Five Minute Friday :: Sing A Song of Ascent

I haven’t done this for awhile, but I’m diving in today to write for five minutes flat on the word “Sing”. Find more five-minute essays or join the conversation here.

I cannot. Sing, that is. I warble along with songs on the radio or on my I-phone and I put my heart into worship on Sundays, but singing solo is just not my thing. And believe me — you wouldn’t want it to be.

I camped out in the Psalms of Ascent during Holy Week (Psalms 120-134) and I couldn’t help myself. I lifted my voice to chant holy songs that have carried words of praise, cries of lament, choruses of gratitude to the ear of God for thousands of years.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Verses like these prepared my spirit for the darkness and the beauty of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. When our gathering of believers burst into song on Easter, I was ready and willing to sing with abandon.

As I read the 15 Psalms of Ascent, I thought of David, author of several of them and “a man after God’s own heart.” It is from his seed that Christ descended. His lifelong journey was filled with song. He was a man wont to celebrate with undignified abandon when filled with the joy of his Lord.

David Crowder expresses David’s joy in one of my favorite praise songs, “Undignified”. Enjoy.

I will dance, I will sing to be mad for my King
Nothing more that’s hindering, there’s passion in my soul
I will dance, I will sing to be mad for my King
Nothing more that’s hindering, there’s passion in my soul

I’ll become even more undignified than this
Some may say it’s foolishness
But I’ll become even more undignified than this, oh yes

 

 

From the Bookshelf: Susie Finkbeiner’s Pearl Spence Stories

One of my favorite things about reading good books is sharing them with others. A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs by Susie Finkbeiner are works of fiction I can wholeheartedly recommend.

Author Susie Finkbeiner

Susie, an author from West Michigan, has a way with words, to say the least. I’ve read all four of her novels: My Mother’s Chamomile, Paint Chips, A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs. The first two are contemporary novels. A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs are two in a trilogy featuring the young protagonist Pearl Spence. The third book in the Pearl Spence trilogy, A Song of Home, will be released in February 2017. A Cup of Dust is a moving tale set in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl era. A Trail of Crumbs continues Pearl’s story as an unthinkable tragedy strikes her family, causing them to leave their home and move to Michigan. There, Pearl’s father hopes to find find work and make a new home for his family during the early years of The Great Depression. I’m featuring both of the Pearl Spence books because…….well, you’ll want to read both of them!

In my assessment, a good story allows you to inhabit another world, to feel the emotions and action as if they were your own. Through 10-year-old Pearl’s eyes, we are transported to an era and welcomed into a family with real challenges. I was grabbing tissues 10 pages into A Trail of Crumbs. The hardships experienced by Americans living in the dust bowl of the west and the depression of the 1930s are given skin in Susie’s books, without sappy sentimentality but with gritty reality. By the end of A Trail of Crumbs, the impact of her family’s hardships show in the maturity we see and hear in Pearl.

The author considers her novels inspirational fiction. There is a definite thread of hopefulness based on Pearl’s growing faith in A Trail of Crumbs. Wise words from Pearl:

“Some of the best things we do ain’t remembered by anybody but God.”

Both Pearl Spence books include a collection of questions for reading groups at the back. They serve to enhance the reading of her wonderful tales.

I’ve asked Susie to respond to a couple of my own questions about the first two books in the Pearl Spence trilogy:

1. You mention in your Afterword that the story of Pearl’s years on the farm near Bliss, Michigan recaptures part of your childhood. Was it always your intent to have Pearl escape the Dust Bowl by moving to Michigan? And is Pearl in any way modeled after yourself as a child, or perhaps a family member?
I knew that I couldn’t keep Pearl and her family in the Dust Bowl regions for more than one book. It seemed I’d exhausted the Oklahoma part of the story and knew she needed some different scenery to continue her story. Bliss, Michigan became the town they moved to, modeled after Blissfield, a real town in southeast Michigan where my grandma grew up.  You know, Pearl is a little bit of me and a little bit of who I imagine my Grandma Pearl was as a child. But most of all, Pearl has become her own person. She grew as I wrote her, maturing and surprising me so many times along the way. She’s a very special character to me. I already miss writing her.

