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  • Unanswered Prayer

    Have you every prayed really hard for something really important, only to have your prayer go unanswered? I’m not going to fluff this up and list all of the clichés that don’t give the issue the struggle it deserves. It is tough. It is something every Christian struggles with. Our prayers are supposed to be answered, right? But sometimes they aren’t. So what do we do with that?

    I am not a Biblical scholar, and I don’t know the church answers. All I do know is that I recently had first-hand experience with this question that seems to plague the faith of many, if not all, Christians at some point. Though not the first time, last week, my desperate prayer went unanswered, leaving heartbreak in its wake. But to tell the full story of my unanswered prayer, I really need to start at the beginning, for it is actually not my own story.

    My cousin, Mitch, was more than a few years older than me. He lived next door at my grandma’s house off and on until he graduated high school. I remember waiting at the bus stop and Mitch singing about “roly poly fish heads” just to tease us little kids. We would beg him to stop, and he would keep singing.

    Yes, Mitch was an incurable tease, but he also had some issues that even as a child, I was aware of. How did I know? Because I remember my grandma’s tears. I remember her crying over the bad decisions Mitch had made, agonizing over what would happen to him, and constantly praying for his salvation. Decades passed, and she never stopped praying for him. Even with heartbreak and seeing zero results to her prayers, she still loved and prayed for Mitch constantly. She prayed for him to turn to the Lord, for him to turn his life around, and she prayed that she would turn around to find him in heaven. On her better days when her faith was strong, I remember her speaking about Mitch as if there was no question in her mind. “I have prayed for Mitch.” And that settled that.

    Grandma didn’t live to see her prayer answered fully. My understanding is that some of Mitch’s trouble continued into his adult life, though I don’t know the details. However, Mitch celebrated his 51st birthday recently, and I’m happy to say that his life has changed. He turned to the Lord and became a Christian, and not just in name only. A year ago, he married the love of his life. She had three children, and they became Mitch’s children in every way that mattered. Mitch’s Facebook posts have been filled with him marveling about how blessed he is, especially with his wonderful wife and kids.

    I’ve had a chance to get to know Mitch more the past few years. We’ve seen him in fun and sad times. We’ve laughed at family reunions and cried through funerals. Mitch and I have an aunt who lives on the coast where he lives. When my aunt lost both her sons a couple years ago, Mitch really stepped up. He was ready to help in whatever she needed and always told her, “I’ll always be here for you.”

    Mitch hadn’t been feeling well recently. Things got so bad, that he went to the hospital, only to be life flighted to a larger hospital in an effort to save his life. As they were taking him to the hospital, he was still reassuring our aunt that he would be fine, he was strong, and he would always be there for her. Unfortunately, they discovered Mitch had MRSA in both lungs and Influenza A. His body was in such bad shape that they said it would take a miracle for him to live.

    Oh, how I prayed for that miracle! Our whole family did. Mitch’s wife and kids desperately needed him. Our aunt had already faced such tragedy. Another one was incomprehensible. God is good and merciful, and I prayed based on those traits that He would save Mitch.

    A few days after he was admitted to the hospital, we received word that Mitch’s kidneys were failing, and he wasn’t going to make it. After hearing the news, I had to drive home from dropping my daughter off at preschool. I cried and said audibly over and over, “This isn’t okay, God! It isn’t okay!”

    And it still isn’t okay. It isn’t right that Mitch was called home when he was needed on earth so much. It isn’t okay that he got his life right only to lose it. It isn’t okay that such a positive, kind, generous heart stopped beating. It isn’t okay that our family is hit with another unthinkable tragedy

    Part of me was angry and very frustrated. What’s the point of praying if God isn’t going to answer? And I was so very weary of feeling like my prayers aren’t answered.

    Then I felt a gentle knowledge seep into my spirit. It wasn’t a voice, and I don’t even know the moment of realization. But it was an awareness of God clearly saying. “I did answer a prayer today.”

    And I knew. I had prayed with all my heart, but someone else’s heart had been poured into prayer long before mine. God answered the prayer that came first. He answered the prayer that had seemed unanswered for decades, and yet that prayer had remained until the day he chose to answer it.

    Grandma had prayed for Mitch to make it to heaven, and today, he made it and found her waiting.

    Who was I to criticize the way God answers prayer? While I had prayed for God to spare Mitch’s body, Grandma had prayed for God to spare his soul. As much as I don’t like the result here, the answer to Grandma’s first prayer is infinitely more valuable than the answer to my second prayer.

