The Answer

“You are the answer to my prayers!’

This was the sentiment on the front of a greeting card I once came across.  I still remember it years later, because upon opening the card the recipient was hit with this zinger:

“You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you’re the answer.”

Um…thank you?

Perhaps I can also still recall this particular card because it exposes a deeper reality, one that is often unsettling and confusing:

Sometimes God’s answers don’t exactly match our requests.

Can I get an Amen?

My latest experience with this has come through our recent quest for a puppy.  In July I made an appointment with a local Shih Tzu breeder, hoping to find a female puppy in time for Laurel’s upcoming birthday.  On the way there I prayed and asked God for wisdom and direction.  Instead of choosing one of two available female puppies on site, I felt inexplicably drawn to a sweet expectant mama, “Katie,” who was due in mid-August.  Believing this to be God’s leading, I nervously put down a deposit to secure the pick of the litter, and began praying that she would have at least one female pup.

We surprised Laurel on her birthday a couple of weeks later with a tiny pink polka-dot dog collar.  She was thrilled and quite content to wait for her special puppy’s arrival.  In the meantime she picked out a cute little girl’s name and prayed for her daily.  (Can you see where this is going?)

Last week, the long-awaited call from the breeder finally came.

Only there was no ‘Her.’

Just a ‘Him.’

Huh?

There were some tears.  Disappointment.  Confusion.  A mini crisis of faith.

We went and met the little guy anyway.  Took some pictures.  Tried to adjust to the idea of having a boy instead of a girl.  A restless night followed.

The next morning I noticed a change in Laurel’s countenance.  She was now confident that this dog was God’s answer to her prayers.  When I asked her to elaborate, she said, “Mom, I know God led you to choose Katie and that He wouldn’t mislead you.  He knew all along that she wasn’t going to have a girl.  So God gave me a boy instead.”

And that settled it.

I admire her faith.  It’s the kind that says, “God, I trust Your heart and Your character, even when the outcome isn’t what I had hoped for.  You are Good.  You give good gifts.  Therefore, I receive what You give as good.”

When I grow up, I want to be more like my daughter.

So, meet “Beau.”  (Chris is just fine with that name, as long as Laurel agrees to have only one “beau” at a time.  He is praying the dog will lead a long and healthy life.)

He’s not what we prayed for exactly.

But apparently ‘he’ is the answer!

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Little Beau at one week old

“Indeed, the Lord will give what is good…” (Psalm 85:12a, NAS)

P.S.  The pink collar has been exchanged for a sparkly silver one.  He may be a boy, but this boy will have his bling!

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Backyard Battles

The other day I was startled by a commotion outside my bedroom window. I looked up just in time to see a hawk streaking across our backyard with two angry, noisy robins in hot pursuit. My guess is that Mr. Hawk was seeking refreshment at the “Red-Breast Bed and Breakfast.” Only Ma and Pa Robin responded with a firm “No Vacancy!”

It’s Open Season on baby birds. Hawks aren’t the only predators. Several of my friends have been blessed with bird’s eye views of nests this spring.  In fact, just this morning one of these friends shared her distress over recent blue jay attacks on the nest that was constructed inside a planter on her porch. Five babies were scattered on the ground as she and her daughter ran interference in an impassioned effort to rescue them. (Three currently remain.)  (Just received an update.  Make that one.)

This past weekend I was outside pulling weeds, soaking in some sun, when, for about the third time this week, a hawk zoomed overhead followed by a squawking robin. Another ambush averted?  I could only hope.

Something inside my maternal soul resonated with the robins’ relentless efforts to protect their little ones from harm.  I could relate, in a spiritual sense, to the sobering reality that a predator also hovers over my nest, with my children in his sights.

“Stay alert!  Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion (or ‘a soaring hawk,’ SLS version), looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NLT)

He circles the house.  Hungry for his next meal.  Waiting for an opportunity to strike.

I can’t see him, but I know he’s out there.

My offspring, the object of his cruel desire.

That afternoon, as I watched the robin tenaciously chase the hawk out of the yard, I pictured the faces of my own children.  This quiet declaration rose up within me, a mother’s battle cry:

You. Can’t. Have. Them.

Like the robin, I may be small, but I will be unstoppable when it comes to fighting for my babies.  I will stay alert in prayer for them.  I will partner with my faithful God in protecting them, both in and out of the nest.

A second friend recently witnessed another dramatic backyard battle.  Her barn cat had captured a helpless baby bird and was preparing to enjoy his little snack.  Mama and Papa bird were nearby, frantic.  They dove at the cat in desperate attempts to secure the baby’s release.  Then one of them, in a last ditch effort to distract the feline, cleverly feigned a broken wing.

