Prayer is the practice of telling—and living—the truth: the truth about our circumstances, the truth about who we are, and the truth about our relationship with God.
Rev Jennifer A G Layte
Prayer is the practice of telling—and living—the truth: the truth about our circumstances, the truth about who we are, and the truth about our relationship with God.
Rev Jennifer A G Layte
This is the latest newsletter I sent out…
On New Year’s Eve, one of the students I mentor at Worcester State updated her Facebook status. “This year was rough,” she admitted. “Senioritis and depression and anxiety abound, but you know what? I made it through. This year was hard, but it was also pretty amazing. I found my way back to God with the help of some very important people. I found a family in Campus Ambassadors … I was able to attend two retreats and find where I belong with God.” After listing a number of other events and accomplishments, she said, “I’m generally feeling pretty good about life right now. Happy New Year y’all, hope it is a great one and that God blesses us all.”
This young woman is one reason I’ve been appointed to begin The Pilgrimage for Missions Door. She just started the last semester of her senior year. She’s growing in her faith and I mentor her once a week. She attends a local church which she enjoys very much. At some point, she and other college students like her will take on leadership roles in their churches. We should hope they will, anyway.
In fact, however, many young adults, even if they manage to retain or gain a living faith in college, find it challenged on all sides when they graduate. Sometimes they don’t feel ready to take leadership in church. Sometimes their churches are frankly not ready for them to take that leadership, either.
“The Pilgrimage” is intended to help campus ministry alumni, as well as others on the fringes of church life, to deepen their relationship with Jesus and be empowered to engage both their Christian and surrounding communities with His transforming, loving presence.
I will develop the Pilgrimage once I have raised my financial support. For now, ministry consists primarily of discovering the people God is leading to join this path through prayer and finances so we can journey well without false starts. However, I am blessed to spend a little time on the local state university’s campus, thanks to my chaplaincy supervisor’s generosity and creativity in allowing me to apply time there toward my chaplaincy training. I am also grateful and amazed to see the ways God is already providing support—through many of you! Thank you for your prayers and gifts which are already gearing us up for our spiritual trek. Travel well!
The Pilgrimage is funded by your generosity. Recurring or special tax deductible donations may be sent to: Missions Door, 2530 Washington St, Denver CO 80205 or visit www.the-pilgrimage.com and click “Donate.”
Wwwednesday–Words. Or Work. Whatever.
Last Friday, because it was the day before vacation started and I was, as I said, getting ready for another Labor Day weekend at Youth Conference, I drove out to Camp with Oscar and poked around the closets in the Lodge to see which of the supplies we had that we need every year. We had most of them, but I have to remember to pick up a bag of tea lights.
Anyway, while I was there I decided that since our theme this year is going to be Prayer, I would make a poster on this giant roll of brown paper we have, highlighting different aspects of prayer. Prayer is, of course, far more fluid than a framework, but I think when you’re first exploring it, or teaching it, it’s helpful to have one, while acknowledging its limitations. There’s an acrostic I learned as a kid which roughly follows the trajectory of the prayer, variously known as the “Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father,” which Jesus used to teach His own disciples about prayer. The acrostic is as follows:
I decided to put these words in chalk on my long piece of brown paper.
I had gotten through “Adoration” and “Confession” and “Tha–” and then I remembered that in my efforts to step up my social media game for Now Church, as my job description now includes, I had downloaded an app on my new phone that takes high-speed or low-speed videos. I decided it might be cool to take a video of myself working on part of this poster, so I held the phone up in one hand and wrote with the other.
I had to do a double-take the first time I watched it, and then I spent about two hours laughing hysterically every time I thought of it.
It seems like an appropriate first YouTube submission for a word and spelling snob, to keep me humble. Oh wait. That probably still won’t happen.
This is the final installment of a paper I wrote for my Spiritual Formation Class. For context, please see Parts One and Two and Three. And also maybe The Seminary.
