Monday, December 21, 2015

The Gift Nobody Wants

“We cannot learn without pain.”  Aristotle

Imagine a life without pain.  At first thought it sounds like a wonderful gift that I would love to receive.  But consider Gabby Gingras.  At a few days old Gabby slept through the prick of a blood test.  And in the mornings, she would be in her crib, but freezing cold to the touch.  What her parents later discovered was that Gabby didn’t flinch at the pain of a needle or respond to being so cold because she couldn’t feel it.  Gabby suffers from an extremely rare disorder called congenital insensitivity to pain.  For unknown reasons, the connection between the nerves that sense pain and the brain’s recognition of pain is missing.  When Gabby started cutting teeth she would bite down through the skin and would have bit to the bone had her mother not intervened.  Gabby’s parents made the decision to have her teeth pulled because she was mutilating her fingers.  Learning to walk made Gabby more vulnerable.  At age 2, Gabby broke her jaw and didn’t know it until infection caused a fever.  Her eyes were especially at risk.  As an infant and toddler she would put her fingers in her eyes and feel no discomfort.  Her desperate parents tried restraints then goggles.  But by the time Gabby was 4, she needed to have her left eye removed.  Her right eye was also damaged, and she wears a lens over it to help her see better.  The Gingras family knows that Gabby’s challenges will last a lifetime.  “Pain teaches,” said her mother, Trish Gingras.  “Pain protects.  Pain can save you from a lot of bad things in life.”  (The Girl Who Can’t Feel Pain,

Several years ago I was embarking on a season of life that would prove to be the most painful section of my personal journey thus far.  It was not a season of physical pain.  The painful journey I was on brought deep and intense emotional and spiritual pain.  Over the course of this part of my life I desperately wanted everything in my life to be “normal” again.  I often felt lonely, discouraged and depressed. 

 I was in a pit of despair and I frequently cried out to God to get me through another day.

I am incredibly thankful and humbled to report that God delivered me out of that pit.  While I can say it was by my own doing that put me in the pit, I must clearly state it was the hand of God that pulled me out.  Those years of struggle have had a profound impact on who I am today.  The crucible of pain shaped and formed my current understanding of God’s mercy, forgiveness, restoration and love.  While I dare say that my relationship with God has grown deeper and richer as a result, I would not desire to go through such pain again.  How I wish I could learn such lessons about God and grow dramatically in character in a more comfortable and pain free environment!

During those years of struggle God blessed me for a short time with a relationship with a man who was as close to a mentor as I’ve ever had.  Terry knew pain and struggle in his own life as well and spoke from experience.  In the midst of my dark journey Terry would often remind me, “In God’s economy nothing is wasted.”  I came to understand that pain, when given to God, can be used to forge something beautiful.

In a season of gift giving I am reminded that pain is really a gift no one wants, but one we really can’t do without.

~ Kevin Baker

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Prayer Requests

It's a regular occurrence in most small group/bible studies:  Prayer requests. One by one, each give their requests and the group commits to praying for them.

But I often can't help but wonder how many of these requests are forgotten about over the course of a week and never prayed for.  It's a very easy question to ask when I, myself, often did that very thing. There was a time when I would toss my journal back into my bag, head out the door, and never take it out again. Sometimes I would, but often not.  And to make it worse, the times that I did pray I would start out with Dear God, but somehow manage to end with thinking about what I needed to pick-up at Target.  Or even worse yet, I would begin praying and then realize that my prayer was quite lackluster.  I mean, honestly, I knew this person would just have the same prayer request next week! 

Now I knew, thankfully, that this wasn’t how prayer is supposed to be.  Prayer isn’t a laundry list of items to check off your to-do list.  These prayer requests (including my own) often contain the deepest and most intimate parts of our lives.  So why was this area so difficult for me?  Why did I not possess the discipline to pray for others, and even when I did, the words bordered on feeling rote and routine?

