To the Woman in the Prayer Room

Jennifer Hallmark, Linda Yezak, and me at ACFW
Jennifer Hallmark, Linda Yezak, and me at ACFW

While attending the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference three weeks ago, my heart was heavy. My husband was ill at home and I felt some anxiety over that. ACFW always provides a prayer room, so I found it and entered. My good friend, Linda Yezak was the volunteer in charge at the moment. I didn’t bother her, but crossed the room and found a seat. I just wanted to spend some time in prayer. There was only one other person there–a woman, unfamiliar to me.

As soon as I sat down, I was surrounded by a tangible peace and something else–a sweet spirit–that’s the only way I can describe it. I sat there, barely able to pray, just absorbing the atmosphere. It was precious. I felt loved and lifted up. After a few minutes, the other woman got up and walked out of the room. Though the peaceful atmosphere remained, that sweetness left with her.

I don’t know who she was. I never saw her again.

But I’m grateful. That feeling sustained me and I remembered it often over the next few days.

In last week’s blog post, I hinted that something unexpected had occurred in my life, and interrupted my regular blog schedule. I’d completely missed a week. When I returned home from ACFW on Sunday afternoon, I found that my husband had not improved. He’d grown worse. He was shaking in hard chills and struggling to breathe. I wanted to take him to the emergency room right away. He wouldn’t go. He wanted to wait until morning and go to his doctor. He’d been to the doctor the previous week and had tests run.

A little backstory– he’d been sick on and off for over a year and had lost a significant amount of weight. But the doctor had not been able to find the cause. No one had. Early Monday morning, his doctor called and ordered him to go to the hospital. My husband was in acute renal failure.

In the hospital, after the crisis
In the hospital, after the crisis

Unexpected. We were in shock. This had to be a mistake. How could something like that happen? He was admitted and rushed through numerous diagnostic procedures that revealed blockages in both kidneys. Without an emergency dialysis treatment, he was hours from death. I was devastated. I’d seen my dad go through kidney failure–years of weekly dialysis–and a kidney transplant that succeeded until he died suddenly of a blood clot in his lung. I didn’t want my husband to have to go through that.

I prayed. I called on all my friends and family to pray. And often, throughout the next few hours, I remembered that sweet presence in the ACFW prayer room.

I meditated on it as I sat at my husband’s hospital bedside while his blood ran through the dialysis machine. I was consumed by peace. I laugh now, remembering myself sitting there eating a veggie sandwich from Jimmy John’s while my husband endured the procedure. Okay, I was really hungry, but I had an assurance that everything was going to be all right. He was sleeping, by the way.

We had no idea what the future held. Would he have to continue receiving dialysis? Were his kidneys permanently damaged? These fears danced through our minds on and off over the next couple of days, as prayers rose on our behalf, throughout our sphere of influence.

A lighter moment - sharing a meal in Cuenca, Ecuador this summer.
A lighter moment – sharing a meal in Cuenca, Ecuador earlier this summer.

God answered. The unexpected thing brought to light a problem my husband had had over the last couple of years. Kidney stones. They’d almost completely blocked his kidneys. This was making him very sick, as toxins filled his body. Once this issue was addressed, he began to recover. Rapidly. He still has to go through some things, but he’s getting stronger every day.

And he won’t need additional dialysis.

Yes, we were shocked by the initial news, but our trust is in God. He brought us through. I’m thankful to Him and to all our friends and family who prayed for us and with us during those days of uncertainty. And I’m thankful for that unknown woman in the ACFW prayer room. It’s possible she was there praying for herself, but God used her as a vessel–a conduit. The sweetness spilled over onto me. God’s presence stayed with me through a very difficult time.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Couragious Forgiveness

background-1135051_1280Sometimes, it takes raw courage to forgive.

This is an ongoing theme in my life. Forgiving, even when it hurts (me). Looking back, I see a line of courageous forgivers. The Amish families who lost their children. Corrie Ten Boom. And further back in history, Stephen (early church deacon who was stoned to death for his faith).

The troubles of my past pale in comparison. But they still hurt. The human reaction for most of us is to hold on to them. To hate the one who hurt us. To punish the perpetrator through our ongoing hate.

