Earnest prayer

Hi! It’s been a while. We traveled to the East Coast in the middle of October and, predictably, both kids got sick during/after travel and things have taken a while to settle back into a routine. I finally feel like I’m back to normal and can sit down to write.

Before I get down to business, I have a couple of housekeeping items:

  • I’ve been thinking about adding some diversified content to the blog for a while. So while my main focus will still be what God is doing, I’m plan to post twice weekly; the main content remaining God and his sanctifying work in my life, and the second weekly post will be a recipe or creative kid project or something similar that falls into the broad category of homemaking. These things are tangentially related to the most important thing, but they’re still a part of this new life I’m living.
  • To that end, I have a new Instagram account for the blog which you can view in the sidebar of my blog or by going directly to the account on Instagram (kat.maybe_). The Instagram account will largely serve the “Homemaking, Maybe,” posts.

And now, a return to our regularly-scheduled programming!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I pray recently. As I mentioned, I re-arranged my day to make prayer and Bible reading a priority. It’s… well, let’s say it’s working in fits and starts. But as to the prayer part, I’ve been trying to write down the things I pray about daily. I don’t write out the whole prayer, but I’ve started taking notes under broad categories of the prayer:

  • praising God by naming His attributes,
  • asking for His will to be done in situations that are on my mind,
  • asking him for my “daily bread” needs, asking for forgiveness for sins, and
  • asking for deliverance from the evils I face.

This model (introduced to me by our pastor and modeled after the Lord’s Prayer) is super helpful for being consistent in things I should always be praying for (my children, for instance). But it does kind of lend itself to getting stale with prayers. A few times, particularly for the things I pray about every day, I feel like I’m reciting my multiplication tables to God rather than bringing him the earnest pleadings of my heart.

I’ve particularly felt this way when I’ve been praying about a conflict I’ve had. The issue is not really resolved, and bitterness started to set in. I had incredibly ungracious thoughts about this situation and the parties involved. Recognizing that I was totally powerless to stop this calcification of my heart on my own, I started to pray daily. I honestly didn’t feel like praying about it. It even took me a few days to add it to my daily list of things to pray over. The advice C.S. Lewis gives on this topic was really what kept me going:

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

So pray I did. Weeks went by with me praying the same thing, over and over, not really liking praying about it. And then, one day, God answered the prayer. The issue is still not resolved (which is mostly what I expected) but one day while I was acting as though I loved my neighbor, I just felt a change in my heart. It wasn’t a dramatic change, and there is definitely still work to be done through prayer and practicing love, but it felt like a page turned.

Last week in Bible Study Fellowship, we were in Acts 12. Peter and James are imprisoned, and James is murdered by Herod Agrippa. Things are looking rather bleak for Peter, and “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5, emphasis mine) Peter goes on to be miraculously delivered by an angel from prison. The church was so surprised when he returned to them that they thought he was a ghost.

Reflecting on all this, I didn’t feels my prayers over this situation were particularly in earnest. But, I was also reminded of what Paul says in Romans:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. – Romans 8:26-27

How encouraging it is to know that the Holy Spirit is always working in the prayers of a believer, making us obedient and helping us to pray in earnest even if we don’t feel in earnest. What a joy to be able to pray and rest in the knowledge that our prayers are perfected, heard, and will be answered.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 16-17) Amen!

For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven

It’s been a week.

The “back to school ick” is running rampant and we became its victims this week. One by one, our entire family was overwhelmed by snot and coughing and exhaustion. My husband had a really busy week at work with some later nights at the office and sometimes at home. My mother-in-law, who usually helps when things go off the rails, got sick as well and needed to rest at home. So for a few days it was just me and our circus all to myself.

I was feeling pretty crummy, of course, so I let the kids watch many more movies in one sitting than I ever have before (except for long car rides). During my “forced” quiet time while they were watching “Pooh” movies, I was scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. But what I probably should have been doing was reading my Bible and in prayer with God. I was completely and totally untethered to Truth. And, what’s worse, I knew it and I just ignored it. Just a few weeks ago I had resolved to not eat the bread of idleness, but there I was, snarfing it down.

