Sunday, April 10, 2011

Answered Prayers

I love to read inspirational stories about how God answers prayers in dramatic ways with exactly what His children need (or sometimes just desire).  Randy and Lisa Wilson in their book Celebrations of Faith tell the story of the family praying for a piano for their daughter Lauren over the course of two years.  Lauren's faith that God would provide a piano never wavered and one day  they received a call from a woman they did not know who wanted to give them her piano.  It is a wonderful and encouraging affirmation of faithfulness and persistence.

My experience of answered prayers tends to feel less dramatic than that but when I trace back through my history, perhaps it is not.  God's hand in the ordinary happenings of my life have led to the answering of many prayers over time -- quietly, subtly, like a gentle spring breeze.  The problem is that, just like the still, small voice, it is so easy to miss the gifts in the midst of living life every day.

Ten years ago my husband, Burt,  and I were in a financial mess.  We were up to our eyeballs in credit card and student loan debt.  My husband worked full time at a small, struggling, Christian College and I was teaching at the same college on an adjunct basis and doing therapy one day a week for a church in Flint, MI.  I was also pregnant with a baby for whom we had been praying for nearly 6 years.  We had impeccable credit but could not even begin to consider buying a house because no mortgage company would touch us because of our debt to income ratio.  Indeed, we really were not even sure how were were going to continue to make ends meet and provide for our new son. 

Shortly after our son was born our prayers were answered with full time job opportunity for me as a Resident Director for one of the residence halls at the college.  What was initially a temporary position  with a small stipend and an apartment to live in turned into a permanent, full time position with a salary and benefits.  Our immediate concerns about making ends meet and providing a home for our baby were solved.  A prayer was answered.

What we did not realize at the time was that God was answering needs that we did not know we were going to have with that position.   Around the same time that we were moving, Burt was experiencing increasing health issues which culminated in him having to leave his job and go on permanent disability in 2005.  The fact that we had been blessed with this amazing live-in position provided us with financial stability as well as a tremendous support system in our residents and neighbors during some very difficult years.   It also provide me with a great deal of personal growth and satisfaction as I was able to have the best of both worlds in terms of having a job / career that I enjoyed while at the same time still be able to be at home with my son and provide my husband the support he needed while struggling with poor health.

Over the past 10 years God has consistently answered prayers by providing us with support through family, church and friends.  Whenever we have had a need it has been answered.  Many times it has been difficult to identify specific ways that prayers have been answered because the support and prayer coverage has been constant.  At times the struggle has blinded us to the blessings. 

During that same time we have diligently tried to right our financial mistakes of the past.  We encountered Dave Ramsey and enrolled in his Financial Peace University course (twice ;).  Through God's grace and the help of many people at different points we eliminated all of our debt but the student loans.  We paid off our car and  began saving to replace it when the time comes, having been convicted that we do not ever want to have another car payment.  For the last several years we have been moving toward tithing to the church and have made a point to make that part of our first fruits as opposed to "if we can afford it after all the other responsibilities (and wants) are met." 

The end result has been that our attempts at faithfulness, however feeble at times, have been returned, pressed down and overflowing.  In spite of a disability that limits Burt's income and working for a non-profit college that cannot afford the most competitive wages we find ourselves in a position that 10 years ago we never thought we would be in ... we are looking at buying a modest home in a nice neighborhood and the mortgage company loves us now.  This is not something that we did.  It is an answer to many prayers.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


As I have prayed and studied during the Lenten season I have chosen meditation as a lenten practice.  I chose it because it is a spiritual discipline with which I have little experience and it seemed like a simple way to begin clearing a small amount of space in my spiritual wilderness.  Knowing my own limitations to be great in this area, my goal was to add five minutes of meditation to my daily devotion time -- and five minutes of very basic meditation at that.  My goal was simply to still my mind and listen for five minutes.  Seems simple enough, right?  Let me tell you that, for me, that five minutes of "quiet" requires nearly herculean effort on my part most days.

I entered this season with a hunger and great anticipation for spiritual growth.  I believe that growth is coming but the serene peace and deep spiritual satisfaction I anticipated would accompany it has been sorely missing.  What I have discovered int he last 30 days is how much noise fills my world.  Noise comes in many forms.  Some if of it is audible -- the television, itunes, the kids, video games, knocks on the door, the phone(s) ringing --but much of it is not:  the computer, the efforts at trying to buy a house,  email, papers, housing assignments, resident roommate drama, meals to prepare, national events, world events, demands, busy-ness, noise, noise, noise.  From the moment I wake until the moment I fall asleep I fill my day with so much noise that there is no time to reflect and little chance to hear the still small voice that will guide me in this wilderness of my soul.

Please don't misunderstand.  Much of the noise is good noise.  Indeed, put into proper context, it is a symphony of beautiful music but without times of quiet and reflection it becomes mere noise.  The irony of this to me is that the last week or so I have been incredibly tempted to "cheat" on my other Lenten practice.  Every year I take this time to, in a sense, cleanse and reset by abstaining from the senseless electronic games that I tend to fill my empty time with.   For the last week or so I have been wrestling with boredom and a desire to escape from the noise in my world by throwing myself into the mindless occupation of computer games -- Solitaire, Farmville, Angry Birds, etc -- any of them would pass the time and distract me from the noises that are pulling at me.

But where is the sense in that?  How can drowning one kind of noise out with another really help me grow?  Or be more effective?  Or love the people around me better?  The obvious answer is that it can't.  Indeed, the drive to run to mindless occupations really seems to be a desire to run from quiet and reflection that I so desperately need in my world.  What a strange paradox that what I think I desire is more time for the things that are important and less busy-ness and yet when I have it I frantically fight it and want to run away from it!

So my clearing season has not been panning out quite the way I had planned but I can see the growth coming.  I have cleared a tiny space and see new life sprouting from it.  As I enter the last two weeks of this season I look forward to more still and quiet times and hearing God's voice turn the noise into beautiful music.