Deep inside, I know that kind  of possessive unforgiveness hurts me more than anyone else. Those who committed the worst things that ever happened to me are dead now. They’ve met their fate, and they met it without my spoken forgiveness. I came to this knowledge too late. But I have now forgiven them. Their slate is clean with me.

flower-946502_1280Why does it matter? I no longer suffer under the weight of holding on to someone’s guilt. I’ve been spiritually healed of the pain inflicted on me, because of this passage of scripture… “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (John 8: 14-15 NIV)

Pay close attention to verse fifteen. It holds a devastating truth. Don’t overlook it.

Forgiving others sets you free. When I let go of the pain of my past, something died inside of me. But it was a good death. No longer would I be in its death grip. I am free of the pain. And those who caused that pain are in God’s hands. I am completely free.

Here’s another life-giving realization that came to me when I pondered my freedom: Unforgiveness is one of the strongest tools of the enemy. Satan uses unforgiveness–in your life–to steal your joy, your health, happiness, peace. He uses it to kill, and to destroy. With it, he destroys families…lives. Yours. Not the one who sinned against you.

death-1013386_1920I held my hurt and pain in a tight fist for so long, I couldn’t enjoy life. If anything in my life reminded me of what happened, I curled up in a fetal position (inside, if not physically) and felt dead. Others were hurt and confused by my attitude. Until the day I discovered these scriptures and decided it was time to let it go.

It wasn’t easy. Even after the initial spoken forgiveness, I was reminded throughout the day, every day, of what had been done to me. I’m not exaggerating. So I faced it with courage. I took every thought captive. When the thoughts came, they brought pain with them. I forgave all over again. I took a step further and replaced feelings of hurt and pain and hate with love. But not in my name. “Father, forgive me. Replace the hateful memories. Heal my heart and help me love.”

1-Passion FlowerYears have passed since that time. The hurtful thoughts came less and less. My heart gradually healed. Some babies are born with a hole in their heart. Most are healed naturally, as they grow. The hole closes. Their hearts are healthy. That’s what happened to me, but spiritually. The hole in my heart closed up. It’s sealed and strong. It took courage. I would like to take all the glory for that, but I can’t.

It was God’s love. I am so loved by God. “For God so loved the world, He gave his only Son…” As a believer, my faith has made me whole.

I share this so perhaps you can be whole also. If you suffer under the weight of unforgiveness, consider what I said in the paragraph above. How much joy have you allowed to pass by, so you could hold on to this pain? How much peace?

Take a chance. Be courageous. Forgive, that you might be forgiven.

May I Hashtag You?

One afternoon in mid-May, I happened to see the following hashtag phrase trending on Twitter:

#DescribeYourselfIn3Words

Of course, I had to click on the hashtag and see how everyone answered it. Among my favorites:

silently judging you – obsessed with pizza – cuter than u – inspired by love

Silly, maybe, but whatever the purpose of the game, it got me thinking. If I had only three words, how would I describe myself? Let me turn that around and ask, how would you describe yourself?

Always a Mother – even after my children are grown and have moved out of the house, made homes of their own, have children of their own, I’m still their mother. I’ll always mother them, as long as I have breath.

Quiet, but smart. Okay, that’s a stretch for me, but it’s true. I’m often quiet. When you’re quiet, you hear things. You read and learn things that others miss because they’re too busy talking. When I was a child, many not-so-nice things were said to me and about me. As I grew older, I figured something out. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. It does matter what you think about yourself.

Humor sweetens truth. Another stretch, I know. But it’s part of me. My dad was the youngest of four children born into poverty. Things got worse when his father was killed. Life was extremely difficult at times. Grandma was a single mom during the Great Depression. But all of them, including Grandma, had this amazing sense of humor. When they got together, the room was filled with laughter, singing, dancing. They were happy and blessed.

RaftPolaroidHumor got them through the hard times. You may be thinking I should say faith got them through, or hope took them through. In truth, both faith and hope played a bigger part than humor. I look at it like this:

Faith is like water.

Hope is like a raft that floats on the water.

Humor is the air that fills the raft and makes it float.

So those are my three 3-word descriptions of myself. I challenge you to think of yourself in a positive light. Pick out your best traits, reduce them to three words you can easily remember, and say them over yourself. Try building yourself up, rather than tearing yourself down. And please feel free to share them with me. I’d love to see what you come up with.