2. Your treatment of religion and Biblical truth is handled delicately, not forced on the reader, but a definite thread in your stories. I know you read a lot. What author has given you the best example for writing a faith-based story that appeals to everyone?

Thank you for saying that. I work hard to keep a light hand when writing, especially when my Christian worldview comes into the narrative.  You know, this may come as a surprise, but I learned how to weave Biblical themes into a novel by reading Steinbeck. The man knew his Bible and added threads of it throughout his stories. East of Eden is the perfect example of this. Now, I can’t speak to Steinbeck’s spirituality (in fact, I believe he was more of a humanist than anything), but he never apologized for working a little theology or a Bible story into his fiction.

3. Who do you hope will read the Pearl series? Your books are not classified as young adult, but how have young adult readers responded to the stories?

I’ve been surprised at all the various folks who have picked up Pearl’s story! My readers range from thirty-something stay at home moms to eighty something retirees. From ministers to guys who work with my husband. This range of readers is more than I ever could have hoped or imagined and I’m beyond grateful! A few young adults have read it. I only know because their mothers have told me. I haven’t been able to get much feedback from them so far. I’d love to sit down with a few young readers to get an idea of what they thought.

I’m delighted to offer a paperback edition of A Trail of Crumbs to a reader chosen from comments left here. Currently, both A Cup of Dust and A Trail of Crumbs are available as Kindle downloads at bargain prices.

 

 

 

Just a note: My Springtime gift to you is book recommendations! I’ve been reading a lot over the winter and there are several wonderful titles I’d love to highlight (and a few to drop in your lap). Susie’s novels are the first two. Look for more in the coming weeks. ~ Ingrid

 

When Your Little Sister Turns Out To Be Your Hero

My youngest sister doesn’t look like a strong woman. A “do-rag” covers her shiny bald head and these days she’s tipping the scales at just over 100 pounds. She isn’t much of a threat to anyone or anything.

Or is she?

Just after my ninth birthday, around the time I was getting used to the idea of having a new step-mom, our family of three little girls expanded to include a fourth. As far as I was concerned, my blonde-haired, hazel-eyed step-sister was a special gift sent just for me. I happily assumed the role of “little mother.”

But, by the time I reached the hormonally challenging age of 13, I was wearing annoyance like a huge placard that read “Stay Away”. I was the oldest sister and I didn’t have time for playing with dolls or pushing my little sister in a swing. My world was “me” and to escape my younger siblings (which by now included a baby brother), I hid out in my room. A lot.

The summer my horse-loving little sister fell off her pony and suffered a severely broken elbow jolted me out of my self-absorption. A pin was inserted in her elbow and she was in the hospital for days. Who did she ask for? Me — the big sister who hadn’t given her so much as a glance for a couple of years. I was the person she most wanted at her bedside. At 16, I took my seven-year-old sister seriously and spent a couple of nights in a chair by her hospital bed. Seeing that skinny little blonde kid sleeping with her arm in traction, I realized she’d developed a case of hero worship. I didn’t feel worthy.

Once I knew what was at stake, I tried to pay more attention to my little sis, mostly at my convenience. I was amused by the fact she wanted to do whatever I was doing. Dress like I dressed, grow her hair long like mine — hers blonde, mine brunette.

The depth of my tomboy little sister’s devotion was on display when she let a hairdresser pile her hair in elaborate curls and donned a very girlie dress just so that she could be in my wedding. In photographs from the day, she looks a little uncomfortable, but she’s smiling at me like I’m a queen and she’s the princess.

We grew up, the two of us. Marriages, kids, careers. Slowly, the nine-year gap shrank. In time, we joined forces in the task of keeping our aging parents healthy and happy. Like bookends, we learned to hold it together and frame the sometimes challenging dynamics of a blended family.

We also became friends.

When we lost Mom last year, the friendship we’d cultivated was our strength. The two of us tag-teamed, covering the many decisions and responsibilities of arranging for Mom’s funeral and moving Dad to a nursing home. Our siblings helped, but most things passed through us. Our bond was strengthened.

