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Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

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Have you noticed that some seasons of life are filled with action, adventure, parties and people? Others are not. Over the past month I’ve been living the life of a hermit.  Winter has felt cold and grey, and I’ve caught the never-ending flu virus, which has led to quiet weekends and plenty of solitude.

Over this time my main companion has been Bobbie, my son’s blue budgie. Even when my voice is only a croak and my hair is beyond a mess, he is always delighted to see me, chirping along merrily with his ‘Hello Bobbie’, ‘Who’s a Pretty Boy?’ and ‘I Love You’s.  He’s always ready with his surprisingly gentle peck on the nose when I lean in for a kiss.

Bobbie’s companionship has sustained me through many lonely and bleak days, but despite his reliable nature, now and again he does disappoint me. Just as we are conversing happily, he catches a glimpse of his little blue face in his hanging mirror, and becomes transfixed by his reflection.   He is mesmerised by the gorgeous bird before him, and instead of offering his enthusiastic words and loving pecks to me, they are suddenly all directed at the bird in the mirror.  On it goes – ‘Pretty Boy’ and ‘I Love You’ along with his selfie-kisses, beak tapping madly on the mirror. Our conversation is suddenly over and I’m left talking to myself too.

Bobbie amuses me because his mirror-gazing fixation isn’t a trait limited only to budgies. People do it too.  Have you noticed?  Humans have their our own form of ‘mirror-gazing’.  It may range from a Facebook page populated heavily with selfie-shots, to an obsession with special projects and personal agendas, where little interest is shown in anything other than these particular projects and agendas.  A tell-tale sign I’ve noticed is a particular “glazed-eye look” which comes over a person which seems to prevent them from any shift in their focus. I’m sure most of us can relate to the Non Stop Talker in meetings, who ploughs on and on relentlessly, talking right over anyone brave enough to try to interrupt them. They are so focused on the reflection in the mirror that they can’t see or hear the people sitting right in front of them. Social media promotes this mindset, with all the: ‘Look at ME and all the fun I had today!’ mentality. There’s a temptation to turn away from the people right in front of us and gaze into our own little mirrors.   I fear that one day the human race may become so stuck in selfie-mode that we have with no connection at all to one another and the world around us.

Recently I met with two friends for morning tea. We had cups of tea in elegant yellow and black cups and saucers, rice paper rolls and delicious cake cut into little pieces.  Months had passed since the three of us sat together, and there was so much to discuss.  Each of us spoke in turn, sharing deeply about our struggles – laughing, crying and nodding in agreement.  The only thing that exceeded all of the talking was the quiet listening.  I felt listened to and heard each time I spoke, and spent a long time intently listening.  We each had our turn.  After three solid hours of free-flowing, authentic communication we held hands and prayed for each other.  Nothing banishes a mirror of self-interest like praying for someone else. It’s like emotional health food – building up our spiritual core strength and restoring the inner balance of joy and peace better than any Pilates class or detox shake.

Now I’m not too sure how Bobbie feels after a long session of mirror-gazing, but I know it leaves me feeling anxious and heavy-hearted.  The reflection in the mirror looks okay to begin with. Let’s face it, we’re all fascinated with ourselves to a degree.  At the start I’m like Harry the Mosquito in ‘A Bugs Life’, flying toward the bug zapper:  “I-can’t-help-it. It’s-so-beautiful”.  But once I spend some time gazing at myself all I can see are my failures, imperfections, problems and frustrations. Sometimes a coffee with a friend, listening, laughing and lightening up, or reading a chapter of a good book is enough to lift the heaviness. Other times I walk outside to look up at the wide expanse of sky and breathe in the cool fresh air.

Reflected in the mirror is a distorted egocentric world, but just outside our door are the wide open spaces, the big picture that exists beyond our selves –  painted by our Creator with humble love – a masterpiece of beauty, authenticity and promise.

 

 

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If thou shouldst never see my face again, pray for my soul.   More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.    – Lord Alfred Tennyson

A few days ago an earthquake hit Japan, followed by a tsunami.    We watch our television screens in horror as lives and cities are torn apart.   Only weeks ago we watched a similar picture unfolding in New Zealand, as Christchurch fell to another earthquake.    I sat in church this morning as we joined to pray for those suffering in Japan.    We sat in reverent silence, a few of us with damp cheeks, reflecting.     We pray and look for answers.   But do our prayers really make a difference?  

Recently I read that when the late Cardinal Basil Hume, a leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, was asked towards the end of his devout life about his understanding of prayer, he replied:

Oh, I just keep plugging away. At its best it’s like being in a dark room with someone you love. You can’t see them, but you know they’re there.

I sense the spirituality of this man, who reached out for the comforting presence of  God as he would a trusted friend.   I suspect that he ‘kept plugging away’ not only to find answers to his prayers, but to connect and spend time with this comforting presence.

