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Why, Lord?

This post is written to link with Five Minute Friday, where we write spontaneously for five minutes on a one-word prompt.  The prompt this week is “why.”

Oh, how many times I’ve asked this question! Why, Lord, did you allow the accident that took the life of our firstborn daughter Teresa and left me in a wheelchair?

Why, Lord, was our son David born with so many health problems? Why did You allow him to have such bad seizures as an infant that they left him with profound mental retardation and multiply health problems?

And more recently, why, Lord, did you allow David to get pneumonia during Hurricane Harvey, when getting the medication he desperately needed took days? Why did he end up in the hospital for almost a month and come home with even greater health problems than before?

Over the years, I’ve learned that these questions seldom receive an answer – other than, “trust Me.” God has taught me to stop asking why and instead come to Him in surrender, asking Him what He wants me to learn from the current circumstances.

This week, I found myself watching the news out of Florida and again asking why. But this week, different answers came. Why, Lord, did You allow this to happen? My child, I have no place in the public schools of America. You are seeing the results of this.

When I see events such as the murder of seventeen people this week by a young man who had made his desire to become the biggest mass murderer in a school known to many, even the FBI, and was ignored, I see a nation in desperate need of repentance. I hear God’s cry loud and clear to pray for our nation. I hope you will join me in this commitment.

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Exploring Rest: Physical Rest and Chronic Illness

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Psalm‬ ‭127:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As I began studying REST as my Word of the Year for 2018, my main focus was on RESTING in the Lord. This is definitely important, but as I’ve prayed and listened to God’s voice I’ve recognized the need for some study on the physical aspects of rest as well. The God who formed our bodies in the wombs of our mothers is concerned about physical rest. It is a God-given gift to “refresh tired bodies” and “restore tired souls” (Jeremiah 21:25 MSG).

I’ve had a bedtime routine for several years of getting in bed around 10pm, then spending thirty to sixty minutes relaxing and reading before turning off the lights and actually going to sleep. My alarm is set to go off at 7:30am, so this schedule allows for the recommended hours of sleep. Occasionally, our special-needs son will have problems during the night, setting off the alarm on his monitor and waking me up, but overall this schedule was working.

However during the last few months, I’ve noticed most nights I either have trouble getting to sleep in a timely manner or I’m waking up much earlier than I used to, around 4am most mornings. Suddenly, I was seldom getting the amount of sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for those in my age group. Because of a combination of living with a long list of chronic illnesses and some other age-related problems, I now seldom get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep. And as one of the leaders of a large group of Christian women with chronic illness, I’ve seen that I am definitely not the only one who faces this problem.

Sleeplessness and Chronic Illness

Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or remain asleep for the recommended amount of time, is a common problem for those with chronic illnesses. In some cases, a medical condition itself causes insomnia, while in other cases symptoms of the condition cause discomfort that can make it difficult for us to sleep. Also, insomnia is sometimes a side effect of some of the medications used for chronic illnesses. Common medical problems related to insomnia include gastrointestinal problems, endocrine problems, neurological conditions, allergies, asthma and chronic pain. Unfortunately, treatments may help relieve the severity of these problems but they seldom totally remove them.

While those who suffer with these and many other chronic illnesses may never be totally free from the issue of insomnia, there are some positive steps we can take to keep from living with constant exhaustion. Here are a few ideas.