Then one evening, I received another wake-up call from my sister. She’d found a lump in her breast. Cancer.

As a survivor of breast cancer myself, I was tempted to tease her about following in her big sister’s footsteps. Somehow, it wasn’t funny. She’d been there for me in my own collision with cancer; hers seemed more real. I wanted to protect her. She’s my little sister and my friend.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother (sister) is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17, NIV

What do you do when the playing field is leveled by cancer? You pull up a chair. Click To Tweet

So, I sit beside my sister while drugs drip into her body, attacking cancer cells and killing every other good thing that her body produces, and I’m amazed at how brave she is. With surgery and reconstruction part of the plan, it will be months before this journey ends.

The irony is, the year before her diagnosis my sister agreed to lead a Livestrong class at our local YMCA. The mission of Livestrong, founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, is “to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.” Her class of cancer survivors has become her own support team. Fit and healthy in every way, my sister is tackling cancer head-on. She’s determined to beat it. I believe she will.

Funny thing about hero worship – it goes both ways. My baby sister is my hero. And she’s the strongest woman I know.

Invitation To A Feast: Bible Studies That Study the Bible

Recently, a handful of women from my church joined me in reading and discussing Lysa TerKeurst’s book “The Best Yes”. Though our numbers dwindled over the six weeks we met, those of us who remained at the end agreed that our time together had been well-spent.

TerKeurst is a New York Times best-selling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She’s a popular, gifted teacher and ministry leader. We were entertained, challenged and informed. And in some ways, we were changed by engaging through her book and the accompanying DVD-led study.

So why, as leader of this study group, do I feel like these women were short-changed?

As only God can do, I’ve received some gentle conviction in recent weeks over where I go — and where I lead others — for the study of God’s word. At the very least, I’ve been stopped in my tracks while I think about His desired path for women who want to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not sorry that we read this book. Nor do I feel we were misled in any way by the God-inspired wisdom offered by Lysa Terkeurst. I do, however, feel I misled the women by advertising the group as a Bible study. We discussed my “false advertising” in our first session and the women graciously forgave me. But in the end, it was as if I’d invited the ladies to come for bread and wine and served them chips and cola instead.

Tasty, but not as good as the real thing.

I’ve participated in women’s Bible studies for years, as proven by my library shelf full of Beth Moore, Priscilla Shire and Jennie Allen study books. I’ve read (and studied) many wonderful Christian books about topics that interested me written by spiritual leaders I respect, both men and women. Most of them have led me to a fuller understanding of scripture.

Here’s the thing. At least one of the women in our little gathering appears to be a “baby Christian” and I got the distinct feeling she was attempting to digest savory doctrinal commentary, when what she really needs is pure, simple food. Namely, the word of God.

Don’t we all?

My concerns are backed up by Bible teacher and author Jen Wilkin. Her essay in Christianity Today, “Let Bible Studies Be Bible Studies”, addresses this very issue.

“Churches must distinguish clearly between what is Bible study and what is something else because the average churchgoer may not be able to on her own. Knowing they should study the Bible, earnest Christians sign up for what we have labeled a Bible study, assuming that it is,” says Wilkin.

In her opinion, biblical illiteracy is pervasive in our churches, in part because we fail to point out the difference between pure Bible study and book study. Her church has become intentional about precise terminology when offering studies, with an emphasis on pure Bible study.

Moving forward, our church will do the same.

When a disciple of Christ desires to understand their choice to follow Him, going to source materials should be the first step. A well-versed Bible teacher can help by setting the table and joining in the feast, utilizing commentaries and even various translations to aid in the understanding of scripture.

In her excellent book “Women of the Word”, Wilkin says this about the value of intentional Bible study:

“Sound Bible study transforms the heart by training the mind and it places God at the center of the story. But sound Bible study does more than that — it leaves the student with a better understanding of the Bible than she had when she started.”

Reading and discussing good Christian books can enhance our application and even our understanding of scripture, but reading them should not be a substitute for studying the Bible itself, word by word, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book.