Another quote I recently stumbled upon was by ‘Sister Julie’ who says prayer is like ‘putting on a pair of glasses’.   Problems may appear insurmountable, life insecure, and relationships shaky but when we lift our eyes from the torment within, and instead look  upward in prayer, our perspective changes.    What was a confused blur, gains clarity and substance.   Sister Julie tells us that prayer allows us to see with new eyes, as if appreciating a painting.   Standing back from the vivid colours and swirls, with the ‘spiritual glasses’ in place, we begin to see the beautiful landscape take shape.

My life is busy – I work, I’m a wife, a mum, and I have many friends and interests.   I’m not mystical or religious by any stretch of the imagination, but prayer plays a major role in my life.   My conversations with God bring light and focus to the painful and confusing parts of my life.   I also love to pray for others, to care for them when, in human terms, I feel powerless to help.   A couple of years ago I set up a prayer group known as RAHAB, standing for ‘Random Acts of Hope & Blessing’  and in honour of the gutsy prostitute, Rahab, who features  in the Bible.  Our little group of ten, from different backgrounds, join together via email to pray for those in our community and beyond.    The aim of our group is to offer prayer to those who may not attend church or have any formal religious beliefs.     I love praying for people – it is an adventure to new lands – where I discover such diverse landscapes of human existence and have the privilege of watching the hand of God at work, healing and mending what is broken.   You can read more about RAHAB or leave a prayer request @ http://rahabs.wordpress.com.

Once I prayed for a friend who was having routine surgery.    I was a passenger in a car with my family at the time, and felt a sudden prompting to pray.    As I began to pray silently a wave of heaviness overwhelmed me, and I felt a strong pressure on my chest.   I could hardly hold up my head and it was difficult to breathe.  I continued praying for my friend, and after a few moments the pressure lifted and I finished my prayer.   A couple of hours later I had a call from my friend’s wife to say her husband had reacted badly to the anaesthetic and his heart had slowed down during the surgery but after a few frightening moments the doctor had managed to bring him through the surgery unscathed.  I realised this scary moment in the surgery had happened at the precise time I experienced the unusual physical symptoms whilst praying.   

Prayer is mysterious, out of the ordinary, and yet it is accessible to all of us, no matter how down to earth, flawed and human we may be.    I have no doubt that prayer works, although the outcome is not always to our liking.    I see it as the outpouring of God’s love and wisdom on mankind and our feeble human response which lifts us into the spiritual realms.  Occasionally we catch a glimpse of the bigger picture.    There is a verse in the bible which likens what we see in this life to gazing into a reflection in a mirror, which is at times hazy and distorted.   There is also the promise that one day we will see ‘face to face’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).   One day we will see clearly.    I don’t fully understand the mystery of prayer, but I’ve tasted its power, love and energy, and I will ‘keep plugging away’ at it.   When I doubt the impact of my prayers on the world around me, I don’t doubt the impact they are having on my own attitude and sense of peace.   

If times are tough for you, if your heart is breaking, or if you are disappointed with this world, take some time to be still and pray.   Even if you’re not sure if God is there at all, or if you’re not sure you can trust him, pretend for a few moments that he is real and that he cares about you.   If your heart goes out to those who are suffering in Japan or elsewhere, take some time to pray for them.    Search for the comforting presence in the dark room – invisible but oh so real.    Say whatever is on your heart & sit silently and listen.    The voice of God is often heard as a still, small whisper.    Just listen.

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Last night I awoke at 2.00am and felt a presence in our room.   It was a warm feeling, like being held in loving arms before a crackling fireplace, basking in the heat from the flames and the body next to me.   I recognised the joyful welcome and the faint scent of lavender.    I knew it was  Grandma.

Grandma died when I was a child, but for a while she lived in the back section of our home, and I loved to skip up the hallway and have breakfast with her.   She wore soft pastel cardigans, wool skirts and comfortable slippers.    She was carefree and smiling and always happy to see me.   She served steaming porridge on cold winter mornings, with brown sugar and creamy milk.  

We would eat together and talk about life.   Mum always told me that Grandma was very ‘religious’ and had gone to many different churches and denominations, searching for one which suited her.   Sometimes Mum was quite critical of Grandma’s church hopping.   Despite being an astute businesswoman in her time, some churches tried to exploit her.   Dad used to tell me stories of certain ‘church people’ knocking on their door when he was a boy, demanding money as tithes and offerings to their church.    But Grandma wasn’t anybody’s fool, and she would soon  move on and continue in her search for a church with integrity.  

One thing I do know about Grandma is she had a deep faith in God which wasn’t rocked by the inability of these churches to value her.   I still have a little book she gave me before she died, about how much God loves me.   It portrays the story of a lost sheep, and the lengths Jesus as shepherd took to find this lost sheep and bring it to safety.   The last picture was of Jesus holding a tired and grubby lamb safely in his arms.   I kept the book  under my pillow at one stage and read it hundreds of time.   She would talk to me about God’s unconditional love and it amazed me, although I didn’t really understand it then.

Last night it dawned on me that all those years ago Grandma had prayed for her son (my father), his wife (my mother) and their three daughters (my sisters and I).   I remember dutifully going along to Sunday School and Church with Mum, but it was dry and dull and seemed more about social tradition than real faith.  My Dad stayed as far away from church as possible for most of his life.   My earliest memories of church life are not positive ones, and are in stark contrast to the loving and kind God which Grandma portrayed.

