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  • Even If

    Please Note: I originally wrote this as a guest post on another blog in February of 2018. Reposting now for my own site. Though much has changed, life is still confusing and difficult more often than it’s not. I think of this post often and my prayers frequently include even if.

    Even If…

    Don’t you love stories of miracles and how God answers prayer? If that’s the type of article you are looking for, I must apologize because this is not that.. In my life, I seem to get a lot less of the miracles and a lot more of God answering not in the way I want, His silence, or His flat  ‘no’s’.

    So, what do you do when God doesn’t answer your prayers?

    Not the Right Answer

    A few years ago, my husband hurt his back to the point that he couldn’t work and could barely move. We were praying for him to be healed, but the prospects didn’t look good medically-speaking. No treatment came with any kind of guarantee. After multiple doctors and physical therapists, it looked like his best option was surgery—not exactly the answer we were looking for. However, seeing it as his only medical option, he had the surgery. Before he made it out of the hospital, the disc in his back re-herniated, with this time being worse than the first. Two weeks later, he underwent a second back surgery.

    Throughout this experience, came the questions:  Even if my prayer for my husband’s healing wasn’t answered the way I want it to be… Even if he isn’t able to work… Even if that vow ‘for better or worse,’ has a lot more of the worse than the better… Will that make a difference in my faith? Will I still believe?

    God’s Silence

    After a very difficult year, my husband and I sold our house. The problem was that it sold faster than we anticipated, and we didn’t have anywhere to move to. We found a house that we loved, we prayed about it and felt that this was the house God had for us. Then we put an offer on it, and it was rejected. Suddenly, we were very confused. We had really thought this was our house, so why hadn’t things worked out? Shouldn’t God had paved the way for our footsteps if He was directing?

    A common idea is that God’s will is a smooth path lined with roses, when in the Bible, there are countless examples of the opposite. While I struggled with this idea, I also wanted a “for sure” answer. So I prayed and prayed. And fasted. And prayed some more. I wasn’t praying that we’d get the house. I was praying that God would in some way answer—that He would speak in a clear way that let us know what direction we should go. I agonized. I begged. I just needed something from Him.

    And what I got…. was nothing. Seriously, you could have heard crickets chirping in the vast void of God’s silence.

    And I was a little ticked. I mean, it didn’t seem like a big request to have the God of the universe blink once for ‘yes,’ and twice for ‘no.’

    It may not seem a big faith test, but it was. And I was again faced with the question. Even if God stayed on mute and didn’t ever answer my question, would that make a difference in my faith—would I still believe?

    God’s No

    Last Fall, I was expecting our fourth child. We’d had a nightmarish year that had included my husband’s diagnosis, surgery, and treatment of thryroid cancer, unexpected hospital stays for our children, and unbelievable ‘bad luck.’ But now, with a baby on the way, we were so very excited that something good was going to happen!

    But at twelve weeks, I started to lose the baby. I lay in bed in excruciating pain and begged God to let my baby live.

    How would I explain to my three other children that they weren’t going to have a baby? How would I handle it, knowing my sister, who also was pregnant and due at the same time, got to keep her baby and I didn’t? What if this was it, and I never had another baby? I love my three boys to an indescribable degree, but I’ve always had the dream of a daughter. What if God never granted that desire?

    And through all the questions and pain whirling through my mind, came the question… Even if?

    Even if my baby died. Even if all of those questions were answered with God’s ‘no,’ would that make a difference in my faith—would I still believe?

    Even if…

    No.

    The answer to all of the questions is ‘no.’ Even if my prayers are not answered in the way I want. Even if all I hear is God’s silence. Even if He says ‘no,’ lets my baby die, and never gives me another…

    It will not make a difference in my faith. I will still believe. Even if.

    Why? Because my personal experience does not change who God is. His existence is not determined by if e answers my prayers. In fact, His existence is not determined by me or whether or not I believe.

