California Dreaming

On an early fall morning in 1996, I stood with a dear friend, Suzanne, watching the antics of our neighborhood’s children when my 4 year-old son ran up to us with an important announcement. Poised wide-legged, chest puffed and wearing his new Ninja filename-1Turtle Halloween costume he proclaimed to the world, “When I grow up, I am going to be Ninja Turtle Michelangelo and I am going to stop all the bad guys!” Not requiring any sort of response or advice about his new career decision, he ran on.

Turning to Suzanne I asked, “When do I break his heart? When do I tell him he cannot be a superhero? When do I tell him he will probably grow up to be something practical – maybe an accountant like his Dad? ” Suzanne whispered, “Don’t tell him Jean. The world will tell him soon enough.” Quietly that morning I prayed that Mark would find work when he was grown that brought him joy and fulfillment as well as a means of support.

Several years later during a family vacation in California, we strolled through a park overlooking the ocean. Mark pursued the dozens of seagulls grouped along our path determined to catch one of them. His whole body squealed with delight each time the birds took flight. Catching his breath on a bench before returning to the hunt, Mark made another announcement. “Someday I want to live here! When I grow up I am moving to California!”

Now, 15 years later, Mark no longer wears a cape or carries a plastic sword but his desire to right the wrongs of this world did not fade. He involves himself in organizations and causes that raise people up and him in the process. He lives his life with kindness and fairness even when the world is not always kind or fair to him. In many ways I see him living the superhero life he dreamed of as a child though it looks very different than what either of us pictured.

I cannot help but grin as I tell you that Mark is a newly graduated accountant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is preparing to start his first job in San Francisco next month. He knew business was a practical IMG_1078degree but had difficulty imagining his life as an accountant. His job opportunity in California is not a traditional accounting job path recommended by his school advisers but it unfolded magically and effortlessly for him. The expression, “It was meant to be” comes to mind. He is excited to get started. I am brimming with joy for him and the new life he is creating but also experiencing worry, sadness and grief at his leaving.

As I summon the courage to kiss my son good-bye before he boards the plane that will fly him to his future, I call on my faith to steady me. My faith over the years has grown into a solid platform from which I can stand firmly and look around. From that platform of faith I can see the happenings of life unfold without being bowled over by them. My body feels the multitude of physical and emotional pain that life brings, but my soul knows I can stand against the current. I have emotions, but I am not my emotion. I have a body, but I am not my body. I am a soul encased in a physical body, learning and experiencing this world but not overwhelmed by it. It is a source of inner strength that comes when I let go of expectations and simply have faith.

I have come to believe that God wants all of our dreams to come true. He hears the desires of our hearts and wants them to be realized. So many times this world derails us. Society often tells us we are not good enough or brave enough to achieve our dreams or face life’s challenges. What if we placed our hopes and dreams in God’s hands without attempting to imagine how those desires should come to be? It is not an easy or simple task but I believe that by putting the longings of our hearts into God’s hands without expectations, we exercise our faith in God and that faith forges the path for God to enter our lives in spectacular and unexpected ways.

Dear God,

Thank you for hearing and caring about the desires of my heart. Help me to let go of how I think my dreams should become reality. Please show me the path to follow and give me strength to bear the pain of the journey. Also dear Lord, please give me the clarity to recognize hopes and dreams realized even when they appear in unexpected ways. Thanks again – for everything!

Love, Jean

Jeremiah 32:27  “Behold, I am the LORD; the God of all flesh. Is anything too difficult for me?”

Children Explain Prayer

This summer, our sermon series at Easter Lutheran Church has been exploring the topic of prayer. One major theme has been that prayer is primarily about relationship–our relationship with God.  In the very first sermon, we explored how Adam and Eve “hid” from God after they sinned, and yet, God still reached out to them. God knew what had happened, and yet called out to them, asking why they were hiding.

Like Adam and Eve, sometimes we “hide” from God, afraid or avoiding prayer because we think we don’t know how to pray, or we are not worthy. Despite this, God reaches out to us in various ways because God loves us, no matter what may have happened.  We think we are “hiding” when all the while God is watching over us, like a loving parent or kind teacher. No matter what we’ve done, good or bad, God still wants to be in relationship with us.

We can trust that God wants to be in this relationship with us because God keeps reaching out to humans again and again in biblical history despite people failing him again and again. God’s love is so unconditional that he sent his son (that is, God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ) and died on the cross while people were still steeped in sin.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8

I was thinking about these things when this short video of children explaining prayer appeared in my Facebook feed. Their hearts are open and trusting. Creative. Honest. Compassionate.

Being fifty-something doesn’t stop me from learning from these children. Their freshness and youth inspires me to be a little more honest with God, a little more free-flowing–and less worried about “if I’m getting it right.”

