A Prayer for Those Who Are Moving Forward—like it or not

Last week, I hired movers to haul a ridiculous number of boxes filled with office supplies and art materials. They unloaded them in Ladoga, Indiana, in the building that was my dad’s studio. Some of you know that he was a professional watercolorist, and he worked out of his old, small-town-downtown storefront from 1990 until ...

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Last week, I hired movers to haul a ridiculous number of boxes filled with office supplies and art materials. They unloaded them in Ladoga, Indiana, in the building that was my dad’s studio. Some of you know that he was a professional watercolorist, and he worked out of his old, small-town-downtown storefront from 1990 until this past summer. Losing him was devastating and heartbreaking and all that you would expect it to be.

I’ve had my ups and downs. This past couple weeks has seen more tears than usual, though, because for these past seven months, we’ve been trying hard to do things the way Dad would have—matting and framing his art, putting on a sale of his remaining pieces that he would have been proud of, steadfastly refusing to move a thing on his credenza. It was like if we didn’t disturb his brushes and paints, we could hold on to him a little longer.

But the truth is, we can’t get him back.

Nevertheless, when I hired a guy to repaint the walls (going from Dad’s country blue and tan to my bolder eggplant purple and warm gray), I felt like I was painting over him. Erasing his presence. When I moved his painting stuff out of the way of the painter, I fought tears, because it felt wrong to change things.

And then I came home and cried all night.

Sunday morning, as I stood in the second row of my church, I felt the words of the praise song wash over me. We sang the chorus again and again and I felt a kind of exhilaration rising up within me—hope, God’s promises of renewal. Quietly, I stood there, eyes closed, arms raised, thinking about moving forward. Wanting God to heal me, to make me new and whole again. To help me stop hurting.

We were singing the song “Moving Forward,” and it contains these lines:

I’m not going back, I’m moving ahead
Here to declare to you my past is over in you
All things are made new, surrendered my life to Christ…
Yes, you make all things new and I will follow you forward

I think when people talk about wanting to put their pasts behind them, they’re usually talking about their sins… Mistakes, what we’ve done wrong, destructive behavior. Regrets. We all have plenty of that. But what I realized Sunday morning is this: sometimes the past is behind us even if we don’t want it to be. I’d give anything to go back, for my dad to still be alive. But I can’t make that happen.

And although it’s tempting to try to hold on to that—to create a shrine to my dad, to tiptoe around his studio space and blow the dust off of his things that I’m refusing to move because of the fact that he was the one who put them there—it doesn’t bring him back. It doesn’t make me miss him any less. It doesn’t help me heal.

I feel like God showed me that being there, inhabiting that space in my own way, is part of my healing. That there’s healing in moving forward—in looking towards what God has for me, and not dwelling in the sorrow. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop missing him. It doesn’t mean I’m glad he’s gone.

It just means that God’s not done with me. I’m still here and there’s still hope. There’s still redemption. There’s still growth and joy and happiness. And they don’t only exist behind me, but they’re waiting for me when I take some small steps forward.

Oh, hey, what a moment you have brought me to
Such a freedom I have found in you
You’re the healer who makes all things new…

Lord, let the Holy Spirit wash over those who are reading this, who are listening to this song… soothe the hurts and heal the wounds of those who are missing someone. Who feel lost or alone. Who are sorrowful or paralyzed by their grief. You are with the ones we love. You are closer to them than we are, and we know they’re in good hands. We also know that those very same hands can hold us close and bring us comfort. Lord, hold us tight and don’t let us go, and let us find hope and empowerment and renewal with you. Amen.

Seeing you, being seen, and seeing Him

My friend Tami and I are very different, although we’ve been close friends for years. We are on different ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But the other day I met her for lunch and ended up pouring out my heart—how I feel, what emotions have come to the surface lately, ...

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My friend Tami and I are very different, although we’ve been close friends for years. We are on different ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But the other day I met her for lunch and ended up pouring out my heart—how I feel, what emotions have come to the surface lately, and so on. I told her these things knowing she had different opinions, and she shared a little about where she’s coming from. We could do this because we were in a safe place—we both knew we were loved, differences and all, and we trusted each other to listen with an open heart.

