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To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 7

Daffodils, a Sign of Hope

That evening after the doctor’s appointment, Tommy’s fever broke. His eyes sparkled and he was his funny independent little self again.

“Everybody start looking for pots and vases,” I said cheerfully, as I organized the older children and my husband into a treasure hunt for containers for the daffodils. We found dozens in diverse sizes and appearance and brought all the beautiful golden blooms inside the house. Everywhere you looked, it was Easter. Everywhere you looked there was the love of God and hope for the future.

The year continued with Tommy still succumbing to frequent illnesses, but I clung to my sign of hope, believing that God would heal him without surgery. Tommy turned four in November and a week before Christmas I took him to the heart specialist for his yearly tests. I had been told in the beginning, that sometimes these heart valve defects closed on their own, but that it was almost always by the time they were two years old. Still, I fully expected to be told that his heart had improved.

After hours of going from labs to X-rays to offices all over Vanderbilt Hospital, Tommy and I waited wearily, but hopefully, to hear the results from the heart specialist. By the time our name was called, Tommy was asleep in my lap, his head on my shoulder. He didn’t even wake up when I carried him into the office.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Norman,” the doctor began. My heart broke at the words and I fought back tears. “The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. We need to do a heart catheterization in preparation for surgery right away.” Looking at his calendar, he continued, “You have several other children, don’t you?”

“Yes, four.”

“Well, we’ll schedule it in the week after Christmas then. December 27th is clear for me. Does that work for you?”

Speechless, I nodded my head. I drove home too shocked to cry or even pray.
That night, when everyone else was settled down to sleep, I sat at the kitchen counter with my Bible and a cup of hot chocolate. Praying, “Lord, help me. I do believe; help my unbelief,”  I just opened my bible randomly and began to read.

My heart almost stopped, when I realized that I had opened to the story of Abraham taking Isaac up on the mountain to sacrifice him to God. I wept, thinking like Abraham, that God was asking me to let go of my child. Finally, I reached a point of deciding that God knew what Tommy’s future might be, and if He wanted to take Tommy now, He had His reasons.
I prayed and struggled until I could say, “Everything in me is screaming in protest, God. I can’t control my feelings, but with my will, I choose to trust you and to place my son and my heart in your hands. Your will, not mine.”

An amazing peace came over me and I recognized that letting go is part of everything in our journey. And that once Abraham had let go, God did not take Isaac. I knew that part of the story, but remembered only the letting go part, until I had done that myself.
The next few days, I called every person of praying faith, that I knew of any denomination, and asked for prayers for Tommy.

Christmas came and went, and we prepared to take Tommy to the hospital. I clung to my faith that God was with Tommy. The morning he was scheduled, the doctor’s office called and postponed the procedure, because the doctor had an emergency surgery. She rescheduled him for the following week. Then the day before the appointment, Tommy began to run fever, so we had to reschedule for two weeks later, hoping he would be well enough then. But the next week, they called to say that the doctor was going to be out of town, so we made it for two weeks later again. I called everyone on my prayer list each time we rescheduled. By the time we finally managed to get Tommy to the hospital, I was a basket case.

I was numb as they rolled him away, but a very kind young intern went with him, keeping him smiling by pretending Tommy’s sock monkey was saying funny things. A gift from God.

I don’t remember much of anything from the waiting.  But the bright smile on the Doctor’s face when he came out, was enough to make me begin thanking God right then.
The hole in Tommy’s heart had closed enough to be so tiny, that surgery was not necessary. The only difference it would make in his future life was, if he had any other surgeries, he would have to make sure he was put on antibiotics before them.

But even more amazing to me was that, literally overnight, he became a normal healthy child, no longer catching every germ that came by. In fact, he was often healthier than his siblings.

Easter can come in our lives at any time. Now is a good time to remember and celebrate the hard times that stretched our faith, but turned into rejoicing.

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 7

God’s Presence in a Child’s Suffering and a Mother’s Heartache.

