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What if I Don’t Go? Lessons from My Summer

Summer 2015: my first summer in six years without a mission trip. Because of family commitments, my husband and I decided not to serve overseas this past summer. And for multiple reasons, it was the right decision. But without a mission trip, summer didn’t seem like summer. I missed the packing, the planning, the prayer over the country and the people. I missed the confusion and excitement of travel, the challenge of operating in another language, and the fun of discovering how people in other cultures and countries live. I missed the early-morning bus rides, the late-night talk sessions, the evening challenges in Word and worship. I missed the performances of a gospel-sharing drama and the intense conversations and conversions that followed. I missed the miracles of healing, provision, salvation, and more. A summer without missions didn’t seem like summer. Not at all. But is God only at work on the mission field? And is missions only about my satisfaction? Of course not. This summer proved a good time to reflect on the reasons I go and tell. Besides having some of my personal preferences unfulfilled, what happens if I don’t go? People don’t come to know Christ. I don’t have the gift of evangelism, but I do love Jesus. A lot. And I believe his Word compels me to tell others about him. If I miss a trip, the people with whom I would have shared miss the gospel. Yes, God can cover that through others, but fewer missionaries means fewer contacts, and fewer contacts means fewer people who have the opportunity to hear and respond. Students don’t grow in their faith. Every mission trip I’ve taken has involved some of my favorite people: students. I love the double opportunity these trips bring to share my faith with the nationals and share about my faith with the teens, some of whom have become lifelong friends. Of course, I learn as much from these students as they do from me (“Never the Same Missions: Grace” gives one heartfelt example). So I miss out on the spiritual growth that takes place on the mission field, too. Those in need receive less. When I travel overseas, I take clothing, toys, and other items to share. Our Never the Same teams raise extra money to bring Spanish Bibles each year. And while on the field, it seems there’s always a project, a church, or a ministry that needs our help via cleaning, painting, or other practical acts. One less person on the field means less giving in those ways, too. Stories of God’s work don’t get told. I live and move and breathe as a storyteller, so whether I’m the official writer on a trip or not,...

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Do’s and Don’ts for Hospital Visits: Lessons from My Summer

In August, our son was involved in a serious accident. If you’ve never received that phone call or text—the one that tells you your child’s in trouble—please know I don’t recommend it. No matter how big your faith, your heart pounds, your mind races, and tears well in your eyes until you hear, “He should be OK.” Even with those words, I ran on pure adrenaline from about 6:15 in the morning until about twenty-three hours later, in which time I flew from Philadelphia (where I had just finished teaching at the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference) to Los Angeles, rented a car, and drove two-plus hours to the hospital where my son lay in the CCU. I actually reached his side by 10:30 Pacific Time, but it took me a few more hours to calm down enough to doze in the chair beside his bed. In what we see as a miracle, our son spent only three days in CCU and was released from the hospital in another two. But during those days, I learned a few things about how to best minister to those in the hospital—and their families—that I thought I’d share here. These do’s and don’ts will change the way I minister to others, I know. Do let your friends know you’re praying for and thinking about them. Even if you can’t visit (as most of my friends couldn’t because of the distance), social media posts, texts, and emails mean a lot. With longer stays than ours, patients and families can sometimes feel neglected. Don’t forget them or the battles they face. Don’t expect them to respond. A hospital room is a surprisingly busy place. At first, the volume of “Is he OK?” texts and other messages overwhelmed me. Even when I stayed in a nearby home, I had to be at the hospital early to catch the doctor, and I never wanted to miss any detail of his recovery process. I communicated when I could and hoped for forgiveness when I didn’t or couldn’t. Do keep your visits short. The patient’s main work is recovery, and any caregivers are doing their best to aid in that work. You may not realize the patient has just returned from an exhausting procedure or needs a bathroom break. Give your words of encouragement and hope without settling in for a long stay. Don’t ask too many questions. Allow the patient or the family to share as they wish, but resist the urge to ask for too much explanation. Different people have different comfort levels, and medical or other questions often take time (and expert opinions) before answers are known. Do think about the caregiver. Andrew already had...

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The Perfect Christmas

“Mom, I’m thinking about going to ______________ [a closed country where missionaries go in under other platforms such as business or teaching] over Christmas break.” “What?” “How?!” “With whom?” This text exchange between our youngest daughter and me happened last night. But what Melanie (daughter #4) didn’t know was that this was supposed to be the perfect Christmas. The Christmas I’d waited for. The Christmas where all six kids (including one by marriage) would be home. The one where daughter and son-in-love #1 could join us from South Carolina. The one where daughter #2 would return from her mission in Brazil, where one-and-only son would return from his new job in California. The one where daughters #3 and #4 would have almost a month’s break from college. The one where my mom might join us all the way from Ohio. The perfect Christmas.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The perfect Christmas. A fully-decorated house. At least two trees. Cookies filling the pantry, tables groaning with other food. The traditional fast-food Christmas Eve supper followed by the candlelight Christmas Eve service. The perfect Christmas. No, we wouldn’t act out the Nativity story as we’d done when the kids were small, but we’d read it from Luke 2 before we opened the presents. We’d eat our traditional Christmas kringler (a Danish coffee cake) and sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus” just as we’ve done every year in, well, forever. “Mom, I was encouraging another girl to go. I said, ‘What’s stopping you from going?’ And then she turned around and asked me, ‘What’s stopping you from going?’ “Mom, I really think God is calling me to go.” My kids have come to expect my answer to almost any big question to run along the lines of “We’ll pray about it,” and “Do whatever God wants you to do.” But the deadline for this decision? Midnight, the same night she called me. So yes, I said the words—but did I mean them? As I...

