When prayer loses its meaning

Dear sweet girl, You lie there in the angle of light bent around the door, in that sheltered, private spot where the light illuminates your papers, but your parents, in the living room downstairs, can’t see you from where they are reclining. The white-painted posts from the stairs in the hallway outside your door cast ...

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[Excerpt from Designed to Pray]

Dear sweet girl,

You lie there in the angle of light bent around the door, in that sheltered, private spot where the light illuminates your papers, but your parents, in the living room downstairs, can’t see you from where they are reclining. The white-painted posts from the stairs in the hallway outside your door cast striped, curvy shadows across the carpet, and you hear the faint noise of a laugh track from the television below. You can’t see her, but you know your mom is wrapped in a soft blanket, quietly turning the pages of a book until she yields to her yawns and goes to bed.

In that sheltered place, you make charts on graph paper, carefully checking off each prayer as you pray it daily and transferring your prayer list to a new sheet of paper when you’ve filled every box. Maybe your prayers aren’t prompted by passion. You’ve never seen that before and don’t know to aspire to it. You’re not sure what your mom would think of you praying, but you’re certain that it’s wrong to be up past bedtime.

At the same time, you’re strangely determined to master this prayer thing. To do it right. You feel your way through. But you’re on your own. This isn’t a lifestyle you’ve witnessed yet. Your eyes slide down the list, praying lofty wishes—that God will heal the sick and handicapped. That He will help you stop all your bad habits and become a better person. That He will forgive you of all your sins and help you follow all the rules.

You don’t know yet that religion is not what you want. What you want is Him. But all you know are the words you’ve heard a handful of people say, so you mimic them, offering big, general, dutiful prayers.

You pray the same words, night after night. Over time, they will lose their meaning.

One day prayer itself will lose its meaning.

You’ll run out of words when your mother is no longer downstairs—or anywhere on this earth—because you aren’t entirely sure who you are without her. As a teen, you haven’t experienced God speaking to you personally yet—but later, when you stop hearing Him, you’ll feel the loss deep in your gut. As an adult, you’ll stare at the occasional lines printed in red ink in your Bible and fight an internal war. A part of you has always believed, has always yearned for the balm that those words might bring. Something drew you to these words long before you knew why, but eventually the time will come when you begrudge every spark of hope you felt reading God’s promises because now you know that there isn’t always a happy ending.

Thirty-some years from now—when the house you grew up in has been sold, and your dad has moved south to a warm climate and a new relationship, and Mom’s Lands’ End bathrobe has been donated to Goodwill and her contact deleted from your phone—you’ll ache at the memory of the young girl who was so sheltered and naive.

You’re no longer tiptoeing around the shadowy edges of your room, avoiding the squeaky floorboards. Now you’re tiptoeing around the edges of your faith. Wanting God, but not wanting to be caught wanting Him. Wanting to hold tight to promises that sometimes seem to be false.

But yet? You’ll marvel at the fact that God saw fit to plant those tender shoots of faith in the stripes of light falling across your bright blue carpet. That in the silence between the creaking floorboards, He whispered into your soul a desire for words that you wouldn’t need for many more years. The funny thing is, through all the changes over those three decades, one thing never changed.

What you need now is what you needed then. And it’s not a cute boy. A flirty look. Or straight As on your report card.

You feel a bit of desperation, wanting to exist in that world again, the one where the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll be caught out of bed at 11:00 p.m. You want to go back to wherever it is that Mom yawns in her bathrobe and prayers can be mastered with nothing more than graph paper and colored inks.

But sweet girl? That sheltered place? It still exists. It doesn’t reside in the house your family no longer owns. It’s not to be found only in a church. Because even if you don’t always like the words you hear, God still whispers. He still holds you close.

And you’ll find that even in the midst of pain, God’s presence is the only balm. When you hurt enough that you’ll finally fumble through the words to ask God to fill your soul, to smooth over the gaping wounds of loss and disappointment and loneliness—well, that’s when He will pick you up in His arms and hold you in the shelter of His heart.

And you’ll know that you were never alone. That you were never abandoned. That when you face the crippling sorrow, when you let God back in to feel it with you, you’ll find something new. Reminiscent of the past, and not always easy, but in some ways better.

Because along the way, you’ll discover that you’re safe in your Father’s arms, and that you’ve found your way home.

10 Things Christians Get Wrong about Loving Their Neighbor

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31). Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement? When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of ...

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“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31).

Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement?

When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of course I love my neighbor. God told me to.