My heart sank and I felt a wave of nausea as I read the thermometer. One hundred and four degrees.
“Oh, God. Not again please,” I whispered, as I coaxed medicine into my feverish son. While I was fixing him juice, the telephone rang insistently until I finally answered it.
“Eileen,” a neighbor said, “you need to get over there to my granny’s old home place and get yourself some of those daffodils. They’re just coming up. If you plant them now, they might go on and bloom for you next month.”
“I can’t take Tommy out today, Mae. He’s running fever again. Besides are you sure it’s not stealing??
“Naw. There are thousands of them now, all from the ones my granny planted years ago. They need thinning out, so they’ll keep blooming. I’ll come over and watch Tommy for you.”
“Well……Okay,” I answered hesitantly. “I’m just putting him down for a nap. Come in about twenty minutes.”
I sighed as I hung up. I didn’t really feel like going out in the cold January weather, but I couldn’t think of any more excuses. I picked up my three-year-old son and began to rock him to sleep. His face was flushed and his thin little body felt hot against mine. Poor Tommy. I hope this isn’t going to be another long siege, I thought silently.
“I love you, little one,” I said softly.
“Love you,” he whispered hoarsely, patting my face gently as his eyes began to close.
As I carefully put Tommy in his bed, I heard my neighbor come quietly in the front door.
“Hi, Mae. Thanks for coming. He’s restless, but I think he’ll sleep,” I greeted her. “But I don’t have anything to put dirt in. How will I carry the daffodils?”
“They don’t need dirt. Just put some newspapers down in the back of your station wagon. Get yourself a lot. They’ll look great along your driveway and out front of the house.”
A few minutes later I gasped and shivered when the cold wind hit me, as I got out of the car. I wished fervently that I hadn’t agreed to do this. I started digging as quickly as I could, eyes tearing from the wind. I dug for several minutes, then thought about giving up and going home. Each time I’d begin to straighten up, I’d see another thick clump just barely pushing through the frozen ground, seeming to beckon to me. I kept going until I had almost filled the back of my station wagon with hundreds of bare bulbs.
When I finally got back and sent my neighbor home with thanks, I went to check on Tommy. He tossed restlessly in his sleep and when I touched his forehead, it almost scalded my hand. Tommy had taken a turn for the worse, so I forgot all about the daffodil bulbs, as I spent the next two weeks caring for him and making trips to the specialist fifty miles away.
With trembling voice, I finally admitted to the doctor how frightened I was, when Tommy’s fever ran off the thermometer and there was no way to know how high it was.
“Don’t try to bring it down below 104 degrees,” he advised me. “If you do, it will shoot back up fast and that can cause a seizure. He catches everything because the hole in his heart valve lets blood circulate without being purified by the lungs. We’ll try another antibiotic. If he has a virus, it won’t help, but we can’t risk this going into pneumonia. We’ll consider surgery when he’s four, but we need to get him stronger first. Bring him back in two days, if he’s not better.”
I drove us home through a flood of tears. Tommy whimpered listlessly, his eyes too bright and his skin too pale under the flush of fever. My spirits matched the bleak January landscape.
I spent the next two days and nights struggling to keep his fever down. Sometimes he lay in my arms limply. Other times when the fever shot beyond the measure of the thermometer, he would chatter brightly, using words far more complex than his normal vocabulary, reminding me of the possibility of brain damage.
Two days passed and his fever was still shooting back up off the thermometer. Trying yet again to bring it down slowly, I put him in a tepid bath, that seemed to hurt his hot skin and make him shake with chills. He looked like pictures I had seen of war orphans with their ribs showing and their sunken eyes pleading. He looked at me like he was asking mutely, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hurting me? Don’t you love me?”
As I wrapped him in wet sheets and sat rocking him, both of us were sobbing. I even yelled out loud, “Where are you, God? I pray and pray and you do nothing. This is an innocent child. Why do you let him suffer? What kind of God are you? A cruel God? An impotent God?  Where is the loving God of Jesus? Have you abandoned us?”
As, I exhausted my anger, memories of God’s many gifts of grace in my life flooded my mind and I began to pray again, “You are my God, the only God I have. I have seen Your awesome glory in the beauty of Your creation and I have felt the depth of Your love through Your son, Jesus. So, I, like Paul, will try to praise you at all times, in joy and in sorrow. Right now, I can’t feel it, but with my will I praise you. I thank you for the many times you have blessed me and for the grace you have poured into my heart even in my darkest moments. But, please God, help me know you are with us in this. I feel abandoned.”
Then I began to dress Tommy for another trip to Nashville. As I carried him to the car, I was stopped in my tracks by an incredible sight.
Hundreds of bright yellow daffodils in full bloom completely filled the back of my car. It looked like Easter morning! I felt like God had put His arms around us and whispered, “See, I am with you always. Don’t despair.”
I drove to the doctor’s singing hymns of praise.  That night Tommy’s fever broke and we filled the house with vases of Daffodils, my sign of hope was everywhere I looked.

To Pray or Not to Pray: Miracles and Challenges

The thing about miracles is that they happen so that when you are called to tough it out, you can know that there’s a reason, even if you don’t get to see what it is in this life. I’ve experienced miracles, so you’d think I’d be cool when I’m facing a challenge. NOT! A spiritual counselor once told me that I have spiritual Alzheimer’s. I was very distressed over that at the time, but I have to admit, it’s true.
Life is hard. PERIOD! And different kinds of hard will defeat different types of people. Most of the time, when I’m faced with a serious life crisis, I pray, gather others’ prayers, then focus, rally my inner resources, and stay functional at least until it’s over. But sometimes when faced simultaneously with several challenges, I get overwhelmed.  I forget the answered prayers and the miracles of timing and want to curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb. But writing down and rereading my memories of God’s visible hand in my life helps my mustard seed of faith to grow when new challenges come.