Predictably, it didn’t take me long to unravel.

It was the end of a long, difficult week. Neither kid napped Friday afternoon, so we were all grumpy after dinner. Before bedtime, I had to suction the our youngest’s nose out so she could take her bottle. She hates nothing as much as she hates that saline spray and suction bulb. She screams and cries and flails and oh my heavens it is SUCH an ordeal.

The baby screamed and cried. The toddler, who seems to think yelling at her sister will stop her from crying (I don’t know how she hasn’t noticed yet that this method has the exact opposite effect), was also screaming.

I had been incredibly patient all week, but I was tired and exasperated from fighting kids to help them. I started to cry. I grabbed the toddler and deposited her in her bedroom and slammed the baby gate behind me.

“I can’t handle both of you right now, I will be back later,” I snapped.

Later, with baby sister in bed, I went and got our oldest out of her room. I felt terrible. I knew I had scared her by crying and yelling and I had been unkind with my words. I took her out to the living room and sat on the couch with her. I told her yelling at other people is always naughty. She shouldn’t have yelled, but neither should have Mommy. I apologized. As I was saying that I was trying to be a good mommy, but sometimes I just don’t get it right, she interrupted me. Turning to face me, she patted my head and said:

“You’re good, Mommy.”

All in one sentence and totally unawares, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter showed me the grace I did not deserve, could not earn, and was ashamed and yet so eager to have. It was like I was hit with a lightning bolt of pure joy. I bawled. She thought I was laughing so she laughed, and soon I was laughing too.

I should be living in that lightning bolt of pure joy every day. How amazing, how wonderful, that God can teach a grown woman about the radical grace of Jesus through her child. I see more clearly every day, “for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

Putting away the bread of idleness

Through various Bible reading plans and studies, I wound up reading Proverbs 31 three times this year. Yes — I willingly looked at myself through the lens of this mythically perfect woman not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. And you know what? I was not totally discouraged. Rather, I was challenged, in more ways than I expected.

One of the things I noticed in my readings of this chapter was this woman’s use of her time. She is a cheerful worker (v.13), she rises early (v.15), she is not idle (v.27).

Can I admit something to you? One of the things I covet most is my idleness. I want to sleep in. I want to sit on the couch and read or watch a TV show or nap when the kids nap. These things in and of themselves aren’t bad when rest is needed (more on that later), but they are my natural tendency. I give in. A LOT. I eat the bread of idleness whenever I get a chance and declare it good by telling myself, “I’m a mom, I deserve this.” But this year God has been convicting me of the wrongness of my habits via Mrs. Proverbs 31.

I’m sure many people reading this know of that one incredibly spirit-filled person in their lives who rises at some ridiculously early hour to read their Bible and spend time with God in prayer. I know a few people who do this and have always written this off. “It is NOT for me,” I’ve said. “I have KIDS.”

Every mom knows exactly what I’m talking about. Amen?

There is also the legitimate issue that the early morning hours are not my best. I am not a morning person (and that’s an understatement). If I were to rise early and read my Bible and pray, I wouldn’t be giving God my first fruits. I am my most alert and at my leisure during the kids’ nap time. But during nap time, if I’m not giving into my love of idleness, I’m usually working out, showering, and maybe doing one household chore if I can squeeze it in. So I do my Bible reading at night before bed. But if I’m honest with myself, this is giving God my last fruits. At the end of the day I want to spend time with my husband having an actual adult conversation without interruptions from our beautiful babies, and then I want to go to bed. God is getting the last MAYBE half-hour of my day.

This Sunday our pastor preached a great sermon on prayer that kind of kicked me in the rear. All of these things I’ve been thinking about Mrs. Proverbs 31 swirled around as I was listening to the sermon and I was really convicted that it was time to bring this part of my life and lay it on the altar for God to use.

The confluence of these convictions led me to come up with The Plan. I was going to rise at 6AM, work out, shower, and get going. I would do my Bible reading and prayers during nap time. After dinner and the kids’ bedtime would be 100% my husband’s and mine. I would go to bed early, and I would start all over again the next day.