It’s easy, right? Well, yes—until it’s not.

Because reality is rarely as simple as the theoretical. I love the idea of loving my neighbor, truly. I profess love and try to live in such a way as to practice it. I want to offer to others what God gave so freely to me.

But when I look, literally, around my neighborhood, what do I see? Houses I pass every day filled with people I’ve never seen. People to nod at as we drive past, but whose names I do not know. Houses that are suddenly empty, and I can only assume someone passed away because my impression is that an elderly man once lived there, but I’m not even sure.

What kind of neighbor does this make me? I’m not wanting to beat myself—or you—up, but the truth is, we all make mistakes when trying to love our neighbor. Even if we mean well, even if we’re intentional about reaching out, there are likely things each of us could do better. Let’s look at 10 of the mistakes every Christian makes when trying to love their neighbor.

1. We forget that loving our neighbor is the second most important commandment, and we skip the first one.

 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

In order to love our neighbor, we must first love God with our whole selves. It is this kind of love that equips us to reach outside of ourselves to love someone else—because once we have personally been on the receiving end of the love of God, we can’t help but share it.

2. We think we’re going above and beyond, when actually this was a basic, foundational instruction.

It feels good to help someone, and it’s nice to get recognition. But just like a student doesn’t get extra credit for merely completing the original assignment, we don’t get bonus spirituality points when we show love to our neighbors. Jesus didn’t say this was graduate-level work; he just said to do it. None of our excuses matter.

3. We pick and choose which neighbors to love.

Have you ever thought, Sure, I love my neighbors—but not that one. Not the one who is difficult to love. Not the one who lives in the bad neighborhood—or a mansion. Not the one who worships another God (or none at all). Not the one who makes bad choices. Not the one who doesn’t like me, or makes me feel inferior. 

If the Bible gives qualifiers like that, I’ve never seen them. Jesus continually leveled the playing field. No one sin is greater than another. If we think it, we have done it. The least are the greatest. The poorest are the richest. In God’s economy, it all balances out—and it all comes back to one thing. We cannot earn God’s love, and He withholds it from no one. So who are we to think we get to stipulate who should receive the love we have to give?

4. We assume “love” equates to “help” or “rescue.”

We think of our neighbors as projects rather than people, or we enter into the relationship with an ulterior motive—if I help them, they’ll have to come to church. But as a friend pointed out, “Jesus didn’t heal the blind man and then say, ‘You’re welcome! And hey—I’d love it if you came by the shoreline later to hear me preach.’” When we make our love conditional, it ceases to look like the love of God.

5. We think that loving someone involves voicing all of our convictions about their sinful life.

God is the one who will convict someone of a sinful lifestyle or need to repent. It’s hard to convince anyone our love is genuine if it’s phrased, “I love you, BUT…” Live your life in a way that shows the generosity, kindness, mercy, and compassion of God; if you do, people will see that and will want to find what you’ve found. Live for God yourself and let the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives.

6. We ignore a need because it looks too big, or hard, or time-consuming, or complicated.

We resist entering into someone else’s life because our own lives are messy and it’s not a convenient time. The problem with that line of reasoning is that problems don’t wait until we have time for them. And people need us now, even if it’s inconvenient.

7. We think we have nothing of value to offer.

It’s easy to be paralyzed by the thought that we aren’t qualified, don’t have enough, or can’t do enough to make a difference. Often, what people need is simple: to be seen, heard, noticed. To find a safe place. To share a fleeting moment or two of a life. To have a friend. We attempt to quantify and solve a situation before we step into it. But if God has something for us to do, He will equip us. The commandment to love our neighbors doesn’t mean we need to identify and solve our neighbors’ needs, just that we should show up—and pay attention to what He asks us to do.

8. We do it with our own power and forget to seek God’s direction.

We don’t need to ask God if we should love our neighbor; He made that clear. But beyond that, we can show love by lifting our neighbors to God in prayer. By interceding in a way that can make a difference in even the most impossible situation. It’s not our job to guide our neighbor’s life and decisions, but we can—and should—pray about the extent of our involvement and what God is asking us to do.

9. We convince ourselves that someone else will step up if we do not.

One day as I prayed for a woman at my church, I said, “Lord, surround her with people who can help her.” I felt God’s reply: “You’re a person.” True, maybe someone else is better equipped or has more free time. But that doesn’t get us off the hook. If we feel that love is an obligation, we’re not truly loving. Ask God to help change your heart so that you’re connecting authentically and without reservation.

