When Answered Prayers are Not Enough

 When Answered Prayers are Not Enough

               In the past year, I’ve had many prayers answered. Some have been answered with an unmistakable “yes”, some with an unclear “not yet”, and others with a definite “no”. Before this past year, I assumed that if I had the answer to my prayer, I wouldn’t really need to pray so much. I mistakenly assumed that people that had the strongest prayer lives were the ones who had the most needs in their lives. Because of what I’ve been through in the past year, I’m learning that prayer is less about the answer, but more about who we get to communicate with. I’ve been quick to seek the response and then move on to the next thing. What I’m discovering is it’s less about the “yes”, “no”, or “not yet”, but more about who we are learning God to be through the conversation.

One of the prayers I’d been bringing to God on the regular post-college was regarding my love- life (and all Christina’s friends and family say “Amen!”) By the time I graduated from college, I assumed God would be ready to acknowledge my clear step of maturity (ahem…I sure am glad He didn’t answer on my timeline) and bring along Mr. Wonderful. The blessing of the “not yet” was largely overlooked. I assumed that the wait meant God was upset with me and there was some large sin that I needed to repent of. Instead of shifting my prayer to what God really wanted, I stopped praying for it for a while. I was upset with God because He wasn’t doing things in the timing that I assumed would work best for my life. A great deal of time was unnoticed, in which I could pray for God to make me a woman of God who would be attractive to a man of God. God wasn’t punishing me for not being ready but was extending an opportunity to let me grow more to Him during the waiting.

My prayer to meet a man who would become my future husband was met with a “yes” in the oddest year I could’ve imagined: 2020. The affirming answer did not come in the manner I expected. If you know our story, my fiancé and I did not initially have a firework experience on our first date. In fact, we both agreed we were a little rusty on our dating experience but agreed to try again for a second date. As I got to know him better, I knew my boyfriend would not stay in that status for long. The way he pointed me to the Father and reminded me of who I was in Him made me so sure that he was the one I’d been praying for. After making me the happiest woman in the world, my conversations with God were different. Yes, I had received the answer I’d been praying for, years later. However, I suddenly realized that if I was going to continue to be the woman of God who initially attracted my fiancé, I would need the closeness of the Father. The “yes” was not the end of the conversation about my life with my fiancé. In fact, it would only be the beginning of many conversations with the Father. If I was going to be someone who could (even in my selfishness and shortcomings) continue to choose him day after day, I needed to be someone who continued to choose Him day after day. What I’m finding is the more God answers my prayers with an affirmative, the more I must remember that it is Him doing the work.

               During 2020, not only was everything shutting down around me, but my body was also in the process of shutting down. I’ve struggled off and on with thyroid problems. When my thyroid is sluggish, I feel no energy. As the nation was experiencing increased numbers of people contracting COVID, my body was undergoing deficient levels of thyroid hormones. As I longed and prayed to feel active and lively while being trapped in my home, I was met with a “no” to my continual prayers. While this was an answer, it was not the one I had hoped for. Initially, I met the answer with distance. If my request was not going to be answered in the way I saw fit for my life, I decided to implement the silent treatment with the God of the universe. During my stint of silence, solitude, and stillness, God was there. He was my peace, as the nation was at war with the global pandemic. He was my hope when all normalcy seemed lost. He was the power at work in me, when I felt powerless. He was the light when all felt dark. Perhaps the answer of “no” is not meant to restrict or confine, but to lead us to shift our focus to Him. In the “no”, He led me from despair to decision: a decision to not let my circumstance be the only denominator.

Many people use the verse about God being able to “do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20) when life is going well and they are being met with a “yes”. While God does do more than we could ever dream of regarding His blessings and provisions, He is the more than I could ever ask or imagine. The fact that He longs to speak to me daily is incredible. He is not so far removed from humanity that He can’t commune with His kids. He shines the light on me so I can see my sins and return to Him. My answered prayers that aren’t responded to in the way I had hoped and prayed toward remind me that the answer is not what I need. My God who is the receiver of my prayers is the answer. As I uncover His character through His responses to my prayers, I see Him for who He is and who I am in Him. I hope you and my answered prayers are never enough. I pray that the answers do not lead us to see ourselves more highly than we should, but lead us to the throne of our great high priest.  

Limited, but Never Lacking

Limit, restrict, restrain, tie-down; this vernacular speaks of the way we may view the cap on our living. During this global pandemic, COVID-19, many parts of our lives have been restricted. Our way of life, prior to COVID-19, is no more. Our new normal is to safer-at-home, one per customer, socially distant, and so on. In a culture that has so long glorified living boundary-less, many feel this new life of restriction creates a sense of lack. God can use these limits to remind us that He has never been tied down. Nothing has ever held Him back.