  • Talk with your primary physician about the problems you are having with insomnia. While I personally do not take any type of prescription sleeping pills, that may be an option for some. Personally, when my PCP has tried this the side effects were worse than the insomnia itself. But your doctor may have some other recommendations that would be helpful in this area. For example, some medications or combinations of medications can actually cause difficulty sleeping or aggravate a problem you are already having in this area, and there may be a different medication that would help with the symptoms without keeping you awake at night.
  • Watch your diet. Caffeine and chocolate are stimulants, and used in the late afternoon or evening can make it difficult to get to sleep. Foods containing sugar can cause a spike in blood glucose levels and make you restless instead of sleepy. Spicy foods and foods high in protein and fat, especially when eaten in large amounts and late in the evening, can keep you awake when you need to go to sleep. If possible, eat early so your food will have time to begin digesting before bed time. And limit fluid intake for at least three hours before going to bed so you don’t have to get up frequently during the night to urinate and have difficulty getting back to sleep.
  • Get some sunshine daily, whenever possible. Regular exposure to sunlight helps keep vitamin D levels within the normal range and prevents daytime drowsiness and nighttime restlessness that are symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.
  • Add some exercise to your daily routine.If you are too sedentary – which is another problem often associated with chronic illness – this often adds to problems with impaired sleep. Find a way to add regular aerobic exercise to your daily routine at least five days a week, working up to 150 minutes of exercise per week. If you’re not sure what exercise is appropriate with your medical condition(s), ask your physician for a recommendation or if possible for an assessment by a certified physical and/or occupational therapist to help you set up a safe exercise program. I did this after a major surgery on my cervical spine about a year and a half ago, and since I was homebound at the time I had both a PT and an OT come to our home to get me started on a safe exercise program. But don’t wait until after supper to exercise, as this can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep.
  • If you feel extremely tired during the day, a short nap may improve your alertness and ability to concentrate. But nap in a comfortable environment, preferably with limited light and noise, and do so early in the afternoon and for no more than forty-five minutes. Sometimes a simple time of resting without napping will also help. But avoid longer naps or those later in the afternoon which can disrupt your nighttime sleep.
  • Limit or eliminate back light devices and bright artificial light before bedtime. Watching television late at night, working on your computer, even reading an e-book on your iPad or other tablet to relax at bedtime can all contribute to sleeplessness. Even over-exposure to artificial light can cause difficulty getting to sleep. Whenever possible, use low-wattage bulbs and turn off your television and computer or tablet at least one hour before going to bed. And if you want to read to relax at bedtime, make sure you use a regular book or an eReader that requires an additional light source.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine. Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and that the temperature is neither too warm nor too cold. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. And don’t allow sleep problems to become a cause of anxiety. If you do all you can to get a full night’s sleep, and you still wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, realize that any rest is better than none. If you feel restless, take some time to listen to some relaxing music or meditate on some encouraging verses of Scripture, but then turn off the light, close your eyes and rest until it’s time to get up and start another day.
  • Finally, remember God is in control, ruling in love and wisdom over our world whether we are awake or asleep. When you lay down to go to bed for the night, lay down your anxious thoughts as well. As you powered down your computer at least an hour below heading to bed, it’s now time to power down your mind and turn everything over to the One who never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4). Relinquish control to Him, relax and go to sleep. Almighty God is still on His throne, and He can handle anything that might happen before it’s time for you to begin a new day. Close your eyes and go to sleep, confident He will make you dwell in safety through the night.

The Essence of Prayer: What It Is and What It Isn’t

What do you do when you face a situation that you can see no way out of? Panic is often a first response. Fear and anxiety concerning the future. Even anger at God for allowing these circumstances. But as Christians, hopefully we will eventually get to the place where we take our circumstances to our heavenly Father in prayer.

As I look back on 2017, I see a very difficult year, a year of walking through one dark valley after another. Many times, our family was at the place where in the natural we could see no way out.

But I also see a year filled with spiritual growth, especially in the area of prayer. We learned God often doesn’t explain why we are facing difficulties, but that we can trust He has a good purpose in everything He allows to touch our lives. In our difficult circumstances, I learned to cry out to God for help, often using verses from my daily Bible reading. One of the many Scriptures I found myself repeatedly praying was the last part of 2 Chronicles 20:12, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

Some of the lessons on prayer that God taught me:

  • Prayer is a “direct line to God,” the way He has provided for us to communicate with Him.
  • Prayer is simply talking to God, pouring out to Him what is on our heart. This can be done aloud, in our hearts, or even through prayer journaling.
  • Prayer includes any type of communication with God: sitting quietly in God’s presence, listening to Him, worship, praise and expressing gratitude to God are all as much a part of prayer as lifting our requests up to Him.
  • Because God loves us with a perfect love, His answers will always be for our good, even if we cannot see this at the time.
  • Effective prayer is offered in faith. Since faith comes from God’s Word, one of the best ways to pray effectively is to turn Scriptures – which we can have confidence are God’s will – into prayers.

I also learned more about some of the specific forms of prayer:

  • Confession is a good way to begin a time of prayer. Confession is simply being honest with God about anything in our lives that is displeasing to Him. It removes any barriers in our relationship with God that would keep Him from listening to our prayers through forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Petition is presenting our requests to God, with an emphasis on the word “requests.” God gives us the freedom to bring our requests to Him, but the final decision on how He will answer is His.
  • Intercession is sharing in God’s work by praying for the needs of others.

It’s also important to understand what prayer is NOT. Prayer is not trying to force God to do something, to “harness” God’s power for our purposes. It is not manipulating God to do what we want. Rather, genuine prayer is a humble dependence upon God to act in our situation for our good and for His glory.

As 2018 begins, I acknowledge I have just stepped into the ocean of all prayer encompasses. But what I have learned has brought a deep hunger to keep learning about prayer. And the best way to grow in the area of prayer is by practical application of the lessons God teaches us – in other words, by praying. As the administrator of the God-Living Girls Prayers Group, my prayer for you is that you will make a commitment to pray daily in 2018!