The strategy worked!  The cat pounced on the parent, consuming it instead.  The baby escaped, unharmed.

What a poignant picture of Christ!  He delivered Himself over to the adversary, offering His life for ours and securing our freedom.  His is a love so fierce that He will stop at nothing to save His children.

He looked the enemy square in the eye and declared:

You. Can’t. Have. Them.

“I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28, NAS)

He will fight for us and for our children.

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A Mother’s Prayer

The pond of emotion wells up, overflows and seeps out the corner of my eye, a quiet rivulet.  I linger at the dining room window, prayerfully watching until that final moment when her car disappears from view.  She’s happy and carefree, off to visit college friends on the Colorado western slope for a week.

I want this for her.  I do.

But she’s also young, and it’s her first trip solo.  And it’s over the Rocky Mountains.  In January.

It’s not just her physical safety I worry about.  I know there are other dangers.  Spiritual ones.  The kind that wake a mother in the dead of night and compel her to cry out in the darkness to the only true Light.

Does it ever get any easier?  These goodbyes, this letting go, this releasing and trusting?

Seeking solace, I stumble upon a “mother’s” version of “The Prayer” by Celine Dion.  I make it my prayer.  I want this for her too, and for each of my daughters three.

And I am consoled, for I am not the first mom to pour out her heart in tearful intercession for a precious child.  I find comfort, for there is One who watches, and the car never slips out of His sight.

A Mother’s Prayer*

I pray you’ll be my eyes
And watch her where she goes
And help her to be wise
Help me to let go

Every mother’s prayer
Every child knows
Lead her to a place
Guide her with your grace
To a place where she’ll be safe

I pray she finds your light
And holds it in her heart
As darkness falls each night
Remind her where you are

Every mother’s prayer
Every child knows
Need to find a place
Guide her with your grace
Give her faith so she’ll be safe

Lead her to a place
Guide her with your grace
To a place where she’ll be safe

 

*Lyrics to “The Prayer” by David Foster / Carole Bayer Sager.  Here’s a link to Celine Dion’s beautiful rendition:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNJBe5kZEjk

(Painting is “Woman at Window” by Holsoe)

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A Tale of Two Moms

Two moms, strangers, in different states, but both in “Moms in Prayer” groups,  just happened to pray  the same prayer last spring.  They both asked God to provide good roommates for their daughters, who would soon be going off to college.

Two girls, strangers, in different states, but both high school seniors planning to attend the same college, just happened to strike up a friendship on the college’s Facebook page.

They discovered that they just happened to be in the same dorm, and just happened to be in the same dorm community.  They requested and were assigned each other as roommates.  A summer family vacation just happened to bring one of them within thirty minutes of the other, allowing them to meet.  They hit it off, and were even more excited to find that they also just happened to share the same faith.

Today two moms met, as they moved their two daughters into their shared dorm room.  One of the moms just happened to mention that she had prayed for her daughter’s roommate last spring in her “Moms in Prayer” group…

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The Wall

Exactly forty years ago this spring, my father was navigating a plane over the jungles of Vietnam.  I was eleven, the oldest of three children in our family, and the one old enough to understand the harsh realities of war.  That year marked the end of my childhood.

It was a very difficult season.  Not only were we separated from my dad, who was in a war zone, but my mom eventually suffered a breakdown from the stress and was hospitalized, leaving my brother, sister and me in the care of a neighbor.  Since it was near the end of his one-year tour of duty, my dad was summoned (safely, thankfully) home.  My mom recovered, and our family was whole once again.  It was a year we were glad to put behind us and rarely discussed.

A few years ago I mentioned to a Christian counselor how dark and bleak that time was, how it felt like God was nowhere to be found, and how I still sometimes struggled with those feelings and fears of abandonment.  He encouraged me to ask God a simple question:

“Lord, where were You?”  

So I posed the question to the Lord.  And got nothing in response.  Silence.  A blank screen.  The counselor suggested I wait.  God would answer the question in His time and in His way.

Several months passed.  Still no answer.

One Saturday afternoon while flipping through the television channels, I happened upon a PBS program about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  I had heard of this Washington D.C. memorial honoring those who lost their lives in the Vietnam conflict, and was eager to learn more about it.  Seventy polished black granite panels comprise the wall, which stretches nearly 600 feet long and is ten feet high at its peak.  Each panel is engraved with the names of those who perished or went missing, in chronological order.  There are a sobering 58,272 names in all.