 I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years old until I was thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten-story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a house in the country. As our own family grew, we spent many weekends at Birdsong, their lovely hundred-year-old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and beauty of a bygone era. It also had a two- hundred-acre rural setting of forests with a river like creek, a waterfall and swimming hole, fields of peonies, horses and barn, a pond, and a historic ruin of a civil war powder mill. At first, I had followed my mother-in-law on explorations to look for Jack-in-the-Pulpit and tiny wild Iris with a city dweller’s trepidations, “snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But after experiencing the love of God, I began to see it in nature, from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section which would include a necessary hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, tenant house, and thirty-five acres for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, this was an incredible financial offer. Our home was a pleasant four-bedroom two-story house in an area of wonderful public schools, but Birdsong was twice its size, beautiful, historic, and unique with a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. After prayerful discussion, we decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market. While in the hospital on Thanksgiving recuperating from my surgeries, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could take possession on the First of January. To say the least, it was a somewhat daunting prospect in my post-operative condition, with a new baby, and four other children under ten. But again, it seemed a miracle to sell so quickly and I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted anything. To top it off, one of my husband’s brothers hired a baby nurse to help me several weeks, so it seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately my new son needed a hernia repair shortly after we had come home from the hospital. The night before his surgery, the doctor discovered that he also had a heart valve defect. The defect didn’t appear life threatening and it was one that sometimes is outgrown, so they only did his hernia surgery. The day we brought him home, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted another offer for the whole two hundred acres and Birdsong. So, we ended up two weeks before Christmas having to be out of our house in three weeks with nowhere to go. I was pretty much in shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling realtors turned up nothing to rent until we could figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools unnecessarily, but there simply wasn’t anything available. At that time the house market in our area was no better. I sat on the couch after I had called the last realtor with tears running down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, a middle-aged black woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around me.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive a car or climb stairs for another month and answered, “A five bed room, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That would give us time to decide where to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A ca-ca-ca-can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes, we have to take the baby back to the doctor tomorrow and I’d rather drive my car, but it needs a can of oil.”
I tried to not look incredulous, as she began to pray specifically. When she finished and we said “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman I knew from our school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but my car has stopped running at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get the mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.”
After her phone call, she joined me for coffee as we waited for the mechanic and the oil.
“I hear you’ve sold this house,” she said. “And you’re moving to the country.”
“Well, we sold our house, but moving to the country fell through. I’m kind of in a panic. I don’t want the children to have to change schools, until we figure out what we are going to do. But there’s nothing available to rent around here right now.”
“Do you know about the Keck’s house?” she asked.
“No. Where is that?”
“It’s one street over and two houses down. You can see the back yard from here. They are going as missionaries to the Philippines for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first week in January if they can find a renter. They are trying to do that by word of mouth, because they don’t want just anyone to move in since they are leaving all their belongings.”
“What is the house like?” I asked, holding my breath.
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms, a study, and a nice den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “We have a large basement at our office where we could store their belongings, “I said excitedly. “With our having five children, that would probably be safer for their furniture and happier for our kids.” It turned out we had mutual friends with the Kecks. Three weeks later, we moved a block away.

I admit that even though I understood the practicality of my in-laws’ decision, I really resented what seemed like a very casual attitude about the predicament they had put us in. Facing our move and Christmas bills, I was trying to find money for a new coat for my no longer pregnant body. As I was pondering the problem, my doorbell rang and my mother-in-law came in with a large Dillard’s bag. She was running late for an appointment but as she handed me the bag she said,” You may not need this or even like it, but I was in Dillard’s and something just said, “Buy this for Eileen.”  It was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen and a perfect fit.  As I prayed that night, it seemed to me that if God could lead my mother-in-law like that about my coat, maybe God was in the whole house sale and unexpected move.  So, I was able to let go of my hurt and disappointment.  And after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own “Winnie the Pooh” hundred-acre wood. My architect husband designed a perfect house for our family. Nine months later as school was starting, we moved to a county with a much better school district than the county where Birdsong was. We lived there for twenty-seven years.

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 5

Long ago in my thirties, I was in a Catholic Charismatic (Pentecostal) prayer group that was led by several of the Sisters of Mercy at their convent. I, along with Pat, another woman member, were registered to attend the annual Charismatic Renewal Conference at Notre Dame University. At the prayer meeting two days before the conference, a young woman in her early twenties asked if she could go with us. We had spoken about a priest that led a small group of sisters and nurses in a healing ministry, and Dorothy had curvature of the spine with one leg shorter than the other. This caused her to have to wear an ugly built-up shoe, it also sometimes caused her pain, and she feared that when she married and became pregnant it would cause more problems. It was too late to register her and probably too late to get her a room in the dorms, but we told her to bring a sleeping bag and stay in our room.

So, Dorothy set off with us. We were running a little late and I was worried that we would miss the first large session in the gymnasium, which was the presentation on healing. A couple of weird time changes later we arrived just as it was beginning, but had to sit almost at the very top of the gymnasium. We were supposed to wait until it cleared at the end to find Pat’s sister, who was coming from Pittsburg. As the gym emptied, I prayed nervously about whether to take Dorothy down to the group with the healing ministry. I finally said, “God, if you want them to pray for Dorothy, please bring them up our aisle, and I’ll ask them to pray for her.” The gym was almost empty, but we had not spotted Pat’s sister, so we were still sitting almost at the top on an aisle. Just then, the priest and the others with the healing ministry started up our exact aisle on their way out. As they came near us, I spoke hesitantly, “Father, would you pray for Dorothy here. She has one leg shorter than the other.” He stopped his group and said, “Of course. Let Dorothy sit in your chair here on the aisle.” So, Dorothy moved into my seat and the several prayer team members and Pat and I put our hands on her shoulders and held her hands, while the priest led us in a gentle quiet prayer asking God for healing in Jesus’ name. No frills, no dramatics. Then he stopped abruptly and asked Dorothy, “Did you feel that? I think your leg jumped.” Dorothy with tears flowing, agreed that it had. He then led us in prayers of thanksgiving, smiled, and continued on up the stairs.
                                                                                                                                                                    As we sat stunned into silence, Pat’s sister appeared next to us. Following her out of the gym, we excitedly recounted our experience with a mixture of laughter and tears of joy. Dorothy suddenly stopped and said in amazement, “I’m limping. My built-up shoe is making me lopsided.” So, she took off her shoes and continued on, literally ‘leaping and dancing and praising God.’
                                                                                                                                                                After we got to our dorm room, my inner Twin to Thomas kicked in. It ‘just so happened’ that Pat was a physical therapist. For the next hour, I kept making Pat measure Dorothy’s legs over and over. Pat kept reassuring me that they truly matched. No doubt about it. But there was still some visible curvature of her spine. When, in the wee hours of the morning, we began to tire, Pat went to the communal dorm bathroom to brush her teeth. There she met an older woman and told her of our experience, ending with the curious fact that Dorothy’s spine was still curved. The woman reassured her by telling her that her own husband’s leg, which had been a whole inch shorter than his other one, had been healed the year before at this conference. She said that the leg grew immediately, but it took six months for the atrophied muscles to develop fully back to normal.
We finally all went to sleep exhausted, wonderous, thankful, and at peace.
                                                                                                                                                 Over the next several months I, of little faith, looked each time our prayer group met to assure myself that Dorothy was indeed happily wearing sandals, flip flops, or tennis shoes.
And almost ten years later, now married and the mother of two children, Dorothy came to our parish to tell her story to our women’s group. Yes, she was still happily and painlessly wearing sandals.