“After seminary” appears to be closer, maybe, than I at first expected, so I should certainly be forming a plan by now. For most of my adult life I’ve tried to maintain a relationship with at least one mentor at any given time. Both sides of the mentoring coin are vital for spiritual formation. I hope to maintain a connection with my current two mentors in future and I also have a moderately changing but mostly consistent network of prayer partners to whom I send emails a few times a year. Even if my current mentoring relationships grow more distant, I hope to be proactive in finding both someone to mentor me and someone for me to mentor, as I am currently doing with a young woman at the church where I work.
I certainly expect and hope to maintain a regular habit of Bible reading and journaling/prayer; in fact, I trust I will grow in this area again—or possibly revert, as I used to be more disciplined about it than I find I am now. I also hope that my husband and I will be able to continue to grow together spiritually in mutual accountability, worship together, and common life.
Seeing as I never post on Sundays, there’s not even a category to put this post in, but it seemed appropriate to write it, all the same. You see, I woke up this morning, and all those side effects I told you about yesterday? Were gone. I mean, like, not even here a little bit. G-O-N-E, gone.
I still plan on visiting a few doctors in the near future, and I know, it could have happened like this even if nobody had prayed about it, but . . . personally, I don’t think it would have. So, if you prayed–thank you.
Not for the first time, earlier this year I was in kind of a funk because it seemed like everybody else’s prayers “worked” except mine. As someone who constructs what seem (in her head) like clever, pithy sayings in her head, I went around for months thinking about people who were going through difficult times and then thinking,
I genuinely wasn’t trying to cop out of praying for other people, but I was thinking of recent things I had prayed for where it seemed like nothing had happened. Or, even worse, sometimes the opposite happened, while on the other hand, when I asked other people to pray for things, it was like the world suddenly filled with kittens and unicorns or something.
Well, maybe not, but I guess you get that I’m trying to say that I felt like there was a big difference between the results of my prayers and everybody else’s. It was making me feel like I did as a young adult when I thought that because God is Love, He had to love me, but it didn’t mean He liked me very much. In my head I knew that wasn’t true, but I was still having some trouble not reverting.
Lately, though, I think I’m a little less pessimistic about prayers. I don’t know if it’s because of my own recent encounter with a more supernatural prayer-answer than I’m accustomed to, or if it’s finally starting to settle with me that it’s not about trusting my prayers but about trusting the One I’m praying to. I’ve been praying about something in my own life for the better part of this year, and I’ve even had other people pray about it for me, and I still am not sure I know what the answer is, but I am quite sure there is going to be one just when there needs to be.
Lately, too, I’ve been finding that a whole lot of The Readership is going through stuff. Someone once told me everyone always is, and there may be some truth to that, and maybe praying for that stuff doesn’t always make it turn out the way we think it should, but I’m fairly convinced it does something, and that it helps it turn out the way it’s supposed to. Supposed to in the Grand Tapestry Story sense of things, I mean, where everything matters and is interconnected with everything else. I’ve been commenting on your blogs and offering to pray for you, and so far none of you have turned me down, and then I had an idea.
I’m going to set up a page on this blog where you can privately contact me about things for which you would like prayer. I’ll keep all those requests and pray about them at least once a week, and you can keep me updated, if you like, about how everything is going. All requests will be kept confidential, unless you also request that they be shared to get more people praying–but either way, I won’t put them in blog posts. If you want to pray for others in The Readership, too, you can sign up on a mailing list (which I still have to set up, so you’ll need to wait a little) and I’ll send out a list of prayer requests once a week.
It’s not like I’m the best pray-er in the world. It’s not like I have a special in. But I guess God and I are on speaking terms and, as I’m realising, it’s not about trusting in my prayers. It’s about trusting the One who hears them.
