Don't Give Up On Prayer

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How many of you remember the book “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?  It was the book every girl by sixth grade wanted to read.  This girl had a major problem, so she thought, and she needed God to hear her and answer her in a hurry before her life fell apart.  Isn’t that just like us?  Thinking that when our prayers are not answered right away or when things do not go the way we plan, we wonder where God is.  I spent a lot of days wondering, where is God.  From the time when I was homeless with my children, to wondering where I was going to get money for groceries, or when my gas was cut off in the middle of winter.  I asked, where are you, God?  It seemed like I prayed and prayed, tried to live right the best I could; while raising six children alone with no child support.  Praying and waiting was not a good feeling for me, and I struggled with it in my early years of being a single mom.    

A lot of times as single moms, we say, “God, where are you?” or “Are you there, God?” We have so many things going on in our lives and a lot of them we do not want to talk about or think about, but life happens, and it can be extra hard on a single parent who has no support system.  When struggles come into our lives, and we know we have prayed, we feel God has deserted us; much like Margaret did in this story.  Waiting on God can be very frustrating if you do not know how to wait.  You can not wait on God complaining and looking for plan B &C, this will only make the wait longer, and the situation seems unbearable.  Most of the time we do like Margaret did when she was upset with God for not letting her get her period, she stopped talking to Him.  Margaret did not realize it was not her turn, and someone who is reading; this needs to know that God’s delay is not denial; it is just not your time.  Yes, girlfriend; that situation that you are frustrated about God hears your prayers, but He is saying not right now.  I know, it is hard to hear; but sometimes we must wait.  As I look back on the situations I wrote about, and I looked over my life, I was on the verge of totally giving up; not only on God but on life.  Thank goodness I did not give up because life did get better for us as the years went by.  

If your prayer life is not where it needs to be, now is the time to get it right; not stray away from prayer.  This time ask for understanding when your prayer.  Pray and spill out your whole heart, holding nothing back.  Then sit quietly after you pray and listen to hear the still small voice of God giving you direction.  Remember, that sometimes God says wait, but that is not denial.  Waiting hurts, and it is not easy, but once you see the outcome of your waiting, you will see why God’s timing is the best timing.  I know there are some of you doubting right now, probably saying to yourself; but I have been waiting for years for things to change.  Yes, I understand.  I am asking you to hold on and do not give up, things are going to get better for you and your children.  There are resources in your area that can help you, seek them out.  Ask someone if you do not know where to go to get help or assistance.  Keep praying and believing, it is not in vain.  

Carmelita M

Having Gratitude, Even When Facing Adversity

Two years ago, I was fired for the first time ever in my 20 years of work history.  Things spiraled out of control.  I couldn’t find consistent full-time employed within my field.  I was unemployed for well over a year; moving from Springfield to Kansas City within that period of time in hopes that the bigger job market would pay off for me.  I had been in KC for almost seven months before I found a position within my field.  SIGH…..what a relief, finally.  To make the relief even better, about two weeks later, I was offered another position with a different company, a position that I definitely felt was a better fit, and finally got them to meet my salary requirements.  My bruised ego was feeling so much healing.  I was finally going to have a reliable, steady income and possibly be able to get ahead.

However, to reiterate, I was basically unemployed for more than a year.  I was terribly behind on every bill I had, had begged and borrowed from nearly anyone and everyone able and willing to help me out, I had even taken out a title loan on my little car (ridiculously stupid move on my part, but I was desperate).  The car quit working, overheated so badly that the office manager at my job came running out asking if I needed her to call the fire department.  I was forced to enter into a car note to have reliable transportation (which is the only way for me to get to work-no public transportation from here to there, and my job actually requires as part of my contract to have reliable transportation, as I transport clients frequently).

