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Prayer is not given much credit in our culture. “I’ll pray for you” can often be just a kind thing you say to someone when their life isn’t going well. And yet, according to a 2007* Pew Research Study, 58% of U.S. adults pray at least once a day, while only 18% say that they seldom or never pray. Over the years, my views on prayer have changed. I used to think of it more as a way of wishing out loud. Please God, if you even exist at all, will you do this for me? Now I think of prayer as a chance to talk to God as well as a somewhat magical and mysterious way of helping things come to pass.

A few weeks ago my pastor, AJ, came up to me at church and asked if there was anything he could pray for me about. He said he felt like he was supposed to come talk to me. And I said, “Well, I’m doing alright, but you could pray that we would find new jobs in Eugene so we can move down there.” So he prayed.

Later that week I talked to his wife Quinn and she said, “Man, we’ve been praying for you guys. Every night.” My friends Katie and Holly also told me they were praying for us that week.

And bam — suddenly my husband started getting job offers. He turned two down because of low pay. Then he called a golf course superintendent he knows to see if they might be hiring. We knew the odds were basically nonexistent because golf season is over. But the super called him back the next day and said he was needing to hire someone immediately to be his assistant. Spencer accepted the job and has already started — we’re now in the process of moving to Eugene.

When prayers are answered, we can always chalk it up to coincidence or our own efforts. Well of course I got that job, you might think. I went to YaleOr you might say, I guess I was in the right place at the right time. But I believe that this door was opened as a result of prayer, pure and simple. (Although my husband is very qualified and competent). How many other good things have happened in my life as a result of prayer? My healthy daughter. My caring husband. The fact that I even have friends and family who are willing to take the time to pray for me.

Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered. Or rather, God answers, but not in a way that we like. In fact, we’ve been praying for years that Spencer would get a promotion or a different job and that we could find a better living situation. Apparently God’s answer was for us to wait. And wait.

I think sometimes God makes us wait for things in order to build our character. A good parent knows that you don’t immediately give your child everything they ask for. God wants us to learn to be patient and to learn to trust and depend on Him**.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said,

“This then is how you should pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we have forgiven those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6: 9-13; emphasis mine)

I feel like God has been teaching me to make fewer plans and be more open to change. Although I may want to make a five year plan for my life, sometimes God just wants to give us our daily bread. We still have things to figure out. We need an apartment. I need a part-time job. We’ll need daycare. We’d like to buy a house if possible. So we continue to pray, give us today our daily bread.

What do you think about prayer? Have your prayers been answered? Or not?

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* Well, I know 2007 is awhile ago but that’s the most recent study I found on Google.

** (or Her — I don’t believe that God has a gender, though for simplicity I will normally just refer to God as masculine to adhere to cultural norms).

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04/5397244948/”>Ian Sane</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

My daughter has been doing some cute things lately — so I am writing them down before nap time ends and I forget.

Cute thing #1: Yoga, or more specifically downward dog, as can be seen in this slightly out of focus iPhone photo.

Upside down baby.

Upside down baby.

Maybe she does this because I took her to mom and baby yoga with me from age 5 to 8 months. Or maybe she just likes looking at the world upside down. Who knows? She also says “Om” and “Amen.” I’ve learned from yoga that sometimes it just feels good to say “Om” when you’re having a hard day. Hard days are common when you’re parenting a young child and you don’t have a dishwasher or a washer/dryer. So I say “Om” a lot.

Cute thing #2: Yesterday morning when she woke up she kept softly touching my face and saying “Gentle, gentle.” This is what I tell her when she touches other babies. Then she smacked me. I think she was making a joke. Toddler humor.

Cute thing #3: Last night my husband was cuddling with his arm around her. He thought she was asleep and he took his arm away. She said, “No!” and then she grabbed his arm. She loves her cuddle times.

Cute thing #4: Kissing babies. She is obsessed with babies — whenever we see one she yells, “baby!” Often she will go up to them and kiss them. She also likes to kiss her own reflection in the mirror. Narcissist.

