Prayer – Does It Work?

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41

A friend once told me he’d prayed for God to take away the pain during a season of severe abuse and it didn’t work. The abuse – and the pain – continued.

Other people have prayed that a loved one would be healed from cancer or disease and still watched them die. Or for someone to be freed from addiction only to watch them waste away, enslaved to a substance.

So many people live out stories like this and conclude that prayer doesn’t work. And in strictly consumer terms, it doesn’t.

Prayer is not a thing like a soda machine or a streaming channel where you make your selection, enter your currency, and receive what you ordered. Prayer isn’t an order at all. A prayer can be a request, but in our native human selfishness, I think we forget that requests are not guaranteed.

I might request a raise from my boss and be denied; just as I might request God heal me from ME/CFS, but He might whisper instead, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

But let’s imagine for a moment prayer did work like a vending machine. What currency would we use to pay for our purchase? Hmm… there’s a tricky one. Even if prayer did operate on the same principle, are we really willing to count the cost and ante up? Food for thought.

However, prayer is so much more than making requests from the Almighty. In our topsy-turvy way, our fixation on requests highlight the glaring truth of who we truly believe is in charge. But we are wrong; God is not our waiter. In reality, we should be the ones taking orders, not Him.

Other than our tendency to look at the situation backwards and upside down, there’s another point I want to make. To say prayer doesn’t work is equivalent to saying conversation doesn’t work.

Prayer, like conversation, only works if both parties are talking about the same thing. One major breakdown in prayer seems to occur because God is talking to us about eternity and how He designed us to operate and we are talking about feelings we can’t even define from moment to moment.

I mean, honestly, we aren’t doing very good with definitions these days anyway. How can we expect to understand the still, small whispers of Truth when we’ve convoluted simple observations of basic biology into intricate fantasy worlds? But that’s a different discussion…

Prayer does work. But it works on my heart and on my sin, not on my terms.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, emphasis mine

ME/CFS and Long COVID or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pandemic

A Day With ME/CFS Part 2

If you are just joining, start with Part 1 of what it’s like to live with ME/CFS.

Orthostatic Intolerance

You stand up from the table to put your Bible away (if you remember to put it away, that is), but you stand slowly. No dizziness right now. That’s good. Thankfully, this symptom is nothing new. You’ve dealt with it your whole life – it’s just a little worse now.

What you hate is when a wave of dizziness hits for no reason while you’re on the stairs.

The Other Things

You’ve started talking about your ME journey a little bit because you realize so many people who have it are not as fortunate as you. Some are housebound. Others are bedridden.

Driving to work, you see a homeless person asleep in a bundle of blankets under a bridge and wonder if he suffers with ME/CFS.

Still, you hesitate to talk much because of the stigma. So many people think it’s all in your head. You were once one of them.

But time after time, you pushed through and pushed through only to end up with bronchitis or meningitis or some other major issue as your body simply couldn’t muster the energy to both push through the fatigue and produce an appropriate immune response.

Some days you drive to work but have to take a 20-minute nap in the car before going in. Or you have to pull over and take a 20-minute nap so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

You realize you are nearing a crash. Thankfully, it’s Thursday and the weekend is coming, although you’d really like to do something with your weekend other than recover. Like clean. Or even something fun.

The body aches are annoying. Your thinking is sluggish and you feel generally unwell – like the beginnings of a bad cold or a mild flu.

But you’re thankful it’s not a bad day.

Even on a not-so-bad day, it feels like the air is made of molasses. During class, you slur a few words and tell your students to get out their cameras. You meant to say laptops. Ah, aphasia! So a migraine plans to join the party. At least there’s medicine for that.

Photo by meo on Pexels.com

Your students help you sort your words out. Thankfully, they are sweet girls and you already told them not to worry if this happens. More than likely, it’s a migraine prodrome and not a stroke. You rely on the weird manic energy you’ve been able to concoct in public for the last several years to get through classes. And you don’t sit still for long so you don’t fall asleep.

Your gut is a mess, but you decide not to get into that. It’s just unpleasant to talk about.

On the drive home, your body hurts worse and you look forward to bed. Now that you’ve learned to balance things a little better, gotten strict with your sleep schedule, and accepted that you can’t exercise like you used to, bed is no longer the only thing you look forward to.

The heartrate alarm on your watch goes off because the organ decided to jump up over 100 beats a minute even though you’re just driving. So weird. You shrug.

Before bed, you thank God for His mercy. You realize that ME/CFS has made you rely more and more on Him, and so it’s good. It’s also given you compassion for others, because not everyone who looks healthy, is.