    So why do we pray? Because our prayers are more powerful than we can imagine. Each one reaches to God in such a way that it remains even after your time on earth is gone. Even though God took Mitch home, I still believe that my prayers for His goodness and mercy will be answered for Mitch’s family. Sometimes I think we get too wrapped up in the time aspect of our prayers, and it takes prayer for us to communicate with God and understand that He is without the constraint of time. In the book of Revelation, the prayers of the saints are described as incense before the throne of God. That’s a wonderful image because incense is of great value and is something pleasant you are aware of in every breath you take. I believe that’s how God sees our prayers. They are not temporal like the world in which we live. Instead, they remain before Him, waiting for the day when God says, now is when I answer this one.

    This is not a new concept to me. I remember the very last thing my grandfather told me before he passed away. He was dying, and I had to leave. I knew I would never see him on this side again, and he knew it as well. He told me, “I am praying for you.” I think in the moment, I said something like “No, Grandpa, I’m praying for you.” Only after did I realize what precious final words he gave me. He was praying for me. His final moments as his body failed were spent in prayer on my behalf, and those prayers have lived so much longer than his last breath. He was giving me the gift of his love and influence in God’s provision for me that would likely carry me to the end of my own life. Years and years later, I have great comfort knowing that he prayed for me. Those prayers are before God still today, and He is acting on them.

    So, let me encourage you to keep praying. Keep praying when the situation seems impossible. Keep praying when you don’t get the answer you think you need. Keep praying regardless of time and years of not seeing results. Keep praying through senseless tragedy. Keep praying when the world is chaos and everything is definitely not okay. Keep praying as you seek to better understand God, His will, His plan, and your place in all of that

    Though you may not get your answer here on earth, you can definitely leave a legacy of prayer that God will continually hear long after your physical words are silenced. It doesn’t make tragedy okay or understandable. It doesn’t answer the “why” questions of now. But someday, when you are enjoying eternity, maybe you’ll turn around and see that which you have longed for. Maybe, like Grandma, you’ll see that, today, God answered.


  • Home Plate

    I’ve thought about writing this story for a long time, years actually. I knew the day was coming when I’d do it. Now I’m finally here and all the words that have drifted through my head are gone, and I’m left trying to translate tears to a white page.

    It seems appropriate that this past week I published my latest Crossroads Collection, which is a set of books about weddings, and yesterday I got to experience one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever seen. So, now is the day where I get to finally tell the story of a beautiful wedding years in the making.

    I first met Lori about fourteen years ago. I was blessed to be her oldest daughter’s third grade teacher. Two things that were very apparent about Lori was that she adored her family and baseball! By the end of that school year, both Lori and I were expecting baby boys that had nearly identical due dates. I didn’t know until later that we both chose the same name for our boys. Even more amusing is that we were both married to a “Brian”!

    Over the next few years, Lori and I kept in occasional contact, chatting when we’d run into each other around town, but her Cayleb and my Caleb found each other in first glade. They struck up a friendship that continued through the years since then as they’ve played on sports teams, gone to each other’s houses, and attended birthday parties together. A few years ago, I ran into Lori at our local 4th of July fireworks show, and we got to talk. She’d just been diagnosed with cancer. She explained openly and matter-of-factly the procedures and treatment that would start immediately. When I hesitantly asked a few more questions, she told me she’d been given a survival rate chance of fifty percent. While the thought of life or death on a flip of a coin terrified me, Lori was an optimistic person, and she seemed confident that should would win the coin toss.

    Surgery and treatment took a toll. I stayed in touch with Lori, and we had Cayleb and his younger brother over to play to give Lori some time to rest. For a while, she seemed to be in the clear. In spring, the boys got to play on the same baseball team, and Lori and I got to talk. One evening, she’d just gotten back from a doctor’s appointment, and of course, I was eager to hear how it went.

    Unfortunately, she found out that the cancer had spread, and they were out of options. Treatment could possibly prolong her life, but not save it.

    Lori was terminal.

    What thoughts go through your mind if you find out you are dying?

    I know the answer to that. On that sunny evening while our boys hit baseballs and ran around bases, Lori unloaded her utter devastation and chaotic thoughts into my willing ears. Lori wasn’t worried about herself. Lori was a Christian. She knew where she was headed and wasn’t afraid of dying. Her primary concern for her husband and kids. She had four children—two older girls, who were in high school at the time, and two younger boys.