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty.” Jeremiah 15:16

 

 

 

 

When Faiths Collide: Finding Myself in Ash Wednesday

I stood in line for the symbolic smudge of ashes on the first day of Lent, unprepared for what that touch to my forehead would to do my heart.

In the glow of candlelight, tears spilled unbidden. And there she was again, standing at the altar. Skinny, smiling shyly as she posed in her white communion dress, mousy brown hair peaking from beneath a froth of netting, white anklets scrunched above black patent leather shoes. Ardent in her practice of a faith that formed her, the girl’s eyes glowed with the joy of taking her first communion. Her first confession.

Her first receiving of the ashes.

Did she know that five decades later, she’d stand at another altar and her heart would bust wide open, full with the joy of taking back the precious meaning of the ashes?

I turned away from Catholicism as a high school senior, lured by the popular youth group and upbeat music offered by my friends’ non-denominational church. I wanted guitars and games, not incense, chiming bells and Latin liturgy. A copy of The Living Bible went with me to college. My Catholic scriptures were left behind on a bedroom shelf.

An outdoor wedding ceremony officiated by the pastor of that non-denominational church set me on a path toward spiritual awakening and growth. Women in the church mentored and encouraged my still-ardent love for Jesus, and I learned to share Him with others. In years to come, pastors from various denominations and other churches contributed to a deepening faith that sustained me through trials — divorce, loss, cancer.

The security of a faith built on decades spent living out God’s Word among His people allowed me to listen when a gentle ripple of longing began to surface. In the beginning, I couldn’t put a word to the yearnings that bubbled in a quiet corner of my soul. I love my church. I’m in deep agreement with the doctrine and theology of our evangelical protestant beliefs and practices. But, like a lamp lit by a low-wattage bulb, my rock-solid faith lacked some of the glow that burned across the years from the altar of that little Catholic chapel of my childhood.

Then, last summer I met two faithful women doing a work of revival at a Catholic retreat center, and the yearnings slipped into place.

Beauty, symbolism, tradition, corporate prayer, holy seasons. I had shed them like an ill-fitting coat in my youth. Now, I felt the loss of their weight and warmth.

I soaked up the joy of those women doing a work for Jesus, offering to add a work of my own to their revival project. As we talked and planned, I recognized and understood what shined from their eyes when they spoke to me of tradition. Of miracles, healings, sacraments. Of a church history that, in many ways, all Christian faiths share.

It was familiar because it was part of me.

My stepmom passed away shortly after these women completed their project. It was inevitable that my grieving was bound up by their unwavering commitment to The Church. And by my stepmother’s. Her collection of Catholic icons, prayer books, rosaries, holy medals and other symbols of faith passed through my hands. They gave weight once again to what I’d known and lived, to the faith that formed me.

You can turn from one good thing and replace it with another. But can you wipe away the imprint that one thing left on your soul? Or can you acknowledge the stirrings and make space for them to be welcomed in the now?

Our evangelical Christian church chose to observe Ash Wednesday for the first time in many years. Dipping back into the dust of a tradition that lay at the foundation of my faith brought me face-to-face with the ardent little Catholic girl who was the Bride of Jesus.

Her eyes still glow.

“Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” Genesis 3:19b

 

 

 

Trusting God for the Outcome: A Mother’s Prayers

I’ve been reminded that a mother is only as happy as her happiest child. We’d rather experience illness or unhappiness ourselves than to see our children struggle. I’m learning to trust God has a plan as we walk alongside our son in his battle with anxiety, panic and depersonalization. I share this very personal story on my friend Amelia Rhodes’ blog today.

I will never forget the first time I sat with my son while he was experiencing a panic attack. Everything in me wanted to hold him and make it stop. All I could do was pray and wait for it to pass.