 

I Am Doing A New Thing

For the last two years, God has clearly put a specific word on my heart for a Word of the Year. In 2016 it was JOY. I learned that JOY is found in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And I began forming a new habit of CHOOSING JOY when I didn’t always feel it in my emotions.

In December 2016, I again received clear direction from God for a Word of the Year for 2017. HOPE was the word I heard repeatedly in prayer, as 2016 came to an end. Again, it proved to be a very appropriate choice, during a year that turned out to be one of the most difficult we’ve recently been through. I shared some of the things God has taught me this year about hope in my recent blog post: https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/12/26/exploring-our-theme-part-2-still-anchored-in-hope/

As December 2017 began, I again began asking God what word He wanted me to focus on for 2018. For the whole month I prayed, but no one particular word stood out to me. Then as I was reading my Bible and praying this final morning of 2017, I sensed God speaking not a word but a phrase to my heart: A NEW THING. I did a search using one of my Bible apps, and Isaiah 43:19 jumped out at me as a clear word from the Lord.

I’m not sure what lies ahead of us in 2018, but there are definitely some signs that God is at work. My husband has an appointment on New Year’s Day that has the potential of being a major breakthrough in his dream of producing Christian movies – or possibly a total detour from God’s plan. We are moving forward with expectancy that the Lord will make His will clear.

Some of the major issues we have dealt with in 2017 are now behind us, others should be behind us in the next few weeks, and still others present longterm issues that are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. 2017 has definitely been a year of walking through the wilderness, but at no time have we been alone. God has clearly led us through this year, bringing us into a place of increased obedience to the precepts of His Word and a deeper knowledge of His nature. As 2017 comes to an end and 2018 is on the horizon, I’m taking hold of this promise that the Lord is making a way in the wilderness and will provide streams in the wasteland.

And as the new year draws closer, God is continuing to speak to my heart. REST. My new Word of the Year. This is a year to learn to REST in the Lord and in His work in my life. To REST in His promises and His character.

The Benefits of Brokenness

In February 2017, when I was asked to be a team leader for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness first Virtual Retreat Weekend, I had no idea how fitting the focus of these three days was for what laid ahead for our family during the rest of this year. We were doing a study of the recently released book and video series by Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way:A Daring Path into the Abundant Life.

The retreat was encouraging, but what our family has faced in the months since then has been difficult. Legal issues concerning the property we inherited from my husband’s mother, high monthly property tax payments that strain our budget to the point of collapse, the loss of our only vehicle due to mechanical problems, damage to our home from Hurricane Harvey, and our special-needs, medically fragile son’s life-threatening illness made worse by lack of available medication during the hurricane – all of these have made for a year where brokenness is no longer a theory I read about in a book.

To continue, please click on the following link:

https://lifeinthespaciousplace.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/the-benefits-of-brokenness/

 

Five Minute Friday: Place

I’m a day late, but it’s time to join the Five Minute Friday writing community. Each week, Kate Motaung gives a prompt and for five minutes we do free and unedited writing on the week’s topic. Today’s prompt: Place

When I first saw this week’s topic, I drew a blank concerning what to write. Then I looked up the definition of place and found it can also refer to a state of mind. This opened my eyes.

In one way, our family is currently in a difficult place. A place of great uncertainty concerning the future. A place of stressful circumstances and waiting to see if God will come through for us.

But it an important way, this has also been a place of blessing. In recognizing our need for God to intervene, this has become a place of close fellowship with God. A place of new intimacy in relationship with my Lord. A place of growth in prayer. A place of peace in the midst of the storm.

Circumstances may land us in a certain place emotionally. But we have a choice in how we will respond. Seasons of great trial present us with two options. We can either turn our focus on the difficulties we are walking through and feel overwhelmed. Or we can turn our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and His promise that nothing can separate us from His love and be sustained.

We can turn our eyes on the problems, or we can turn our eyes on the Lord who is bigger than any problem we face. The decision we make will determine whether the place we are walking is one of defeat or victory.  Of turmoil or peace.

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Learning About Prayer

I am the leader of prayer ministries for a large and growing ministry for ladies with chronic illness. I am currently leading a prayer study for the Sunday school class my husband and I attend. So prayer is important to me. But I do not consider myself an expert in prayer. As my responsibilities in the area of ministering to others in the area of prayer have increased, the knowledge that I still have a lot to learn has become foremost in my mind.  I am a learner in the area of prayer.