I watched the screen intently as visitors to The Wall scanned the seemingly endless columns for the name of a loved one.  Tears fell when they finally spotted the familiar name etched in shiny ebony.  Some traced the letters lovingly with their fingers.  Many stopped to place a piece of paper over the spot to make a rubbing as a memento.  Others left behind flowers to mark a sacred place on that silent wall.

The moving and thought-provoking program ended, and I proceeded to take a shower.  As I tipped my head back into the warmth of the water, God whispered these words to my soul:

I was watching over your dad while he was in Vietnam, so you wouldn’t have to make a trip to that wall someday.

His voice was inaudible, yet clear and unmistakable.  I was deeply touched by this tender expression of His love for me.  And I had my answer.  He hadn’t abandoned my family, even though it felt like He had.  Though I had no conscious awareness of His presence during those dark days, He was there, and at work, carrying out His sovereign plan.

In December of 2010, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. with my own almost eleven-year-old daughter and the Cheyenne All-City Children’s Chorus.  One of our stops was the Vietnam Memorial.  A guide directed me to the section of the wall representing the year my dad served.  Quiet tears of humble gratitude slipped down my face.  By the grace and mercy of God, I was not there on a pilgrimage in search of his name.

Yet as I walked the length of that somber memorial, tears of another kind of gratitude stung my eyes and obscured my vision.  Gratitude for those who did pay the ultimate price in service to their country.  Gratitude for the sorrow their loved ones endured on behalf of an often ungrateful nation.  And gratitude for a God who is greater than our grief and bigger than all of our unanswered questions.

Photo taken at the Vietnam Wall, December 2010

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Answers and Abundance

Lately I have been overwhelmed as God has answered specific prayers and surprised me with unexpected blessings.  My cup overflows!

What follows is today’s entry from my daily devotional.  I thought I’d share since it echoes my recent experiences and captures the essence of abundant life in Him.  Plus, He expresses it much more eloquently than I can!  Enjoy and be encouraged!

     “I am a God of both intricate detail and overflowing abundance.  When you entrust the details of your life to Me, you are surprised by how thoroughly I answer your petitions.  I take pleasure in hearing your prayers, so feel free to bring Me all your requests.  The more you pray, the more answers you can receive.  Best of all, your faith is strengthened as you see how precisely I respond to your specific prayers.

       Because I am infinite in all My ways, you need not fear that I will run out of resources. Abundance is at the very heart of who I AM.  Come to Me in joyful expectation of receiving all you need–and sometimes much more!  I delight in showering blessings on My beloved children.  Come to Me with open hands and hearts, ready to receive all I have for you.”

(From Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)

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Just Passing Through

I first met Diane when she joined our weekly “Moms in Touch” prayer group.  She and her family had recently moved to the prairies of Wyoming from the beaches of Georgia, where she had belonged to a similar group.  She knew the value of consistent, focused times of prayer for her children and quickly sought out a group to pray with here.

It’s funny how you can feel like you’ve known someone for awhile even though you’ve just met.  Fellowship in the Lord is like that.  Mothering children of similar ages and stages also creates an instant connection.  But opening up your heart and soul in prayer develops an understanding and an intimacy that goes even deeper.

I’m thankful for the time I had with Diane, for she and her family moved back to Georgia within a year, preferring the humid coast to the arid high plains. (And who could blame them?)  Wyoming was not their home.  It was almost as if they were just passing through, never meant to stay here permanently.

Today I received a call telling me that Diane had been diagnosed with cancer this past fall, and had passed away last month.  I hadn’t picked up on the one or two subtle references to health issues and difficulties on her Facebook page during that time.  But then, Diane wasn’t one to draw attention to herself.  Her focus, during the brief time I knew her, was always on others, especially her three kids.

And just like that, she’s gone.

I bet she prefers the crystal seas of heaven to the barren, in comparison, landscape of this earth.  (And who could blame her?)  This world was not her home.  She was just passing through.  She was never meant to stay here permanently.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:20)

And now I’ve got another friend waiting for me there.

Beautiful Diane, on her GA beach

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What Do You Want?

If God offered to grant you ONE request, what would yours be?

This was the question I was considering Sunday morning as our pastor challenged us to pray a bold prayer and ask for a BIG thing from God.

This was also the question posed to King Solomon one night in a dream.

“God said, ‘What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!’ ” (1 Kings 3:5)

“What do you want?”

Well, I could think of a lot of things!  A lifetime supply of Ghirardelli chocolate would be a big thing.  (But then I would become a BIG THING.)  My children to walk with God their whole lives would be a bigger thing.  A good result from a recent biopsy, however, was the biggest thing on my mind that Sunday morning.