It was a really healing moment for me. A reminder that differences don’t have to divide us.

One thing Tami and I have always had in common is we hate to be misunderstood. If you want to be mad at me, fine, but only if you’re basing it on the things I actually did or what I actually meant. We can’t rest until we’ve corrected mistaken impressions.

A big insight I’ve had lately is along those same lines: We all want to be seen and know that we’re heard.

[I promise this isn’t about the election… bear with me. REALLY. I promise. It has a God point and doesn’t take a stand about sides!]

I’ve heard analysts say that many thousands of people who supported our President-elect voted in large part because they felt like he understood their plight and was on their side. They supported him because for years they’ve felt overlooked by our government and media and now they feel as though they have finally been seen.

On the other hand, many who are disappointed about the results think that the people who voted the other way do not care about people of different colors, religions, sexual persuasions, and so on. And they want to be sure people understand the implications of that and what it means for the people who feel as though they’ve been overlooked.

See? Not politics.

It’s about being seen.

As I’ve been praying and thinking and talking and wrestling with my emotions and beliefs lately, I’ve landed here: Am I putting my money where my mouth is? Am I living the life and faith I believe we’re directed to live? I won’t go into all of those questions and ramifications—unless you have several hours to spare, you can thank me for that. But one of the conclusions I’ve reached is just what I said earlier. People want to be seen and understood. It’s a basic, driving force in human existence.

And it’s something we can affect, no matter who’s at the helm of this country.

In Psalm 139, David says:

“O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6, NLT

Today, I’d like to suggest three basic steps towards healing, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Because the truth is we’re all on the same side. God’s banner over us is love. And it’s over all of us—people of all varieties and backgrounds and persuasions.

1) Spend time with God and be open about your conflicts, turmoil, confusion, anger, joy, frustration with acquaintances… whatever you’re feeling. Because He already knows you, and He created us to live in relationship. We grow closer to God when we share with Him who we are. Healing happens when we get real with God, and time in His presence can bring clarity and peace.

2) Seek out time with a trusted friend. You certainly don’t have to talk politics. Share your life. Let yourself feel safe and understood. God created us to live in relationship, and healing often takes place in community, rarely alone.

3) Reach out to someone today and let them know they are seen. It doesn’t require a personal or controversial discussion—simply pay attention to the people around you. Praise your child for a small act of kindness. Kiss your husband on the cheek and thank him for taking out the trash. Compliment the server at a restaurant for her efficiency. Tell a stranger you like her sense of style.

One person at a time, we can begin to change our understanding, to recognize the beliefs that drive a person. We can make a difference one life, one moment, one baby step at a time. And over time, as this kindness and generosity of spirit spreads, maybe—just maybe—it will impact the toxic environment in which we live.

Because people will be seen. And in the process, they will see the love that drives us, and it will point them to the God who inspires us.

Dear Precious Lord, help us today. Soften our hearts toward others. Increase our compassion. Enlighten our understanding. Thank You for seeing us and knowing us. Thank You for caring. Thank You for being our safe place to turn. You are mighty and altogether lovely—and I want to show You to others through the way I care for them. Help me. Teach me. Go with me. Amen.

When our problems are too big for God

Praying for YOU is easy. If you come to me and ask for prayer, these are the words I will have for you: All things are possible. God is a healer. Hold tight to your faith. Just believe. I will carry your request to God, believing He can do anything. And that He will. Absolutely. ...

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Praying for YOU is easy.

If you come to me and ask for prayer, these are the words I will have for you:
All things are possible. God is a healer. Hold tight to your faith. Just believe.

I will carry your request to God, believing He can do anything. And that He will.

Absolutely.

It’s easy enough to pray for my friends. I don’t even hesitate.

But for me?

Sometimes the only words that will come are ugly, insidious whispers:
You are not enough.
You don’t deserve what you want.
You haven’t been faithful enough.
You haven’t trusted Him enough.
He’s not going to come through for you, so don’t get your hopes up.