10. We think loving our neighbor is about us, or even about our neighbors, but really, it’s about God.

 “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The most effective way to witness to someone is to live it, not to preach it. God changes lives, and the most powerful way to tell that story is to let other people see how He has changed you into someone more like Him.

Please pray with me: 

Dear Heavenly Father, “love one another” is such a simple command, yet we make it complicated. Release us from the biases and judgments and insecurities that keep us from obeying. Open our hearts so that we may love our neighbors freely and without reservation. Equip us, guide us, and shine through us as we show others the love You already gave us.

This article first appeared on crosswalk.com.

 

 

 

A prayer for when Christmas has lost its sparkle

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored. In reality, though, some of ...

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Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom six years ago, and my dad this summer, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?


Dear Heavenly Father,

I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to give You, but all of my brokenness is taking up space that I’d rather fill with other things. So I offer You what little I have—my pain, sadness, grief, loneliness, fear, anxiety, worries, finances, broken dreams, shattered expectations, floundering relationships, lack of passion, messy home, scattered mind, and lack of focus—I let go of it all to make room for You. 

I know that You change the atmosphere of every place You inhabit, so I invite You to dwell here with me. When Jesus came to us 2,000 years ago, the world didn’t recognize the Savior, and no one made room for Him. But we have the privilege of understanding the enormity of the gift You gave us in this vulnerable little child. In this season of gifts, we know that Jesus is the One that matters.

So, precious Lord, I invite You in. As You abide in me, warm my heart from the inside out. Surround me with Your peace, comfort me with Your Spirit, whisper sweet thoughts into my mind.

Push aside all my worries and replace them with worship.

Replace fear with faith.

Stress with song.

Anxiety with awe.

Christmas is the time when love came near. So I’m stepping forward in faith, moving towards You, the One who loves me. The One who woos me, even when I’m not feeling it. The One who changes every life He touches. Hoping You will turn things around, I hold out my hands and trust in Your grace, which says You love me even if I don’t deserve it. Even if everything else in my life isn’t perfect.

I offer all that I have, what little I have to give, with abandon. And I trust that You know my heart—You know that I love You, and You know that I want to overcome this feeling of blah and instead live full of passion and joy.

Please, Lord, accept my invitation.

I welcome You back into my heart. In the place of all my imperfections, I instead receive Your wholeness. I release all of my expectations for a picture-perfect holiday and turn instead towards You, the reason we celebrate. The hope of glory. The promise of eternity. The miracle of new life.

The joy of the world.

And I marvel, because all of that—all that You are, all that You promise, all that You’ve done—is right here within me.

And suddenly I understand that the lights and the wrapping paper and the caroling are fine, but they fade in comparison to the sparkly wonder of who You are.

Merry Christmas, my sweet Lord. Thank You. And amen.


A version of this post originally appeared at Crosswalk.com.

A month of gifts—and Talking to Jesus

If you read my post last week, you know that I decided to give away something each week during December. Last week it was a book called Over It! by Kristine Brown. Read to the end of this post for info about a giveaway of a copy of this new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh ...

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If you read my post last week, you know that I decided to give away something each week during December. Last week it was a book called Over It! by Kristine Brown. Read to the end of this post for info about a giveaway of a copy of this new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh Perspective on Prayer, by Jeannie Blackmer.

I’ve written two books (and countless blog posts) about prayer, but it had been a while since I spent any focused time in prayer. So the other morning I searched high and low for my journal, which had gotten put away weeks ago and forgotten. After I found it and sat down in the quiet, I felt heavenly light shining down on me, and I just knew the Holy Spirit was there with me, and my eloquent, holy words tumbled over themselves as they poured onto the pages…

Except that wasn’t how it went at all.

I had nothing. NOTHING. I don’t feel like I’m in a “crisis of faith,” and I’m not mad at God, and I do believe prayer is important. But I sat there and my mind was a complete blank.

That day, my 17-year-old son was home with another headache. Three days in a row of missed school. I got the emailed updates of his grades, and he’s falling behind. When I try to remind him to do something, or—heaven forbid—inquire in the slightest way into his life, he snaps, “I’ve got it, Mom.” The truth is, I know he doesn’t have it together as much as he thinks he does. I do think he is capable, and I believe he has the best of intentions, and he is a really awesome kid. But I also know he gets stressed when he gets behind, and the stress triggers more migraines, and he misses more school, and gets farther behind, and so on. We went through this last semester (not a good experience) and his older sister has been battling migraines since she was 15, so even though my worries are for him (and her), they come with a bunch of residual stress for me. I’m the one who has to call in to school, get homework, negotiate doctors appointments and prescription refills and have my son take out his frustration on me.

