Another Prayer For My Hometown

In 2017 I wrote a post titled “A Prayer For My Hometown.” img_5200At the time, it was to address a specific situation happening locally. There was an outside hate group that threatened to come in to stir up division and discord…right here at our little town square. It was trouble threatening us from outside our boundaries…uninvited, unwanted, unsupported.

While that was addressing a specific time and event, I’ve noticed something interesting about the post: it has been viewed by people from 35 different countries in the past year. Thirty five!  It is by far my most widely read post. South Africa, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Kuwait…just a few. Queue Walt Disney’s melodious musical tones of “It’s a Small World After All…”

I traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip in college. Since then, I haven’t really traveled very far. I don’t speak another language. I don’t really engage in varied cultures. But as I thought about people from all over the world sitting at their computers or on their phones doing a search for words and prayers for their hometown, the world suddenly became very familiar and very small to me. bd7936c9-c694-477f-a3b3-8c2473696a27It became my hometown, my familiar space, the place where I live and work and worship and love. I saw so much more than colors on a map.

As I have thought about the needs that would drive people to seek and to pray, I don’t believe it’s simply a black and white issue, a right or wrong issue, a peace or chaos issue, or an us and them issue… I believe there is an underlying common theme of human frailty, hurt, and need…and hope. People are hurting, people are searching, but so many people still cling to hope. And sometimes that is enough.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…

I don’t really understand war. But parts of the world are always at war. Always. I don’t understand merciless killing or torture or captivity or terrorism. I don’t understand deceit and hatred based simply on appearance or social stature. The band Nickelback imagined it well:

If everyone cared and nobody cried,                                                                                                  If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
 Then we’d see the day when nobody died.

But that’s just a song. Of course people die. And people do cry. Some deaths are mere echoes and celebrations of a lives well-lived. Some church1tears are joyous and cleansing and freeing. Some tears come from depth of pain and need. King David cried. Jesus wept. I have cried. I imagine you have too. Tears of sorrow, pain, loneliness, helplessness, anger, injustice, and hope. Tears for ourselves and tears for others. My heart hurts for people who are lost, displaced, discouraged, hopeless, or in fear. For people who feel cast aside and forgotten. Unwanted. I see it in the news and pages of magazines. I see it in people’s faces that I encounter daily. Some are in physical wars, others in emotional and spiritual battles. But many are searching for solutions, for remedies, for a moment of peace and hope in a sin-ravaged, war-torn world.

While I don’t really understand actual war,  I know that there are things and people and ideas that are worth fighting for. When I think of all the people in countries where their own government suppresses or sabotages them, where their children go hungry or die from treatable diseases, where the poor are treated as less-than or disposable…What can I do? Are they the ones who are searching for prayers for their own hometowns?

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…

When I see the devastation and loss and incredible tragedy as natural disasters are unleashed with destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable power destroying everything in their paths…  When people lose their homes, their hopes, their communities…What can I do? Who is praying for their hometowns?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…

I have recently traveled to several cities close to home where terrible tragedies have brokenchurchhappened. Two church shootings, other public shootings, serious widespread fires, racial unrest, tornadoes, unexpected violent deaths… When people are intentionally wounding others: abusing, exploiting, rejecting, abandoning, killing…What can I do? When people are overwhelmed with crippling fear, crushing anxiety, and debilitating depression…trapped inside their own heads, battling torment, mental health, or addictions….what can I do?

…but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved…

Yes, there are some tangible ways I can intervene. I can spend money and time and effort and kind words…but sometimes the bigger battle is fought on a different battlefield. When I can speak, I will speak. When I can give, I will give. When I can go, I will go. But sometimes… I can pray. I will pray. So this is my prayer for my hometown, for me, my family, my friends, my neighbors…and for you and your hometown too:

img_5729Lord, I pray that you will give me an abundance of faith, hope, and love…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over… (Luke 6:38) I pray for: faith to seek and to believe, hope to want and to know, love to care and to intercede.

In addition, I pray for hunger. Not for satisfaction of an earthly longing, but for an insatiable desire…a hunger for truth, for action, for kindness, for mercy, for justice. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Lord, could I pray for world peace and brotherly love, with an end to war and strife? An end to abuse, addiction, murder, and disease? Yes, but you told b5d10f36-f91d-4d3e-906d-b4d2cce03689us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  So I pray for God-given peace regardless of circumstances.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7) I pray that we will not lose heart but will look to you.

I pray that each member of the church body will arise to the full function you have designed. Lord give us eyes that see worth, value, purpose, and God’s design. Eyes that see your way where there was previously no way. Eyes that see your image on each face we encounter and your hand on each unexpected miracle.

Give us ears that not only hear the cries of the lonely, the destitute, the needy….but also the gifted, those designed for service, the divine ideas whispered to our spirits in the quiet times.