                                                             Addendum

Father Francis in his books and when speaking before leading prayer for healing always told this story, which to me shows the huge difference between him and the TV “Healers.” He was speaking in a city where an old friend lived. The friend invited him to dinner with his family. While there, one of their children had an asthma attack. He had a scary history of serious attacks, so Fr. Francis offered to pray over him. They agreed and he did. A year or so later he was back in the city and again visited his friend. He asked how the boy was. They smiled and said he was doing very well, but that after Fr. Francis had left that night, the child got so much worse, they had to rush him to the ER. At the ER a doctor told them of a new medicine that was helping someone in his family with asthma. They went to their doctor and asked him to prescribe it and it was working beautifully for their child. An Episcopal woman who had a healing ministry also shared that it was really humbling to do healing prayer ministry when you had allergies and kept sneezing and sniffling the whole time you were speaking and praying for people. God does the healing…..God just uses people and keeps them aware of who is in charge. A chapter on healing that I’ve written recalls praying in a prayer group for a young father on a roller coaster battle with cancer. I, and several others in the group, simultaneously “heard” in our thoughts to trust God and to let him go. So, we prayed a prayer putting him in God’s loving hands trusting in God’s love. Later, we heard he died at that time. Both death and suffering are a reality in this life. This is not heaven, but it is only a blink in comparison to eternity. Early in my spiritual journey, I experienced several healings, but over the years have had to hang onto faith through serious pain and crippling health issues that put me in a wheel chair for several years. It’s a mystery. But it has helped me to know that Jesus has walked this path before me and is with me now as I follow him. And that with grace I can grow closer to him and more like him through the hard times.

From Grumbling to Gathering: Manna in the Wilderness

(My notes on the Sermon today that I really, really needed to hear!)

Exodus: The people of God’s journey from slavery to freedom wasn’t very happy. They were complaining already just one month after leaving Egypt. Nothing ever made them happy.  Their one constant was complaining.

The first thing wrong with complaining is that it distorts the past.  Once we are in a different place, we only remember the good from the past. Whether in our history as a country or just as ourselves, we remember the past as a golden age that we have lost. We are blinded by nostalgia.

The second thing wrong with grumbling is that it exaggerates the present. We focus on what’s wrong and lose our sense of proportion. Change is a necessary part of life. It’s not easy or fun, but focusing on what we don’t like about the new causes us to miss embracing the good and learning from the difficult.

The third thing wrong with a negative attitude is while it distorts the past, and exaggerates the present, it also destroys the future. We aren’t able to trust enough to embrace the journey and grow spiritually from it.

Stop grumbling by learning to trust.

  1. Trust God to provide by drawing near to God. Focus on God’s glory around you. Notice God’s footprints in the small gifts each day. Ask and then watch and listen. We are not alone.  We do not have guarantees for the future whatever we do to prepare for it, but we do have God in it.
  • Trust God enough to rest on the seventh day.  God sent just enough manna to his people in the desert to get them through each day, except on the sixth day he sent double so they didn’t have to go out gathering on the Sabbath.  Take time to remember and thank for what God has brought you through, focus on how God is present with you now, and pray for the grace to continue becoming the person God created you to be.
  • Trust that God will always be trustworthy. He had the Israelites put manna in a jar in the Ark of the Covenant to assure future generations that God provides. Our sign now is Jesus. Jesus who said, “I am the bread of Life.” Jesus who came to show us the nature of God, the love of God, the power of the Spirit of God within us and around us. Walk with Jesus through the New Testament each day so you can see how to walk closer with him.

(Okay, this is just my small escape clause and not the gospel according to Jesus or Pastor John.)  “Monday is the Day the Lord hath made for Whining.”  Once I get it out of my system, I can move on to praising, thanking, and learning.  However, it is a moveable feast: if I don’t whine on Monday, I do allow myself one other day out of the seven.  The trouble has been that lately I have been whining seven out of seven over Covid starting up again. So, the sermon today hit me between the eyes.  Regroup time….I was born worrying…so I’ll probably need that one day, but feel free to remind me when I start doing the Exodus Rap.)

Social Media: Our Pandora’s Box

For many, anger is less painful than fear.  Denial is even less troubling.  Sadly, both ways of reacting to a pandemic are worse than ineffective.  They not only divide us, even as families, but they undermine the efforts of those best equipped to deal with it.