It should probably have been called a “Woman Party” if we were going to get really politically correct about it, but it’s my party and I’ll call it what I want to. Either one is better than “Bachelorette Party” (US–bachelorette is a term that that just basically bugs me, even though I get that it’s an improvement on either of the archaisms old maid or spinster ) or “Hen Night” (UK). Besides, we weren’t doing any of the numerous things that could be associated with those terms. It was just me and a bunch of my local-est Girl Friends, at the apartment of one of them, noshing and imbibing a little (seriously–just a little) and “sharing.” No going out and acting ridiculous. No strippers (none of those for anybody in this wedding, thank you very much). Just a really nice time with some really great women.
Starbecca hosted and she and Sister-in-Lu co-organised by email, and somehow they managed to pull together the aforementioned gift-certificate-of-pampering and a really classy evening. I wasn’t having bridesmaids because if I were going to bring together all the Girl Friends I know from all over the world who have had a significant impact in my life, there would’ve been so much estrogen in the church, probably, that the men would’ve had to fear for . . . well, something. I’ll let you make it up. Anyway. It would be overwhelming and there probably wouldn’t be room for all of them at the front of the church. I wouldn’t know how to narrow them down. But for this Girl Party, I selected just a few of them, who were local and also available, and I feel like they represented the rest very well.
Besides the stellar people, there was also wine, brie, strawberries, artichoke dip and pretty teacups. So . . . I was happy. Sister-in-Lu was in charge of the “program” which, in part, involved all the women coming up with cheeky questions (although not nearly as cheeky as they could have been) and my answering them. The questions ranged from “Have you farted in front of each other yet?” to “How did you know he was the one?” so I’d say we covered everything. Also, it gave me the opportunity to tell stories, which, while I prefer writing them because I only like being the centre of attention when I can watch it from a distance, was still pretty great since, you know if you’re here, I have lots of stories.
After that, Sister-in-Lu gave each of the women a typed prayer (mostly from the Book of Common Prayer, I believe) on a piece of paper, along with a pen, and encouraged them to write their own prayers for me, for my Paul, for our future. They got to pray them aloud, too, if they wanted. The prayers touched on everything from wedding day details to in-laws to sex, so I’d say we covered everything. Again.
Sister-in-Lu and I didn’t get home (the last night I was to call that place “home”) too late, but we were tired and I went to bed as soon as I could after hearing a brief and hilarious recounting from TheBro of how he and my Paul and The Brothers-in-Law had spent their evening. Evidently nobody else slept well the night before my wedding but I, drifting on the prayers of my sisters, perhaps, slept like a baby.
About a month ago, a friend of mine invited me to a barbecue up at his house. He long ago decided I needed “more Christian friends” (which might be weird since I work for a church and I also go to a Bible study at another church and I still have contact with people at Then Church, but then again, in other ways, it might not be so weird after all), so he has invited me to this annual barbecue before. This time it was the day after “day” camp (a euphemism which is getting awfully close to dishonest) got out for the summer, and I had no other plans, so I packed up Oscar and went.
Given the fact that I occasionally go to events hosted by this group of Christian friends, I actually know a few of them now. In fact, I even know one who went away to Denver shortly after I met him and had returned about a week before this party. I felt so in the know . . . I welcomed him back, which was polite but probably illogical since it wasn’t like we really knew each other even though we’re friends on facebook. Somehow the fact that I had just gotten back from running a camp in Boondocks, New England, came up. “Oh!” he said, “I go out that way sometimes. There’s this couple on the way there that offer prayer for people on Tuesday nights.”
“I know!” I said. “I’ve seen that sign!”
I have seen that sign, too. If I take the Back Roads to camp from my house, instead of the Highway from Now Church, just before I enter the town, I drive right past a big old white house which has, for the last four summers that I’ve run camp, anyway, had a sign posted in the front yard reading, “Need Prayer? Stop here. Tuesday nights.” (I forget the hours.) Every time I pass that sign my heart leaps and my mind goes, “Enh–probably crazies.” I have often considered stopping to find out which one was right, but I’m never driving by there on a Tuesday night, and I never remember. Sometimes I think of posting a similar sign in my own front yard, but so far I haven’t done it. I wonder if I’d be a better pray-er if I did, or if I have to wait to be one before I can.