On top of that, he had a bad wreck a couple weeks ago. Thank God he was OK—just some burns from the air bags—but he totaled the car. We had to find time to drive an hour to sign over the title and then find a replacement vehicle. The past few weeks have been busy and stressful, with a sale of the paintings my dad, a professional artist, left behind when he passed away this summer. Work deadlines. Lack of writing time. Financial decisions to be made. Several speaking engagements. Some travel.

It’s not all BAD stuff, just a LOT of stuff. I’m emotionally exhausted. Physically worn out.

And I sat there in the quiet feeling like a failure. Have I learned nothing? Am I a hypocrite? Why couldn’t I pray?

I looked at the pile of devotional-type books on the table beside me, and I picked up a brand new one, Talking to Jesus. Have you ever noticed that sometimes it’s easier to read about prayer than to actually pray? Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I started reading. As you might imagine, I love the topic of this book, so when I was given the chance to write a review, I jumped at it. However, I wondered if it would truly be a fresh perspective on prayer—after all, that’s how my books have been described, too. But I immediately discovered this is a different approach from mine in several ways:

  1. This is centered around the idea that prayer is nothing more than a conversation with Jesus—and because of that, any of the conversations people in the Bible had with Jesus qualify as prayer—and can be the basis for your own prayers.
  2. As Jeannie tells the stories (which all come from the book of Matthew), she fictionalizes each as a way to help the reader put herself in the story.
  3. Each short chapter (about 6 pages) ends with a few related scriptures for reflection as well as a few observation questions to help you apply the concept to your own life. The book is not long and intimidating; it’s a good size for a personal study or devotional workbook.

Jeannie’s motivation for this book was trying to find ways to pray on behalf of her teenage children. As she searched the Bible for tips, she realized some of the New Testament stories were about parents approaching Jesus on behalf of their children. As the parent of three children who are now 24, 21, and 17, believe me—I can relate to Jeannie’s desire to come to God on behalf of my kids (can’t you?). And I began reading right when I was faced with doing just that. But the approach isn’t limited to praying for your kids. It applies to all kinds of situations—facing doubt, praying for friends, feeling burnt out, having trouble forgetting… It’s comforting to be reminded that these same problems were faced by people in the time that Jesus was walking the earth. And to remember that just as Jesus answered them, He will answer us.

So that morning, I let these conversations others had with Jesus serve as a stand-in for my own prayers. And I felt a little less empty. A little more sure.

Because I was reminded that I don’t have to bring the faith to my relationship with Jesus. He has enough for both of us. All I have to do is show up.

So let’s pray together. My prayers are for my son (because that’s what’s been on my heart lately), but your prayer requests can be about anything.

Leave a comment below with the basic info about a prayer request you have, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a copy of this book. Keep your comments vague to protect the privacy of those you’re praying for, but let’s go together to God and lift up these needs. Also, would you take a moment to pray for the comment before yours? It’s easy—all we have to do is talk to Jesus. Because it is in those interactions that we get to see who He really is. And we come to believe that He will do all He says He will do.

I’ll announce the winner next week… and tell you all about the sparkly bauble I’ll be giving away instead of a book!


Jeannie Blackmer was the publishing manager for MOPS International where she helped create more than 20 books for moms. Now she writes full-time and runs the blog for her church, Flatirons Community Church outside Denver, CO. She has spent the last 3 decades professionally writing everything from articles to press releases, and ads to several books. She has a passion for storytelling and spending time with her husband and three sons who are in their 20s.


 

Prayer for the weary parent

Lord, I am so tired. Yes, of course I love my children. I adore them. I’m grateful for them, for their own unique quirks and personalities, for the ways they make me laugh, for the joys they’ve brought into my life. I sometimes look at them in wonder—usually as they sleep—amazed by Your creation. ...

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[Also posted at Internet Café today]

Lord, I am so tired.

Yes, of course I love my children. I adore them. I’m grateful for them, for their own unique quirks and personalities, for the ways they make me laugh, for the joys they’ve brought into my life. I sometimes look at them in wonder—usually as they sleep—amazed by Your creation. Awed by their perfection. Humbled by the powerful emotions they bring out in me. Honored to be given the chance to be part of their life, to be in a position to influence and teach and guide.