1.     Rather than closing us off from the world, limits open us up to communion with Christ.

As we mark yet another canceled or postponed event off our schedules, it can feel like life is being put on hold. A friend of mine joked of the irony of having a 2020 planner. These plans were going to give us new experiences, opportunities, and connections. The loss of plans may lead us to wonder what is left. Being around others is wonderful, life-giving at best. At worst, having little margin in our schedules can choke out our time with the Father. Mark illustrates how “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in a choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19 ESV).   Compromises in our schedule to experience one more thing or go to one more place can take the place of regular communion with our Father. During this time of social distancing, perhaps our distance from the Father can be lessened through regular and deliberate time spent with Him. Most of our schedules are lessened and many events have been marked through. What remains is an opportunity for extra time to commune with Him, and that is enough.

2.     Deficiency in distractions has the ability to increase our sufficiency in Christ.

If you’ve ever tried to change their eating habits, you know that if you remove one food, you must have a replacement food to take its place. When I tried to give up coffee, my efforts were always short-lived, until I found an (albeit, less tasty) alternative. Prior to quarantine, our lives may have been filled with many activities. Some of these activities were fulfilling, but I’d venture to say many were just distractions. A distraction, in my view, is anything good that takes the attention away from that which is better. For me, weekends can be the biggest time for distractions. Pre-COVID, lots of things vied for my attention. As I have found my weekends void of many schedulable activities, I have a choice: create my own distractions or rest in the Father. I haven’t always made the conscious choice. Even at home, there are plenty of things that can distract me from the life I want to lead. The most rewarding moments I’ve had have been when I have made the choice to put aside the good for time to connect with the Father that proves to be great.

3.     The shift of our “normal” is an invitation to redefine our calling.

With sympathy, I recognize that a lot of people have lost their jobs or had their jobs scaled back, due to the shutdown. As many are able to begin returning to work, we are aware that we all may have that privilege taken away or have to work in a different capacity, again. The “normal” work environment may need to be shifted, then re-shifted. If our identity is in the “normal” life we lead and then that shifts, we can begin to question our purpose. As a teacher who had to quickly transition to teach remotely, the purpose behind my work adjusted. While still teaching my students and supporting their learning, I began using my time largely to support my students’ parents. This altering was necessary but made me realize that I could have missed out on how God could use me in a fresh way if I had stuck with what a “normal” teacher does. The decision to deviate from normal makes me remember the Jews. They thought the Messiah would come one way and He actually came a different way. They expected a King of the Jews, who would rise up in power and destroy the Romans. Their reality was a Messiah who came on a lowly donkey, greeted by palm branches. The Jews now had two choices: reject the Messiah who would save them from their sins or reject Him because He didn’t come in the “normal” way they had interpreted from scripture. I am so thankful that God chose to come to seek and save the lost, even if it wasn’t the way that His children expected.

4.     We are either building or dismantling a life where Christ is the cornerstone.

Just because the church building is shut off from churchgoers does not mean that Christ-followers are inhibited from building a life dependent on Christ. The church building is the place we go to hear the Word and encourage others to deepen in their relationship with God. While the building is closed, we are still charged to share with others what God has done and spur one another on. We are not immune from the call to be the church, despite the lack of physical space. The church does not end, aside from a physical meeting space. The daily choices we make in our homes and workplaces are to follow Christ’s lead or ignore it. In my own life, quarantine and the lack of consistent worship services have been extremely illuminating in pointing out places where there is space to be creative in the way I love God and others. There is this new awareness for me that in this time of shutdown, I am still becoming someone. The choice of whether or not to continue to daily seek God when I can’t worship with His children is significant. The decision to escape or connect with my God and others has ramifications. Just because there have been restrictions to my more public Christ-following walk does not mean my private walk is halted. While we may be socially distant, we don’t have to become spiritually distant.

As we live in this life of limits and uncertainty, may we lean into the promise: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Each new day is an opportunity to trust the One whose love never ceases and who continues to be merciful to us. Perhaps, instead of looking at the ways in which our life has had to minimize, we can look at the exceedingly abundant ways in which the Lord has been faithful and near. Even when all is stripped away and we are left with nothing else but God, may we be able to proclaim with confidence, “He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom He made may know it” (Job 37:7).

The Modern Golden Calf

I grew up learning Bible lessons on flannel graphs. Typically when I think of the story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, I imagine the teacher parading the Israelite people around the yellow fuzzy calf, as we all giggle at this surprising scene. Our chuckles now subside as we see the way in which we still worship idols. The idols are not of horn and muzzle, but of anything, we put in place of the Almighty. 