Even so, you have days of sadness. You miss being able to get up super-early, working out, and being productive. It’s hard to feel like crud most of the time. You don’t really get excited about much these days except Eternity and God. You keenly feel the truth that “the outer self is wasting away but the inner self is being renewed day by day.”

You try to decide if your achiness is enough to warrant taking an OTC medicine or if you can sleep reasonably without it. It’s best not to since you need to save things like that for migraines, so you skip it.

You skipped dinner because of the gut thing. That’s OK. There are people all over the world who skip dinner because they don’t have any. You thank God that you have the option and pray for those who don’t.

As you turn out the lights, your heart does a gymnastics routine. It feels like a guy with a peg leg trying to run through a yard riddled with mole hills – but in your chest.

You pray – in part to keep your mind focused on the Lord and in part to suppress your body’s adrenaline response to the weird heart stuff. As you do, you feel comforted that you have the Lord. He is with you.

You pray for people who don’t know Him and have the peace of trusting in His plans. You imagine ME/CFS without God. If you didn’t trust Him, didn’t trust His purposes for allowing this in your life, there would be no point in going on. Without the certainty of His goodness, you would have given up long ago.

You thank Him for being a God who is not a stranger to suffering, and you surrender to His plan.

You can rest in knowing He is good, even when life is not.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

ME/CFS and Long COVID or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pandemic

A Day With ME/CFS Part 1

In an odd twist, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing to me. I know that sounds strange, but with the advent of long COVID, there has been more research into ME/CFS due to clinical similarities.

To geek out for a minute, because yes, I sometimes read medical journals, both share such clinical findings as “redox imbalance, systemic inflammation and neuroinflammation, an impaired ability to generate adenosine triphosphate, and a general hypometabolic state” and symptoms such as “profound fatigue, postexertional malaise, unrefreshing sleep, cognitive deficits, and orthostatic intolerance.1

Let me break that down for you in real talk.

I will describe a generic day with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or ME/CFS. Oh and migraine. Because why not, right?

Buckle up, kiddies. Here we go:

Profound Fatigue

You wake up, but only because you have to. You went to bed on time. Early even, but it doesn’t matter. You turn off the alarm, pick up your sense of duty, and wipe away a thin sheen of shame because you need so much sleep.

You also peel your clammy PJs off, remembering half-waking in the night, drenched in sweat. Again.

It wasn’t always like this. You can dimly recall waking up and feeling ready for the day. Or was that a dream?

No matter. Today you get up and do your thing – whatever it is – because you have to. And because people don’t understand. But it’s OK. You can’t blame them. You didn’t, either, until it was your life.

Postexertional Malaise

As you start your day, you think back to your gym rat days and the time when you did P-90X and were in the best shape of your life. You look at your once-chiseled arms as you dress and have a moment of missing the upper body strength.

Back then, you’d start every day with a workout. A brisk walk or run followed by some weight training. Fond memories of times when your body just moved well. Working out was fun; it was therapy.

Now you drag yourself to the yoga mat and hope you have the energy to do a 30-minute flow. But, you remind yourself, be thankful.

You are one of the lucky ones. Some people with ME/CFS can’t muster the energy for yoga. Or going to the grocery story. Or walking up stairs.

You have a part-time job and can even go for a walk a couple days a week. Sure, you have to constantly adjust because a little too much physical or mental effort will cause a crash. Then, there goes a weekend down the tubes. But at least you can still function reasonably well.

Still, as you go into the first downward dog and feel that odd sensation in your muscles that you used to associate with doing heavy reps to the point of muscle failure, you can’t help but miss the strength. It feels like your muscles are starving for something.

Because they are, you remind yourself. The ATP production is janky and there just isn’t fuel in the tank.

Hmmm. Three miles must have been too far to walk yesterday. You remember when 10 miles was nothing.

You say a prayer that the Lord will help you wake up enough to read your Bible without nodding off, and you know He will make it work out. If not this morning, later on today. He’s good like that.

Cognitive Deficits

You close your Bible and thank God for giving you the mental energy to actually read and understand today. Not every day is like this. You start your prayers and include one you forget most of the time:

Lord please help me to remember people’s names today. And words. And my lessons.

Your brain simply isn’t what it used to be. Of course, some of the cognitive issues started after the first go-round with meningitis and the resulting chronic headache condition. Thank you, Lord, that it’s no longer chronic.