Perhaps what happened next was entirely predictable. In a series of events that seemed pulled from the very pages of The Screwtape Letters, The Plan completely unraveled.

I went to bed a little later than planned because I wasted time on social media. Not a problem in and of itself, BUT, the baby woke up at 3:50AM. I got her back to sleep no problem, but I was wide awake until after 5AM. I knew what was happening even then – and I prayed that God would not let Satan (who had clearly sensed opportunity and was trying his best to take it) steal the day. I had to give in and set my alarm forward to 7:30. No working out. By the time we reached the kids’ naptime, I was completely wiped out. I had to sleep when they did. No working out, no Bible time. It will be done in the evening, not like I planned.

But even in a day like today there have been bountiful mercies. Some fights I was expecting with our toddler never emerged, both kids napped for a long time in the afternoon and I was able to get the rest I needed to catapult me through the rest of the day. As I sit here writing this, both kids are playing nicely on the floor and not harassing each other (don’t get me wrong, I know this will not last!) I’m discouraged by the way today went, but I know that Satan wants that discouragement to keep me from trying again tomorrow. By God’s grace, it won’t!

Plunged to Victory

So this weekend I did a thing. But in order to tell you that story I have to tell you another story first.

I was raised and baptized as an infant in a Presbyterian church. I attended Presbyterian, Lutheran, and nondenominational congregations until I moved to Wisconsin and began attending a Baptist church with my husband. While there are differences in the method and timing of water and professing, Baptists and Presbyterians hold similar views on the issue of baptism — that is, that it does not confer salvation — but the manner and timing are treated differently in these traditions. (Disclaimer: this is an incredibly simple treatment of an important theological issue that I am not going to break down on this blog. But you can read some thoughtful pieces on believer’s baptism (credobaptism) vs infant baptism (paedo-baptism) here and here). Long story short, I never felt the need to get baptized as an adult.

Our church here in Wisconsin requires credobaptism for membership. Submitting myself to the authority of a church through membership is something I feel very strongly about. As the wife of a member, it seemed out-of-step to not have our household unified in responsibility to the church community and in answer to its discipline (Jack was, for his part, less worried about this than me). As far as I knew I had been baptized, even if it was when I was an infant, and I made several public professions of faith (for instance, when Jack and I dedicated our daughters, we professed faith before our church). My question therefore was: was I coming to baptism as a box to be checked for church membership? I wanted to submit to the authority of the church on this matter because membership is important. But I did not want to come to baptism lightly. We have two kids who will ask us questions about these things one day. What would I say if I got baptized just to join the church?

So Jack and I spoke with our pastor. We read some books. We prayed. I read a bunch of articles online. I read the book of Acts. I read some more articles online. After a month or more I was not convinced that I wasn’t baptized as an infant, and therefore was without a good reason to seek baptism as an adult.

Then, one day, I was thinking about this and wondered if I was being obedient. I went back to the book of Acts:

So then, those who had RECEIVED HIS WORD were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41

But when they BELIEVED Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. – Acts 8:12

And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (And Philip said, “If you BELIEVE with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I BELIEVE that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”) And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. – Acts 8:36-38

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They asked him to stay on for a few days. – Acts 10:44-48

And after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “BELIEVE in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having BELIEVED in God with his whole household. -Acts 16:30-34

And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, BELIEVED in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were BELIEVING and being baptized. – Acts 18:8

And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples, and he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to BELIEVE in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 19:1-5

First believe, and then be baptized.

For probably the first time I became convinced of the argument that my infant baptism was more of a profession of my parents’ faith than mine. Which isn’t to cast aspersion at my parents, but it raised questions for me. I believe, so, why not baptism? But wasn’t I already baptized? And if I was, did it really matter that my parents were the ones who made the decision and not me? Weren’t all of my subsequent professions of faith a confirmation of my infant baptism?

I was going in circles with this question again and again, and in exasperation I just prayed to God for clarity, “Just tell me what you want to do because I want to do whatever that is.”

The next Sunday, we went to church and the pastor gave a sermon in which he asked, “Do any of you need to be baptized?” The immediate answer in my heart was “Yes!”