From our vantage point, modern-day idols are not nearly so obvious. Neither were they for the Israelites. But what if there were some clues we could look at to see the presence of an idol, which could be taking the place of God in our lives? Through the help of Pastor Timothy Keller’s book, “Counterfeit Gods”, I’ve found some telltale signs that can help us uncover an idol that is present in our hearts:

We see ourselves putting most of our resources toward it. According to Timothy Keller, an idol is something that “has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought” (Counterfeit Gods). Consider the Israelites: as they got antsy waiting for Moses to return, they took off golden jewelry for the calf’s construction. The former slaves took the things God had provided them as they were escaping slavery and used it to make a false god. To keep the jewelry would have served to remind the Israelites of God’s faithfulness. By removing the jewelry to create a false god, the Israelites were misappropriating their worship.  

We pull away from our purpose. So many things buy for our attention these days, some of which don’t account for much. There is a purpose that we have been put on this Earth and it does not give us a monthly salary. Our purpose far exceeds title, income, or rank. In all we do, we must give glory to God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says it this way, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (ESV). It means we don’t live our job or role, we live and do those things for His glory. If our involvement in something brings our focus on ourselves and off of Him, we have given eternal significance to a temporary thing. That which pulls the focus off God and onto us will take us from walking in our purpose.

We begin to make compromises. At the heart level, we make decisions about what is worth our time, money, and resources. When people say, “I don’t have time for that”, they are telling you what is and is not worth their worship. The heart will go towards the things it values and away from the things it perceives brings pain. So when we see ourselves begin to make “little” compromises to things we know will bring pain, we should do a heart check. Those “little” compromises will lead us further away from the life God has intended us to live. When we stop seeing our sin as pulling us away from a relationship with God, we become less than God has created us to be.

I really feel the Lord saying if we are going to get to the end of this faith life, we’ve got to identify and call out these false idols for what they are: empty. Jeremiah 2:13 says of the people of Israel, “they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns that can hold no water” (ESV). We could say the same of ourselves; we are trying to fill our spirit with things that were never meant to satisfy, like the continual refreshment of the Lord. We can ask God to search us and reveal any area that is taking our resources, pulling us from our purpose, and which we are making compromises about. The Lord so loves us as He welcomes us back to His loving arms. As we return to the Father, He will remain the well that never runs dry.

The Choice to Foster

Dear Family and Friends,

I am excited to announce to you my plans to open my home and heart to foster children. North Carolina has nearly 11,000 children in foster care! In the county I live, there are nearly 300 children in foster care, making it one of the counties with the highest percentage of children in foster care. These numbers are staggering and difficult for me to ignore.

The call to be a foster mom has been a long time coming. In middle school, God put the calling of foster/adoptive care on my heart. Since that calling was placed on my life, God has been preparing me for the day that is to come. In my mind, I always assumed that this calling would be fulfilled once I got married. As a woman who is not yet married, it was quite a surprise when God told me that now was the time. God’s timing is not our timing. While I have some uncertainties and fears, I can be certain God is already equipping me for the call He has put on my life.

This preparation process will include 35 hours of training, interviews, paperwork, home studies, and lots of prayers! Right now, I am at the beginning stages of training. I will be licensed through the Bair Foundation, a Christian, therapeutic foster care agency. Many of the children who are in their care have experienced abuse, neglect, or trauma. The agency’s goal is to equip foster parents to care for the safety and well-being of these children. Once I am licensed, I will be able to provide care for children aged birth to age 16. At this point, I am considering providing care to elementary-aged children. 

There are a few unique challenges that come with foster care. First of all, the child is taken from their home and sent to a stranger’s home with few things of their own. The child may have to leave their home in a hurry and leave behind favorite toys, clothes, etc. This causes a lot of confusion and fear for the child. The foster family serves as a safe and loving temporary home while the home situation becomes more stable or an alternate home is arranged. Reunification with the birth family is the goal for some children’s situations, but not all. The foster parent will often not know how long the child will stay in her home.

Why foster care? Throughout the Bible, I see God instructing believers to care for the orphans. I see Him advocating justice for the marginalized. In multiple sections of the Bible, I see Jesus taking the time to speak to the children and meet them with open arms. I have been blessed with much. With much love comes much need to express it. With open arms and a heart open to God’s help, I accept this charge.

There are a few tangible ways you can support me as I begin this journey to becoming a foster parent. The most important thing you can do is pray:
·       For peace for the child who will be removed from their family.
·       For adjustment for the child who will need to get acquainted with a new normal.
·       For the biological family that will need support and encouragement as they work to make positive changes.
·       For the treatment team who will be assigned to the child and me.
·       For the judge who will need discernment as he/she listens to the evidence and makes a decision that will impact the futures of many.
·       For the Bair Foundation, as they strive to continue to prioritize the safety and well being of the children.
·       For God’s presence through the process as He makes me the mom this child needs.

As with any future parent, I am eager to share my journey and answer any questions you may have. Along the way, there will be much to do to prepare for a future child. Words of support will encourage me to persevere. It takes a village to raise a child and I welcome you to join my tribe with open arms.