When he was in his early 20s, our adventurous, confident, athletic and creative son had his first collision with anxiety and panic. It came out of nowhere. He had moved from Indiana to Nashville, TN, and was enjoying the city with all its new experiences and friendships. Though he’d had periods of mild depression in the past, anxiety and panic were something new. The first time he experienced anxiety was confusing and frightening, but it passed and he lived mostly anxiety-free for the next five years………(read more)

While visiting Amelia’s website, check out her beautiful new book “Pray A to Z”. Amelia has taken her own desire to be intentional as she prays and developed a useful and inspiring tool to guide us in our prayers. My blog post today is one in a series on topics covered in her book.

 

5 Things I Learned While Going 7 Days Without Facebook

Still wide awake at 12:30 a.m. today, I rolled out of bed and did what I’ve done on many other sleepless nights. I grabbed my phone to check in with Facebook — for the first time in 7 days.

A week ago, inspired by a book I’m reading and challenged by my blogging friend Plaidfuzz, I decided to give myself a one week break from Facebook. Besides wanting to change a habit, a big motivation for my self-imposed fast was the climate on Facebook. Don’t get me wrong. There is much that’s good in this online community — inspiring messages, fun recipes, photos of friends and their families, groups of like-minded individuals conversing on topics of interest (writing and hygge). And, Facebook is sometimes a window into the world of my sons, though it’s not often their chosen means of communicating online.

But what I found when dropping in during the middle of the night is that not much has changed in seven days. Attacks and “false news” are still popping up in my news feed, which means I have to do a lot of scrolling to get to stuff I want to read, and, the things I don’t want to pour into my mind still seep in.

I have enjoyed at least 168 hours without the vitriol, and I feel cleansed.

Stepping away  from Facebook — even for just a week — gave me some perspective and taught me a thing or two. Or 5. Here are 5 things I learned during my 7-day break from Facebook:

  1. My friends are still my friends whether I “like” something they say or not. Not one of them unfriended me because of my neglect. Nor did they send me nasty messages.
  2. Picking up my Bible first thing in the morning instead of my phone or I-pad is better for my spiritual, emotional and mental health. I started most days happier, calmer and with a clearer mind. I’ve been reading the book of Jeremiah first thing in the morning, with Eugene Peterson’s great book “Run with the Horses” as my guide. The destruction of Jerusalem and the angry greed of Babylon aren’t so far removed from our world today. (Adding praises from Psalms tempers the message.)
  3. There’s a lot more to read, watch and listen to on the Internet besides what’s in my Facebook feed. Notable sites where I spent time this week included The Redbud Post, The Academy of Ideas, and Jeff Goins’ podcast The Portfolio Life .
  4. My political views didn’t waver in the absence of daily reminders of how divided our country has become. I’m still conservative, right of center, pro-life and praying for our nation.
  5. I can accomplish a lot in the 10 minutes I might spend several times a day scrolling thru, liking (or loving, crying, laughing) and commenting on Facebook posts. Some of my 10-minute fillers were folding a load of laundry, reading a chapter in a book, stirring up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, doing my yoga stretches, having a real conversation with a friend.
  6. I said 5? Here’s a bonus. Twitter is a poor substitute, and it is just as mind-numbing and time-wasting as Facebook. Instagram? Not ready to give that up yet.

Will I return to Facebook permanently? Possibly. I’ve made some great connections and found new friends there. But if I do, I think I’ll rely on it less often to fill spare moments and to connect with people.

My final three words on Facebook? Words I try to apply to everyday life: Discretion, Self-control, Balance.

Mary Richards, Joyce Smith and Me

If I’d owned a blue beret, I would have tossed it in the air. I was a fledgling news reporter in the early 1970s and Mary Richards was my inspiration, my role model. When all you’ve ever wanted is to be a journalist, seeing a young woman succeed in the news business — even in a fictional television sitcom — was affirmation.

“You’re gonna make it after all.”

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards

Learning of the death this week of Mary Richards’ alter ego Mary Tyler Moore was like losing a big sister.

And as I processed the news of Mary Richards’ passing, my next thought was of my one-time editor and mentor, Joyce Smith. Though they were about as different in looks and demeanor as Marilyn Monroe and Carol Burnett, Mary Richards and Joyce Smith will forever be linked as the reasons I spent 20 years as a news reporter and have continued for another 20 as a writer.

