prayer

“Stephanie, where do I go to pray for you today? I’m sitting at my table, coffee in my right hand and my Bible in my left.”

It’s not every day that you get emails that start with those words…so many emotions in those simple words. The reality that someone cares enough to intentionally sit down and pray for me is one. But also someone who cares enough to put some spiritual muscle behind sending me a Bible verse, or three because it couldn’t be narrowed down, that is only for me.

It is all a part of being known. Isn’t that one of our basic human emotional needs? To pray for me is one thing, but to know them well enough to pray for me without a litany of prayer requests to read down requires us to know one another.

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And very clearly we are friends who know one another, because she knows that I would care that she was also drinkin’ her mornin’ cup, or five, of joe. Birds of a feather and all…I’m writing this while drinking a delicious cup myself.

My precious friend ended up sending me the best Bible verses, and she wasn’t the only one last week.

A group of us participated in an experiment last week. Pray for one person each day, and send them a Bible verse. Simple enough, right? It started with a spreadsheet, because they are cool. Then some of us forgot, which meant others got two verses in one day…but it wasn’t about our crazy lives and forgetting to email, mostly because we were intentionally praying for each other every day for seven days.

Which at this point, I should also mention, that NONE of us like to pray out loud. When we are together and it is ‘time’ to pray. Crickets. Crickets. Crickets. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.

Prayer is a lot of things though…a thought, a whisper, a doodle, a word, a song, a painting. We limit our connection to God when we see prayer as something only done at meal time or ‘church’ events. We also limit that connection when we think only Pastors have the ‘right’ prayers. There is no ‘right’ prayer. There are no ‘right’ words. God takes all of them, and more so, knows your heart. It doesn’t matter what comes out of your mouth.

Despite our aversion to praying out loud, this week we found a new way to connect through prayer and it was exhilarating. One day, I got scripture that I had significantly connected to while in China about loving people that are hard to love. For whatever reason, only God knows, it led me to spending a lot of time last week praying for China, the folks I knew and the Americans I traveled with for a summer.

It was also eye opening. Without knowing prayer requests we quickly realized we were left to how well we knew each other and what was happening in our lives, especially with the added piece of giving them a part of God’s word. Prayer is a connector to God first and foremost, but we also found that prayer is a connector to each other as well.

Without our connection to our God and Holy Spirit, and without strong relationships that we can depend on…we are left alone, hopeless and cut off. That, most assuredly, is not a strong community of believers, and definitely not one that the God of the universe will use to restore His Kingdom back to wholeness.

At the start of our week of intentional prayer, I was nervous that some would ‘forget’ or worse…not get into the whole prayer every day thing. For some it pushed on the boundaries of our comfort zones, because Bibles were being opened daily and prayer life was getting a jolt. However, our God is a God of grace, love and mercy – the relationship kind, and he SHOWED up. Big time.

We ended up going above and beyond simply prayer and scripture, and found ourselves encouraging each other. Even finding God encouraging us while spending more time in His word. Some found themselves lending an ear in situations, as well as all of us thinking about each other all week. We were connected, and it was a beautiful picture of community.

Don’t be the person this week that says, “I’m praying for you!” and then make it a side thought. Be intentional. Desire a community. Be connected to God through prayer for the sake of those around you. God will show up. God will work through junk. God will make the relationships around you stronger. God will enhance your discernment. It doesn’t even matter if you know what to pray for, because I guarantee you that God knows what that person needs more than a list of prayer requests would tell you.

God worked in us so much this week that we are going to be working to fill in the holes of relationships with each other that God shed light on last week. The good news is it will involve food, conversation, and of course, coffee.

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blessed

I thrive on relationships. I have a lot of friends, and the stories about how we became friends are pretty awesome. But today as I am reflecting on being blessed…I want to share one of those stories, so hang with me!

Fourteen years ago..whoa…fourteen years ago, I had just lost the friend that I’d written about in ‘water.’ Following that loss I went on my first mission trip. Three of those who happened to be going I’d been leaning on throughout my emotional turmoil. I felt safe, 3 people knew what was going on and knew I was intensely struggling, but they would help me when I needed it. I’d be ok.

Until one night while I was waiting to talk to one of the guys after his shower. I was sitting on the gym floor and one of our other teammates walked passed me.

She was funny, yet quiet and we’d found out on the drive out that when she slept, her eyes were creepishly open. It really freaked me out. No one really knew her, but looking back we were both on that trip for a reason.

As she passed me on the gym floor, she turned around and said, ‘Are you ok?’

I gave the customary, ‘Oh, yah. Just waiting for someone to get out of the shower.’

Then…she gave me this look. She is quite good at it, and still good at it because I just got it last week.

A head tilt, coupled with a long look squinting from the corner of her of her eye. ‘Are you sure?’ she said. She knew, just knew that I was definitely not ok and cared enough to push me on it. She has cared enough ever since, and now we always say to one another ‘What haven’t I asked that I should be asking?’

Somehow, I found it in me to trust her. It had to of been supernatural, because I was all trusted out at the moment…but my story flew out of my mouth. When my friend got out of the shower, he stopped and said, ‘Everything ok here?’ And when I confirmed it was good, he left us alone.

