Archives

All the Answers by Kate Messner

Book #2 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
246 pages, 3 hours

Ava Anderson finds an old blue pencil in her family’s junk drawer. I doesn’t look special, but it is. Ava’s pencil can answer written questions with an audible voice that only Ava can hear. And the pencil always provides the right answer! The pencil can’t or won’t predict the future, but its answers to factual questions are uncanny in their accuracy. But does Ava really want to know all the answers to her fears and worries? What if the answers are scarier than the questions? What if the answers only create more questions?

I really enjoyed reading about Ava and all her worries and her magic pencil with almost all of the answers. I thought the pencil magic was timely in its similarity to the way we all turn to Google for all our answers these days. The pencil was a little more all-knowing than Google, but it still couldn’t predict the future or lay to rest all of Ava’s worries. I am as guilty as the next person of wanting to find someone or something that will answer all my questions and give me some concrete advice about what to do in sticky situations. But the truth is that only God is omniscient, and since He is, He probably has good reasons for not showering all the answers on us.

The book mentions prayer. Ava has a praying grandma. Ava herself learns to trust a little in her own bravery and competence and a little in the care and goodwill of family and friends. Near the end of the book, she does pray with her grandma, but it’s not a big epiphany or turning point in her growth as a character. Mostly the book is about learning to let go of your worries and fears and trust something. That “something” is never really defined. It’s about learning to live without all the answers, a feat we all need to accomplish, but one that is very hard to do without believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing, good God who has not only the answers but also the ability to work all things together for His glory and our good.

Anyway, there’s lots to discuss here, and the author in her acknowledgements even recommends a self-help book for kids who worry too much: What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner. I’ve not seen the self-help book, but it might be worth a look if you or your child is a worrier. Or you could just follow the guidance in this hymn, like Ava’s grandmother: take it the Lord in prayer.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson.

Prayer is a mysterious thing. Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., writes about answered prayers and unanswered prayers and prayer circles and praying through and specific prayers and dreams and life goals. I found the book inspiring, and as I indicated, somewhat mysterious. Appropriately enough. If I had prayer figured out, I would very nearly think that I have God figured out, and that would be presumptuous and unwise of me.

“Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying. We give up too easily. We give up too soon. We quit praying right before the miracle happens.”

“We shouldn’t seek answers as much as we should seek God. If you seek answers you won’t find them, but if you seek God, the answers will find you.”

“Sometimes the power of prayer is the power to carry on. It doesn’t always change your circumstances, but it gives you the strength to walk through them. When you pray through, the burden is taken off of your shoulders and put on the shoulders of Him who carried the cross to Calvary.”

“Faith is the willingness to look foolish.”

“There is nothing God loves more than keeping promises, answering prayers, performing miracles, and fulfilling dreams. That is who He is. That is what He does. And the bigger the circle we draw, the better, because God gets more glory. The greatest moments in life are the miraculous moments when human impotence and divine omnipotence intersect – and they intersect when we draw a circle around the impossible situations in our lives and invite God to intervene.”

“if God doesn’t answer the way you want, you still need to praise through. That is when it’s most difficult to praise God, but that is also when our praise is most pure and most pleasing to God.”

I am in the midst of a prayer journey with God, and it looks impossible. I’ve been asking him to do something, something good and right and big and important, for nigh on ten years now. So far it’s not happening. In fact, as far as I can tell, nothing is happening that moves us closer to God’s glory or my desires. However, I’m determined to keep praying, keep wrestling, until God gives me what I am asking or until I die and go to be with Him. And if I’m in heaven and my prayers are still not answered, I’ll keep asking there.

I think that’s what this book is all about, and that’s what God asks us to do in the Bible:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:13

And if we know that he hears us—-whatever we ask—-we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:15

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. John 15:16

The other thing I got out of this book was a new encouragement and vision for goal-setting.

“Goal setting begins and ends with prayer. God-ordained goals are conceived in the context of prayer, and prayer is what brings them to full term. You need to keep circling your dreams in prayer, like the Israelites circled Jericho.”