    She didn’t want her diagnosis to prevent her girls from pursuing their dreams. Her oldest, my former student, Chelsey, was due to start college next fall, and Lori adamantly wanted her to continue that plan.

    She also talked about how much she needed to do, including finding her husband a new wife. And she was serious. She said Brian was too wonderful of a husband to not have a wife, and she absolutely wanted him to remarry. Yet she was worried because she said it took himforever to ask her to marry him! Now he’d have to do it again!

    Maybe most heartbreaking of all, she talked about all the little things that drive you nuts in life—like the Legos her boys would leave everywhere, including her bed. Nothing is more aggravating than trying to crawl into bed only to land on Legos! Yet, now, she couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for those Legos.

    What do you say to someone who is dying?

    I still don’t know the answer to that one. It is an ugly ,helpless feeling to know that nothing you can do can change the reality that is to come. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. So on that day, all I did was to cry and pray with her.

    Over the next few months, I got to help out with some of Lori’s last wishes. She went on one last vacation to the coast, had pictures taken, and made some memories. Less than six months after that spring baseball game, Lori passed away. As completely fitting, we all wore Cardinals red and sang “Take me Out to the Ballgame” at her funeral.

    After Lori’s passing, I talked some to her daughter and Brian, and it was clear that they were devastated. Even before Lori’s death, I remember watching Cayleb and seeing the anger and grief pour out of him, and I know those feeling did not in any way improve afterward. Again, I experienced the helplessness of seeing heartbreak and not being able to do anything but pray.

    Over the next few months, Brian did an amazing job of keeping the boys busy while the older girls continued college and high school. Our Cayleb/Caleb duo did scouts together, and of course, when spring rolled around again, more baseball, so I would see the family every once in a while and pray for them much more frequently than that. Eventually, a woman started showing up to baseball games. One of the first times I saw her, she brought treats for the team. I didn’t know who she was, but after months of seeing her in passing, I overheard one of Brian’s boys call her by name: Mom.

    Last baseball season, two of my boys played on the same teams as Brian’s two boys, and I had the opportunity to get to know Misty. I already liked her because it was readily apparent how much the boys cared for her, but it didn’t take long at all for me to like her for who she was herself. She is smart, spunky, dedicated, and most importantly, she loves Brian and the boys with her whole being. She stepped into the role of mother and considers those kids her own. I’ve been so blessed by Misty’s friendship, and also blessed to get to see the joy she has brought back into that family.

    This spring, my once little third grader—Lori’s oldest daughter—graduated college, exactly how her mom wanted her to. And yesterday, Brian and Misty got married.

    It was a simple ceremony with only a few people in attendance. They are doing a bigger, more public ceremony in a few weeks. But this one was absolutely perfect and made even more special to me because I got to sign my name on Brian and Misty’s marriage certificate as a witness. And it all seemed so fitting. Yes, I was a witness. I was a witness the day Lori looked into the future and wanted Misty for Brian. I was there when she agonized about not getting to see her kids grow up and experience their everyday “Legos.” And now, I was a witness to a family being made whole, to children getting a mom who loved them completely, to a man getting to once again be a wonderful husband to a wife, and to a woman getting to experience the Legos another woman had to leave behind.

    And it didn’t hurt that they said “I do” on home plate of a baseball field!

    I’m not sure I deserve the great blessing God gave me through all of this, but I see it for the beautiful work it is. He allowed me to see the full story. I got to be there to see the tragedy and heartache, and then He allowed me to see the other side where He brought joy and healing.

    I don’t know where everyone is in their journey, but I can guarantee that a good number can relate to the dark part of this story. Life is hard. It’s not right that Lori got cancer. It’s not right that she didn’t get to see all of her kids grow up. Unfortunately, you will never find the answer to ‘why.’ Life is hard. It’s not fair. Pretending it is otherwise doesn’t do justice to the other side of the coin. While the harshness of life in unavoidable, the goodness of God is undeniable. Even though bad things happen. Even though pain and tragedy exists in a fallen world, God is still good. Though prayers aren’t always answered the way we think they should, God sees the big picture. At the time He heard Lori pray for her family, He knew how He would answer both her prayers and mine. In this story, His great goodness and mercy is thoroughly evident in my beautiful friend. Her name is Misty.

    So take heart. if you are suffering through the darkness of life, please know that your prayers are still heard and God is still good. Though you experience pain, try to notice and enjoy the Legos in your path and know that He still has your good planned on the other side of the coin.

    And don’t worry, He will not fail. After all, God always bats 1000.