As I was gushing fountain of words and tears, she sat there…just listening and nodding and offering words of wisdom and encouragement.

Once all my words were gone, she quietly said, ‘I’m having a hard time right now, too, because it’s almost been a year since my mom died.’

My heart dropped. Partly because I knew my problems did not exceed the lost of a mother. And partly because she was the first one I’d run across at college who would know something of where I was coming from. Someone who could walk with me through the most trying time of my entire life. Someone who would be loyal and carry all of my secrets with her. Someone who would listen, and someone who would call me out in a productive way when I needed it.

For the duration of our college years it was a foundation built on a gym floor that blessed me with the most amazing friend who would drop anything if I called or showed up saying I needed to go for a car ride. Which was our code for I am completely emotionally unstable, and I need to get away from people or I’m going to lose it.

Her Ford Taurus saw a lot of tears, and a lot of happiness. I will never forget hearing when it came out on the radio, MercyMe’s song ‘I Can Only Imagine.’ We were in the car on the way back from volunteering with our church youth group. We both ended up bawling because we could imagine what it would be like to be with our friends and family members we’d lost, and wanted it more than anything. For a while when we were going on separate road trips, it was, ‘No car wrecks, and no dying because we have to be in the same car.’

We both had trust issues. We both were not your ‘normal’ girly girl. And we both were trying to do our best to walk in the path of Jesus. And still are…

We did a Bible Study one year that now results in our sharing a knowing look, and laugh when it comes up. It was on female roles in the Bible, and you could say we like to push the traditional boundaries. But we did it together, and whatever we did together we were able to make it through.

We road tripped to Montana one summer…middle of the night, screaming lyrics at the top of our lungs to stay awake.

That gym floor was holy ground. No one will ever be able to convince me otherwise. God created a friendship on that floor that has lasted 14 years, and will continue to go on and on.

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The last several years have been hard, especially since I suck at talking on the phone. I live in Missouri, and she and her husband have lived in Florida and now Utah.

But every. single. time. Every time, we are together, it is as if we have been next door neighbors the whole year long. She is one of the few people who truly know me…from the whole Jesus start through the mission call to now.

We were sitting at breakfast on Saturday morning before I left and her husband said something about ‘Steph doesn’t ever get mad.’ She burst out laughing and said, ‘What? You’ve never seen her lose her temper? It’s ugly. She’s good until people keep pushing her, but once you’ve pushed her too far…watch out.’ And she is completely right about my temper, because she knows me.

It is an absolute blessing to know and be known. I thrive in being known, because I can be myself and know others can appreciate how far God has taken me. I consider all of our adventures treasured memories, knowing that we have so many more to tuck under our belts.

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. [Proverbs 18:24]

I am blessed beyond imagine for a lot of things…and I’ve hit the jackpot multiple times in the friend department. And for that I am incredibly grateful to the Lord I serve.

relief

Tuesdays are the odd mission day in the office. No ‘local mission’ folks around…it’s just me…global girl. The mission geek with even weirder  ideas.

However, when people are calling into Grace Place for emergency relief in the form of food, clothing or utilities…they don’t care what I do…they just know I’m the voice they get on the phone. Technically, Tuesdays are not Grace Place days, but it’s really hard telling someone who has trouble getting rides to come up here that today is not the day.

Really, they just want to be heard. And when someone needs to be heard it doesn’t matter if I am planning a Family or Haiti mission trip. So my ears open. My heart constricts. And I hope that Jesus comes through the cracks of my imperfections.

Today found me in the parking lot talking with a woman about the expensive things that food stamps do not purchase while loading her groceries from Grace Place. Toiletries, laundry & dishwashing detergent, paper towels, toilet paper…could you image not having toilet paper in your home because you don’t have money to purchase it? Or not being able to grab a paper towel in the kitchen? Try it for a week. I bet most of us would cave before a week was out.

The folks that are getting groceries from the WCC food pantry are forced to make hard choices about their money, and most of us have no idea what that is really like.

As I was waving goodbye to her, one of the women I’ve been able to get to know over the last two years was walking in to pick up groceries. It was an amazing blessing to yell her name, and greet her in the parking lot with a huge hug. She is a beautiful woman with 6 kids, who has had the WORST luck in the world over the last several years. I won’t go into detail, just know that every time I talk with her I am burdened to pray for her family. As well as the times that God just brings them to mind randomly.

I cherish the time I am able to be a friend to her, because that is how God asks us to work towards his Kingdom. To listen. To talk. To encourage. And most of all…to make her feel like the God she believes in is still active and alive in her life.

As we were talking today, she said, ‘Is there any voucher or coupon you all have for meat? We haven’t had any in weeks.’

By the grace of God and his inevitable timing, someone had donated a gift card to Hy-Vee and I was able to pass it on with a ‘Go buy some meat, friend,’ while hugging her goodbye.

The mission department is an extension of the church that exists because the hearts of the congregation are overflowing with gratitude and love for their Christ. It’s an honor to be used by God for the hugs, and encouragement that go along with it.