It’s a form of self-flagellation at its worst. Beating myself up and living in the assurance that because of all of my failures, God, too, will fail. Or, at the very least, will fail to act.

It’s a cruel torture that leaves a mark as surely as a whip would do.

Many months ago, I found a lump in my breast. Instead of a regular mammogram, they scheduled me for a high-res, diagnostic ultrasound. I had to wait longer to get in. And I knew, I just knew, that the best thing I could hope for would be an assurance that “it’s probably nothing, but we need to do a biopsy.” I figured I’d have to schedule a procedure or two. And wait. And wait a little more.

Instead of leaning on God, I snapped at my husband. Criticized everything in sight. And tried and tried to pray, but all I could manage was, “Dear Lord,” before I’d stop.

Stumped. Afraid. Before I’d dwell on the fact that Mom died of cancer. That my dad had cancer. That my sister’s best friend died from breast cancer. That one in eight women will get it. And that there’s no reason in the world why that should not be me.

As I sat in that waiting room, with the little pink shirt-gown on, while my technician prepared the machine, I couldn’t focus.

I finally cried.
And I was so afraid.
Too afraid to really pray.

So I tried to block out all of my thoughts with a simple melody. The melody to Hallelujah (You Never Let Go), sung by Jeremy Camp came into my mind, and I thought-sang-prayed, You are with me, Hallelujah. You are with me, Hallelujah…

And I let those words push away my fears.
I let them drown out the what-ifs and oh-nos.

It’s so easy to forget God is with us. That He. Is. Right. There. With. Us.

No matter what we feel. No matter where we go. So I just kept repeating that chorus. Until I believed it.

Felt it. Rested in it.

After the ultrasound, the radiologist assured me that there is nothing there. It’s normal fibrous breast tissue. No cyst, no tumor. Nothing. I’m fine. I could have sighed with relief and moved on, like we often do, forgetting about it now that I’m past the scary part.

But the situation got me thinking.

I believe with all my heart in the power of prayer (so much so that I wrote a book about it). And if I still have my moments of doubt, if I still think that maybe God will come through for everyone else but not listen to me, then many of you probably feel that way, too.

What if, just for today, we let ourselves pray as though God is everything we want Him to be?

Everything that we think He is or should be?

What if we prayed full of belief?

What if we stopped torturing ourselves for our failings?

What if God shows up?

What if this is the moment when everything will change?

What if I can summon as much faith for myself as I can summon for you?

What miracles do you suppose we’d see?

Let’s find out.


Originally published at kellybalarie.com.

Sharing the miracle

When my friend Sherry was in the hospital, broken, nonresponsive, the doctor’s words didn’t contain much hope. She’d stopped breathing. There was certain to be brain damage. The list of concerns went on and on. We didn’t know whether to pray for healing—and the long road it might be, with the potential for more pain—or for ...

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When my friend Sherry was in the hospital, broken, nonresponsive, the doctor’s words didn’t contain much hope. She’d stopped breathing. There was certain to be brain damage. The list of concerns went on and on. We didn’t know whether to pray for healing—and the long road it might be, with the potential for more pain—or for release from it all, which brings a different kind of pain to the ones who are left here.

All we could do—literally all there was left to do—was pray.

And God gave us the miracle we asked for. Even if some of us didn’t fully believe He would. Even if some of us weren’t sure what to say. Even if we couldn’t fathom the how of it. Even though all of us might not have fully expected this answer.

I wonder, does God shake his head in exasperation or watch eagerly to see our expressions of surprise?

I don’t know. But I do know that Sherry is a miracle. Hours after we started praying, her body fought the ventilator, determined to breathe on her own. She woke up, talking, understanding, moving. A few days later, she’s back home. It’s not over. She still needs prayer. She still depends on God for complete healing. But God has already brought her past what seemed to be an impossible barrier. If you didn’t hear the details as they happened, it would be hard to believe it’s really as amazing as it sounds. But it really is.

People wonder why they should pray. Will it change the outcome? Will it mean anything? Will it simply set them up for disappointment?