But aren’t we sinners? Yes, but we also God’s children, for it is God who gave us life. Little children don’t worry if their words aren’t elegant or sophisticated–and the loving parents around them continue to value what they say. We don’t stop loving children when they make mistakes or have difficulties. God enjoys having quality time with us, just we enjoy having quality time with our children.

Will you pray with me?

O God,
The next time I try to run from praying
because I am ashamed, guilty, or afraid,
please send your Holy Spirit to remind me
that you are the God of Mercy and unconditional love.
The next time I feel “I don’t have the right words to pray,”
remind me that I can say whatever I want or feel,
or even express myself to you in wordless ways,
trusting that you understand my heart
and love me just as I am.
The next time I want to pray, but feel inadequate,
please remind me that prayer is about
spending quality time together with you,
not mastering fancy words or passing an imaginary test.
Thank you, Lord,
for your constant love and attentiveness to us,
and help us to always place our trust in you.
This I ask in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

 

Julie McCarty is a spiritual director, writer, budding artist, and volunteer coordinator of Easter Prays / Easter Praise! blog. In her free time, she enjoys nature photography, painting, gardening, and taking long walks with her husband Terry. Julie also blogs at www.spiritualdrawingboard.com  and posts religious and spiritual encouragement on Facebook at Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty

 

 

 

 

 

Granddaddy was a Hillbilly Scholar

Ever hear this phrase? -“If you wanna hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” The country duo Van Zant used it as a song lyric in Help Somebody.  I’ll admit it-I love Country music, my favorite is a little classic Kenny and Dolly circa mid 80’s. My love for country music should come as no surprise. My dad has a pickin’ porch on his property in rural east Texas. (Pickin’ porch-a porch that looks like a western store front made for playing bluegrass music. My daddy has a banjo and a handle bar mustache-true story.) The first line of Help Somebody -“Well, granddaddy was a hillbilly scholar, blue collar of a man.” Ok… so none of this is my point, but I couldn’t help myself-let’s regress.

The song, with it’s deeply highbrow lyrics, came out in 2005. It was the same year when the life I had planned for myself had taken a dramatic turn-probably why it struck me so. I learned so much that year- including the realization that we have such little control over life’s really big stuff.

If you look back at the things that have happened to you along the way, do we not have times when we say-  “Whoa…I did not see that one coming.”? My experience, this thing that I hadn’t planned for, left me on my knees calling out. It also brought me to a beautiful place of growth and joy.

BanjoPicking-Small

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

As we enter into this new year, I have my idea of what I’d like the coming year to look like. I have goals for my personal and professional growth. I’ll also do my best to remain open to what God may have in store for me-cause who knows.

In 2015, no matter where it may lead us, “Let’s Prosper”

In this, let us pray,

“Jesus as we enter into the coming year we ask for your favor, may we prosper. Help us to relax the grip of control we have over our lives Lord so that we are able to recognize the direction you may place before us. Amen.”

Also,

“May my peers think none less of me, now that I’ve exposed my love for The Gambler, and Islands in the Streams. Amen.”  

As Long as I Have Breath

What is the reason to pray? We come to God in prayer for many things. We ask for wisdom, for guidance, for understanding, for others’ welfare, for peace, for acceptance. We share our blessings, our gratitude, our love, our humility. Sometimes our prayers seem to be answered and other times ignored. So what then is the purpose for prayer? If we don’t get the results we expected for our prayers, what makes us keep praying?

For me, prayer is not about outcomes, but about a relationship with God. Prayer is a way to keep my heart open to all that God displays around me and sends into my path. When I pray for someone to be cured, I don’t know for certain if that will happen. But what I do know is that God heard me. And that God’s love will surround that person no matter what outcome.Scripture Because he bends down

Prayer is the foundation of my relationship with God. I empty my heart to him and he pours his spirit into me. Through prayer, I can be reflective about my life and my choices. Through prayer, I can hear the needs of others and respond. Through prayer, I can see the God in someone else. Through prayer, I can bring his heart to this messy world.

My prayers are not a child’s list to Santa for all that I want in this world.  It is my way of letting God know I will keep listening for him and know he is listening for me.  As long as I have breath.

What is the reason you keep praying?

Prayer for Peace

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.” — Matthew 5:9

So much violence, conflict, and war in the news… I know I am not alone in this concern because at worship I hear prayers for peace. I also see prayers for peace on our public chalkboard, and images urging peace posted on Facebook.

Below is a prayer for peace that I wrote one year ago. I invite you to read this prayer twice: once to see what it says, and then, if you agree with the words, a second time to pray with me… Or, perhaps you would like to pray for peace in your own words. You could also use this prayer at the opening of a meeting or small faith group gathering. Although you and I are not together in person at the moment, our prayers are united before God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Retreat cross with prayers--from Julie McCartyHeavenly God,

You know all that is in our hearts:
the good desires
and the not-so-good desires,
the longing for peace,
yet wanting things-my-own-way,
the instinct to share,
while also the instinct of hoarding-for-my-survival.