Still, as a teacher, it can be awkward to get in front of your class and forget words. It makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Worse is when you can’t get a student’s name to come to the surface. You know this child; you’ve known her for years. The name is in there somewhere. But it seems buried.

It’s laughable to think you were once recognized for your memory. It was borderline eidetic. Being able to call up scenes, snippets, the pictures of numbers – that was handy. If you wrote it down, you could remember it because you could call up the image of your writing. You could recall scenes, like having a video playback inside your head.

Now when you reach for a memory, it may or may not be there. You wonder if this is what it feels like to lose a limb. By habit, you go to put weight on it or reach to pick up a glass but there’s nothing there. You say a prayer for people who’ve lost limbs.

Then you remember your Mammaw who had severe dementia and say another prayer that the Lord will take you home before your mind goes so your kids don’t have to go through what your Mama did.

To be continued…

1PNAS article

A Matter of Life and Death

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5:21

Our world fails to understand the gravity of sin.

Then again, as The Book says, there is nothing new under the sun1. My Lord lived in the same world. The dates were different, the world population was smaller, and the day’s technological marvels would fail to impress the hyper-stimulated modern cynic.

Yet people haven’t changed in the slightest. From the temptation of Eve to the very second you read these words, human beings have underestimated the horror of sin.

To illustrate my point, Mark 2:1-2 tells of a time when four friends lowered their paralyzed buddy through the roof of a crowded building so he could see Jesus. Upon seeing the unfortunate fellow, Jesus declared to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

But the crowd wasn’t impressed until Jesus spoke again and the paralyzed man regained the use of his body.

In a similar way, our prayer requests often reflect a deeper fear of physical suffering than fear we will be guilty of gossip. We are afraid of being murdered while murdering people with our tongues. And yet the truth is, unless we accept the Son of God as our Master, we are already dead.

As it’s been said, Jesus didn’t come to show us how to be good. He came to breathe life into our animated corpses. This life and death dynamic is what I’ve been mulling over after reading and re-reading John 5 a few days ago.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24

Friends, Jesus stepped down into a world ruined by sin and took a stand against this great death-bringer. For a time, He forsook His rightful glory and the joys of perfect union in the mysterious community of the Triune and lived as a man. He endured temptation as a man, but He alone never gave into it and so He alone was a fully living Man.

Because of this, His willingness to trade His singular purity secures value sufficient to cover our debt – for we have sinned and earned death; He refused sin and traded His matchless gift for our wages to any who will accept His offer2.

But we must choose to accept His gift of life.

Instead, we bicker and squabble over temporary concerns, pointing out specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the massive planks that blind us3. We pray for health and comfort while using both to drink down death, serving self instead of our Sovereign. In so many ways, we sin, and we do not see it for what it is – the truest and most horrible death. Because we are addicted to death, we refuse to submit to the One who came to offer life.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

John 5:39-40

Don’t miss out on this chance, friends. As the days darken and the rumbles of war send tremors across every land, don’t forget that all sin is death.

Sin is a gilded cage, a poison that tastes like ambrosia. The happiness it promises is fleeting at best, a hollow satisfaction all too easily imploding under the least pressure. Sooner or later, the sweetest sin gives its captives a taste of hell on earth – the flavor of death to taint this life with the enemy’s own eternal destination, one he wants you to share.

Misery, as is said, loves company.

But sin isn’t the victor unless you allow it. The Son of Man still stands ready to receive all who belong to Him. Even now, the One greater than Moses says, “I have set before you today life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life…4

Turn away from your sin. You are only captive if you want to be. You can turn to the Son of God who came to give you life5 – a sweet taste of it here and now to infuse life’s sorrows with the essence of eternal joy in the presence of God. Jesus

Jesus alone can replace the musty tang of death with the delightful savor of life. But the choice is yours.

1Ecclesiastes 1:9; 2Romans 6:23; 3Matthew 7:3-5; 4Deuteronomy 30:19; 5John 10:10

Super Quick Update

So much going on that my head is spinning… or maybe that’s just the annual spring migraine uptick or ME/CFS/long covid issues… Or maybe just my Heather Hazard-ness kicking in. Either way, it’s been a hot second since I’ve had a chance to jump on here and a pretty warm minute since I’ve had much time to write.

And God has been doing SO much, I can really only scratch the surface.

Most recently, He moved us to host an exchange student. With 10 days notice. During our youngest’s final semester of her senior year. And it’s wonderful. She is precious, fun, and funny and has been a blessing to our home. She also knows about God but doesn’t truly know Him, making the opportunity itself precious.