Each of us have walked different paths through life since then, but here we are forty years later, and my sisters and I, and both my parents, eventually found a true faith in God.   Dad left his conversion until his final years, but I believe he left on his final journey safe in loving arms, just  like the lamb in my book.    I’ve discovered it doesn’t matter where you start, but only where you finish. 

I wonder how much of our spiritual destiny came about because of Grandma’s prayers.    Her prayers were like a torch-light, which she switched on many years ago, to light the way for us so many years later.  Last night I thanked her for the legacy she left us, for loving us and believing in us all those years ago, and especially for praying for us.

These days I love to pray.  I pray for my husband and my children.  I pray for my friends and acquaintances when they go through difficult times.   I pray for babies as they come into the world, and I pray for those leaving this world.   I pray for my many brave friends battling cancer and for people I see suffering on the streets.  I pray for a world which can at times be ugly, dark and brutal.   Sometimes I wonder if my prayers are making any impact, or if I’m just wasting my time.    But after my visit from Grandma last night I feel empowered to keep on praying.   I can see that prayer can work miracles, and exceed all our expectations, even if we don’t live to see the results.

If thou shouldst never see my face again, pray for my soul.  More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

Lord Tennyson

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Recently, two brave young women I know had hip replacements with the gifted surgeon, Professor Michael Neil of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney – the same surgeon who worked his magic on me.  With Christmas only five sleeps away, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on this miracle in my life.    Here are my thoughts from last Christmas:

Over the past decade walking had become an ordeal.   With bilateral dysplasia of my hips, pain was always my companion, accompanying me when I sat, stood, walked, or tried to sleep.   After giving birth to two sons and reaching my forties, time was running out for me to remain mobile.  I had consulted surgeons who considered my condition too complicated to pursue.

One autumn morning about two years ago, I was hanging clothes on the line in my garden when I smelt the eucalyptus of the bushland beckoning me.   I prayed silently, tearfully longing for the days I had enjoyed bushwalking.   Almost immediately I heard a soft voice in reply: “You will be bushwalking again.  Do you think this is too hard for me?”    Momentarily I was alarmed.   Was I now hearing voices?  At the same time a spark of hope ignited within me.   I went straight to the telephone to enquire about surgeons. 

All avenues led me to one surgeon, but to confirm I was on the right track I prayed specifically for certain qualities including compassion, competency, a sense of humour, being of a certain age and, most specifically, that he would look at me and say “I can fix it”.

Can you imagine my joy when I met my surgeon?  He was the right age, he laughed at my jokes, he was kind and, last but not least, he examined my X-rays carefully, turned to meet my gaze and said “Your hips are bad but they are fixable – I can fix them.”   The exact words I had asked for.   I learnt that if I had left the surgery much longer it would have been too late for the operations to be successful.

So 2008 was my year of the hip replacements.  I had my right hip replaced in early March and my left in early July.   I had to face many obstacles during this process.  

Only a week before the first operation I had a call from the hospital telling me I wasn’t fully covered by my health insurance.   We were able to find the money but it was a great disappointment and it was only my hope in God’s plan that kept me going.

I originally planned to wait twelve months between the operations so my health insurance would fully cover the second operation.  However, I suffered the most extreme pain in my un-operated hip, which started to regularly dislocate.   I was baffled to even know what to pray for but three friends stepped in to pray for me at this time, independently of one another.  They each prayed that the operation would be expedited and I would be relieved of the pain.    At the time I thought they were all well-meaning but misguided as we couldn’t afford the further surgery straight away and Chris certainly wouldn’t be able to get more time off work.  A couple of weeks later the surgeon phoned to say he had a cancellation.   Was I interested in an earlier operation?    My heart missed a beat as I recalled the ‘misguided’ prayers of my friends.  My husband’s employer went to great lengths to accommodate his leave and again we found the money.

With sons aged five and six, my mother with a terminal brain tumour, and my father and mother-in- law suffering from dementia, dropping out of life for several months to recuperate was a daunting experience but God’s presence prevailed throughout.   My husband was able to care for me throughout the considerable recovery period and our friends  rallied around making a difficult time seem almost enjoyable.   I must say my husband was the most devoted and helpful nurse any woman could hope for.

I am overwhelmed to be starting 2009 with a body no longer dominated by pain.   I feel like I have been physically re-born and can be the wife, mother and friend I’ve always dreamed of being.  Yet the lessons I’ve learnt about God’s immense love for me and the wisdom of trusting him, even when things looked hopeless, have far outweighed all that I’ve gained on a physical level.    I realise that my physical healing won’t last forever – but the emotional and spiritual healing I’ve received will endure.

During a recent holiday to the South Coast of New South Wales I completed a bushwalk to the top of Minnamurra Falls without any pain.    A year ago I could barely walk to the letterbox and here I was climbing a steep path through a rainforest.   I thought I would burst with gratitude when I reached the waterfall at the top.  God is so faithful to his promises and nothing is too hard for him!

 But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)      

 

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