I was having coffee with a friend some time ago and she mentioned that her prayer life was feeling a bit jaded as well.  She was frustrated because she prays and prays for things or outcomes and they just never seemed to happen.  I nodded my head in understanding because I too have spoken some prayers that were tainted with unbelief and doubt.  During these prayers I’d be secretly thinking, “well, God, here I am again, asking you that thing again and it hasn't happened--again--so I'll just ask because it's the right thing to do."

I know that this isn't how God works, and I tell my children that God isn’t a genie in a bottle, but I think it's safe to admit that I am victim to that way of thinking sometimes. I mean, if God is never going to say yes, why should I even ask?!

About a year ago, in lieu of all this, I made a commitment to revitalize my prayer life.  I started with thinking of times when I did feel that my prayers were passionate, raw, intimate, and real.  As I reflected on it, I found that there were actually a few things about these prayers that really stood out:

1.       I was less focused on what/who I was praying for and more focused on who I was praying to.  I was presenting my requests to God, yes, but in a way where my very soul was crying out in faith that God was able to do anything.

2.       I was inviting (or begging) the Holy Spirit to intercede because my emotions were too muddled or I was too tired to formulate thoughts. 

3.       Sometimes, when I found words weren’t coming or I was overcome with emotion, I would close my eyes and actually visualize myself with Jesus.  I would imagine him placing his hand on my head and praying for me.  I would envision him listening to me cry and rant.  I imagined how he might respond to me, how he might look at me.  I imagined myself at the foot of the cross, crying as I laid some tough stuff there.
When I take my prayer journal out now and read the names of those I’ve committed to praying for, I try and first recall how he parted the sea, healed the blind man, or rained manna from Heaven.  And as I close my eyes, I envision taking my brother or sister’s hand and leading them to a meeting with Jesus, where we talk to him about what is going on and how that person is feeling.

 I have discovered that not only has this refreshed my prayer life, but it's kinda fun too!

In Christ,
~ Kristin Vanzanten

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rutledge Road Prayer

I am the oldest child in a family of 8 kids. I am a fourth-generation pastor. Growing up as a pastor’s kid was not what I would call a life of opulence. We never went hungry and we always had a place to call home, but God taught me early in life that it was good to trust him for our needs and our wants.

I remember specifically one week having very little groceries and my parents trying to piece meals together to make it to the next payday. Before my dad left for work one of those days he gathered us together and asked us to pray to God to provide money for groceries. We prayed. The next day my sister went to the mailbox and there was a check from a lady in a church where my dad used to be pastor. We went to Aldi and loaded up the back of the van with groceries. There was a sense of happiness as we drove home. We thanked God for answering our prayers. 

When I was 9 years old we lived in a home in town on a busy street. It was not a bad part of town, but there wasn’t much room to run around and explore. I wanted to live in the country where my brothers and I could shoot our BB Guns and where my Beagle dog, Yoder, could run and live without being hooked to a chain.

My dad would often take me along with him for coffee at McDonalds. Dad would make those McDonalds trips times for meaningful conversations. I remember a specific time telling him that I would love to have a place in the country. He told me if I wanted a place in the country that I should talk to the Lord about it and if the Lord wanted us to live in the country that he would provide a way for that to happen.

My brother and I prayed every night laying in our bunk beds before falling asleep. We started praying for a place to live in the country. The next week, my mom found a listing in the paper for a home big enough for us, at the right price and it was in the country. The home was on a farm in a valley surrounded by the Kokosing River and corn fields on one side and a high ridge on the other. It was on a dead-end road that ended in our driveway. We rented that house for four wonderful years. We spent hours playing in the barns and corn cribs on the property, riding our bikes up and down the road, hiking the woods that led to the river, running with our dog, shooting our bb guns and exploring the creek that flowed into the river.

I will never forget that place and I will never forget that it was a direct answer to my prayer as a 9 year old boy.  

~ Kyle Pierpont