    It’s kind of like how a baby discovers object permanence. Does an object exist even if I can’t see it? Even if my worst nightmare comes true and He doesn’t answer the way I want, even if I can’t see Him, even if He tells me ‘no,’  that doesn’t change who He is. I believe, not because of my experience, but because He is.

    I believe He is still there, I believe He is still good (Psalm 100:5), and I believe He has a plan for my life (Psalm 139, Romans 8:28), whether or not I can hear or see it at an individual moment. Why? Because His Word tells me those things about Him, and I have to believe object permanence applies to God too.Even if I can’t see those things at a given time, that in no way determines their existence.

    I think we don’t get the “right” answer a lot in regards to health issues. Instead of the healing we pray for, we get surgery or medical treatment. And sometimes we just get strength to make it through the day. In regards to my husband, he recovered well from the second surgery, though it is unlikely the nerve damage will ever be completely repaired. Thankfully, he was able to eventually return to work and life settled into a resemblance of normal.

    In this instance, unlike many of the others in my life, I was able to see a glimpse of God’s purpose behind His seeming inadequate answer. During the time that my husband was hurt, I wrote and published my first book. Had I not had the stressful question of not knowing if he would ever work again, I might not have ever had the motivation to do what I love and what has become a wonderful career. Fourteen books later, I am beyond thankful that I get to share exciting stories of unique characters that somehow manage to echo my own walk with God.

    We bought the house. It was not easy. At no time did we ever feel the certain answer we desired, but we made the wisest decision we could. We paid more than our initial offer, and there was no shortage of stress and drama, but we eventually had an offer accepted.

    It still seems like God could have eased my anxiety some and just given me an answer. But I’ve come to realize my peace of mind might have been a small price to pay for a silence that might somehow build my faith. If we were already on the path of His Will, why would He need to confirm that? Instead, I lived out an ‘even if,’ and realized that in God’s silence, I still believe.

    Our baby died. It was a nightmare that I still cannot think about without crying. After the horrible pain of miscarriage and surgery, I was left completely empty, experiencing an ‘even if’ I would never wish on anyone. God said ‘no.’

    Nine months later, my arms are still empty and there is little hope that they will be filled again. And yet, God’s ‘no’ doesn’t change that even in this, I still believe.

    Prayers are often not answered, and more often than not, we don’t know the reason why this side of heaven. But the bad things that happen don’t change who God is. I don’t know why some things happen, but I do know God is good and He has a purpose in all my even ifs.

    Everyone has struggles. No one gets through life unscathed. For those of you who are living through an ‘even if,’ take heart: God still is. He loves you and has a purpose for you and all your tears. So I pose a question to you: Even if… ?

    For me, my even ifs have not made a difference in my faith, but my prayer is that they will make a difference in yours.

    Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
    though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
    though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
    18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

    19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

    Habukuk 3:17-19


  • All Good Deeds

    No good deed goes unpunished. It’s a cliché that often, unfortunately proves true in daily life. Sometimes, when I finally get the guts to do something, events do not go in my favor, and I end up feeling battered when all I wanted to do was accomplish something good.

    Last month, I saw on Facebook that a woman from my church was having a rough time to close out a really rough year. Her husband had been very ill with one thing after the other, the latest being cancer. She is his caregiver, and now was experiencing some debilitating health issues as well. I felt such compassion for her and wanted to do something to help.

    Of course, doubt immediately chased the heels of my good intentions. What could I do that would be helpful? Maybe I could cook a meal. Hello, inferiority complex! My cooking isn’t good enough. I don’t know what they like. They probably wouldn’t like it even if I did cook something.

    Nothing I could possibly do would ever be good enough.

    I stopped myself, trying to shut out all of the excuses. I knew I could easily talk myself out of doing anything. After all, I have my own family to feed, I do all kinds of things for other people, I had already exceeded my “kind quota” for the month, and I had a mile-long to-do list begging for my attention. No one would think less of me if I didn’t take on this one.

    But I would.

    Is giving nothing better than giving my something, no matter how inadequate it is? If I tried, at least my friend would know I cared. But if I talked myself out of it, she’d never know that I cared and longed to help make things better for her.