Ya’ll….I could continue into the depths of this dark pit, but I’m going to wrap this point up by saying, inevitably I had no choice but to sell the Jeep that I bought, the title loan place picked up the little overheating Kia, I was almost evicted, but somehow managed to scrape up enough to kinda sorta get caught up.  Every day that I come home, I wonder which of my utilities might be turned off.  I’ve had to visit the local food pantries to be able to feed myself and my son, and there have been way too many days that I pray that I have enough gas to make it home from work.  Luckily my ex is selling me his “lovely” 15-year-old car for payments.  The a.c. doesn’t work, the battery cable was loose (until I fixed that), the heat doesn’t work either, and he broke the keyless entry key fob, among several other minor issues.  It was genuinely humbling going from 1st my 2006 Kia, that everything worked on, until the overheating issue, then to a brand spanking new, picked out by me for myself Jeep, down to this hoopty.  It has been so easy to focus on all the negative, all the dark, all the depression and despair; focusing on the worry and fear and stress.  I forgot how to have a grateful heart.

Gratitude is something that I teach and constantly preach at work, and yet I had totally forgotten how to have gratitude myself while in the face of adversity.  God, never once told us only to be grateful while receiving blessings, or when things are good.  Yet, here I was walking around with so much darkness in my heart and within my spirit.  I mean, granted, it’s been the longest two years of my life for quite some time, but so what, God also never promised that life would ever be easy; he never promised that weapons wouldn’t form, but rather that they would not prosper against his children.

So, first things first, I had to remember to maintain my relationship with God.  It’s so easy to get angry and kind of snub him.  However, maintaining that relationship in and of itself helps to remind you that you are his child, he cares, he will provide, and have continued faith.  If you’re not a Christian, that’s ok, too.  Whatever religious or spiritual beliefs you hold near and dear, lean into those, increase your spirituality and your faith in your beliefs.   Secondly, I had to make a list of the many things, no matter how small, I had to be grateful for; being as specific here as possible is the absolute most important part to help cultivate gratitude in your heart.  So, listing not only WHAT you’re grateful for, but also the WHY.  In other words, I may say I am grateful for my son, or my daughter, but listing the many reasons why that helps build that graciousness within your spirit.

Practicing gratitude daily, with a gratitude journal, is an amazing way to cultivate gratitude, even in the face of conflict and challenges.  A simple journal would merely be to list 3-5 (or hey the more, the merrier) things you are grateful for that particular day and why.  There are also tons of planners and books for purchase online that are more guided, as well as several free templates.  I really like the one in the link below a lot, as it not only asks you to list what you’re grateful for, but also gives you space to put the challenges you’re currently facing, but focuses on the lessons you’re learning from those challenges.  It also has a place to list people in your life for whom you are grateful, and a 4th section that asks you to free write for at least 5 minutes about the best part of your day.  The only change I would personally make is to remember to list the why and try not to focus on material things to be grateful for, as, trust me, those can disappear at a moment’s notice.

 Gratitude is important to maintain at all times, not just when things are great, but despite the challenging times and when you experience adversity in life.  Focusing on the positive things in your life not only makes you feel more at ease and at peace but also creates more positive in your life.  I truly believe we get what we give.  Therefore, if you give the universe negativity, you will spiral out of control and dwell in that dark place.  However, if you focus on the positive, expel positive and seek positive, you will indeed find yourself basking in a universe full of positivity.  I hope and pray that each of you finds a way to cultivate gratitude in your own lives, focus on the positive, and truly live a positively blessed life.


Prayers and Pills

2018 was not my favorite year. It did contain some great moments and lessons that I believe will set the stage for not just better years, but a better, stronger version of myself.

For starters, I spent (and am still spending) a lot of time recovering from my second ankle reconstruction surgery. Then, I became this person: Right, when I was at my most empty, October and the start of November introduced me to the reality of total sleeplessness, the stress of hair loss, and the constant feeling of tightness in my chest. My moods were unpredictable, and my spirit was weak. The spans of time when I felt like myself when I felt whole, became shorter and less frequent. I felt like a failure at everything I did, including parenting. I could not find joy. I could only fake joy to avoid more questions.