Anyway, apparently Lately-From-Denver and a buddy of his actually had stopped there one Tuesday night, and I guess now they’ve been out there more than once. Evidently it’s a very nice couple who have this prayer ministry, and they sit you in a chair and lay hands on you and pray for you. I still might try it sometime.
“The wife has also gotten me into kefir,” said Lately-From-Denver. Some of our fellow conversationalists were unaware of the existence of kefir. I was aware of it–I thought it was kind of like drinkable yoghurt–but I didn’t know much beyond that. Once in the 80’s my mom acquired a yoghurt-making ensemble–some little tray you plugged in and these little individual-serving-sized jars with lids, and I never had any idea how she made the yoghurt; all I knew was we had to stir jelly into it to make it taste interesting, and that was kind of a pain. But I have often thought, as an adult, that it would be kind of cool (and hippie) to make one’s own yoghurt. And now here was Lately-from-Denver talking about making his own kefir. Even more hippie, surely.
Apparently you can make milk-based kefir and water-based kefir, and I can’t imagine water-based because I still kind of have that yoghurt idea in my head and besides, now I’ve made some of my own kefir with milk and it’s even harder to imagine. But I have no reason not to believe him. Also, I’m not sure if the name “kefir” applies to the finished liquid product, or to the “grains” which go into the liquid to start it out. Also, Lately-from-Denver pronounces it “KEFF-er,” which to me sounds legit and is therefore how I say it, but everyone else I know who is aware of the product’s existence pronounces it “Keifer,” and all I can think of is the show 24. Which I’ve never seen.
So many questions.
Lately-from-Denver kept talking about putting “grains” in liquid, which made me think of little pieces of wheat, but the rest of his description sounded more like something out of Star Trek, because he also talked about how the grains self-propagate, so that if you have too much to manage, you can eat them, and how they ferment milk and such. He also, however, talked about the probiotic properties of this stuff (according to him, nobody quite knows what it is or where it comes from but it has been around for thousands of years, passed from hand to hand like Amish Friendship Bread), and how good it is for the stomach, and since I occasionally have issues with that part of my anatomy, and I was inclined to like the idea of sour milk that was safe to drink, for some reason anyway, when he offered to send me some “grains,” I enthusiastically agreed that I would like some. (Plus, sometime within the next few days I found out that toenail fungus, some of which I picked up the last time I got a pedicure–grrrr–is helped by probiotics. Yet another good reason to start some of this stuff.)
The grains arrived a few weeks later–the day before Hurricane Irene did, actually, so while I was shopping for other things, I also got myself three jars in which to enact this self-propagating, milk-fermenting, probiotic experiment. I brought the jars home, but didn’t start the process until after the Hurricane Day at The Boyfriend’s. That next day I read my Kefir Friend’s instructions very carefully from my facebook messages. I filled two of the jars 3/4 full of milk. I emptied one vial of kefir grains into one, and one in the other. I lightly set the lids on top. I left the jars on the counter. Then I spent the next 48 hours peering into the jars trying to see if anything was changing. That part wasn’t in the instructions, but it was probably inevitable.
It was pretty hard to tell, but 48 hours later, when I tried to strain the liquid, I could see that something had, indeed, happened. The milk was thickened, of a consistency similar to very fine cottage cheese, and with a rather yeasty smell. TWCN and Smiley-Guy were visiting by the time I got to this point in the process, and they both stared at me with fascination and possibly horror as they watched. TWCN remarked most definitively that she would not like to try this yoghurty-milk that Auntie Jenn was making. I wanted to be surprised, because she loves what she at least used to call “noghurt.” But I guess I wasn’t really.