Maybe I’ll share some of my “life goals list” with you soon. What life goals has God given you?

The Hidden Art of Homemaking, ch.12, Clothing

“There is nothing like knitting or sewing to give on the opportunity of using time in two ways at once. Perhaps you have to go to committee meetings which take a long time, board meetings or any meetings where you do not need to take notes, where you presence is reuired for votes and possible comments and where you really sit and listen and think without much to do with your hands. The time can be doubly well employed if you have some sewing, knitting or embroidery with you.” The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer, ch. 12.

“I found myself reaching for my knitting at all times, but especially when I prayed. I still pray better with needles in my hands. Rows stand for worship, thanksgiving, petition, confession, renewal, people, problems, wisdom, insight character memory verses. Some people keep a prayer jurnal. My prayer journal is knitted into ridges and rows.” The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield.

I’m not a knitter or a seamstress, but this idea is lovely–using one’s hands to accompany one’s mind and prayers, to stay occupied and engaged while praying or listening, to be able to calm the thought that often comes to me during prayer, “Oh, but I should be doing something!”

Gray Matter by David Levy

A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer . . . One Patient at a Time.

This nonfiction “blend of medical drama and spiritual insight” reminded me of one of my favorite books from 2011, Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. In Gray Matter, Dr. Levy, a neurosurgeon, tells the story of how he started offering to pray with his patients before surgery, and eventually at other critical moments in their medical journey. He writes honestly about the fears involved in this experiment of faith: how he feared losing his reputation, offending patients or fellow medical coworkers, making a fool of himself, even ruining God’s reputation if his prayers went unanswered.

But Dr. Levy also tells how he felt compelled to offer his patients the gift of faithful, simple prayer before, and often during, what was for the patient an anything-but-routine procedure. And very few of his patients refused his offer to pray for them. For those who did refuse, Dr. Levy respected their wishes and went on to do the surgery with all of the skill he had. But the book focuses on the stories of individual patients who did agree to have Dr. Levy pray for them. The author tells about how prayer became for him an integral part of the treatment process and about how those prayers and God’s presence acknowledged in the OR made a difference in the lives of both doctor and patients.

I was especially encouraged to read about the importance of forgiveness and the release of bitterness on the road to physical health. Many, many people are afflicted by diseases and ailments that are caused or exacerbated by the spiritual illness that they hold onto in the form of bitterness and resentment. As Dr. Levy began to pray for his patients, he sometimes felt led to ask about their spiritual health, especially in the area of forgiveness. And some patients he was able to lead to forgive those who had hurt them and at the same time bring themselves into a place to receive healing and forgiveness for their own sins.

It seems to me that if I really believed that God hears my prayers and that He chooses to work through prayer to work in the world and in people’s lives, I would offer to pray for people much more often and then I would do it. This story of a doctor who does believe, not without doubts and stutters, but nevertheless believes and puts into practice what God has called him to do, is inspiring.

Carrie at Reading to Know just wrote a review in which she credits her mother-in-law with inspiring her to pray more fervently and consistently:

“When a situation popped up she held my hand and simply said, “We will pray.” And I did. And I know she did. Her example and exhortation was worth more to me than a pile of pamphlets, even though they may be written by Martin Luther. . . She also prays for each member of our family. And I know that her prayers are answered. I know. Her spirit of humility and committment to follow Christ was a huge spiritual wake-up call to me.”

Simply pray. Offer to pray. Pray daily. Pray through. If I believe in Jesus’ words “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I”, I will pray for those He gives me breath to encourage in that way. And my faith will grow, and God will be glorified.

12 Projects for 2013

For several years now, I’ve been starting off the year with projects instead of resolutions. I don’t always complete my projects, but I enjoy starting them and working toward a goal. And I don’t feel guilty if I don’t finish. If I do finish, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Win-win. So, here are my twelve projects for 2013:

1. 100 Days in the Book of Isaiah. I’m really looking forward to this study along with my church family.

