!”  How could we be so selfish as to keep such a blessing and a mercy to ourselves, knowing that there are people wanting to see God at work?  How could I consider not being a standing stone to remind everyone, myself included, that God’s mercies are NEW EVERY MORNING!  How could I keep silent, when the Lord of Hosts has done great things for me?

One of my favorite Matthew Henry quotes is from his commentary on Judges 13.  I’ve quoted it here before, but a new part of it stood out to me today:

Many eminent persons were born of mothers that had been kept a great while in the want of the blessing of children, as Isaac, Joseph, Samuel, and John Baptist, that the mercy might be the more acceptable when it did come. “Sing, O barren! thou that didst not bear, Isa 54:1.” Note, Mercies long waited for often prove signal mercies, and it is made to appear that they were worth waiting for, and by them others may be encouraged to continue their hope in God’s mercy.

This is a mercy worth waiting for.  I pray that it will turn people to continue their hope in God’s mercies and His provision.