My prayer is for her to come to a deeper understanding of the love of the Father, the sacrifice of the Son, and the leading of the Holy Spirit and to surrender her life to this unfathomable and yet personal God I love and serve. I would be honored for anyone who wishes to join me in this prayer.

Lord use me as You wish.

There is so much else, I can’t really get into it, but here’s a quick bullet point update:

  • I improved the photography curriculum on my Teachers Pay Teacher’s store (linked).
  • I had covid again, though my guess is the omicron variant since I feel frequently sicker with ME/CFS!
  • Speaking of feeling sicker, I also recently had bronchitis. Yes, my body’s tradition of spending the second half of any school year I work outside the home seems to continue. Alas!
  • I forgot to share my last offering written for my church family – a brief thought on Sabbath (linked).
  • Currently praying about time to write since I have 3 solid fiction ideas, a dozen solid studious ideas, 0 minutes to devote to it at present, and -5 platforms/interested parties in publishing (which, of course, makes the whole thing harder to justify).
  • Also praying about what to do when no longer teaching after this semester and trusting God’s call.
  • Determined to get back to the blogosphere soon.

In the meantime, feel free to share my curriculum store and read my little devo for my church!

<3<3 Heather

Alien

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

I’m sitting at my desk, eighteen days into the year 2022 and near the end of my second quarantine, thinking about how absurd it is for humanity to discuss the idea of normalcy.

Ever since the Big Pause in early 2020, I’ve participated in the global lament, pining for life to get back to normal. This year certainly didn’t begin normally, as my I mentioned a couple of posts ago, and it hasn’t continued normally either. At least, it hasn’t felt normal.

This makes me laugh a little. As if any human being on the planet has ever felt what it means to be normal!

The truth is, our world only ever hosted three normal people in its entire history. Two of them later turned their backs on perfection and invited in decay. The Other was God Incarnate.

Ever since the first couple disobeyed and the sin curse has corrupted the earth and all it contains with its wretched malignancy, we have lost normal. The senses by which we collect information along with the very fabric of our reason has been warped with this taint. If there is anything mankind is, it cannot be described as normal.

But Yeshua (Jesus) came to restore normal; to inoculate the festering darkness of the human heart with an His purity and light. He came to offer us the cure; so we may choose to allow His Spirit to transform us, renewing our minds, providing glimpses of the sane and wholesome world He intended. Even better, He came to usher us to join Him in eternal life in its perfect and wonderful normalcy.

One great and future Day, He will come again. Eventually, reality as we know it will crumble into ash and a new and normal heavens and earth will take its place.

Until then, we can look into His Word and catch glimpses of normal, though our sin-ravaged brains struggle to comprehend it. Still, we can see it dimly, like looking at our reflection in polished metal. And we can trust with confidence that the alien thing sin has made us into can be restored through trusting in the One normal Man who ever lived, died, and rose again on this earth.

New Year… Almost

On the first day of 2022, a Saturday morning, I took a walk at 10:00 am in shorts and a t-shirt, working up a bit of a sweat in the 73-degree weather. I tried to squeeze in some yard work but the expected rains drove me indoors. The next night, snow fell. I woke up yesterday morning to about three inches on the deck railing, though the roads were clear and the ground was patchy due to the previous day’s warmth.

Gotta love Tennessee. We have all the seasons, sometimes in the same week.

Anyway, this new year doesn’t quite feel like a new year to me… yet. The homeschooling journey I began in 2005 eventually led to a part-time teaching position at a private school, and so I still operate by school calendars. For me, the new year will begin in August, and with it a brand-new season of life.

That being said, January 2022 kicks off a semester of change for me. My baby is starting her final semester of high school. There is a possibility of a career change on the horizon for me. God has been up to so much, it’s almost too much to share.

Many of these changes will be reflected here. Keep checking back… You never know what you might find.

So I’m dusting off this underused space, and planning some changes. As I survey the cobwebbed corners, I find myself eager to get back.

Until then, please click the linked title to read the most recent offering for my church family: “Lifestyles of the Rested and Reliant.”

I hope to see you around soon!

Rising Waters

The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

Origin Unknown

I grew up hearing this phrase, always uttered by an older person and always in closing a discussion about upcoming events. It was a disclaimer of sorts acknowledging the element of uncertainty in any planning session.

We’ll see you on Saturday, the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!