2. Reading Through West Africa. The countries of West Africa (according to my scheme) are Benin, Biafra (part of Nigeria), Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. That’s fourteen nations, if I include Biafra, and I would very much like to read at least one book from or about each country. If you have suggestions, please comment.

3. I’m working on a project with my church for a community/tutoring/library media center. This TED talk by author Dave Eggers was inspirational, although it’s not exactly what I have in mind. I am working more on a library and study center for homeschoolers and of course, it would be open to kids who are in public or private schools, too. A lot of my work will be in relation to the library, gathering excellent books and adding to the library and helping homeschool and other families to use the library to enrich their studies. I am also inspired by this library and others like it.

4. I want to concentrate on reading all the books on my TBR list this year –at least all of them that I can beg, borrow (from the library) or somehow purchase. I’ve already requested several of the books on my list from the library.

5. My Classics Club list is a sort of addendum to my TBR list, and I’d also like to read many of the books on that list. In 2012 I read Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, and Memento Mori by Muriel Spark, three out of fifty-three, not a good average if I’m to be done with all of them by 2017.

6. I have house-keeping project that I’m almost embarrassed to mention here. I’ve started small–cleaning and sorting piles in a corner of my bedroom. I’d really like to continue cleaning, purging, and organizing around the perimeter of my bedroom and then the living room until eventually I get around the entire house. A project so ridiculously mundane and yet so needed.

7. I continue to work through this list of new-to-me recipes and through several cookbooks and other recipe sources for dishes I want to try this year. I would like to make one new dish per week, and maybe I can manage to “review” the meals and food I make here at Semicolon. If you have any extra-special recipes you think I should try, please leave a comment.

8. Praying for Strangers (and Friends) Project. I was quite impressed by my reading of River Jordan’s prayer project book, Praying for Strangers. I still can’t walk up to strangers and tell them that I’m praying for them or ask them for prayer requests. But in 2013 I hope to ask God to give me one person each day to focus on and to pray for. Maybe I’ll be praying for you one day this year. I have been much more consistent in praying for specific people this past year, and I hope to continue the practice.

9. U.S. Presidents Reading Project. I got David McCullough’s biography of Truman for Christmas in 2011, and I plan to read that chunkster during my Lenten blog break since I didn’t read it last year. I don’t know if I’ll read any other presidential biographies this year, but if I finish Truman I’ll be doing well.

10. The 40-Trash Bag Challenge. Starting tomorrow. My life needs this project.

11. 100 Movies of Summer. When we’re not traveling, which will be most of the summer, we might watch a few old classic but new-to-us movies. I’ll need to make a new list, since we’ve watched many of the ones on the list I linked to, but I hope to find a few gems this summer.

12. I got this Bible for Christmas (mine is red), and I’ve already begun transferring my notes from my old Bible into this new one and taking new notes. I just jot down whatever the Holy Spirit brings to mind with the intention of giving the Bible to one of my children someday.

Poem #48, In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

“Poetry is emotion put into measure.”~Thomas Hardy

Tennyson’s friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, b. 1811, was the subject, upon his death in 1833 at the age of 22, of Tennyson’s famous poem In Memoriam. Hallam was engaged to Tennyson’s sister, Emilia, and he was Tennyson’s close friend. He died suddenly while travelling in Vienna of a brain hemorrhage. The poem wasn’t actually published until 1850; I guess it took Tennyson that long to work through his grief in poetic form over Hallam’s untimely death.

In Memoriam is written in four-line ABBA stanzas of iambic tetrameter, and such stanzas are now called In Memoriam Stanzas. It’s a long poem that traces Tennyson’s grieving over the course of at least three years. Here are a few of the most often quoted lines and stanzas of the poem:

'#25 January 1st week.' photo (c) 2009, next sentence - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;

Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.

Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.

********************************

'Alfred Tennyson' photo (c) 2008, Preus  museum - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.