    “When it is an act of kindness, there should only ever be one answer to the question of ‘maybe I should.’ The answer should always be ‘Yes.’”

    It is a line I wrote in a book that haunts me every day. When I wrote it in “A Cinderella Christmas,” I didn’t realize that it would change my own life so profoundly. Now, when a compliment to someone pauses on my lips or I wonder if maybe I should do something to try to help, the same doubts always creep in as my mind tries to talk me out of the work and the risk. Then that line comes back to me., leaving no room for my escape. I take a deep breath. Lord with your help…  And I say yes.

    I reached out and found out that several members of our church were already signed up to take meals, and I volunteered to be one of them. I decided to do myself a favor and do an easy meal that I make all the time for my family—chili and cornbread. My kids love it, so I hoped it would be good enough.

    The day arrived, and I was optimistic. I let my kids choose a dessert, and I made chocolate chip cookies first. Those came out pretty well, with me managing to only get one batch a little too toasty. Then I prepared the chili. I usually make chili in my Instant Pot, which I love, but sometimes, if I brown the meat in the pot, a layer of chili sticks to the bottom and prevents it from reaching pressure. To play it safe, I browned the ground beef separately on the stove and then transferred it to the rest of the chili in the Instant Pot. I then made the corn bread. It’s a very easy family recipe that I do all the time, and my kids love it.

    I put the cornbread in the oven and saw that I was running behind schedule. Then I looked at the Instant Pot. To my frustration, It was not reaching pressure. I called an immediate “abandon ship,” and hurriedly transferred the chili to a pot on the stove. Then I checked the cornbread. The picture should adequately describe my horror.

    What had I done? The simple answer is that I had forgotten the baking powder. Obviously, a little baking powder goes a long way. And without it, cornbread goes nowhere at all. I make this recipe all the time and have never forgotten the baking powder—until the night I was making it for someone else.

    Frantically, I grabbed a new bowl, which was difficult since I’d already managed to dirty every dish in the kitchen. I ran to the pantry to grab my ingredients again. My 8-year-old got in my way, and I snapped at him. (Cue guilt and an apology I gave later.) I mixed up more cornbread while I hollered for my husband to come help clean some of the dishes so I had something to work with. More cornbread in the over, texts sent telling my sweet friend that I was running late on dinner, and uncooperative chili finally simmering on the stove.

    Long story short, my husband made the dinner delivery about thirty-five minutes late. The chili was cooked, the cornbread was fluffy, and the cookies weren’t burned. But I, myself, was left way over-cooked, not fluffy at all, and a completely burned-out mess!

    No good deed…. And yet my friend knew I cared. My meager inadequacies were still better than nothing, and for me, that was good enough.

    My kids made her get well cards that we took with dinner. They also knew what happened. They saw me struggle and keep going to serve someone else. And they’ll see me do it all over again the next time I feel led to help another person.

    If I attempt an act of kindness and completely screw it up, ending up frazzled, embarrassed, and wondering if I never should have done it in the first place… you know what? The answer is still yes.

     


  • When I Fail

    I’ve spent the last few weeks putting in many hours on a big project. It required learning many new systems and multi-step problem solving that eventually got me to a new newsletter platform and a publishable short story to give away to newsletter subscribers. After many bumps against frustration, last week I was up late reading through everything one last time before pushing the publish button to let the various puzzle pieces go live on social media and release my short story to the world.

    In that moment, after all the work I put in, I suddenly didn’t want to do it. Everything I’d done—all the newsletters, the story, and even the idea itself seemed utterly silly. After all, I’d literally written a story about a paper bag. Who would even like that?

    So I prayed the same prayer I pray every time I release a book. Lord, this is yours. You gave me the idea. I did all this work for You. Please bless it and get it to those who need to read it. And if I fail, it’s all Yours anyway.

    Now, I know that sounds kinda pretty, but what I actually do is shove it at God and tell Him, “Here it is. Take it!”