Replacing Fear with Gratitude

Today on the way to New Bern, we had a divine appointment for a lesson on gratitude. We were traveling down a two-way street on a bridge and had and cars behind us. Directly in front of us was a large object. Our only option was to head straight for it and reap the consequences. Our car dragged the said block of metal several yards down the road before we found a safe place to pull over. As the screeches ensued and the smoke billowed, all I could think of was how much fear I had. Fear the oil would spill out and the car would go ablaze. Fear that a tire would pop and we would spin out of control towards the bridge. Fear that someone would rear-end us, as we tried to gain control of the vehicle. Hey, I never said my fears were rational! Finally, as we got to a stop, we got out of the car to determine next steps. A few cars behind us was an AC and heating work truck. As they drove up, we waved for them to pull over and help. They pulled over and jacked the car up to have a look at the mysterious metal piece. God must have a sense of humor because the metal hunk ended up being an AC fan motor. The guys were able to pull it out from under the car. They inspected the underside of the car to see if the car was still drivable. Much to our relief, the guys said there was no major damage to the oil pan or muffler, just some cosmetic scrapes. As the guys reported this, we had two choices: remain in fear or operate in gratitude.

As I had been preparing for this post earlier this morning, I asked God to give me the words to speak. God seems to love to put me in places where I am given the chance to learn for myself lesson He has for me. God gave me the opportunity to test out what He had placed on my heart, earlier today (my mom probably will rethink riding with next time I pray for experiential learning opportunities!) I could resist His teaching, but how thankful I am that God doesn’t ever stop pursuing me! I choose to leave behind the natural, typical reaction of fear for thoughts of gratitude. At that moment, I choose to be grateful that:

- the AC repairmen stopped to help
-the AC repairmen were knowledgeable of the part and could easily retrieve it
-no upcoming traffic rear-ended us
-our vehicle was still operational
-I serve a God who cares about my bumps in the road (literally) 

As 2 Corinthians 10:5 advises, I captured the thoughts of fear and replaced them instead with thoughts of gratitude. This did two things for me: released the paralyzing grip fear had over me and retrained my mind to go to gratitude before fear.

1.  Fear can paralyze us from taking action.

Fear can be a good thing, as it usually causes us to act with restraint and think clearly. However, fear can be crippling, as it can stop us from moving forward. As the car screeched to a halt, my body wanted to freeze, also. Fear wanted to be the voice that spoke into my mind that the situation was too much for me to handle. Fear is a liar. Fear does not allow my mind to be open to the thoughts and words of God. Gratitude released me from the gripping fear. As I spoke words of life to myself, fear was not allowed to close me off from moving. Max Lucado concludes, “anxiety and gratitude never share the same heart”. Putting on gratitude is more than positive self-talk. Gratitude does more than a self-help book will ever do. Gratitude transforms us from the inside out, by “the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). It was never God’s intention for us to live in a state of continual fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”. By speaking the words God speaks to myself, my heart will follow. 

2. We must retrain our mind to choose gratitude.

Scientific studies have found that the more our brain goes to a certain emotion, the quicker the response to feeling that emotion is. Our brain creates pathways to the emotions we choose most. In a culture in which we are constantly bombarded with notifications and breaking news, it is no wonder we are frazzled and fearful. God did not overcome death, Hell, and the grave so we have to live in constant fear. Fear says we must feel unpleasant emotions because we believe something is dangerous or may cause pain (Merriam-Webster). Gratitude says we can choose thanksgiving, putting our faith in the One who has a purpose for the pain. We already know the ending, so must prefer thoughts of gratitude over thoughts of fear. Does this mean that feelings of fear are wrong and should be hidden? No, quite the opposite. Lysa TerKeurst says that feelings “should be indicators, not dictators”. In other words, I can feel the initial feeling of fear, but don’t have to stay there. When I retrain my mind to choose gratitude in the midst of fear, I don’t allow fear to order me around. Fear doesn’t get to have the final word. The beauty of the walk of a believer in Jesus is that He has done for us what will continue to bring gratitude to the heart of the believer. When all Earthly hope seems lost and fear seems to be the only appropriate response, we can choose gratitude for the Kingdom of God is near for those who believe.

     If gratitude does not come natural, don’t lose hope. Gratitude is a discipline that must be practiced to gain permanence. The rewards of choosing gratitude in the presence of fear are immeasurable. For the believer, gratitude will release us to follow God’s plan and renew our mind to a spirit of power. As we make the continual choice of gratitude over fear, we are made into courageous men and women of God.  

When Answered Prayers are Not Enough

  When Answered Prayers are Not Enough                In the past year, I’ve had many prayers answered. Some have been answered with an unmi...