Then, November 10th hit. My campus community was rocked by a mass shooting and the loss of a student. My students, who had lost their friend(s) in the most devastating way, needed support. I wanted to be there for them, so badly. I wanted to dig up the real me from the pits of my soul and give it to them, to wrap them in love and receive their burdens as my own.

But, I was drained. There was none of me, of the real me, to give. I prayed to be filled up so that I could pour out to them. I was scraping the bottom of a drained pool with my fingernails, hoping for water to appear. How could I be so empty when people I loved needed me so badly?

Two days later, the local and campus community caught on fire, for days. The world for most everyone I know was turned upside down. Classes were canceled, lives were upended, homes were lost. Everything seemed to be falling apart. How could so much be happening at once?

In late November, I sought refuge, as I often do, in my Bible. I went to church. I volunteered. I studied the Bible. I prayed. I mean I prayed and prayed and prayed for God to re-fill the empty vessel of my soul. When I sought guidance from Christian friends, they affirmed that I needed to pray.

I prayed some more.

I gave to those in need.

I prayed some more.

I prayed more in a few weeks than I probably have in my entire life up to that point. Nothing changed. No, that’s not true. I did start to feel a new hole gnawing at the crater in my chest. I started to feel like a failure in Christ like I was somehow letting God down by not feeling healed by all of this prayer. I hated myself more, which I did not think was possible.

It wasn’t until someone suggested that I go see a therapist that I started to feel some hope. She suggested that I start taking an anti-anxiety medication so that I could start sleeping again. This was not something of which I was quickly convinced. In my adult life, I have tried to stick to natural wellness remedies, including physical activity, and always through prayer.

As a Christian, I have listened to countless testimonies about prayer rescuing people from depression, from learning difficulties, and from physical pain. Honestly, a large part of me was afraid that taking medication would mean that prayer was insufficient or, worse, that I was insufficient at prayer.

After about 2 weeks of this discussion, the therapist said something to me that finally took root: “Stop seeing prayer as a solution and think of it as illuminating the path towards a solution. It’s a conversation, not a directive.” We talked about my relationship with God. Did I trust Him? Yes. Did I try to have a relationship with Him? Yes. So, then did I trust what He was telling me/pushing me towards? I needed to. Anxiety was stopping me from sleeping and feeling, so she suggested medication as a way to return to healthy sleep and, hopefully, emotional recovery (including my faith in prayer). At my breaking point, I gave in and started the medication.

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It has been several weeks now and, for the past week and a half, I have been sleeping better. Some nights are more difficult but, increasingly, I am having restful nights. I am catching more frequent glimpses of myself. The tightness in my chest is subsiding. The dread that propelled me through the fake days and sleepless nights has almost entirely dissipated. It feels, finally, like everything may be okay.

I don’t know how I made it through the second half of last year. So much of it feels like a blur. Every step felt like an irrecoverable stumble leading me closer to existing as a void. I am amazed that I kept my job. I am thankful that I did not wreck my kids. And, in the most unexpected way, I grew closer to God.

I am in awe of God. I know that He answers prayers. I am confident now that His answer is not, “Thanks for praying, I’ll handle that.” But His answer was there, all along, in the people He surrounded me with. In the persistence of the therapist, in the unwavering support of my best friend, in the little bit of me, that refused to give up while the post-traumatic stress ate away at my soul.

This is not just my story. So many people are wounded and reeling in a world that preaches (and commercializes) self-care but doesn’t slow down for us to truly practice it. I think this tension is acute for single parents because there is never the opportunity to transfer our parenting burden to another adult. I think that this tension is often acute for Christians because we think that prayer is the answer in itself, instead of the way to find the answer that best works for our lives.

For me, the answer is still prayer. But, at least for now, it is also pills.

A. Smith