Give us hearts open enough to love deeply but strong enough to be solid in conviction and truth. Sensitive to you and your leading but guarded enough to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.

Give us hands that reach the unreachable, that hold onto truth and hope, and that hold our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters, close and point them to you.

547275cc-c827-4d14-83e0-c081ec2a20a9Give us feet that stand firm on your word, your truth, your promises. Feet that go where you lead and create a path for those who are lost or searching to follow.

So while these may sound like simple personal prayers for the individual, healing begins with one. Encouragement begins with one. Discipleship begins with one. For as I am overflowing with faith, hope, love, and truth…I will be changed, my neighbors will be changed, my world will be changed. I will be praying for you and your hometown.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.   (Mt 24:6-14)

 

I Didn’t Go To The Beach…

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Psalm 29:3-4

I didn’t go to the beach to find answers, but there I was…on the beach, the wind urgently clamoring and the waves pressing in: What are you afraid of? img_9429With every roar and crash of the tumultuous tide, my mind felt the same turbulence. It felt as if the waves were talking to me, calling me out…and in. Why are you running? Was that question for me or for the nervous little sandpiper that darted and dashed both toward and then away from the searching waves? Did it doubt its ability to fly? To swim? To navigate the rushing, unpredictable waters? I am that sandpiper, I thought. I get excited, I rush in, I get overwhelmed or consider the cost, I pull back or run away. I doubt my strength, my identity, my ability to navigate the deep unknown. Was I afraid? Was I running?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  Psalm 42:7

I didn’t go to the beach to forgive, but there I was…on the beach, studying the footprints of so img_9424many who had walked before, near, or over my own prints in the sand. As the waves gently washed over the prints, many disappeared, leaving fresh, untouched sand. A clean slate. Yet others remained visible until they were washed again, and again, and again. The waves were rough, it was hard, but it was cleansing. The remaining beautiful sand shone and sparkled with the radiance of the sun and the power of the cleansing waves.Still others remained long after our paths had crossed and I had moved far along the shore, not looking back. People leave footprints in our lives…tracks that are often deeply imprinted on our hearts and souls. Some are good and encourage us to follow. img_9425-1Some tread heavily with no regard to damage caused and tracks left behind. Are there tracks that I still guard with regret and defense? What tracks have I left behind?

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love freely and openly…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.    -Wm Paul Young, The Shack

I didn’t go to the beach to explore or question myself. But when the volume of the world is turned down, the responsibilities are left at home, and books and quiet reflection become the duties of the day, words speak. They speak from the wind and the waves and they leap from the pages you read lounging by the shore.

You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours.   -Ann Wilson Schaef

Sounds oversimplified. drseussDr. Seuss also said it with simple eloquence. As thunderstorms rumbled in over the beach, I settled in for a simple teaching video, Becoming Myself. That’s where I was reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Seuss. Childlike and simple, not tangled in the lies, deceit, and false facades the world offers and encourages. What does it mean to become myself? How does it happen and when will I know it is complete? Is it ever complete? And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor 3:18

I didn’t go to the beach to search, to forgive, or to learn. I went to enjoy sand, sun, seafood, and friendship. To relax. But the first day on the beach I read Psalm 29, and the voice of the Lord really was over the waters. (Ps 29:3)

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When It’s Cold Outside…

 

How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose if there were no winter in our year.       

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The world is white today. Beautiful, really. The same brush strokes that painted the world white also hit the pause button on the repetitive tapes of routineimg_8361 daily life and created a thousand still shots: mixtures of laughter, fun, relaxation, warm cups, warmer hearts, cozy mittens, scarves, and snowballs. Through filtered computer light I’ve seen pictures of snowsuits, snow boots, snowmen, snow forts, snow angels, sleds, and at least a hundred cold, smiling faces.

Our home is quiet. No one trekking in and out of the snow. No nudges or pleas to go outside and play. No sledding or snow forts. It’s a quiet sanctuary with no schedule apart from hot coffee, warm soup, and wide eyes watching the snow fall. The backyard bird feeders are frozen, the birdbath a mound of snow. So much to think about when the world is on pause…or at least moving in slow motion.

Measuring up. What a strange thought to entertain on a snowy day. Was it the varied predictions of how much snow, how low the temperatures, various cancellations, and other life disruptions that prompted the thought? Maybe it was images and thoughts far less img_8358tangible than measured inches or levels of mercury: laughter outside, pictures on phones and computer screens: rounded red faces flushed by winter wind, puffy balls of children swaddled in warm coats and hats, brave snowmen standing proudly in the midst of their cold, humble beginnings. They all seemed to project carefree laughter and unbridled joy from a three inch still shot photo on the computer screen. What did any of those images have to do with measuring up? It didn’t take long for a barrage of questions to assault my accusing thought processes. Was I a bad mom for basking in the warmth of  fuzzy blankets, inviting books, and warm, soothing coffee? Should I bundle up the kids and rush outside to make cold noses and warm memories? But wait… The kids are grown and making snowballs or enjoying quiet moments on their own. Then more questions…had I done it well, did they have good memories, why didn’t we get this much snow when they were younger and eager to play in the snow? Such simple, seemingly unimportant questions. How insidiously the comparison trap begins…