But at the same time, I’m weary. It’s hard to be a parent, to make decisions that aren’t easy and won’t make me popular. It’s difficult to enforce the rules, day after day, to monitor behavior and ask them to pick things up and remind them to do homework and to not take it personally every time they resist. To not be hurt by disrespect and disagreement and rebellion, whether large or small.

It’s exhausting, constantly fighting to get my kids to see reason. It’s challenging to know that I can’t make all their choices for them. I can’t protect them from bad decisions, I can’t ensure they never face harsh consequences, and I can’t do everything for them.

And really, I don’t want to. I offered them to You when they were born, and I trust You to lead them and take care of them. I want them to learn from their experiences and I believe they are strong enough, smart enough, and capable enough to succeed (in all the different kinds of ways we measure success). I don’t want to overstep my bounds. As my friend Lisa told me once, our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job. To teach our kids what they need to know to live. To love. To respect and honor and obey and be productive.

And to lean on You. Because if there is one thing I do know, it is that life is hard. Even when it looks like we have it all together. The only way to get through is to turn towards You, to allow You to teach us individually, personally, in whatever ways we each learn best.

So, Lord, help me lean on You today. Let my kids see that even though I’m not perfect, my mistakes are made out of a desire to protect them, which stems from the amazing depths of the love a parent feels for a child. Let them see that, no matter what they face, it’s better to go through it with You than without You. You can lift the burdens which are too heavy, and enrich the good moments beyond measure. You will shine light into the darkness that they will inevitably face. You will reveal that which is a mystery in the right time. You will endure that which seems too hard to bear. And You will emerge victorious, with them by Your side.

While I wait, while I watch them develop into the people You knew they would become, let me be gracious. Let me cheer them on and not drag them down. Let me hold my tongue when they need to listen instead for You. Let me be a safe place for them to return, an unending source of love to come home to. Restore my weary soul, physically and emotionally. Remind me that You are in control so I don’t have to be. Show me how to relinquish my grasp on their lives and live in faith, how to turn my worrying into prayer.

As You help them grow, do the same for me. Because if anyone understands the turmoil of a parent’s love for a child, it is You. If anyone knows what it means to watch our kids go through hard things and not step in, it is You. If anyone understands the unending, deep and passionate and desperate love we feel, it is You.

The enormity of that takes my breath away, and I know once again the complete truth: We could not be in better hands. Thank You, Jesus. I love You.

How I got my book published

“Hey, Kelly, have any advice for me about getting my book published?” I have no shortage of opinions (about anything, really). Whether they’re useful to anyone else remains to be seen. I’m always happy to share my experience, but I’m an expert only on my own experience, not on the industry in general. I know what worked for ...

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“Hey, Kelly, have any advice for me about getting my book published?”

I have no shortage of opinions (about anything, really). Whether they’re useful to anyone else remains to be seen. I’m always happy to share my experience, but I’m an expert only on my own experience, not on the industry in general. I know what worked for me, but it might be completely different for you. However, I’m asked this question enough that I wanted to post some answers on my blog.

There are many, many helpful resources online for writers. My first go-to source is Jane Friedman. Her site is full of accurate, realistic information and she is a master at curating helpful resources for writers. This post covers all the basics of getting a nonfiction book published. You can go there, explore and read for days and days, and never need to look back here. You can also find information on Michael Hyatt’s website and in The Christian Writer’s Market Guide—or a million other places.

But, in case you’re curious, here is how it worked for me.

I had a quirky idea for a colorful gift book called Praying Upside Down. Various circumstances and comments led to me realizing it could be more than that. I spent nearly a year (working on it a little bit here and a little bit there) preparing a nonfiction book proposal, which contains information like summaries of each chapter, marketing ideas, competitive titles, my qualifications, and anticipated audience. I also wrote several chapters to get a feel for how the book would all come together and to establish my voice. I planned to pitch my idea to an agent who would be at the Midwest Writers Workshop that July. (She liked the idea and asked me to send her the full proposal, but eventually got back to me and said it was “out of her wheelhouse” and she wouldn’t be able to help me.)

In the meantime, I Googled “Christian literary agents” and found a list compiled by Michael Hyatt. I visited each agent’s website, printing out information about what types of books they were looking for and who else they represented, which I then alphabetized in a three-ring binder, complete with tabs. (OCD much?) After choosing the agents that seemed to be good matches, I narrowed it to my top three choices. Two of them asked for electronic submissions, and one requested a hard copy by mail. I sent off the emails and then, when I got together with a couple friends to pray over a house one of them needed to sell, I took the envelope with me and we prayed over it, too. I also submitted a shortened version of the proposal to Christian Manuscript Submissions, a website I’d read about online.

