Prayer Changes Things…Part II

On September 6th of this past year, I walked into my house to once again be confronted by the sign that hung over the kitchen sink.   As I looked at those words, I didn’t feel anger.  Or peace.  Or sadness.  Or strength.  I felt numb.  Everything was just as we had left it nearly 48 hours ago.  Which somehow made the pain even more unbearable. Seemingly normal….and yet, nothing would ever be normal again.

My mind couldn’t stop playing the horrific scene that had occurred just the day before. Prayer was an integral part of that day, in ways I cannot even recount.  As I tried to save my son after the accident, every breath I took was a prayer.  When the paramedics took over, I fell to my knees and begged God to spare Joe’s life.  The mom in me wanted to do something, anything….instead of watch the scene that was unfolding before my eyes.  I desperately asked one of the paramedics what I could do to help.  He turned to me, looked at me square in the eye, and exclaimed one word:

“PRAY!”

I immediately knelt at my son’s feet in the back of the ambulance and poured out the most earnest prayers I have ever prayed in my entire life.  Every exhale was a prayer for my son to live.  For God to be his breath.  For a miracle to happen.   For time to rewind just an hour. But as the minutes passed, I began to run out of words.  And hope.  My mind raced with thoughts of what Joe’s life would become….what my life would become….if he lived.  Would he be in a coma? Would he ever be the same child I knew? Suddenly,  my prayers stopped being about what I wanted and became prayers of complete surrender to the will and sovereignty of God. He loved my son a million times more than I did.  He alone knew the future.  The answers.  The plan.

When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before He knew He would die, His prayer was one of utmost surrender as well.

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”   And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  ~ Luke 22:42, 44

If I could have sweat blood on that horrific September 5th, I would have done it.  I don’t know about you, but have there ever been times in your life when you have had to completely surrender a situation to God because the circumstances were so totally out of your control?  If you have, you know as well as I do, that placing that situation in God’s hands is an act of full surrender and trust.  We tend to only do this in the “big things” in life, but isn’t that what we should do in all our circumstances?  Surrender daily our own will to our loving Father, who knows better than we do about what will hurt us or bless us?

In the Scripture above, you may have noticed verse 43 is purposely missing.  It reads:

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

You see, as everything was being done that was humanly possible to save my son’s life, one of the EMT’s came over to me and asked if he could pray with me.  He put his arm around me and began to pray.  To be honest, I don’t remember any part of his prayer. But it wasn’t the words that mattered in that moment.  It was about God wrapping His arms around me to bring comfort to a mother about to lose her only son.   That one prayer multiplied in a matter of days into hundreds, maybe even thousands of people across the country praying for me and my family.

For those of you who have prayed for me and with me in this journey….YOU are God’s angels sent to strengthen me.  There is never a day that goes by that the power of God’s strength, through prayer, doesn’t hold me up and keep me going.   Every day I wake up, I pray,  “God.  Give me strength just for today.”  And miraculously he does.

I’ve prayed all kind of prayers in the last few months.  Some full of pain.  Some full of anger.  Guilt.  Peace.  Acceptance.  Questions.  Grief.   And while my prayers change on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis, this one truth has stayed on my heart:  God has never changed. He still listens, still invites, still answers.  He still strengthens His people through the power of prayer, as He did for His own Son.

And that, my friends, changes EVERYTHING.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

~Hebrews 13:8

 

 

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Prayer Changes Things…Part I

For years, there has been a sign in my kitchen with these three words:  Prayer Changes Things.  I’m sure I bought it at some home goods store, with little thought given to the significance of the words itself.  Most likely, the sign matched my decor, fit the space I needed it to, and was affordable.

It may seem odd to say, but I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this sign for nearly five years.  “Really?” you ask.  It’s just a sign.  (A cheap one at that.)  But trust me….there have been times I’ve wanted to thrown this sign on the ground and stomp on it.  I’ve wept at the sight of this sign.  I’ve praised God for it.  Before you have me committed for bipolar behavior towards a piece of wall art, let me explain.

You see, the minute (yes…minute) I was told my 15+ year marriage was over, my dazed eyes happened to wander over to those three little words:  Prayer Changes Things.  I stared transfixed on those words as my eyes began to well up with tears.  “You’re kidding me about this prayer thing, right God?”  I thought.  Because trust me, there was no prayer in the world that would change what had been done.  I stayed angry at that sign for a long time….well, maybe not the sign so much, but more about what it implied. Sometimes I mocked those words in disgust.  Sometimes I avoided looking at them altogether.  But more often than not, I started talking to God whenever I’d see them.

It wasn’t anything formal that started with “Dear God” and ended with “Amen”.  I actually started talking TO God.  WITH God.  And it wasn’t always pretty.  At times, my prayers were shouting matches with God.  They were words of disbelief and shock.  Words of surrender to an unknown future.  Sometimes my prayers didn’t even have words.  Just tears.  I’m quite sure that’s when the Holy Spirit took over as Romans 8: 26 reminds us:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (NIV)

Over the course of many months and years, I began to discover the crucial truth that was right before my eyes.

Prayer does, indeed, change things. 

It changed my heart to be more loving and forgiving.  It changed my thoughts to not be so filled with anger and hatred.  It changed my attitude about what was important and what was not.  But most of all, it changed my relationship with God to be a much more personal one.  I learned not only to talk to God in a deeper way, but to actually be quiet and listen to God as well.   (I’m still working on the listening part…and being patient in waiting for what God has to say.)