Thus the wheels were set in motion. In the days following I felt such peace and happiness in the decision. Not because I was checking a box, or had finally determined that for some technical reason of timing and application of water that I had never been baptized and was now rectifying this situation, but because I had sought an answer from God and in his mercy, he gave it. I was at peace and happy because I could respond to God’s grace and his mercy with an act of obedience.

So on Saturday, my family and I got together with some friends from our church down at the river. We sang some songs, read from the Bible, and I told my story.

And then I got in the water with Jack and our pastor, and I was baptized.

Some years ago, I visited the battlefield at Gettysburg on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the battle. As my friends and I sat on the battlefield at twilight participating in the commemoration events, the past suddenly felt very near. It was almost as if I could lift my eyes to the hills and see the campfires of the opposing armies in the distance, poised to meet the next day.

That feeling of nearness to the past washed over me as the water closed in over my head in my baptism. I was plunged back through time, connecting with the first generations of Christians who were received into the faith in the same way. I would not have been surprised if when I emerged from the water, Peter himself had been standing there. The experience was wonderfully ancient.

I am still in awe of it. I feel changed by it. And, of course, that’s the point of baptism: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4).

So praise God for his word, answered prayers, and a continually-transforming life.

Sabbath

This article appears in the Fall 2019 edition of Faith Hudson Magazine.

“You must be busy!”

This proclamation, frequently made to me by people who have just learned that I have two children at or under the age of two, is an understatement at best. Have you ever seen those little signs they sell in craft stores that say, “All I need today is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Jesus?” Yeah, that’s me. Every day. But the good news is that in this perpetual-motion, loud, completely bonkers stage of my life, Jesus promises: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

Sometimes the rest Jesus offers isn’t my idea of the word “rest.” For instance, our toddler is in that stage of life when she wants to know if I mean what I say. She is testing the limits of everything, and she enjoys it when I lose my temper. I have to work really hard every day (and sometimes every hour of every day) to not absolutely lose it when I’m angry. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing I have ever done, and I used to work for Congress.

My version of “rest” would be total compliance from our daughter, but God is using these experiences to sanctify me and show me where I am still coveting sin in my heart. The truth is, sometimes I just want to get angry. Satan lies. He tells me I can’t hold it together anyway, and giving into anger would just be so satisfying. Jesus promises real rest — spiritual rest. But I have to work for it. I have to be in God’s word daily to know the truth, to pray daily (or hourly!), to respond to the Holy Spirit.

We believe that God was showing us what real rest is when he set aside the Sabbath day and made it holy. Just like giving of time or resources, it takes trust in Him and in Jesus that we can really find rest and refreshment. In our family, we try to honor the Lord’s Day by resting from our ordinary work and spending time together as a family, worshipping God, and learning about Him. I try to avoid cooking and dirtying dishes as much as possible on Sunday, so I make casseroles on Friday and Saturday to ensure we have leftovers in the house. Laundry is down to a minimum and any necessary online or in-store purchases are made by Saturday night. These preparations, in a house with two young children, really only amount to a couple of free hours on a Sunday to study the Bible or nap. But we have found that God blesses that time — and I find myself needing a little less coffee, but wanting more Jesus, every day.

(PS – I might still drink the coffee, though)

Going to Jesus

One afternoon, I was sitting on the couch watching our kids play when my toddler, who had spent the last minute or two filling a small tote bag full of puzzle pieces and toys, approached me and said:

“I’m all ready to go.”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“To Jesus,” was her nonchalant reply.

And, dear reader, I am incredibly embarrassed to admit to you that I had no idea what to say. I stared at her, mouth gaping open in equal parts pride and horror.

I was proud, because moments like this affirm the success of our efforts to establish a household culture where the name of Jesus is known just as well as any other family member’s name. I was happy because I want my children to want Jesus. And here she is, my sometimes-terrorist toddler, telling me she wants to go to Jesus!

It would therefore seem odd that I should be horrified. But immediately I wanted to tell her there was no need to go to Jesus today. It was too soon! Maybe later. In about sixty seconds, I wrestled with all of my hopes and desires for her and all of my knowledge about for whom and by whom she was made.