Cute thing #5: Singing. She will sing “brella, brella” (umbrella) over and over. This is her reinterpretation of the song “Under my umbrella,” which we sing in baby sign class and library story time. She also now sings “Hello, happy” which is her rendition of another song from baby sign class. Additionally, she enjoys playing the piano, so perhaps I have a future musician.

View of Seattle from Elliot Bay.

View of the Emerald City from Elliot Bay.

Fall term of my freshman year of college, my literature professor expressed her disdain for the Italian film Life is Beautiful. “No serious Holocaust scholar liked that film,” she said spitefully. “Life is not beautiful during the Holocaust.”

I think perhaps she missed the point of this highly acclaimed film. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, but I believe the general idea is that love can still be found in the midst of tragedy, that God never abandons us, and that in the end good triumphs over evil.

She obviously didn’t agree with those ideas.

Why then did I go to this professor for advice when I was feeling lost and directionless as to my major and career path? I sat in her office and told her I wanted to major in creative writing.

“No,” she said, “you need a career.”

“I could always go to law school later,” I said.

“No. Lawyers are the most unhappy people I know,” she offered.

With that our meeting was over, leaving me more confused than before. I had hoped for some comfort, some direction, some mom-like advice from my only female professor. Is it a surprise that I found myself dropping out of college several months later?

That was such a hard and unhappy year in my life. But looking back on it 11 years later, I know that many of the decisions I made were right ones.

I was right to start my college years off in Seattle. I needed to get away from home, to find a new perspective and gain distance from old relationships. And I was right to leave Seattle and transfer back to the University of Oregon, my hometown school. Seattle was only a brief stopping point on my journey, a place to learn a few lessons and move on.

At the U of O I would reconnect deeply with my faith, meet my now husband, find a major I enjoyed, and make many long term friends. But that was sophomore year.

Freshman year began with me in my glamorous big city dorm, with its 8th story view looking out over the lights of downtown Seattle. There, in my favorite city, I was lonelier than ever before. I felt like I’d jumped into an ice cold river and was struggling to catch my breath. It was too hard, transitioning from my senior year of high school with lots of best friends, to a school where I didn’t know anyone.

And so after fall term I left. And I found that it’s true what they say. You can never go home again once you leave. Nothing was the same. Many of my friends had moved away for college, and those who had stayed were different. Or was I the one who’d changed?

I tried to reconnect with my friends, and ended up moving in with them briefly in a horrible apartment in a west campus alley. It was a bad situation, and it didn’t last long.

It was such an awful, painful year in my life. And yet I know now – God was there with me the whole time.

Sometimes we need to go through painful times in order to get where God wants us to go.

Colors of fall.

Colors of fall.

It’s September, and I can feel the anticipation that autumn brings. It is time to wrap up old ways and make room for the new. Change is coming.

I have been praying and hoping for the past 2.5 years that God would open up new opportunities and bring us family wage jobs. Our living situation was fine when it was just the two of us. But it is far less than ideal with a little one. I won’t go into all of my complaints here, but I will just say that it is not working.

Yet, our income remains modest, and we can’t afford something nicer here in Portland. I have always loved living in the city, but in recent months I’ve started craving a more peaceful environment. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m growing weary of hearing drunks yelling outside my window at 2 a.m.

Portland no longer feels like home.

And that’s it – the gentle nudging of God’s still small voice. We secretly hope Jesus will call us up and ask to meet us for tea one day, at our favorite tea shop that used to be a bookstore and was a train car before that. We could sit across from Jesus and He would say in a kind voice, “Here, take this key to your new house in Sausalito. It’s an easy ferry ride across the bay to your new job as a magazine editor in downtown San Francisco. I called in a few favors from some old friends.”

But that doesn’t happen, does it? As much as we want Jesus to meet us for tea and tell us what to do next — life doesn’t work that way. God speaks to us in a quiet whisper, in the sense of unease that something isn’t quite right. And in the calm peace that comes when things are just as they should be.

So the subtle sense that I am no longer at home in the city tells me that we may be on the verge of a move. We may be getting close to an open door. And yet –

    “these are only hints and guesses,
                  hints followed by guesses; and the rest
                  is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action”
(T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets)

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04/5115966185/”>Ian Sane</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;