The problem isn’t just fake news or even misunderstood news, it’s that we are coping with something different, something that even changes just when we think we’ve got a grip on it. Scientists comes up with theories based on past experience, but often there are new challenges, so to some extent they have to learn by trial and error. So, when lives are at stake they have to try to err on the side of safety in spite of politics and paranoia.

The other challenge is that today’s nations and continents are interconnected in a multitude of ways that no one can control completely. Parts of the world being at war with each other and even more parts distrusting one another complicates any international or national organizations’ ability to gather information and coordinate the fight against a pandemic.

Attacks on those working to solve the problem not only undermine their efforts, they can slow down progress enough to cost lives. Turning the pandemic into a political power struggle could defeat us, instead of the disease.

No one is infallible, but those with training and years of experience in fighting disease have a huge head start on the rest of us, including the politicians.  Winning or losing one round doesn’t mean we give up the fight or ignore those with the knowledge passed down from others before them. They also struggled, but won the long battles against diseases such as tuberculosis, tetanus, chickenpox, smallpox, polio, hepatitis, measles, whooping cough, mumps, and diptheria with vaccines.

I have been writing about prayer.  Now I’m asking for prayer for cures for what are destroying us, both viruses and division.

A Short Digression from the Posts on Prayer

A dialogue of conflict about a post on face book: The Cosmic Dancer, which had described wonderful possibilities in life.

JLE: But all of the opposite things are also happening. I can’t get my head around it.

EON: Goodies/baddies; upside/downside; joy/sorrow……..flips sides of the same coin. This is school, not heaven.

JLE: I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell. Stories for children.

JLE: I’m sorry, that came out wrong and was impolite. I just get a little bothered when people assume everyone is Christian. There are many types of spiritual beliefs, including the lack of. We all should support each other’s beliefs. Again, I apologize.

EON: No need to apologize to me. I should not have assumed a belief in heaven. Particularly since I support keeping public prayer out of public schools, etc. (No one can stop private prayer of any religious orientation.) I once rejected all my Christian upbringing and wouldn’t let my children go to church and be taught myths and fairy tales. And I still constantly struggle with the dichotomy of good and evil. With a four-generation history of much-loved gay/trans family members, I definitely have issues with fundamentalist Christianity. I see everything in terms of evolution/growth in understanding and the capacity for loving even those different from ourselves. But over my 84 years I have discerned (or possibly imposed) a pattern of joy/sorrow, etc. in life.

Paradoxically, I have come to appreciate the pattern of openness to the challenges to change his religion’s and culture’s fundamental attitudes and prejudices on the part of the Jesus of the New Testament. I really see him as a leap in evolution from survival of the fittest to ability to care about and sacrifice for the physically, intellectually, spiritually, and ethically imperfect/unfinished. (I include myself among those imperfect and unfinished.) Jesus is central to my spirituality.

But there are others in history who have made this leap also. To me, many of the tenets of Buddhism say the same thing Jesus did. In fact, the mystics of all the world religions say the same thing one way or another: “We are all one. Everything is one. Whatever we do to anyone or our planet or universes affects everything.”

I have no idea what happens after death, but I think there’s an individual essence/awareness (?) that survives. I have a few experiential reasons for believing this, but nothing like proof. Spirituality is different from religion. Without a personal spirituality, religion becomes either a religious country club or an assumed insurance policy.

I did recognize fairly early that it was hubris on my part to assume because I didn’t understand something, it couldn’t exist. There is more that humanity does not yet know or understand than it does understand, even now.

It was very kind of you to apologize to me, but unnecessary. I suspect we would have great intellectual fun speculating on all sorts of things and share angst over the ongoing horrors in human history. Sorry! I’m an extravert and a widow who quarantined for almost a year and a half. So, I tend to get carried away when given a chance to dialogue with someone interesting and sensitive to others.

JLE: Awe, that was beautiful. Thank you. I’ve felt like a jerk since I wrote that first comment. You seem like a very interesting and amazing individual!!! I love unexpected connections! I hope you’re having a lovely day.

EON: Thanks! Yes, I’ve had a wonderful visit with my family. I wish a lovely day and evening also for you.

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 4

I have experienced and witnessed many miracles. Some that even the most atheistic among us would have to wonder about. However, I don’t believe they are technically miracles. We are just so conceited that we think we understand the limits of nature, of our body and minds, of all the science of the universes. What hubris and tragedy it is to limit life, never-the-less God, to our own understanding.

Jesus got it. Over and over, he stressed praying and trusting.  He actually said he had to leave, so we would find and trust the Spirit within ourselves.  I am still seeking to understand better how and when Jesus prayed and everything he said about prayer.  And I’m really curious if his experience and understanding of prayer changed like his understanding of his call and ministry did.

I have had miracles and I’ve had suffering and my mother had a tragic dying by inches for fourteen years with Alzheimer’s. I do not understand it. But I do not limit God/life/prayer to my human understanding.  I have experienced the presence of Jesus in suffering. I’ve found grace and glimpses of joy in suffering.  I’ve also suffered until I simply could not have survived it without the grace of concrete answers to my prayers for relief.

I call myself a devout coward. I am not joking or being modest or bragging. I am a wus. Lots of times my suffering is just from fear of suffering because of imagined future disasters. An imagination that does not limit us to what we have experienced can help us not only have empathy for others, but to even find new solutions to problems.  But the downside is that we suffer needlessly through imagining bad possibilities also.