Can I be totally honest with you for a moment? I live in dread of loss. I was hyper-worried about miscarriage during our kids’ first trimesters – and even beyond in some cases. Sometimes I get super worried if my husband is unusually late coming home from work – what if there was an accident? I don’t even like to write about it because I feel like I’m tempting fate (as if that’s a real thing). If one of my parents calls and leaves an ambiguous voicemail asking me to call back from some unspecified reason, I really come unraveled, fearing the worst (this is, legitimately, a response learned by experience, but that’s another story for another day).

I really do believe that God will provide in all things. But with this particular thing, I have a lot to learn from Mark 9:

And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” – Mark 9:14-24

I believe, but there are places in my heart where I still have doubts. I have to ask for Jesus to have compassion on me, to help me. I still have to cry out, “I believe; Help my unbelief!”

In the end, I didn’t have a chance to reply to my toddler. She moved onto the next thing (“I’m eating a cupcake!”), completely oblivious to the stupefied internal turmoil in which she’d left her mom. And because I was so caught up on this area of unbelief in my life, I missed a chance to witness to my child that was served up so perfectly, practically on a silver platter. What a perfect time it would have been to pull out the Bible and turn to the book of Luke, where Jesus tells his disciples to let the children come to Him! I should have said, “It’s so good that you want to go to Jesus! Jesus wants you to go to Him!”

So this was, first, a very good reminder that these opportunities pop up when you least expect them, and vigilance is incredibly important. And, lest you worry that I am overly exercised about my perceived parenting failures, she has provided me several opportunities since this episode to affirm her desire for Jesus.

But this little minute-long conversation with my two year old in our living room was a really good reminder of the mercy and help I need from Jesus in all things, but in particular, some things more than others. Thankfully, “…from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

To Thee I run now with great expectation
To honor You with trust like a child
My hopes and desires seek a new destination
And all that You ask Your grace will provide – Sandra McCraken, Grace Upon Grace

Crouching at the door

Last week, I read something online that made me incredibly angry. As usually happens when I read a news headline I want to post about but know it won’t be fruitful, or a social media post that tempts me to argue, all of my old desires for keyboard warfare came back. But, thankfully, God really changed my heart in this area and has taught me ways to deal with these temptations.

I’ve learned that the best method of dealing with this is to remind myself of God’s justice, His mercy, and all of the things He has done and will do. So while sometimes I’ll reach out to a close friend or my husband to share my opinion on the issue just to get it out, I will generally turn on my my Easter playlist on Spotify, and spend some time worshipping God in the middle of my kitchen.

I know it sounds a little odd. But it works! It’s hard to stay mad at anything temporal when you’re singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him… one little word shall fell him! YES AND AMEN!

So, last week, I put this method into practice once again. Afterwards, I was properly re-centered and went about my day, feeling rather good about life. You might even say I was feeling a small bit proud of myself for having shut that sin down.

And then our youngest decided not to nap.

Just the day before, I published my post about hindering my kids in their walk with Christ, and there I was absolutely losing my mind over my kid not napping. She’s only ten months old, so the finer points of my speech was lost on her but my attitude was not. I was mad. She cried. I got angrier as she cried. She cried more. Finally, in His mercy, God intervened with a phone call from my husband. We talked and prayed.

After we got off the phone, I tried to get her down again. As I was rocking her, God’s words to Cain popped into my mind:

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” – Genesis 4:6-7

And later, reflecting on this whole episode, I was reminded of Peter’s admonition:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

There I was in my kitchen that morning, thumbing my nose at Satan’s very face, singing brazenly that one little word would fell him. It never once crossed my mind that he would continue to prowl around my house seeking for a way to devour me. I was not watchful; I was proud. And not even proud for what God had done – I was proud of what I had done. And devour me Satan did, in a way.

Ironically, I sang about this very thing that morning:

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth is his name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

My striving was losing, but thankfully, Jesus’ is ultimately not. Because I am in Christ, nothing (not even precious naptime being lost!) will separate me from my God and my king because what Jesus has done for me. Thanks be to Christ Jesus!