Joyce, the first female editor at our small local newspaper, took this timid, 19-year-old college dropout under her wing. I’d been hired as a typist at The News-Sun but I had dreams of earning a desk in the news room. Joyce made that happen. My first reporting assignment was a feature story about my little brother’s T-ball team. Other assignments followed as Joyce patiently taught me to dig for the five Ws and one H (who, what, when, where, why and how) and edit out the “fluff” to make my sentences tight and precise. Joyce also modeled the integrity and impartiality that characterized her brand of good journalism. And she pushed me to get beyond my shyness and insecurity to master the art of the interview and to press in for the “just the facts.”

My years as a cub reporter were more valuable than any college journalism program. Though I came under my editor’s tutelage near the end of her journalism career, she was generous in passing on what she knew. Thanks to Joyce, my skills grew. Over my 20-year career, I was tapped to report on county government, business and agriculture news, as well as serve as the lifestyle editor and a regional reporter. I was honored to receive state and national press association awards for reporting.

All the while, I was channeling Mary Richards.

I never missed an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and watched reruns whenever I could catch them. I followed Moore’s career and personal life, cheering her on as she took other roles and became a respected television producer in real life. Like most of America, I would always see her as Mary Richards, the spunky TV news reporter with the winning smile. Along the way, guys like Woodward and Bernstein added another brand of inspiration, but always, it was Mary Richards that showed me how to be a news woman.

From the New York Times:

“At least a decade before the twin figures of the harried working woman and the neurotic, unwed 30-something became media preoccupations, Ms. Moore’s portrayal — for which she won four of her seven Emmy Awards — expressed both the exuberance and the melancholy of the single career woman who could plot her own course without reference to cultural archetypes. The show, and her portrayal of Mary as a sisterly presence in the office, as well as a source of ingenuity and humor, was a balm to widespread anxieties about women in the work force.”

I was the first in my family to attend college, albeit for only a year. My parents urged me to come home after my freshman year at a state school and get an office job. I came home, but the “office job” put me on the path to my dream career. For me, Mary and Joyce were a balm to my own anxiety about being a young woman in the work force. They pointed the way.

Thank you, Ladies. I am forever grateful.

 

 

 

Gather Your Team and Make a ‘Family’

“Thank you for being on my team.”

Words from my friend bear witness to this friendship we’re nurturing, to the time we’ve spent catching up over tea, in prayer, studying God’s word. The times we’ve carried one another’s burdens, rejoiced over each other’s victories.

“Gather your team” we’d heard the speaker say. This wise woman at the podium, in the evening of her life, had given a diverse group of women gathered for worship and teaching a peek into the journey that’s been her life. She’s lived simply but with a heart open to all that God placed in her path. Divorced early in her marriage, she trusted God to lead her as a single parent, to bless her remarriage, and to bring comfort in the tragic too-soon death of her beloved second husband and a son.

At a round table with friends I’ve known for decades and with several new to this season of my life, I’d heard the lovely woman communing with us remind the gathering of this:

Whatever life brings, God has gone before you. He is already there. Click To Tweet

Then she said it. “Gather your team.”

Surround yourself with people who know you, she said, those you can trust, those who’ll hang with you in the hard days and dance with you in the good.

“Some friends are for a season,” she told us. “And that’s okay.”

 

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.” Psalm 68:5-6

My Grandmothers. Sisters-in-law and lifelong teammates.

Always, always cultivate friends who are willing, committed, available. Find friends and make a “family.”

If we choose wisely, she said, we need never been lonely. Even in widowhood. Especially in the evening of our lives.

Then one more piece of advice fell from her lips — use your gifts. “I am a knitter of socks,” she said, smiling as she held up a pair in progress. “I’m using my gifts and God is pleased with me.”

More than a knitter of socks, she is a generous weaver of wise words, passed down, spread around and soaked up.