And then I felt like I really wasn’t in the place to be writing about prayer. I was floundering spiritually and emotionally, and I wanted to try something new. So I did the practical, obvious thing (not) and decided to go to Italy for a writers workshop with Elizabeth Berg and learn about fiction. Instead, I learned about myself, and God started healing my broken heart. I wrote this essay about it, and then came home. Six weeks later (almost four months after sending my queries), in one weekend, I heard from the acquisitions editor at a small publishing house and from the agent who received the prayed-over envelope, wondering if the book was still available.

A while later I signed a contract to be represented by that agent, Blythe Daniel. She helped me improve my book proposal and sent it to seven publishers. I got an offer on the book from the small publishing house I mentioned earlier, and then got one from Tyndale. Eventually I signed the contract, agreed to a pub date almost two years away, and got to work writing the rest of the book. (For most nonfiction that is not memoir, potential publishers only see a proposal and sample chapters up front, and you write the bulk of the book after you’ve accepted an offer.) After a year or so of writing, and several months of editing, and numerous hours building my platform (developing my blog and increasing subscribers, establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter, reaching out to writers I’d met over the years at conferences, and so forth), and a few more months of waiting, Praying Upside Down came out in May of 2015.

It sounds fairly easy. It isn’t always. I was fortunate—it’s unusual to get an agent and publishing offers so quickly. But in a way it wasn’t quick—I had attended workshops for years to improve my writing and I didn’t send anything out until it was the best I could make it. I had worked hard to polish my query letter and book proposal, and I was deliberate about where I sent it. Later, I found out that I hadn’t quite followed the rules. I wrote each of the chapter summaries in my “voice,” and they were too long. (Ideally, they want a utilitarian, short paragraph explaining the content, not a beautifully-crafted, ultra-condensed chapter.) I did a terrible job of selecting comparable titles. My overall proposal was way longer than anyone really wanted. The agents and publishers didn’t get back to me in the timeframe I expected.

But it worked. And I have some ideas about why. My background is in marketing, and I had lots of ideas about ways to promote the book, ways to merchandise it and extend it into a line of books. I also had a quirky, catchy title and an unusual approach. And it just so happened that I had chosen to write about a topic which interests a lot of people and answers a “felt need”—in other words, even if they hadn’t articulated it to themselves, people want to know how to pray. How to do it better. Why they should do it. Because so many people feel inadequately equipped to pray.

But even if I’d done absolutely everything else right, I wouldn’t be here without Him. This book wouldn’t exist if He hadn’t wanted it to. Because one thing I can tell you for sure: this book wasn’t just about prayer. It was prayer. It was my act of worship and sacrifice and thanksgiving. My whole life’s story. A love letter to God. My church prayed over it at every stage. Friends “took” a chapter apiece to pray over as I revised. I enlisted people to be involved in a prayer campaign leading up to the release. My pastors and friends (and even some near-strangers) prayed that God would inhabit my words, that He would prepare hearts, that He would make Himself visible in the process and in the product.

Whether or not anyone else ever thinks the book was in any way divinely inspired, I know He was with me as I wrote. Because He changed me, taught me, and molded me as I wrote. Maybe He did all of this just for me, and having the book published is just a bonus. The book has opened up conversations with family and friends; built relationships with people I’ve never met who live all across the country (and even overseas); and made me stronger and bolder in my faith. I have no idea what God will do with that book, or with the next one coming out next year, but I’m absolutely giddy that I get to write.

I guess it all comes down to one final piece of advice, then. Ask God to inhabit what you do. Ask Him to use you, teach you, and prepare you for whatever He wants to do. And if you think He wants you to write, then by all means, write—with all of your passion and ability and heart. And if He doesn’t want you to write, that’s OK, too. Whatever He has in mind for you is the right thing. Our part isn’t to decide how God should use us. It’s to be open to exploring the opportunities He gives us…and then to give it all you’ve got. What you get back in return is so much better than what you had to offer in the beginning.

Dreading the change of seasons?

To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn)… I know the song better than the Scripture, but the fact remains, time keeps on moving on. The pages on the calendar keep changing, rapidly becoming out of date. Summer is drawing to a close—this crazy, hectic summer—and most people’s schedules are starting ...