I don’t have to tell you that all people on earth
have the need for clean water, healthy food, shelter, and safety.
You know very well how people who are desperately suffering
from starvation, thirst, homelessness, or civil strife,
may fall into violence to get what they need to survive.
You also know some people turn aggression into a way of life,
using violent solutions at the least provocation.

Loving God, we ask you to help us to work for peace.
You are like a loving parent–we are your children,
whatever our nationality, tribe, religion, or culture.
We are all one family, and yet, like one family,
we disagree, we fight for dominance, we wrestle for power.

When harm comes to innocent people, we feel frightened or angry.
Do we fight back? Look away? Grab a gun or hold a dove of peace?
I think there is no easy answer. I think: it depends.

I beg you, Lord, to pour your Spirit of Wisdom
on those who have earthly power, the movers and shakers,
political leaders and public commentators,
and all those who speak in the streets or social media.

Show us the way to work and live together in harmony–
and give us the courage to follow that way
with compassion, inner strength, and mercy.

I’m not just asking, Lord, I’m begging.

Amen.

 

 

Julie McCarty is a published writer, blogger, spiritual director, and budding artist who attends Easter Lutheran with her husband, Terry. 

10 Tips on Prayer from Martin Luther

In his short booklet, “A Simple Way to Pray,”* Martin Luther offers a way to dig deeper into prayer, that is, to grow in one’s relationship with God. Written at the request of his friend, the barber, Luther takes what he learned about prayer in the monastery and adapts it for the typical person living “in the world.” Knowing that many people in his time could not read or afford books, Luther describes a way to meditate on material already memorized, such as the Lord’s Prayer, The Apostles’ Creed, or the Ten Commandments. Peasants raking the hay or punching down the bread dough could ponder these Christian wonders in the midst of their daily lives.**

A Simple Way to Pray book by Luther 51NbRdb0PWL__SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Although most of the Luther’s booklet is devoted to explaining how to pray in meditative fashion, there is also general advice about prayer. Here are 10 tips: 

  1. Morning/evening prayer: Pray the first thing you wake up in the morning, and just before going to sleep at night.
  2. Amen!  End your prayer with “Amen,” to show you really mean it. (The word “Amen” means “let it be so,” “many it be true” or “I believe”!)
  3. Work and prayer: The work you do can be a kind of prayer, if you do your work with good moral values–not if you are cheating others, stealing from your boss, etc.
  4. Quality time with God: Although your work is a kind of prayer, don’t neglect to have certain fixed times to just pray. Remember, Luther wrote this book not for monks, but to encourage his barber to pray.
  5. Pay attention. Do your best to pay attention to the words of prayers (at home, at church, wherever), pondering the meaning of the words. Luther says if you want to do your best at something, you give it your whole attention, doing it with focus and concentration, quoting a saying of his time:  “a person engaged in various pursuits, minds none of them well.”
  6. There are many ways to pray: Sing, recite written prayers, use your own words, meditate on the Lord’s Prayer, and many other ways… The point is to use whatever way of praying helps you to put your mind (attention) and heart (genuine love for God) into the quality time you spend with God.
  7. Be yourself before God. Although Luther is giving examples in this letter about how to pray, he reminds people that his own prayers are different on different days. He encourages the use of your own words and feelings with God–you can be honest with God, no matter what the situation.
  8. Listen to the Holy Spirit.  Luther says sometimes when you are praying using his method, the Holy Spirit will grant you a BETTER insight or blessed way of being with God in the moment. When this happens, let go of your prayer “method,” and allow the Spirit to guide your prayer (that is, prayer methods are not laws to obey).
  9. Having trouble praying? Luther writes that sometimes he feels he’s becoming too cold, apathetic, or distracted in his prayer life. When this happens, he sneaks away by himself into a quiet room with the book of Psalms–or sometimes goes to church to pray with others.
  10. Prayer is about kindling a little flame in your heart. Don’t try to do everything at once. “A good prayer should not be long, nor should it be drawn out, but prayed often and fervently. Don’t worry about covering a lot of ground. It is sufficient if you really dig deep on one idea and pray about it, so that you can “kindle a flame in your heart” — this “flame” is given by the Holy Spirit, who will continue to teach and guide us, in ways we could not plan ourselves.

Candle--photo by Julie McCarty--Eagan MN USA - Smaller CopyHappy praying!

* Edition used for this article: “A Simple Way to Pray” by Martin Luther, translated by Matthew C. Harrison (Concordia Publishing House, 2012).
**If Martin Luther were alive today, I imagine he would suggest people use short bible passages to practice this same type of meditative prayer–the bibles found on their coffee tables and in their cell phones.

About the writer: Julie McCarty is a spiritual director, writer, and member of Easter Lutheran Church. For more on spiritual direction, visit easter.org and look under “connections”:   http://easter.org/wordpress/spiritual-direction/