********************************

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

********************************

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last — far off — at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

********************************
'Oh MAN!' photo (c) 2005, Brian - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law–
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed–

******************************
'santorini bells' photo (c) 2007, Owen Benson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Tennyson struggles with doubt and grief and philosophical questions throughout the poem, but ends with faith in a God who hears his cries:

No, like a child in doubt and fear:
But that blind clamour made me wise;
Then was I as a child that cries,
But, crying, knows his father near;

And what I am beheld again
What is, and no man understands;
And out of darkness came the hands
That reach thro’ nature, moulding men.

Queen Victoria, after the death of her beloved husband Albert, said, “Next to the Bible, In Memoriam is my comfort.”

Read the entire poem.

Prayer Tweets

On this National Day of Prayer I’m going for a run. I pray better when my legs are moving. @MaryDeMuth

“Prayer rings the alarm bell, and the Master of the house arises to the rescue, shaking all things beneath his tread.” Spurgeon @brandywinebooks

“Prayer has shaken houses, opened prison doors, and made stout hearts to quail.” Spurgeon on Psalm 18 @brandywinebooks

Today is The National Day of Prayer. “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) @wyclif

Pray for someone you love today, someone you disagree with and someone who needs healing #nationaldayofprayer @baueriegirl

Happy #nationaldayofprayer! Talking to Him is the first step to having a relationship with Him. So what are you waiting for? @jillianhennan

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. 1 Tim 2:1 #nationaldayofprayer @warrenwoodsjr

Reminded that today, like all days, is a great day for prayer. #nationaldayofprayer @sethhanson

Praying the Psalms

In the Bible study video I watched last night, R.C. Sproul suggested that the book of the Bible most conducive to energizing and improving your prayer life was Psalms. The Psalms are 150 prayers and songs, inspired by God himself, and dealing with all aspects of the human condition.

Here a few psalms that might give you words to speak to God wherever you find yourself today:

Psalm 95: A song of thanksgiving

Psalm 96: A song of praise to a mighty God

Psalm 86: A plea for mercy

Psalm 77: A psalm of confidence in the strength and compassion of the Lord

Psalm 73: A request for God to render justice to the arrogant

Psalm 63: A psalm for someone who is thirsty to know God

Psalm 62: A request for hope, rest, and refuge

Psalm 51: A prayer of repentance

Psalm 133: A psalm celebrating God’s establishment of communities

Psalm 140: A prayer for deliverance from the wicked and protection from evil

Psalm 148: Let everything and everyone praise the Lord!

Psalm 150: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

A list of topics for all the psalms.

“In the Psalter you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries.” ~Athanasius

“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” ~C.S. Lewis

National Day of Prayer, 2011

So today is the National Day of Prayer in the United States.

The 60th Annual National Day of Prayer will take place Thursday, May 5, 2011. Millions will unite in prayer at thousands of events from coast to coast. The theme, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, is based on the verse from Psalm 91:2 which states: “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Mrs. Joni Eareckson Tada will join Mrs. Shirley Dobson to lead the nation in prayer as the 2011 Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

I’m going to try to post about prayer today, to encourage myself and you to spend time in prayer today, to start a prayer habit if you don’t already have one, and to use this day as an impetus to to a renewed relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Stay tuned.

Prayer Adventures

I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer, and I’ve actually been praying more—ever since I read the book Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. It sounds a little crazy, since I’ve been a Christian for almost fifty years, but I think maybe God is trying to teach me to pray. Really pray. Not just think about praying or talk about prayer or read about prayer, but actually get still and form words and offer them up to Him. So, here’s a sampling of what’s been going on in my mind and heart around this topic of prayer:

I read and appreciated this brief post: Prayer and Goosebumps Yes, I’m praying a lot more short, on the spot, before-I-forget, prayers.

Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble: prayer is a life attitude. ~Walter A. Mueller

Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees. ~Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

We must move from asking God to take care of the things that are breaking our hearts, to praying about the things that are breaking His heart. ~Margaret Gibb

Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers. ~Sidlow Baxter

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. ~Brother Lawrence

Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work. ~Oswald Chambers

The main lesson about prayer is just this: Do it! Do it! Do it! You want to be taught to pray. My answer is pray and never faint, and then you shall never fail. ~John Laidlaw