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GRAPHIC there is a time

To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn)… I know the song better than the Scripture, but the fact remains, time keeps on moving on. The pages on the calendar keep changing, rapidly becoming out of date. Summer is drawing to a close—this crazy, hectic summer—and most people’s schedules are starting to ramp up for fall. I know it’s still July, but my son returns to school on August 12, so that’s not very far away.

In Ecclesiastes 3, it says:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Some of our seasons are literal—the leaves changing color or the temperatures rising or the snow falling. But some are more abstract, even as they affect us more profoundly. I’m in a season of creating. At the same time, this is a season of changes for me—releasing and learning to promote my book, doing some speaking, and now cutting back on work, focusing on writing the next one, moving my two daughters to new colleges next month, and having my son enter high school.

Whatever kind of season you’re in, no matter how hard it might be, don’t despair. There’s a time for everything. And the fact that each of these is a season should bring hope—there will be an end to it. I realize that, if you’re facing something like a child leaving home, or a parent dying, you’re dreading the change of seasons. But I find it comforting to know that time keeps on passing, and relationships and trials and challenges and emotions ebb and flow. If I’m down, there will be an up. I just have to hold on and wait for it to come.

What season are you in? How do you feel about it? Is it a comfort to know things will continue to change, or does that freak you out?


Speaking of time, the August prayer prompt calendar is now available—always free to blog subscribers. You can go here to download or click on the Products page of my website to see all of them. Here’s the low-res preview to tempt you:

Aug 2015 prayer prompts

 

 

Does your posture influence your prayer?

I’ve prayed sitting in a pew. Balanced on my knees on a cushioned kneeler. Standing at the altar, hands on another’s shoulder. In a circle at prayer group, joined hand to hand in unity. I’ve pressed my face into my carpet, distraught and wordless, and I’ve stood with both arms raised high above my head ...

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GRAPHIC The more ways I approach

I’ve prayed sitting in a pew. Balanced on my knees on a cushioned kneeler. Standing at the altar, hands on another’s shoulder. In a circle at prayer group, joined hand to hand in unity. I’ve pressed my face into my carpet, distraught and wordless, and I’ve stood with both arms raised high above my head with confidence and praise.

It’s all prayer. It’s all good. And however you approach it, I’m not here to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

What I know, though, is that so often we get stuck in a routine. Before long, actions that once held deep meaning no longer carry any weight. Emotion is replaced with familiarity.

Familiarity can be good. It comes with comfort and peace. You don’t want to lose that.

But I’d like to suggest that maybe you should shake things up once in a while.

Join me at the Internet Café today to find out how.

Overcoming the obstacles in prayer

If you’re local(ish) and it’s remotely practical, I’d love to sit down and talk with you in person. The reality is that we’re scattered all over the place and it’s not likely to happen. I don’t feel like letting that stop us from having a good conversation, though. I mean, you can fix yourself a cup of ...

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GRAPHIC Guilt isn't productive

If you’re local(ish) and it’s remotely practical, I’d love to sit down and talk with you in person. The reality is that we’re scattered all over the place and it’s not likely to happen. I don’t feel like letting that stop us from having a good conversation, though. I mean, you can fix yourself a cup of your favorite coffee with just the right kind and amount of creamer or sugar or sweetener. And I can do the same here. And we can still talk from the comfort of our own living rooms—whenever it happens to be convenient.

Periodically, I’ll be posting questions here, and I hope you’ll interact with me. Nothing worse than inviting someone to coffee and having them not show up.

Speaking of that… A man at our church preached about this one time and the analogy really stuck with me. Imagine… I got all ready to go to lunch with my best friend. Picked out cute clothes and shoes (he probably didn’t mention that but that’s just where my mind went). Cleared my schedule, made arrangements for my kids (this was back when they were younger), and drove to the restaurant right on time. And then she didn’t show up? He proposed that maybe that’s how God feels when we say we’ll pray, when we say we want to spend time with Him, and we never get around to it.

Ouch.

If you’re like me, you’d stay and eat anyway. Because lunch. And because books make pretty good dining companions, even if they’re not quite as good as people. Well, not always.

But back to prayer. As I’ve promised repeatedly in my writing, this is a guilt-free zone and I don’t think guilt belongs in prayer. I also don’t believe God ever beats us up for our failings. Sure, He wants us there. And He’ll show us when we have done something wrong. But guilt isn’t productive. Love is. So He just tries to help us be better.