But before I move on…

Unfortunately Necessary Disclaimer:

Before any feathers get ruffled over the modern-day tendency to take every imaginable thing and twist its meaning to fit the current social narrative, if you have heard anything about this phrase attributed to worries of a Creek native uprising, click here and read with your whole capacity for critical thinking engaged. Thank you. Now on to my point.

Most of the people my childish self heard utter this phrase grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. All of them spent most of their lives in the Tennessee Valley between the mountains to the east and the Cumberland Plateau to the west. Several recalled the days of wagons drawn by horse or mule which stuck in the mud or shied at the dull roar of a swollen creek smoothing the rocks as it drained the peaks and plateaus into our little bowl of a town.

Even a youngun’ like me who grew up in the age of motor cars can attest that a plethora of creeks of varying depths and breadths wind their way through this lush valley. When they rise, the way is often barred. I’ve seen cars stalled out and half-filled with water in intersections which looked deceptively shallow, roads collapsed from great surges of water flushing out the soil beneath the pavement, and I’ve missed school because there was no passable road open to anyone without a kayak or canoe.

But even if the creeks remain gurgling placidly in their banks, the Lord may not always be willing. And this, my friends, is a Biblical principle I have been reminded of often this school year.

…yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4:14-1

On July 19, I went into my classroom to begin setting it up for the new school year. Teacher in-service began the following week and students would return to classes on August 2. My hope was to get a head start on all things in order to spend quality time with my college freshman before she left for her new adventure.

I went home that day with what seemed to be a typical (for me) occipital headache but turned out to be the beginnings of my second go-round with viral meningitis.

Then school started. Then the creeks DID rise, affecting neighboring counties much more than our own. And a mere 3 weeks into our new school year, COVID struck hard and fast and forced us into a remote learning environment for a couple of weeks while we pled for the Lord to heal teachers and friends who were – and are – incredibly ill.

The last six weeks have felt a lot like a song list stuck on repeat. There have been plenty of interruptions in all our plans. Yet we continue to trust in the Lord and understand that if He is not willing, He has a very good reason. After all, it isn’t the results we choose to trust in; it’s the character of the One who holds all things in His very capable hands.

He is good. Because He is Creator of all, good is defined by who He is and not by what we, who are warped and hoodwinked by sin, think about His ways.

So if His will takes me in a direction 180 degrees from where the path I laid leads, I know I can walk His way with confidence. He made each one of us, and He knows what is truly best – even when it causes inconvenience or suffering. Even then, He is still good. In the present age, we’ll do well not to forget this fact.

I hope to see you sooner rather than later. The good Lord willing, of course.

Debtors

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:12-13, ESV

I recently learned that the devotions I’ve written for my church should be shared differently. Oops! SO with integrity and my Lord in mind, click this link for more:

BBC Daily Devotional

Christ’s Likeness

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

It’s one thing to claim a desire for Christlikeness, it’s quite another to live each day with the selflessness Jesus actually exhibited. For although He is the exact imprint of God the Father, Jesus walked the dusty Middle Eastern streets without a shred of the honor due his Name. Instead of coming in glory to compel our worship, Jesus came as a sacrifice.  

As I meditated on today’s passage, the Holy Spirit revealed an ugly truth about myself. When I’ve said, “I want to be Christlike,” what I’ve often wanted is the exaltation of Christ without His depth of humility; the glory without the gore.

I wanted to be perceived as a servant while forgoing the distasteful business of always putting others’ needs before my own. And a decades-long battle with chronic migraine and myalgic encephalomyelitis makes this attitude oh-so-easy to justify.  

Some might say I have good reason for frustration when I come home, achy and fatigued, only to find the house seemingly full of dishes and dog hair. But the truth is, my anger is mere self-focus and leads only to resentment.

I’ve wasted enough of my life nursing resentful thoughts. Whether justified or not, they only warped my attitude and grew into caustic actions and words. The more attention I focused on my need, the more malignant the needs seemed to grow.

There’s nothing remotely Christ-like in such a life.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.

– G. K. Chesterton

By God’s grace, His Spirit intervened, opening my eyes to this self-centered and self-inflicted poison. I repented, yielded this area of my life to Him in prayer, and asked that He make me more like the Lord I love.

Now when unmet needs provoke irritation, He whispers, “My grace is sufficient…”

When my family leaves housework me to do after a job or volunteer work has left me drained, the Spirit murmurs, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve…”

And when I’ve given all I have to give and there is so much more required, He calls to mind the words of Paul, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering…”

After all, if my King came to live on earth as a servant, why should I expect anything more than servanthood for myself?