My whole point in this is that somehow, we are “God’s” junior partners through prayer. Through various stages of my spiritual journey, prayer has been a large, but changing part of my life.

Once while praying with a group for a young father who had been suffering and getting better and then suffering again for many months fighting cancer, I heard in my mind, “Trust me and let him go.” Several others in the prayer group had received the same message, so we prayed to trust him to God and let him go. Later that day, we heard that he had died at that time.

I pray for family, I pray for friends, I pray for myself, I pray for people who ask for prayer that I don’t know, I pray for the people whose cars are abandoned along the interstate and for all involved when I hear sirens.  When I am waiting for someone in public, I pray for the people around me. Sometimes people I have known come to mind at odd times and I pray for them. I pray in great detail when setting out to drive on the interstate. I find it harder, but I add my prayers to those of others for world peace. But when the chips are down, I tell God if there’s a better way to achieve good, then His will, not mine.

Sometimes I have a strong sense of how to pray, but if I don’t, often now I pray this way: “God, be with this person and those they love. Meet their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs in ways that will help them become the person you created them to be. I ask this in Jesus’ name, because he told us to love others as You love us. Amen.” More than anything else, prayer keeps me aware of and connected both to God and people. At the age of eighty-four living on limited income, I can not do as much as I once was able to do for people. Many of my friends are limited physically and financially. I wonder if the limits of old age might be our call to pray. Who did you pray for today?

Centuries of Christianity playing out in changing cultures have led to eras of stressing different parts of the Gospels and ignoring others.  The culture of Jesus’ times influenced his followers from the beginning.  It is very difficult both to get free of the limits of our inborn personalities and to sort through the wheat and chaff of our particular times and culture.  My prayer experiences show how slow I often have been in hearing God because of my personal and cultural assumptions.  When we recognize the personality differences and the cultural challenges that Thomas, Peter, and Paul had, we begin to realize how much our individual humanity influences and even limits us.  And it makes us aware of how important it is for us to hear the Spirit of God both within us and in others and in our circumstances.  The tenth chapter of Acts’ Scriptural accounts of Peter’s difficulty in letting go of Jewish laws and his obvious conflict with Paul’s vision of their new religion, show Paul challenging Peter, the Spirit speaking to Peter in a dream, and then the Spirit falling upon Cornelius and his family as Peter was speaking, literally giving them gifts of confirmation to show Peter to Baptize them. That is why we need each other to help us keep our minds open. We also have to ask and listen for guidance, even being open to recognizing the Spirit where we least expect it, in those different from us.

 My husband of sixty years and I were very different.  As a new Christian I loved the Scriptures, but had some problems with Paul’s challenge, “Wives obey your husbands,” since though Baptized and Confirmed, my kind and honest husband had little involvement with organized religion, wasn’t familiar with the Scriptures, and didn’t pray.  At one point in our marriage, we had to make a major decision that not only would drastically change our whole family’s life style, but would involve a large financial risk.  He decided we should make the change. I had cold feet about it. I had read something that advised praying and then watching for the answer and expect it in three days. Over a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I prayed, read the scriptures, listened to the sermon, and read a chapter of a new book.  On Monday morning, I was sure that I had not received an answer. But as I reviewed the things I had heard and read, I recognized that all weekend there had been a theme, “Wives obey your husbands.”   As an automatic no arguing rule, I still rejected this, but had to admit that as far as this particular decision, the answer had been very clear.  And in retrospect, I believe it was definitely the right choice, because even though there were many new challenges in our lives as a result, they were learning experiences that made a positive spiritual difference.

At that point in time, I was not a feminist.  Our problems mostly were differences in our upbringing, personalities, and spirituality.  Over time, what I found was that arguing is different from discussion.  Discussion is a dialogue where both consider each others reasons, while recognizing that there are no perfect answers. It is not just two closed minds butting heads.  I also discovered that as an extravert introducing an issue to an introvert, I needed to bring it up and then walk away to give him whatever time he needed to consider it even before we began a discussion.  (An introvert pushed into a fast decision will self protect and just say “NO!”) I found that when I would seriously consider his opinion and let him know that I understood his logic, often he would then be open to my opinion and even decide it was the best choice.

A couple is a team with different areas of expertise and experiences and values.  Sometimes logic and values conflict.  There is no logical reason for getting a kitten unless you have mice. While allergies do trump a longing for something cute and furry, love can free us to sacrifice our own convenience or preference.   

Tradition has been influenced by culture.  Even Christian tradition.  In the first several years after my conversion, I was part of an women’s ecumenical prayer group.  Once through having a “Christian” coffee, our group grew too large so we chose to divide into smaller groups. But between eight and twelve of us, we ended up with at least a Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, Charismatic, and once Miriam, a Jewish Christian who still worshipped at her Synagogue.  We didn’t clash over theology, because we focused on how to become more loving in our own lives.  But one Holy Thursday, which is also the Jewish Passover, our Jewish Christian brought unleavened bread and wine. She suggested we read the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and pass the bread and wine to one another. This was a whole new ball game.  The Presbyterian missionary next to me said, “I think we need an ordained minister to do that.”  I immediately thought, “No, we need a priest.” And we all pretty much presumed we needed a man to do that. We decided to go ahead with our usual scripture reading and prayer and be open to what God wanted us to do.  After our usual hour everyone agreed that they felt that it was a good thing to do.  Miriam read the Holy Thursday Scripture and we each passed the bread to the woman next to us and then the wine and sat in quiet reflection afterward.  Finally, someone asked, “Did anyone experience something unusual when passing the bread and wine to their sister in Christ. And one by one we all admitted that we had had a strong sense of Jesus standing with his hand on our shoulder as we did that. 