We may all have different opinions. But this is what I know. It could have been just Sherry’s miracle. But because you paused to send up a prayer, you own this miracle, too. God answered both the quick-thought-tossed-towards-the-sky “please,” and the down-on-your-face-on-the-floor pleas.

This answer is one more sturdy block in the wall of faith we’re building. A stronghold. In one fell swoop, in an extended moment, a burst of healing, God restored something we thought might be permanently broken. And now, we all rise to our feet in celebration. We see a new facet of our God. We acknowledge His ability, His active hand.

And we realize that He really is listening. He is.

Thank you, friends, for your prayers.

And thank You, Sweet and Gracious and Loving God, for unexpected answers.

A prayer for the broken

Sweet Lord, as my friend Sherry lies in the ICU, with tubes and monitors and so many things that are unknown, I lean towards You. Towards what is known. I turn towards life. Towards the One who grants life and who isn’t fazed by its earthly limits. The One who sees past our finite measure ...

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Sweet Lord, as my friend Sherry lies in the ICU, with tubes and monitors and so many things that are unknown, I lean towards You. Towards what is known.

I turn towards life. Towards the One who grants life and who isn’t fazed by its earthly limits. The One who sees past our finite measure of time and understands that there is so much more.

Though she is weak, You have the strength to bear all things. Though she is frail, You are unshaken and unbending. So I lean on You, the source of all power.

Though tests aren’t complete, I lean on your knowledge. Though I don’t understand the whys and hows, I can relax because You do. Though I don’t know what to expect, I know You are never surprised.

Though I don’t know anything—how her family can bear watching and waiting, how her body can withstand one thing after another, how much damage there’s been and if it is reparable—I remind myself, again and again, of the one thing I do know. You. You’re the God of the broken. The restorer of life. The source of forgiveness, the provider of hope, the healer with powers we can’t begin to fathom.

So as I picture her there, I’m redrawing the image in my mind to include You. Because though the room may seem sterile and empty, Your presence is great and fathomless. Though she may be still and unmoving, I imagine the active dialog in her mind. I imagine that You and she are communing. That words aren’t necessary. I’m remembering that You always heal the mind before the body, so I’m believing that in all the things that really matter, You have made her whole. She discovered, long ago, and in many different situations, that You can do what no one else can. That You can bring life when the only words people can whisper are those of death. That You can transform what the world sees as ashes into a thing of monumental beauty.

There are so many things we’ll never understand. Innumerable, uncountable, infinite questions.

But in every one of them, we already know the answer. You. The Mystery that has allowed itself to be revealed. The Character that is unwavering. The Hope that is our deepest longing. You. The One. The Only. The Lord God Almighty.

And we close our eyes. And we are assured that You have not left her. That You are cradling her gently, not missing a single heart beat, not missing a single tear.

And though our hearts cry out, our souls rejoice. And we wait, holding tight to You.

 

A pale reproduction

In printing, an image is broken down into four basic colors — cyan (blue), magenta (pink), yellow and black. If you look through a magnifier, you will see that any printed photo is made up of different-sized colored dots. If you step back a little bit, or blur your eyes, it looks like a photo or ...

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printing dotsIn printing, an image is broken down into four basic colors — cyan (blue), magenta (pink), yellow and black. If you look through a magnifier, you will see that any printed photo is made up of different-sized colored dots. If you step back a little bit, or blur your eyes, it looks like a photo or a piece or artwork. But really, up close, you can see that the inks are not continuous, that there are little white spaces between the colors. It looks good enough, and if the line screen is high (meaning there are more dots per square inch), and the paper is good, it might look like the original work of art. As long as you don’t look too closely.

I think I forgot to look closely. I convinced myself that I had the original in front of me, when I really knew better.

After my mom heard “terminal cancer,” she was a different person. There were moments, glimpses, into the person she used to be. It sounded like her when I called several times a day. It looked like Mom in the car next to me as we went antiquing or out for lunch. But she was sad and scared, which I understand completely, and it changed her. Over time, the cancer did, too — whether it was the cancer cells, or the effects of the radiation to her brain, or the tumors, or the chemo, or, later, the toxins her body was unable to secrete, her brain just wasn’t the same.