I shared in a recent article that my husband and I have been walking through some difficult circumstances in our lives. I don’t want to go into the details again, so I’ll share the link for anyone who is interested in this story.        https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/living-outside-my-comfort-zone/

God has been at work through these circumstances in both my husband’s life and my life, but in different ways. In my life, He has had me in what I would describe as theHoly Spirit School of Prayer

During the same period of time, I have been preparing to lead the prayer study in our Sunday school class using The Battle Plan for Prayer Bible Study materials from Stephen and Alex Kendrick, producers of the movie War Room.What I share today is a combination of what God has personally been teaching me and what I’m learning through the study of these excellent materials.

Now I have a more balanced understanding of what prayer includes. Up until recently, when I thought of prayer, what primarily came to mind was confession of sin, lifting our needs up to the Lord (supplication), and intercession for the needs of others. I always felt like I was falling short in these areas, especially in supplication and intercession, because the needs were so overwhelming that it would literally take “prayer without ceasing” to cover all of them daily.

These are important parts of prayer, but prayer is so much more. I knew in theory that worship, praise and thanksgiving were all elements of prayer, but in my mind they were separate things. I had even tried using the A.C.T.S. acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – during my prayer time, but I saw this more as a formula for prayer, with worship, praise and thanksgiving more as preparation for prayer than as actual types of prayer.

I had also read of the importance of using God’s Word in prayer, but in my mind and on my daily schedule Bible reading and prayer were two separate things. As we have walked through this difficult season, I’ve begun to understand each of these things as a part of true prayer.

At it’s root, prayer is communion and communication with God. When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are to pray without ceasing, he was not talking about what I used to think of as prayer. He was saying throughout the day we are to stay in open communication with God. The main way God speaks to us is through His Word, so we are to read His Word expecting Him to speak to us. And we are to respond to what He shows us in prayer. Bible reading and study are meant to be a part of our prayer life, not separate from it.

This season of my life has caused a major change in my daily quiet time. Instead of seeing it as composed of a series of things I do, I have begun to see the whole quiet time as a part of prayer. Praise and worship are no longer preparing my heart for prayer – they are prayer. Overcoming discouragement by looking for God’s blessings in the midst of our trials and expressing my gratitude to Him is also a part of prayer. And when I pick up my Bible or open a Bible app on my iPad to begin reading and studying, I do so with an attitude of prayer and expectancy.

One thing that has really helped me gain this new understanding is prayer journaling. I’m not new to journaling. I remember many years ago as a new Christian getting up and reading my Bible and writing in my journal every morning before leaving for my job as a kindergarten teacher. And through the years, I’ve filled hundreds of notebooks and journals from this habit. But again, I saw this as separate from my prayer life.

When we began walking through this season where the cry of my heart daily became “God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:12‬b‭ NIV)‬‬, I began prayer journaling. I now begin my quiet time with a prayer for God to speak to me through His Word, and as He began to do so regularly I grew into an expectancy that this would happen.

Now, as I read God’s word, I do so with a pen in my hand and my current journal open so I can put in writing the things God in showing me. This isn’t really much different than the journaling I’ve always done, but I no longer stop there. Those insights now become prayers of worship, praise and gratitude to God, of confession of sin, of honestly telling God where I am and asking His help, or of commitment to obey something He has shown me I need to do. Often as I’m reading a Scripture, someone with a need comes to mind and I intercede for them. Or I read a verse that gives a burden for Christians facing persecution for their faith and I turn this into a prayer. Or I read a passage that reminds me of how messed up things are in our nation , and I pray using that passage for our nation. Whatever God speaks to my heart during this quiet time in His presence is turned into a prayer of response.

As a result of this growing understanding of all prayer includes, and of learning to make prayer an important part of my day and not just an add-on to my Bible study time, I have been walking through one of the most difficult trials of my recent life, one where my normal response would be fear and anxiety, in almost constant peace. There have been days when staying close to God was a battle – life as a Christian in this fallen world is like that. But by staying in communication with God by talking with Him throughout my day, walking in meekness and submission to His will and purposes in our lives, and resisting the devil and his lies, I’ve experienced God’s peace and strength as seldom before.

As I was praying this morning about this article, a picture came to my mind of someone throwing a large stone into a lake. When the stone breaks the surface of the water, it creates a ripple effect, with concentric waves of water moving out from the spot where the stone landed. This is a picture of the effect of true prayer in our lives. True prayer isn’t just something we do as a part of our daily schedule, or even throughout the day as we become aware of needs. True prayer is like breaking the surface to enter into the presence of God, and the result has a ripple effect. It changes every part of our lives and even spreads out to touch the lives of others.

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