So let’s start a new conversation. What are some of the obstacles that keep you from praying or from spending time with God?

I want you to be real. The reason can be large or small. Maybe you can’t find a private spot in your house. Or maybe you don’t know if you believe in God. Maybe you don’t think He answers prayer. Maybe you think you don’t deserve it. Or you don’t know how to talk to someone you can’t see. Or someone has said something to make you feel guilty or unworthy, making you doubt whether you’re actually a Christian in the first place. Maybe you have three kids under the age of 5 and you rarely find a moment of quiet. Or maybe you aren’t sure what to say.

One thing I can promise you: you are not alone. You’re not the only one with your particular doubt or hurdle or issue or fear or crazy schedule. But the only way to find that out? Admit it and start a conversation about it.

I have plenty of my own issues, many of which I’ve already shared in my book. But I won’t ask you to share anything that I’m not willing to discuss. So this is my current struggle. Right now I’m in a season when writing consumes all of my attention and energy, and pure, focused prayer doesn’t get the time or attention it deserves. A friend helped by suggesting that—using my own words against me—our prayer lives change over time and in different seasons, and we need to be open to whatever God has for us. I need to remember that my prayer life may not look like the next person’s, but not to rule it out simply because of that. If I hadn’t shared, I wouldn’t have had my friend gently encourage me. But because I did, she pointed out to me that for this season, my prayer may (mostly) take the form of sitting in front of my computer and writing.

It helped. And it made me more intentional about it.

So what are your prayer struggles? What obstacles keep you from spending time with God? And, let’s turn this around: do you have any suggestions for me?

 

Why am I surprised when God answers my prayers?

I read through some old journals tonight and rediscovered why I love keeping journals. Our memories are so fickle. But our entries are indisputable records of what we saw or knew or felt at a given time. In the middle of a bunch of angsty entries that made me roll my eyes, among lots of words ...

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GRAPHIC God can use fumbling

I read through some old journals tonight and rediscovered why I love keeping journals. Our memories are so fickle. But our entries are indisputable records of what we saw or knew or felt at a given time.

In the middle of a bunch of angsty entries that made me roll my eyes, among lots of words and questions and awkward play-by-plays of my spiritual growth as I saw it at the time, I found this.

I don’t remember asking God for this, at least not twelve years ago. I always thought I started asking God to use my writing about five years ago, and that I had never really thought that my focus would be on prayer. And yet look what I wrote on July 13, 2003. If you’re in a hurry, just read the bold parts.


I want so badly for God to use me, to keep working through me. I feel him doing that, and I am so honored and touched and moved by it that I cry whenever it hits me. It overwhelms me and scares me. I want to be a servant but I don’t feel like I know how to serve. I’ve always thought of myself more as a leader. I feel like I’m out of my element, a beginner, fumbling along towards the light. Sometimes I feel so close to God, and sometimes I feel like I know nothing.

…I need to be open and willing so that people will continue to turn to me, and I keep praying for God to give me the words. I never feel like I know what to say—but God can even use an awkward, fumbling person like me for good. I thank him for that! The days when I feel like I’m being used in that way are wonderful, and I wish I could serve like that all the time.

I never would have believed there would be some kind of ministry role in my life, but there is. I feel so moved to pray and to help. If my role is to somehow lighten people’s burdens, I take it gladly. Lord, please help me. I pray that you will continue to let me feel useful and good, but more important, that you will use me to make a difference, to show other people how brightly your love shines in my life. I love you and want to worship you, and I want people to see and feel your touch in their lives. Thank you for finding ways to let me do that.

I thank you, Lord, for all these things and more. I thank you for this time I have spent talking with you, and I thank you for caring enough about me to take the time to be with me. I’ve basked in the glow of your presence long enough, seeking the good feelings and chills down my spine, but not really offering anything back to you. I pray that this is just the start of it. I pray that I will find new and more ways to offer my life back to you. I love you, sweet Jesus. I love you.


 

Oh, Lord, You have been so good to me. Thank You for knowing the desires of my heart, even before I knew them myself. Thank You for letting me write, pray, and help people pray—and for allowing me to tell them about the things You have done. Thank You for giving me the opportunity to write Praying Upside Down. For accepting my offering to You, my whole-hearted act of worship. For being in the middle of it and showing me the fruit of my labors through sweet messages and encouraging notes from readers. Don’t ever let me stop worshipping and praising and offering myself to you. It would be impossible for me to ever thank You enough. In your sweet name I pray. Amen.

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