    I wish I could say that prayer extinguished all of my worries, and my strong faith prevailed. Instead, with my heart ridiculously pounding, I hurriedly pressed the buttons to put everything live before I lost my nerve. There was no going back now. When I finally went to bed, I actually woke my sleeping husband to tell him that I’d finished and I was sure it was all going to be a big flop. See, some faith!

    You see, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve flopped before. I’ve been extremely blessed with my writing, and I can’t say that any of my stories have been epic fails (knock on wood!). But there are many other instances in my life when I’ve earnestly believed that I was doing what God wanted me to do. But it didn’t work out at all. I can recite a long list of those moments. They seem to live perpetually in my head waiting to sashay through my mind whenever I get ready to jump. Hey, remember that time when… That didn’t work out at all… Maybe this one will be the same… But this time, everyone will know about it.

    Sometimes I even remind God of those times. Hey, Lord, remember that time when I crashed and burned… so, why was that?

    I’m not talking about the mistakes. I’m talking about the times when you think you’re doing the right thing, and it just doesn’t work out in any definition of success. You’ve prayed about something, the doors seem to be opening, you dare to dream that just maybe you’re about to step onto a magic carpet and be whisked up into success in both man’s and God’s eyes. But then, what actually happens is that you find you’re not on a magic carpet at all. Instead, it’s a plain, old, ugly rug. And it’s just been pulled out from under you, leaving you flat on your back with the wind knocked out of you.

    Hey, God, remember that time when you pulled the rug out from under me? So… why was that?

    Oh, how I’d love to know the why! Sometimes we get to see something good come out of our failures. I would say that most of the time we don’t. The why has to wait for heaven. And I suspect that when we finally get there, all those little whys won’t even matter. They’ll dissipate, becoming insignificant in the reality of all that we have ever longed for.

    I could fail. I could do everything right and still fail. And I may never know the reason why. That sounds like a pretty lousy deal. Why even bother? Why did I push the buttons to publish? Why do I keep putting one foot in front of the other even though experience tells me that I could be flat on my back with the next step?

    Because He owns it all. I gave it to Him. I gave Him my work. I gave Him my steps. I gave him my success and my failure. He owns the rug, and He is the one who chooses whether or not to pull it.

    As I was thinking through all of this before I fell asleep that night, I said another prayer. Lord, if I fail, please let me serve you better in spite of that failure. Then I stopped and corrected myself. No, when I fail, let me serve you better because of that failure.

    God doesn’t work in the “in spite of” He works in the “because.” I believe that every success and failure has a purpose even if I never know what that is. But if God can use those heartbreaks to draw me closer to Him and serve Him better, shouldn’t that be an adequate “because”?

    I think therein lies the challenge. When we fail, especially when we are sure we were doing everything right, it’s so tempting to be angry and shoot whys God’s direction. It’s a lot more difficult to draw closer to the one who pulled the rug and seek to love Him more. As Job says, “Though He slay me, yet I trust Him.” Job 13:15 Maybe that is the true gift of loss—recognizing that your faith exists regardless of your circumstances and that you will still trust God whatever may come your way. But it is a gift only given through tears.

    Notice also I said when, not if. It looks like I’m not going to fall flat with this project, but I’m not on the magic carpet either. Like most things, it’ll probably end up somewhere in between. I’ve already heard wonderful feedback on my paper bag story that has touched readers. While thousands haven’t read it, touching those that have is more than enough to call it success for me.

    However, not all of my efforts will always end well. It’s inevitable that sometime I’ll find myself looking up, gasping and wondering what just happened to my not-so-magic rug.

    When I fail, let me serve you better because of that failure. 

    And here I am again, finger hovering over the publish button on this article, wondering if it will fail but praying that God will use it to touch someone.

    To anyone else out there who is hoping to fly on a magic carpet but fearing you won’t even cross the room upright, make sure to turn around and look at who is holding the rug.

    And remember, you don’t need to ask  Him the why. Just ask Him for a because.

     

    P.S. If you haven’t yet read the free paper bag story I talked about in this post, please scroll down or click this link.