I cannot tell a lie. (Well, I could, but what would be the point?) It was not love at first taste. But it might have been love at second. Unfortunately I’m still playing around with timings and proportions and so I have not made a batch as good since, but I’m committed now. Definitely hooked. And kind of amused by having a colony of ancient bacteria living in a jar on my counter.
[Author’s note: For more specific and informed instructions on making kefir, check out this site: http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/Makekefir.html. As for acquiring the actual kefir grains–well, I don’t know how one normally does it without friends to send it along to one, and I don’t currently have enough grains to send any out, but I’m sure one of these days I will . . . )
Sometimes I think God could stand to do a little better with His own PR. For example, why in the world did He pick “Father” as one of the main analogies for our relationship with Him? And if He was going to do that, why did He allow it to be so hard to be one? I’m not talking from experience, of course, but it seems like it must be hard to be a father–a good one, anyway–because there are so many people out there who have problems with their dads. It seems like He could have picked a metaphor that was a little less difficult to get over.
When I was a nanny down in Nannyville, shortly out of college, it seemed like all of my close female friends had issues with their dads. The issues were legitimate. Mostly they had to do with some sort of physical abuse. I could not identify at all. I have a great relationship with my dad. He was always my go-to person when I had a problem; the amount of time he spent listening to me rattle on about perceived slights and dashed hopes and petty conflicts . . . Well, I didn’t have a blog at the time . . .
The analogy of God as Father always worked for me, because I have such a good one. Early on in my decision-making process regarding whether or not to go to London, I spent one afternoon completely freaking out because I suddenly realised I hadn’t prayed very much about the decision, and here I was, applied and accepted and about to start raising financial support. I had this view of God at the time (which I still sometimes default to by mistake because it was so deep-seated) that He loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life, but that anything I might wish to be part of that wonderful plan would automatically not be, because I wished it. I had grown up wishing to be a missionary and to live in England and I had previously thought the two were mutually exclusive. Now here I was, about to receive both wishes at once, but because I hadn’t gotten down on my knees or something and spent sufficient time (whatever that was) asking if this was okay, I began to doubt myself and my plan.
This was also a phase in my life where I was particularly drawn to mysticism, but the attraction to it seemed more to rile me up and heap me with guilt than to centre me and give me peace, so as sat in the private library of the house where I was a nanny, while my charge napped in the next room, I began almost to hear voices. They weren’t literally audible voices, but the thoughts were running rampant in my head, and they kind of had personalities: big, bold accusing thoughts and weasly insidious rebelling thoughts and frightened submissive thoughts, and they flew thicker and faster and I thought I might be going crazy. I was reading a devotional book, but things were only getting worse and then suddenly a different kind of Thought cut across all the other ones, and it said, “Think about your father.”
I’m not one of those people who hears the voice of God audibly, but that moment (and maybe one other time) came pretty close. I stopped. All the crazy thoughts stopped. I thought about my father. I don’t remember what I thought about him. I’m sure I remembered all our walks and all his listening. I might have thought of the time when I was eight and he almost drowned trying to rescue a Mickey Mouse beachball for me that had blown into the sea. (I’m really glad he didn’t–that memory gives me a stomach ache every time I think about it, but I do think it says something about how much my father loves me.) Maybe I thought about his telling stories to me and my brother, or playing with us and the neighbourhood kids after school. Anyway, I thought about my father. Then the Different Thought said, “I love you more than that.” Then I remembered when Jesus said, ““Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7.9-11, NIV).
I began to bawl. He hadn’t directly answered my question about whether to go to London or not, but He had answered my fears about somehow inadvertently angering Him, and about whether or not I could possibly want something He also wanted.
All that to say, the God-as-Father picture has been pretty helpful for me, but sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person. Some of my female friends who struggled with that image all those years ago have come to terms with God as their much-better-Father, and some of them hang onto their faith simply because of what they see in Jesus, even though they still can’t get their heads and hearts around the father thing. And some, no doubt, have walked away from Him altogether.