We’d pretend. In fact, we pretended so well that I think we forgot we were pretending. We were going through the motions, trying to stay strong, wanting to enjoy every extra moment we had with her. It’s true that those were gifts. But I was in denial. I thought she was better than she was. I was so desperate, I didn’t notice when she became a pale reproduction of the woman I knew, not the original.

See, I kept praying for healing. I didn’t ever really expect complete and total healing, and in my core I knew God wasn’t going to grant that, not this time. My heart wasn’t strong enough to deal with that just then, though, so I kept pretending she was OK, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.

When Mom passed away, as you’d expect, the tidal wave of grief rushed in, knocking me back against the wall. But there was an element to it that I hadn’t expected — surprise. Shock. I couldn’t believe it had really happened that way.

I mean, really, how do you stand up and look God in the face (figuratively, of course) and shake your fist? Tell him you are TICKED. OFF? Tell him you don’t like the way he handled his business and you don’t like the cards he dealt you and it’s not fair and you want to hurt someone else, anything, anything to keep from hurting this bad inside?

In my case, I didn’t. I just pretended to keep serving him. Eventually I quit trying to pray. I was out of words, and out of faith, and out of trust. My public faith was a farce. Such a farce.

Turns out, Mom wasn’t the pale reproduction. She was simply changed by that horrible disease and its nearly-as-destructive treatments. I was different, too, but not in the same way. I turned into an imposter. A forgery. A thing of deceit.

On the surface, I looked like the same woman. I posted prayers on Facebook, showed up at church, thanked God publically for each little moment of brightness along the way. But the thing about reproductions? Over time, colors fade. Edges curl. Papers warp. Once the reproduction might have fooled people, but with the passing of time — or under close scrutiny — the truth becomes apparent to even the most casual observer.

I carefully constructed dots of faith, which rested lightly on the surface, hiding the truth, sometimes even from myself — that the woman inside was furious and broken. And oh so alone. The God who had always been beside her, well, she didn’t think she wanted him anymore. And she no longer had her mommy to turn to. Yet all the other people in her life still turned to God through the worst of it, leaving only one conclusion: that she was the problem, not God. That she had failed, too.

That didn’t help.

I wanted so badly to keep my mommy that I believed the only “right” answer was for Mom to be alive. What’s better than happy and healthy and here? Anything less, and God had obviously failed. I lost faith in the God who seemed to be unable (or worse, unwilling) to help. The one who didn’t stop me from having these hard, painful, hateful feelings. The one who took her away from me and is keeping her all to himself. I began to wonder if, in fact, he really could heal, or if that was something from long-ago Bible stories. Fables?

One night, in despair, I finally went to Him in honest prayer. I left the petulant, hateful child at the door and went in, humble, reverent. God, please, help me to understand. I don’t expect to know it all, but let me see whatever it is that I need to see to get past this place, to get back to You.

And another night not long after that, as I crawled into bed, I decided to try something I hadn’t done in a long time, and share my thoughts with God. I miss her, Lord, I whispered into the night. And a surety came over me, a silent “voice” so clear and strong and immediate that I couldn’t deny it.

She’s as close as I am, He said.

Oh, how that knocked the breath out of me. Oh, how that changed things for me.

He loves my mom, too. He did the best possible thing he could do, the greatest plan he could imagine — let her walk away from her mental turmoil and physical pain, straight into his arms.

And if she’s with him, eternally connected to him, I can only find her again in him.

My soul is raw and wounded. The healing process is slow and still, sometimes, quite painful. But I understand deep in my core now that the only way to heal is to seek my God again. It’s not using him as a way to get to something else; it’s understanding that the only way to fullness is through him. He is the only balm, whether I like it or not. He is all that is genuine and real. He sees right through the cheap reproductions and the most sophisticated of forgeries. And he is the only one who can transform a pale imitation into a beautiful, genuine, real work of art.

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