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3 Tips to Help You Make Room for Prayer (Lessons from My Summer)

Dear Friends, No, this isn’t a back-to-school essay. Well, not exactly. It’s more like a back-to-blog essay. I’ve taken a few months away from this forum. But not from reading, writing, or praying. Not from thinking. Not from connecting with God and my family. In fact, I’ve learned some things during my time away, and I want to share a few of them with you over the next several posts. The first concerns a topic several of you have asked about: How do you make room for prayer in the midst of a busy, often-interrupted life? At home, my days follow a comfortable pattern. This summer, God upended that. We dealt with everything from our son moving cross-country to helping my mom prepare to leave her home of twenty-plus years to the same (and only) son ending up in a California hospital after an accident (he’s much better now, and we’re grateful). I realize your season of life may include no discernible pattern. But I also realize that a time of chaos calls for even more prayer. But how do I do it, Marti? How do I make time for prayer when I’m already overloaded? When I’m on vacation? When my kids are sick or someone’s in the hospital? Here are my quick suggestions. 1. Remember that prayer is both a relationship and an activity. Prayer comes from the overflow of a walk with Christ. The only way we can “pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:18) is if prayer is an ongoing part of our lives. Prayer is not just what we do, it’s who we are. This summer, that meant praying on my way to and from Ohio or as we carried boxes out of Mom’s home. It meant tear-stained prayers in the moments after I learned of my son’s accident and purposeful ones as I drove toward the hospital where he lay in Critical Care. It meant prayer where I was, as I needed it. 2. For prayer to reach beyond the chaos or crisis, it must have a firm foundation in God’s Word. Like most of us, I prayed 911 prayers (“Help me pass this test!”) even before I knew Christ. But if the fuel for prayer is God’s Spirit, the foundation is His Word. In order for our prayers to line up with God’s desires, we must know Him. And in order to know Him, we must grow in our knowledge of His Word. That can be as simple as a few verses or as extensive as a full-blown Bible study. 3. Simple is good. When chaos or confusion strikes, we may not have words to pray. That’s why you’ll see prayers scattered here and there on my blog–because sometimes I can...

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Prayer for Those Who Need Something to Die

“Doctor is monitoring, but for once I need prayer that something will die.” My friend’s brief note explained it: an autoimmune disorder had caused her system to attack her thyroid. And in this case, her health would win if the thyroid lost. For once, she needed prayer for something to die. As I prayed for her, I realized what I often do when I’m praying through the needs in my daily #PrayerKeeper posts: this prayer could apply to more than one person and certainly to more than one situation. Maybe it’s a dream that needs to die. Maybe a relationship. An addiction. Or something harder, deeper, and both more personal and more painful. Father, I come to you today asking that something will die. It might be, like my friend’s thyroid, some reluctant physical piece of our lives that needs to cease function. It might be cancerous tumors and cells that, in order to preserve life, must stop growing and melt away. It might be the problem of pain and rejection. Lord, in your might and by your power, bring these things to a firm, forceful end.                                                                                                     Or it might be pride. It might be selfishness. It might be anger and bitterness. It might be any one of thousands of qualities that show our lives are not as linked to You as well as they should be. Cause these things to die, too, God. Burn away the dross and leave the gold. Blow out the chaff and leave the precious wheat. Thank you, Father, for modeling for us that life can come from death and victory comes from defeat. Thank you, Lord, for revealing to us that sometimes things need to die. Help us follow you so closely that we will know which ones and when. And help us die daily ourselves that our lives may be more fully alive in you. In your name, AMEN. Do you know of something that needs to die? Are you in a circumstance that overwhelms or a relationship that crushes? Contact me in a comment here or on other social media or in an email via the link above. I consider it an honor to pray for you. For His glory,...

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Prayer for Those Who Are Experiencing Aftershocks

“Dear Loved Ones, I’m still afraid.” That’s how my friend’s most recent prayer update began. Just over a month has passed since the first of two major earthquakes struck Nepal, where she and her husband minister through an NGO. As they work on their own recovery, they’re spending their days serving others in real and fresh ways. As the mother of an infant, my friend has an extra reason to fear: “I am at all times aware of where our bags are that hold all our family’s important documents (and diapers for S, also important). I am aware of where my baby is if he is with another family member. I am aware of the nearest door and quickest route of exit.” In the wake of collapsed buildings (some tipped, others compressed so that one story rests only inches above another), nearly nine million deaths, and the continuing need for massive relief efforts, my friend and her husband are still facing aftershocks. These, I’ve learned, can continue for years after the actual earthquake. My friend and her family also face what she calls “phantom” aftershocks, “the ones you ‘feel’ but know they are imagined because no one else around you is reacting with you.” Phantom or not, these aftershocks are real. They represent the impact of such a traumatic event. This heartfelt letter reawakened me to the need to pray for Nepal, but it also reminded me that other friends have suffered trauma: Separation. Divorce. Chemotherapy. Radiation treatments. A child’s surgery. A spouse’s illness and/or death. So I offer today’s prayer for my friends in Nepal as well as anyone experiencing the painful effects of aftershocks. May you learn, as my friend is learning, to rely fully on the God alone who “can bring comfort and peace, and even joy at a time like this.” May you rest on His solid rock. Father, we know you are Lord of all creation, maker of heaven and earth. It is in your mighty name that we come before you today.                                                    We ask for your mercy, Lord. We mourn the loss of so many, but we pray now for those left behind. May you use this unbidden opportunity to tell them how much they matter to you, to convince them of their purpose in this world. Help them not to experience the lie of survivor guilt but to walk in truth and freedom. As they benefit from compassion and kindness, let them multiply the same to those they encounter. And the vibrations, Lord? The tremblings and rumblings used by the enemy to...

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