It isn’t really about the snow. It’s about the questions, the feelings, and the accusations. I see it everyday in a hundred different ways: comparison, competition, struggling, striving, never quite feeling good enough. I see it in people who have worked themselves into sickness and depression. I see it in the tired eyes of theimg_8301 lonely woman, the defeated man, the bullied teenager, the insecure child, the dropout, the addict, the weary. I see how it tries to sneak in, unseen, into simple everyday thoughts, plans, and observations. I should have… I could have… Why didn’t I… I wish… Like cold hard snowballs thrown mercilessly by the enemy, they always seem to find a weak spot or an unguarded target.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Where do the thoughts, the lies, the accusations, and the comparisons come from? When did they start? Why are the voices so familiar? Could it be that the struggle isn’t new at all? Could it all be a picture of the ancient struggle that began in  Genesis 3 with two simple yet opposing questions?

Did God really say..?

Who told you that..?     apple-273839_1280

Who told you that you weren’t good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not a good mom, not a good wife, not a good friend, not loved…just not enough?

What did God really say?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  I Peter 2:9

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:37-39

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.  Zeph 3:17

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..  Psalm 139:14

Why snowflakes and snowmen made me think of measuring up..I’m not quite sure. Snowmen are created in various shapes, sizes, and circumstances. Their lives are intentional but fleeting. They are masterfully crafted and shaped and each is unique.

And us? Masterfully crafted and unique? Fearfully and wonderfully made? What will it take to believe that? How can we be intentional? snowmenWhat would it look like to find others willing to step into the cold, messy storm with us to lend a hand, to support, and to strengthen? What does it mean to take every thought captive? Frequently set aside time for a thought check and belief inventory: What do you believe? Who or what do you concede the power to define you?  And a support inventory: who do you love, trust, and believe? Who will walk with you and give honest reflection of your strengths, your weaknesses, and your worth? All the voices, images, memories, and ideas we are exposed to have power to create beliefs and self-imposed definitions. Some realistic and accurate, others false, unrealistic, or even unattainable. So we compare. Or we condemn. We measure. Others and ourselves. How will you measure your worth today?

 Those were my thoughts on this cold snowy day.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   Micah 6:8

When Holidays Hurt

I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

roomThe evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through christmasalonethe overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.

The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.

His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter has run away. Her son is in jail. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s is so much worse. Hospice has been called in.Third DUI. Arrested for heroin. Suicide. It’s almost Christmas.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:28

I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back.alone1 But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

What does it look like to offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting,church1 and comfort for the grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats.  I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.

But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in stara world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope?  Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.

I can love. ❤

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Hope

Well…here it is Friday morning and I’m writing a thankfulThankful Thursday blog post. I’m thankful that Marsha at http://www.marshasmusings.com is full of grace and mercy, as well as thankful for the opportunity to participate in joining with others to express our thankfulness on her page.

Honestly, I write with heavy heart. Another shooting, a senseless tragedy…this time much closer to home. Over the mountain and down the street.. The streets where we go and play and laugh and sight-see…where we visit the aquarium and ride on the trolley and sip our coffee on the corner…where we stroll and shop and wonder at the art, the river, and the history…where we explore the mountain trails and rocks and marvel at the beauty of creation.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.   Psalm 121:1-2

Washington, D.C 085The air, the conversation, and the media are all filled with fear, anger, accusation, hateful words, images of loss of life and hope and dream. I don’t understand the hate-filled taking of innocent lives: brothers, fathers, sons, friends. I don’t understand how a person, a group, or a nation could be filled with so much anger, hatred, contempt, deception, and ill will. People are broken. Ideas and beliefs are broken. The world is broken.

So where is the hope?

“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”  1Peter 1


IMG_5313“But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them…

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, IMG_5425who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  (2 Cor 4:3-9)

IMG_5424The fragility of humanity… We stuff our vessels full of dreams, desires, and material possessions and pack them around until our backs are bent and our energy spent; or we hide them away, hording and saving, insecure, fearful, uncertain. We scheme, we plan, we intend; but all our plans may crumble and slip away in a matter of moments. Today I am thankful that no matter how unpredictable, unfair, irrational, or maddening our life and our situations may be, no matter what the enemy attempts to steal, kill, or destroy, we are promised hope and deliverance.

My heart is still heavy. It cries out for justice and relief. It hurts for the anger and the IMG_5426hate and the grief and for those who feel the hurt and the hopelessness the most. It can’t make sense of the all the pain and suffering in the world…even right down the street. The world is broken, but we are not of this world, and we have hope. Praying for hope in Chattanooga.