Solomon apparently had a few hefty items at the top of his prayer list:  Wealth.  Long life.  Victory over his enemies.  Yet, as a new king, he knew enough to know he had a greater need:  Wisdom.

I knew I also had a greater need.  A benign report would sure be welcome news.  That’s what I most wanted to pray for that morning.  But I knew that relief would only be temporary, until the next health scare or crisis appeared.  I needed something more lasting, something that would continue to serve me well, whatever life’s path might bring.

I was even afraid to pray it.  But I swallowed my fear and did it anyway.

Lord, make me…fearless.

Solomon’s request pleased the Lord so much that He granted him an abundance of wisdom.  “I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!”  (1 Kings 3:12)  The Hebrew word for “understanding” literally means to hear.  The Message translates it as “a God-listening heart.”  Now wouldn’t that be an awesome thing to have!

But that wasn’t all.  “And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame!  No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life!  And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”  (1 Kings 3:13-14)  He had asked for his greater need.  And he received along with it every lesser thing.

I believe God is in the process of granting my request too.  I do long to be transformed into a bold person, one who can “laugh without fear of the future” like the woman in Proverbs 31.  This really is my greater need.

But the Lord is so gracious.  After a long week of waiting, I finally received my test results, and they were negative.  Thank You Lord, for also granting this “lesser” desire of my heart.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)  I think this principle has been brought home to me in a deeper way this week. 

Pursue the greater.  Let God provide the lesser. 

So, I’ll ask the same question of you.  Think big.  Choose wisely. 

What do YOU want?

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What’s a Mom to Do?

A friend whose oldest son was entering the teen years asked me if I had any parenting advice for her.  I thought for a moment, searching for something profound to share, some pearl of wisdom that might help her sail more smoothly on the often choppy waters of adolescence.  But all I could come up with was one word.

“Pray.”

I remember feeling somewhat apologetic.  Like I had disappointed her with the simplicity of my answer and lack of practical help.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that that one little word really was the one big thing that had helped me through every challenge I had encountered as a mom of teenagers.

Sure, I prayed when my children were young.  Back then, though, I was the one planning the play dates and calling the shots.  The kids were never far from sight, or if they were, they were under the watchful eye of someone I knew and trusted.

With teens there were so many more variables and unknowns.  So much was out of my control.  And it seemed like every time I turned around I was being faced with a decision that needed to be made–now.

“Mom, can I spend the night at Amanda’s after the game tonight?”

“There’s this Halloween party Saturday night and EVERYone is going to be there.  Can I PLEASE go?”

“Friday night this REALLY cool band is playing that I’d REALLY like to go hear.”

Help!  First I would try to gather as much information as I possibly could about the situation.  Who is going to be there?  Will there be adult supervision?  Would it be ok if we just locked you in your room until you turn 18?  (Just kidding.  But I will admit the thought has crossed our minds.  More than once.)

But then what?  What’s a mom to do when she doesn’t know what to do?  I believe the answer is found in James 1:5:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
 

It’s that simple.  Ask God.  Pray.  He promises wisdom and guidance to those who ask in faith.  The right path didn’t always appear instantly obvious, but, with His help, a wise decision could eventually be made.  (Which would then be followed by even more prayer–before, during, and after the event!)

Other times it wasn’t a specific question needing an answer, but more of a vague uneasiness that would settle over my maternal spirit.  Like Madeline’s Miss Clavel I would “turn on the light,” sensing “something was not right.”  I believe the Holy Spirit was alerting me to a need or potential danger and prompting me to pray.  Often I would discover that the child I was burdened for was indeed in the midst of some struggle and in need of my prayerful attention.

“But I am in prayer.”  (Psalm 109:4)
 

David spoke these words during a trying season when he was facing great opposition and oppression.  When I have been overwhelmed by a difficult parenting challenge, or felt like we were losing ground in a particular battle, this phrase would encourage me to keep interceding for my children.  Prayer really does change things.  I have seen healthy relationships begin, unhealthy relationships end, sins exposed, and breakthroughs occur–all in answer to prayers I’ve prayed.

Joining with other like-minded moms in prayer has also been a huge source of strength and support during these years.  My weekly “Moms in Prayer” (formerly “Moms in Touch”) group has been a place to share burdens and agree in prayer together.  I always leave that time feeling lighter in spirit, less anxious, and more encouraged.  Prayer has changed ME.

So perhaps I AM wiser than I thought when it comes to offering parenting advice.  Or maybe I just know what to do when I don’t know what to do.

I pray.

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