Thank you, Lord, for women who take seriously the command “to be reverent in the way they live….to teach what is good.” Titus 2:3

 

 

 

 

Pray A to Z: Purposeful Prayer in the New Year and a Book Give-Away

It’s a new year and because I love fresh starts, I’ve been known to make a resolution or two. (I won’t share the statistics on my success at keeping them.) Recently, our pastor challenged us to make commitments instead of resolutions — more importantly, to commit to God an action, attitude, habit or sacrifice that we’re willing to take up in the new year.

Mine is prayer. Just that — conversation with God. No more spiritual “tweets” or text messages sent up in the midst of other things, but deep, personal prayer. Intentional solicitations, thoughtful praises, heartfelt gratitude. With a new prayer journal in hand, I’m off to a good start.

One of the tools I know will guide me toward a habit of more intentional prayer is a new book by my friend, Amelia Rhodes, entitled Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community. Amelia is a writer, author and speaker who lives in Lowell, Michigan, with her family. Her book grew out of a personal desire to cultivate an organized prayer life. From Amelia:

“Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community features 5 topics for each letter. Three of those are prayers of petition, and two are prayers of praise. Each topic has a verse, a prompt, and a short prayer to get you started.

Pray A to Z can be used in many ways, including your personal quiet time, as a part of a small prayer group, during family devotions or in Sunday school classes. You can pray all the way through one letter each day, completing the entire alphabet in a month, or imply lift up one topic per day, or utilize any other order or schedule that suits your needs at the time. I’ve often camped out on one topic when there’s been something heavy on my heart.

My hope and prayer is that this book will help you experience a renewed excitement about prayer and enjoy a closer relationship with God. I also pray God will open your eyes to the struggles others are facing and show you how you can be His hands and feet of love to your community.”

I am giving a copy of this book to one reader who responds here with his or her request for prayer. I promise not only to send you the book (through Amazon), but to pray specifically for your request. I’ll choose the winner in a drawing.

The beautiful thing about writing out prayers is that we have a record which can make us aware of the answers to our prayers. I asked Amelia to share a personal story about answered prayer in her life:

Author Amelia Rhodes

A year ago at this time my family and I were settling into a cozy 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment. We had sold our house, believing that God was calling us to a simpler way of life, one that long term would allow us to be more generous with our time and our money. Yet, when our house sold, there was nothing for sale in our little town. However, there was this small rental that we were able to snag for six months, and it happened to be in the exact location we wanted to live. It was a perfect way to “try out” this part of town we believed we were supposed to move to. And by spring, there would be plenty of houses for sale.

Or so we thought.

Spring came and there weren’t any houses for sale. Week after week we searched. Houses were selling before they were even listed. And a fixer-upper house in the price range and location we felt called to just wasn’t happening.

Every day for six months, I looked out the back window of that rental and prayed, asking God to guide our steps to obey this call on our life and show us the right place to live.

With weeks left before our lease was up, and still no houses for sale, we figured we would have to sign a one year lease and continue waiting. Another year in the rental would be challenging, but we were content to be patient until the right house showed up that would allow us to live the way we believed God was asking us to.

Then the landlord called. It turned out that due to health challenges, they were looking to sell all their rental homes. She hoped we had found a place to buy. When I told her we hadn’t, she asked what specifically we were looking for. I gave her our simple wish list and she replied, “We own the house behind where you are living, and we need to sell it too. I think it might be exactly what you’re looking for. Do you want to walk through it tomorrow?”

A few weeks later, we signed the papers to buy the house behind the rental. It also happened to be the house that filled my view for six months as I stared out the window asking God to show us where we were supposed to live. I’m sure God got a chuckle out of that. I can imagine Him thinking, “My dear, the answer is right in front of you. It’s just not time to show you yet.”

Sometimes the answer is right in front of us, but it’s not time for God to reveal it yet. And sometimes we have to wait, not because we aren’t ready, but because the other parties involved aren’t ready yet. Prayer and patience go together, and God gives us the patience we need to wait for HIs timing when we ask.

Amelia’s new book is available online at all major booksellers. You can also connect with her online at www.ameliarhodes.com, on Twitter @amrhodes, Facebook @ameliarhodeswriter and Instagram @ameliamrhodes.