This and other experiences have convinced me that whenever we gather together in God’s name, God is with us. God’s presence, our sharing God’s presence, is never limited to one person, one group, one place, any religion’s ceremony or any human rules that limit God. Our celebrations on Sundays should call us, remind us, and give us the grace to do this in memory of God and God’s love fleshed out in Jesus, whenever and wherever we can. This was how Christianity began and flourished even under the threat of death. It is not about power or politics or theological limits. God is not small or limited to our traditions or protocols. Mankind’s need to be in control has made God a prisoner through rules and traditions that attempt to cut God down to our size. It isn’t that God is not in our temples and tabernacles and attempts to worship, know, and serve. It is simply that God cannot be limited to them. And we are poorer for imagining we can.

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 3

These days we are becoming more aware that people are very different in significant ways. Most of us are familiar with the differences between outgoing extraverts and inward looking introverts. And we are also aware that each person may tend toward one, but to different degrees. And our work personality may be quite different from our private one. Many preachers, teachers, and even actors are introverts. They do beautifully “on the job,” but are exhausted and need to refuel alone after being “on stage.” The extroverts are energized by the audience and hang around for interaction with people.

Our spiritual styles will vary accordingly. I think, I, and many others have done damage when we have expected others’ spiritual journeys to be the same as ours. One thing I have witnessed in my eighty-four years, is people changing drastically in how they relate to God and even to people at different stages of their lives.

I’ve seen people who found spiritual riches in rote prayer and ritual, lose that source and then discover a relationship with a living Savior present in their personal lives. And in my own case, the riches of insight and relationship that I found for decades in Scripture simply stopped at one point. But I found peace and strength in ritual and repetitive prayer after panicking over my loss. I think this is a very personal journey, but with the differences being mostly in timing. It is to me a “dying to self.” But it isn’t permanent. The spiritual goal is wholeness. It’s beautiful really, because we finally understand people who were simply mysteries to us, even appearing to be in opposition to us.

I want to stress this because as I share my experiences of prayer, if those do not fit your experience, simply file them and ask God to show you when it’s time to be open to them.

My husband and I were opposites to the extreme in pretty much every way. Like Thomas, the Apostle, he was logical and loyal, but accepted the limits of his times’ understanding of reality. He played by the rules, seeing God as a judge. But he envied me my joy, so he said the prayer and began to read Scripture. I tried to get him to start with the New Testament, but that wasn’t the way his mind worked, so he began at the beginning and bogged down somewhere in Leviticus. One morning as he was driving to work he prayed. “God, Eileen says you’ll talk to us. So, I’m listening.” As he said this, he heard a siren and saw flashing lights behind him. A police man pulled him over for going 40 in a 30 mile zone. As the policeman went back to his car to write out the ticket, my husband was thinking, “I can’t wait to tell Eileen about this answer.” When the policeman came back he said, “Mr. Norman, while I was writing this ticket every car that went by was speeding and most were going faster than you were. I’m tearing up your ticket, but you try to be more careful along here.” And he tore up the ticket. My response was “All fall short of the glory of God, but because of Jesus, God tears up our tickets!” And Julian being such a concrete visual thinker, it seemed like a perfect answer to me. It was many years before Julian was able to be open to a relationship with Jesus that gave him joy, but finally he did.

Another woman who had grown up Baptist and had followed Jesus for many years was in my ecumenical prayer group. Betty told God one night, “Eileen gets all the miracles. Why don’t I get miracles?” The next morning as she was driving her new Buick home from taking her children to school, she didn’t realize that she was on black ice and when she started to turn she drove off the road and dropped about six feet into a group of trees. She didn’t hit any of them and the ground was muddy, not frozen, so she wasn’t actually hurt, just shaken. She got out and called a tow truck. When the driver got the car out and checked it out, he said, “Mam, it’s a miracle not only that you didn’t get hurt, but your car didn’t either. You can drive it home.” That night she prayed, “Thank you God for keeping me and even the car safe. But, it’s okay now. Eileen can have the miracles.”

I’ll continue with my prayer stories, but do remember our spiritual journeys are on different schedules and miracles are answers to problems. And some problems have reasons, instead of miracles. And sometimes we won’t know the reasons until we’ve reached the other side of life.

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 2

Chapter 1 was just high lights from fifty-four years ago. Looking back I can see God’s footprints in my life even when I was running from that reality. I now recognize God’s interventions in close encounters with death and in finding the right help when I needed it at a critical turning point. Whatever God is, once we open our eyes to that which is beyond our understanding, we recognize a power that is active within us unfinished people in an unfinished world. And that power is in the tiniest and seemingly insignificant and in the awesome and seemingly impossible.

I realize now what hubris it was to think that because I (or for that matter, anyone else) could not understand God, God couldn’t exist. We explore the universe, we grow ever more understanding of our bodies, we create awesome machines that mimic analytical thought, but what we don’t know or understand is exponentially greater than what we do. Guys, we don’t have a clue. And once we accept that, our hearts and minds can open up to an inner journey far beyond our personal human limits. And we don’t have to understand it to experience it and let it be used for good.

