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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).

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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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I almost got a teaching job last week. The principal loved my resume so much that he drove a half an hour to my apartment to personally drop off the application, since he didn’t have it in a Word document. I spent several hours filling out the application and my husband got off work early so I could go to the interview.

I was excited about the possibility of getting the job. It would greatly increase our income (duh). We might have been able to buy a house, or at least afford a nicer rental. It would have been fulfilling, and intellectually stimulating.

But. School starts in a couple weeks. Not much time to find quality childcare for my little darling. And the cost of childcare for a child under the age of 2? Between $800 -$1500 per month. I don’t know exactly what they would have paid me, probably about $3000/month during the school year. I also would have left the house around 7 a.m. each day and gotten home around 5 p.m., and then had to work more at home on evenings and weekends. That wouldn’t leave me much time or energy left for Baby Bear.

Thinking about all this made me feel anxious. I remembered that I used to get stress headaches every day when I was a teacher. And that was before I had my own child, back when I got excellent sleep every night. Still I showed up to the interview and gave it my best shot. I figured I’d leave this decision up to God.

After the interview, I started to sense that it was not God’s plan for me to take the job. I kept thinking about my daughter and how I would never be able to regain this time with her. Apparently the hiring team felt the same way, because they offered the position to another candidate. The principal called me the next morning and said it was a tough decision and that they really liked me. I felt a deep sense of relief — my summer vacation continues!

But our cash flow situation remains a problem. I’m trying to find work writing, editing and tutoring. So God, would you help us out? As Anne Lamott would say, I’m awaiting your operating instructions. Thanks in advance.

 

 

I’ve been attending my church’s women’s bible study for a few months. For whatever reason, I’m the only married woman who attends. We were chatting about Facebook, and I mentioned that I don’t like to look at Facebook too often because it tends to make me feel bad about myself.

“But what could you have to be jealous of?” asked one of the younger women. “You’re married and you have a baby.”

I was slightly taken aback by this comment, and could’ve given her a list of things I might be jealous of. People with dishwashers, for example. The feminist part of me bristles a bit at the implications of that statement — as if women should aspire to nothing more than being wives and mothers.

And yet — maybe she’s right. It is so easy to take for granted the blessings that are in our lives every day. While it’s true that I don’t have the money or the career that I thought I would have at age 29, I do have a few good things. A healthy, beautiful, sweet daughter who adores me. A kind, smart, handsome husband who is an amazing chef. An apartment in a great Portland neighborhood. No debt. Faith in God. A graduate degree. Friends and family nearby. Memories of trips to Europe and Hawaii.

Well, when you put it that way my life seems pretty good. Maybe Facebook doesn’t need to make me feel bad about myself after all.

 

Last week I had the opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the University of Oregon campus. I was thrilled to have this chance, and it was evident from the sold-out crowd packing the basketball arena that others felt the same. Although I am a devout Christian, I have been interested in the Dalai Lama since reading The Art of Happiness as a teenager. Maybe I’m weird — I recently told my pastor that I had been “very concerned about the meaning of life” as a middle school student, and he thought that was pretty funny. I’ve just always been more spiritually-inclined than your average person.

Sold-out crowd to hear Dalai Lama speak at UO.

Sold-out crowd to hear Dalai Lama speak at UO.

During his speech, the Dalai Lama spent a good amount of time emphasizing the oneness of humanity and said that “extreme selfishness closes our inner door and causes more loneliness and anxiety.”

He said that although he prays as part of his religious practice, he believes that “action is more important than prayer.” I certainly agree with this, although I also believe that prayer is more important than most people give it credit for. In my experience, prayer can lead to real changes. But what is prayer without action?

We must be willing to pray with our feet.

Most relevant to me, he emphasized the importance of mothers. He said, “the real source of compassion is our mother.” We learn to love by the love that our mothers give us as infants. He advised us to “provide the maximum compassion to your children and to spend more time with your children.” It felt so good to hear that. There have been times this past year when I felt like I was not contributing enough to the world by being a stay-at-home mom. But then — shazam — the Dalai Lama informs me that being a mom is the most important job of all.

I probably should have figured that out sooner.

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The Journey

though the mermaids’ song is sweet and enchanting,
we must not follow, our hands must be bound tight
to the ship, and the rope burns round our wrists

and there may come a time when we must visit
the dark underworld to find wisdom
we must cross the river Styx,
but we must not stay

we must blind the fearsome Cyclops
in our path, and face down
the six-headed serpent

like Odysseus,
we’re all just trying to navigate
the long journey home.

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Yes

i’ve heard it said
refusing to forgive
is like swallowing poison
and waiting
for the other person to die

and yet, if we’re honest
forgiving
isn’t something we feel like doing
not really

i mean, i remember
all the ways people have failed me
and when, and i’m ready
to bring it up
at just the right moment

but, well
i don’t think corrie ten boom
felt like forgiving either
after years in a nazi death camp
when she met her captor face-to-face
and he asked
sister, can you forgive me?

but she reached out,
grasped his hand in hers
and said,
yes.

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Dream Big

When God lights you up,
pray big prayers.
Imagine what God can do,
as He illuminates the darkness
through your life.
God and His kingdom are here
and they’re breaking in.

 

This is a found poem, based on my notes from a sermon podcast I listened to this morning by Imago Dei’s Rick McKinley. I opened my journal to start working on today’s poem, and then I saw these notes and it seemed that the poem had written itself!

 

 

cross

I’m growing weary of rejection. I’ve been on unemployment since July, and have applied for quite a few jobs in that time. This afternoon I applied for a job that I thought would be a great fit for me and got an immediate response telling me that I did not meet the minimum requirements for the position. Fair enough — they wanted someone who has directed a day care center, and I have not done that. I do, however, have a Master’s in Teaching, and several years experience teaching elementary and middle school. I have also substituted in a daycare and spent the past year as the full-time care provider for my own child.

I think I’m also feeling bad about myself because I had to go the WorkSource center this week for an info session on unemployment. I was required to attend this session in order to continue receiving unemployment and I had hoped that it might be useful and that they might chat with me about my resume and job opportunities in my field. But it was just a Powerpoint presentation about how to properly claim my weekly unemployment benefits, something I already have been doing for awhile now. Also this week I started using LinkedIn, which makes me feel bad about myself because everyone I know on LinkedIn has a professional job.

Why is it that so much of my self-worth seems to rely on having a successful career? Why isn’t it enough to just be a good mom? I think our society seems to expect women to be everything — to be great mothers, wives, friends, and also have successful careers. These expectations set everyone up for disappointment.

I try to remind myself that my self-worth comes from God. One of my favorite Bible verses is Isaiah 43:1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name, you are mine.” God is telling me that I belong to Him. It is for God, not the world, that I should live my life. It is God who determines my steps. I do not have a job right now, because God wants me to be at home with my beautiful daughter right now, who hasn’t even reached her first birthday yet. God will give me the right job at the right time. It is up to me to trust.

Why do we call it Good Friday? The crucifixion was a horrific event. It’s where we get our word “excruciating” — “from the cross.” But it was a good thing, an amazing thing, that God was willing to be sacrificed for us, that we might be redeemed.

Sometimes things that seem painful at first turn into blessings in the end.

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Image: Crucifix by Cimabue