It’d be a nice way to end this blog by saying I never had another issue with my prayer sign again.  But that would be far from the truth.  Little did I know a day was coming when I would once again, look at that sign and begin to loathe those words even more than I did before when life seemingly fell apart all those years ago.

And that’s exactly what happened when I walked into my house just over nine short months ago….

 

 

Stop the Ride….I Wanna Get Off!

If there’s one thing I knew about my son Joe, it’s that he was a roller coaster junkie.  The wilder and faster the better, as far as he was concerned.  Same goes for my fearless daughter.  The first time she rode Space Mountain at the age of 5, she laughed when it was over and wanted to go again.  It’s no surprise, though.  They came by their love of roller coasters naturally.  Since my first loop-de-loop at Kansas City’s Worlds of Fun, there’s never been a roller coaster I wouldn’t at least try.  (Although I’m learning my advancing age doesn’t always tolerate the bumps, jerks, and speed like it used to.)

Last summer, the kids and I enjoyed a day of thrill rides at Knott’s Berry Farm.  We had already scoped out which rides were the craziest, had the longest lines, and gave us the most bang for our buck.  It was a glorious day of beautiful California weather, poor nutrition, and all the screaming our lungs could take. (OK, so that was mostly just me.)  A running joke became my line of “Is it too late to get off?” after we were strapped in for what was sure to be another wild ride.  And my non-sympathetic children would just laugh and say, “Yep! Too bad, Mom!”  We left the park that day feeling exhausted, exhilarated, and extremely blessed for that time together as a family.  Life seemed good.  More than good.

But less than two months later, I was forced to ride a roller coaster I didn’t want to be on.  There was no line to wait in, because frankly, no one ever chooses to be on the “ride” of losing a child.  As if that’s not enough, life has lately been throwing in all kinds of drops, climbs, twists, turns, and loop-de-loops.  I feel I’ve been holding on white-knuckled for far too long.  Parts of it are occasionally thrilling, but most of it is downright….well, crappy, for lack of a better word.  And you can’t always prepare yourself for what might jolt you back into the reality of what’s been lost.

Last night was one of those jolts.  I popped into Joe’s room to hunt down a tissue box.  Unsuccessful, I turned to leave when my eyes met the open closet as it had so many times before.  The shirts were hanging as they have been, all cattywampus on the hangers (that boy never could seem to hang a shirt properly).  But that didn’t matter anymore.  I simply longed for Joe to wear those shirts again.  Looking over to the desk, the computer begged for Joe’s fingers to be on the keys, playing Minecraft much longer than he should be.  And then the bed…perfectly made, with no one to sleep under its covers.  How I longed to tiptoe over to that bed, see Joe’s sweet face sound asleep, and pray over him as I used to!  It was too much.  Too much pain.  Too much longing.  Too much emptiness in that room.  In that wave of grief, my mouth opened and out came the words that weigh on my heart far too often:

“Stop the ride, God.  I wanna get off. I’m DONE. Done with living without my boy.  I’m ready for him to come back home.”

Logically, my brain knows Joe can’t come home.  But it didn’t stop my heart from wanting it more than anything else in the whole world.  I’d love to say God spoke to me in this moment.  Whispered to my heart.  But not this time.  There was silence.

Painful, aching silence. 

I imagine Jesus felt like getting off the roller coaster, too.  In fact, the night before He died, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for His Father to stop the ride so He could exit.  “Dad.  I’m done.  I can’t do what you want me to do.  Let’s forget this whole dying business. Tell me there’s another way this can all go down.”  (OK, so I may have paraphrased that passage, but that’s the gist.)  And you know how God responded?  Me neither.  That’s because all four Gospels make no mention of God saying, “OK. Son.  I can see you’ve had enough.  You’re done.  I’ll find another way.”  Because He didn’t. Truth be told, there is no record of God responding.  Maybe He did and we just weren’t privy to that conversation.  But maybe…maybe there was silence.  You see, the part I failed to mention earlier was possibly the most important part of the prayer:  “yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  Jesus submitted to the will of His Father over His own.  He wouldn’t get off the ride unless God said He could.  And God didn’t.  So Jesus had His answer:  He had to stay on, no matter how painful it would be.

I don’t know about you, but I am beyond grateful He did.  Thankful he continued on the path His Father chose for Him.  Because if He hadn’t, we’d be lost.  With no hope.  No eternal future.  No promise of being in the glorious presence of God someday. No chance to see those we loved so dearly again.  Like my sweet boy and countless others I loved.

We don’t always get to chose what this roller coaster of life does or where it goes.  We don’t know when it will end.  But we do have the assurance that God can be trusted and knows what He’s doing.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

~Proverbs 3:5-6

When life gets full of twists and turns and loop-de-loops, let’s hang on to our Father and the words He has given us: I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:8)  Maybe our white knuckles can relax a bit, because we can trust in the Operator to take us where He’s planned for us to go on this side of eternity.  We can also trust Him to bring us back to the safety of His loving arms, where the ride all began.

Thinking back on my prayer, I knew asking God for Joe to come home wasn’t very accurate.  Joe is home.  So it’s not really me that’s waiting for him to come home.  It’s him waiting for me.