Now, ever since I’ve come back to New England, it seems like it’s my male friends who have the issues with God as Father. No wonder. What else do you do when your birth-father abandons your family for another one, or when you can’t measure up to your father’s unreachable ideals for you, or when your father can’t measure up to your ideals for him? Any exposure to the God of the Bible after that comes through marred-father lenses, particularly because God kind of introduces Himself as Father. Jesus’ words about earthly fathers who give good gifts to their children ring hollow because yours didn’t or couldn’t. The God of wrath might feel all too familiar, or the transcendent God might feel as far away as your own dad, or the God who demands obedience may remind you of guilt you rid yourself of long ago. I suspect it may be harder to have father-issues as a man, because you might be a father yourself, and all your doubts and uncertainties about the role come into your consciousness, whether you want them to or not.
I kind of believe that maybe God picked “Father” as one of His personal metaphors precisely because He knows how hard it is to be one. He knows the pain of rebellious children and the agony of losing One. I kind of think He wanted to redeem the title–to show us what a Father is really meant to be like. I think He can do it, too. But some of the Biblical passages are so difficult to swallow, and some of our fathers are so difficult to forgive, that how we can ever get to the point of seeing Him as He wants us to see Him–as He really is–seems essentially impossible. Which is why, sometimes, I wonder about His PR a little bit.
On Monday, as you may know if 1) you are a facebook friend of mine, 2) you were following my last blog before I switched to this one or 3) I told you, I got in a car accident. It was pretty terrible for my car, but somehow the worst thing I’ve got is a bruised ribcage, and I’ve had one of those before. Oh, and a sudden endless-loop nightmare of constantly getting into the car and losing control of it. I never get hurt in the dream. I just think, “What?! Not again?!” feel frustrated and demoralised, and have to explain myself to the cops. Which is hard to do in a dream during which there really wasn’t any personal control of the vehicle to begin with. The worst Oscar’s got is an abject terror of getting in and riding in the car. I am borrowing a friend’s car, which is truly a mercy, but I don’t know if it’s the car itself or the memory of the crash every time Oscar gets into it, but he sits in his harness and trembles and pants all the way to work now, and all the way home.
Oscar, as you may know, is the cockapoo I adopted a year and a half ago, and I love him more than I ever expected to love anything non-human. And more than a lot of humans, too, I’ll confess. He’s my side-kick, my shadow, and has also turned into the church “mascot.” When people see me somewhere without him, they ask, “Where’s Oscar?”
As a Christian education director, I work with Sunday school children, and I was one myself once, too, and when you ask them if they have something they want prayed for, often their grandma is sick, or their auntie’s friend died, or they want you to pray for their pet. And until I had Oscar, I always thought this was sweet and worth praying for, but in a kind of condescending, pat-on-the-head sort of way.
It’s a little different now. Now I want to ask you, if you are a praying person, to pray for my dog. The whole reason we were in the car when we got in the accident is that I was taking Oscar to the vet for a recurring and kind of worrisome symptom–of what, I have no idea. I thought it was cleared up, but today it showed up again, and I have scheduled another appointment for him since we never were able to make that first one. It’s on Monday afternoon–like the last one. Praying person, would you please pray that my dog’s issues are not as serious as I’m afraid they are? Will you pray for him to be healed? And will you also, incidentally, pray that we get to and from the vet’s safely this time around?
Some people say not to bother God with stuff like this, but He mentions animals a whole lot in his Book there, including random falling sparrows, and He told us to ask Him for anything. He’s God and stuff, so I don’t think that He has a limit to how much He can handle (He took on all our sin, for . . . God’s . . . sake . . . ), and I think, even though He allows us to live in the broken world we chose, He cares about our joys and our sorrows and our loves. I think he gave me this dear little animal, and if you could join me and praying for him, I’d be so grateful.