Prayer Waters, Love Blooms

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“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

When I read these words as a young college student, I couldn’t really say that my little brother was my enemy, but it certainly felt like he was trying to persecute me at times!  Our sibling challenges were what you might imagine.  When I read this verse one day while on a break from college courses, I felt that God was calling me to pray for my little brother.  I was specifically led to pray for him as he struggled to catch up in reading and writing after a hard childhood interrupted by cancer.  As I prayed, my annoyance with him was transformed into patient love.  I ended up dedicating my semester off school to help him grow in his reading.  It was the first time I had witnessed prayer transform my heart toward another person, and it stuck with me for the rest of my life.  God was showing me that when a seed of love is watered with prayer, it can really bloom.

I am so thankful that God let me learn this important spiritual principle when I was young.  It was a critical part of how God led me to marry my husband, Travis.  Travis was friends with my brothers, and they all lived in Broken Bow, NE.  He and I met when my brothers invited him on our family vacation in January 2014.  We hit it off right away and had been dating long-distance for a couple of months when he came to visit me in California.  The visit ended on Valentine’s Day, and I thought it had been real, promising and wonderful.  I realized that Travis Wood was exactly the man I had been asking God to send to me for a lot of years.  I knew I was in love and was confident he cared for me.

The trip left a different set of emotions with Travis, however, and after a few days of soul searching, he called me and said that he needed to break up with me, in order to figure out some things in his own heart and mind.  He left me with the hope that, should God sort things out for him, he thought I was the right woman for him, but he couldn’t get things sorted and maintain a relationship with me at the same time.

I was devastated.  My first reaction was to try and shut my heart off to Travis to shut off the pain.  Thankfully, God immediately spoke to my heart through His Word and other trusted people, including my parents. He led me to take all of the hurt, feelings of rejection and fear and leave them at the Cross.  He allowed me to maintain the seed of love he had planted in my heart, and I began to pray.  I prayed whenever I felt pain, whenever I felt joy, whenever I felt tired of waiting, whenever I felt angry, whenever I had free-time.  Sometimes, I prayed for Travis for hours in a day.  I refused to distract myself with entertainment and sleep and, in Christ’s strength, I fought off the desire to hide hurt behind anger or indifference.  I prayed through the Psalms; I prayed for his heart, for my heart and for God’s sovereign will to be done.  I kept my prayers in a journal, sometimes bemoaning the long wait for any answer and sometimes rejoicing greatly at God’s action on our behalf.  During this time, God took that seed of love in my heart and watered it.  In a way that only God could manage, in the separation and time of silence between us, my love for Travis moved far beyond feeling “in love” to becoming something deeper, more selfless and more lasting.

God answered my prayers with power and amazing grace after a “long” wait. (OK, it was nine weeks, but I was in love!)  Travis felt that he could confidently enter back into a relationship with me and because of my prayer life during our time apart, I was able to receive that relationship without hesitation.  I knew it was all in answer to my surrendered, but fervent prayer.  We were engaged only a month later, and since then God has bestowed on us more blessing that I could have imagined, in our marriage and with our beautiful daughter, Eva, born last July.

I share this personal story to encourage you.  If there is a broken relationship in your life, a friendship that’s been wounded, an impossible family situation or any wound related to another person that is making love a difficult thing to find in your heart- pray for that person.  Pray when you feel like it and when you don’t.  Let prayer become the water that Christ uses to makes love bloom in your heart!

 

Resolving to Be More

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So, what should my New Year’s resolution be this year? Lose weight (as usual), a new house cleaning weekly plan, read more, walk more, bake for others more?”

I realized as I was thinking through the multitude of possibilities for a New Year’s resolution that there was a common theme among them–            I resolve to do more.  My seemingly innocuous search for new resolve revealed a core belief of my heart– the belief that I’m not doing enough and that maybe a plan, a new calendar and a healthy dose of self-induced guilt will make me do more and consequently, let me be more.                                                                                        

It’s moments like these where I am so thankful for God’s still small voice letting me know that I’m once again venturing off into my self-praising, self-bettering world of busyness.  There are countless women’s Bible studies, Pinterest boards, Facebook articles and clever devotionals for me to wallow in as I try and build my self-worth and “lovableness” on a foundation of me doing more and being better.

The heartbreaking thing is, that in the middle of all of this ME doing, I am in danger of missing all that God is doing.  I fail to sit with him and enjoy a cup of coffee with Him in the morning.   Or if I do sit with Him,   it feels dry and mechanical– a check on a box to fulfill my resolve to “be in the Word more”.

I get an incoming phone call from a godly friend.  I know she wants to talk about the joys, struggles and challenges of new mommy-hood.  The conversation would be life-giving to both of us.  But good wives have the chores done before their husbands are home from work (right??), and I still haven’t figured out what healthy and tasty meal I am going to get on the table before we run off to an evening of ministry activities.  So, I let the call go to voicemail and skip the opportunity to connect with and encourage a sister.

I hold the sweet, beautiful baby that the Lord gave to me after years of praying for a husband and children and instead of snuggling her closely, delighting in her smiles and praising God for how fearfully and wonderfully made she is, my mind races to the dishes in the sink, the unfinished work in the office, the bathroom that hasn’t been scrubbed in ?? days…  The list goes on.

Now, I understand that life is busy.  For me, busy looks like being a wife and mom, having a part time job, being involved in ministry, keeping a home, having friends and a few personal goals.  That’s just reality for anyone living in this world of toil, and diligence is praised in the Scripture.  What I am talking about is my endless quest to be a better version of me through doing more. The ironic thing is, I never get it all done anyway.  I choose to worry and plot more efficient means to accomplish housework, more ways I can serve in ministry, more ways to earn and save money.  I look in the mirror and resolve to be better dressed, slimmer with better hair and somehow, more acceptable to God, my family and others.

And in the midst of all of my resolutions, I don’t actually have time for people.  I don’t actually feel like I’m doing anything very well.  And more tragically, I don’t have time or an ear to hear God’s voice.  I’m too busy trying to be better to really understand what it means to be in Christ.

If I am going to resolve to do anything in this New Year, it is to embrace the words of John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  The next year, I want to be less about fixing me and more about celebrating the Lord and all that He is doing in and around me. I know this isn’t going to be easy, and you can remind me of my resolution when you hear those “I need to be more” phrases coming out of my mouth.  Maybe I won’t have a decorated house, a healthy meal plan and a dynamic ministry under my belt by January 2017.  But if I have learned any more how to be filled with the presence and Spirit of Christ, I will be light years beyond anything I might have accomplished in my own strength and resolution.