Prayer is one of our greatest mysteries. And all through human history and in our Christian Scriptures prayer has been our way to reach beyond our seemingly natural limits.

After I opened my heart and mind to the person of Jesus as the tangible expression of the unconditional love and infinite power of God, I began to experience answered prayer beyond anything I had ever expected. About a dozen of us from different denominational backgrounds began to meet to pray, read Scripture, and share our new spiritual journey. We were all experiencing new understandings and a closer relationship to a very present Jesus, but I was experiencing some things that others who had never questioned their religious upbringing were not. The fact is that rejecting pretty much everything religious I had been taught or even heard of, actually freed me to expect to experience the whole shebang we read about in Acts. I went from believing nothing to believing everything.

It started in small, but unexpected ways. One morning, I had already set up everything for an after school birthday party for my eight year old son, so I could go to my weekly bridge luncheon with friends. I dropped my children off at school and was coming back past my house on the way to the luncheon, when I simply felt a strong urge to stop and go into my house even though it would run me late. I started to ignore it, but thought maybe somebody was calling me about something serious (only land lines back then). So, I stopped and went in my back door where I discovered the kitchen door to the basement garage was open. As I hesitated, our six month old German Shepherd puppy and two other neighborhood dogs came running through the kitchen from the living and dining room where wrapped presents were on the floor, platters of cookies and bags of candy were on the low coffee table and a loosely covered cake was on the dining room table. The only thing disturbed so far were the balloons bouncing around the rooms from the racing dogs. As I coaxed the leaping happy dogs out of the house and secured it, I was literally in tears of gratitude. To my total amazement, I realized that God cared about the small stuff!

For months after my new spiritual journey began, I was overflowing with joy and wanted somehow to share that joy with others. One day I was raking leaves in my front yard and asked God for a chance to share the “good news” and I thought of a couple I knew who were having marital problems because of alcohol abuse. As I stopped raking to go visit them, a neighbor two doors from me called to me from her porch inviting me up for coffee. I apologized, asking for a raincheck since I was about to go visit the couple. The neighbor was a beautiful woman with two delightful young children and a banker husband who seemed very kind. She pretty much had everything. I went to visit the unhappy couple and they were not the slightest interested in the “good news.” The next day was Sunday and I was standing in my driveway waiting for some friends to take me to their Sunday school class to share my story. The same neighbor called down, again inviting me to come over. I apologized saying I was going to talk to a Sunday school class. She walked over to me asking what I was going to talk about. I told her that I was going to share about asking Jesus to be my Savior and Lord and what joy and new understandings that had brought me. As my friends pulled into my drive, she took hold of my arm saying, “Please, please come tomorrow and tell me about it.” I guess because experiencing rebirth wasn’t new to the Baptist Sunday school class, they were not very interested in my story, wanting only to ask why Catholics worshipped Mary. Since, I never had, I couldn’t help them with that. The next day when I shared my story with my affluent neighbor, with tears of joy she asked Jesus to be her Savior and Lord.

Sometimes when we have everything the world offers, we realize that it isn’t enough.

After this experience, I decided to invite my other neighbor over for lunch and to share with her. She belonged to a very large Church of Christ and my witness made her nervous. She was polite, but fled as soon as she could. The next Sunday afternoon, she came to see me wide eyed. She said, “Eileen, we had a visiting preacher this morning and he said all the same things you did!”

God really does seem to be in the timing.

But God doesn’t just rescue or use us. God is constantly teaching us. At Christmas my father-in-law always gave us a side of beef. Some friends with seven children were starting a business and money was in very short supply. So, my husband and I decided to share some of the beef with them. Now, I knew all the Scriptures about sharing and loving others as you loved yourself, but as I loaded a basket with hamburger, pot roasts, and some round steaks, every time my hand hovered over the sirloin, ribeye, and T bone steaks, I drew it back. I dearly love those steaks. I rationalized that the cheaper cuts would stretch further with seven children. So, I didn’t share any of the more expensive steaks.

The next weekend, we took our children to a state park that my husband had designed, since we could stay free in one of the cabins while he did a final inspection. I had left the garage door up a little over a foot so the cat could come and go. All seemed well when we returned until I went to freezer in the garage to get meat for dinner. The bottom two shelves where all the expensive steaks had been were completely empty. Nothing else was missing.

I got the message.

I asked God’s forgiveness, but also admitted that I would really, really like to know how He did it.

A day later a friend who lived a couple of blocks downstream on the creek that ran through both of our yards called and told me excitedly about all the mysterious expensive steaks her dogs were happily devouring in her back yard. So, now I knew where the steaks went, but not how in the world they got there. But as I walked into our back yard to look around the creek, our next door neighbor came over and mentioned that she had seen the three-year-old from across the street crawling in and out of our garage over the weekend. Evidently frozen steaks make great boats to float in a creek and only the expensive ones were in her reach. I was so relieved she hadn’t managed to climb into the freezer, I didn’t even begrudge the dogs the steaks. And a couple of years later I gave the nuns at the Catholic school where I taught several nice steaks along with hamburger. When they tried to give me the expensive steaks back and just keep the hamburger, I assured them with great conviction that I really, really needed to give them the steaks too.

Sometimes, I do get the message.

Next Chapter: Much more complex, immediate, and mind boggling answers to prayers.