One little word that radically changed my prayers

One Little Word pin

I got that lead-balloon feeling on Sunday when our pastor pointed out all the things Paul didn’t pray for in his letters: people with cancer, busy schedules, promotions at work, successful ventures, hard pressed finances, strained relationships…. Not that those things don’t matter, or that we shouldn’t pray for them, or that God doesn’t care about the minutiae of our lives, but they weren’t on the apostles regular prayer card.

It raised the old question for me again: why do I always find my prayer list filled with immediate needs, when I know that matters like the Kingdom come, His will be done, missions, justice, global worship etc are weightier and worthy of prayer? Why is it that when I do sit down to pray (and my struggles with that are lengthy and complex) I pray for the “light and momentary afflictions”, and so seldom for the eternal things?

I don’t have an answer for that, but this weekend I found one little word which is helping me close the gap between the daily-needs-prayer and the weightier-matters-prayer.

Here it is: instead of praying “God, make it better”, I need to pray “God, make it count.”

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God, my friend is dying. Don’t just make it better, make it COUNT. If she can be better, let it be so, but don’t let this suffering have been wasted. Work it for good. Please show up and show your grace. Make it count.

God, I’m so busy and so tired. I so badly want to pray “make it better! Make it stop!”, but I’m going to pray “make it count, please,” instead. Let me learn grace under fire. Let me learn to say no to the bad and even the good so that there is time enough to say yes to the best. Show your strength in my weakness. Make it count.

God, thanks for a lovely, sweet season in my marriage. Rather than saying “thanks, keep it up, make it better”, please Father, make it count. Help us to be thankful and still work hard at our marriage, not leaving prayer for the tough times alone. Let this good season count.

God, money is tight for so many dear ones. Everything in me wants to ask for more, to make it better. But please Lord, make these tight days count. Teach us to be wise stewards, teach us to give generously now while we feel hard pressed, teach us to pray for daily bread, and to learn the secret of contentment whether we have plenty or little. Make these days of economic hardship count.

God, I’m at my wits end with my kids. They won’t eat, sleep, poop or obey as I’d hoped they would. I want it to be better, please Lord… I know you can make it better, but instead I will pray “make it count”. Help me to be patient with my slow to learn kids, as you are patient with slow to learn me. Help me to show love to them in their immaturity, as you show love to me in mine. Lord, make these trials in parenting count: let them teach me and my children what YOU are like as a parent. Make these long days of relentless loving discipline count.

God, now that I think about it, please don’t just make it better. Not if it doesn’t count.

Please make it count, so that these light and momentary afflictions do the work of preparing us for a weight of glory that outweighs then all.

God, this is my life: in all it’s gritty, knotted and messy glory.

These are my loved ones.

These are my tears.

Please, please, please… Make it count.

You may also like these posts: The first year of marriage… And overheard… and letter to a hurting friend…

This one mamas tips on flying with kids

On our last big trip abroad, The Daddy of the family flew back 2 weeks before me – which meant that the final trip home was just me and my two littles aged 1 and 3. This was no joke of a trip: from door to door it was more than 40 hours: 1 hr check in, 2 hr flight, 3 hr international layover (and baggage change and passport control), 16 hour flight, 2 hr international layover (and baggage change and security/passport control), then RUN to make final connection for a 5 hour final flight…. but we missed it… so add another 2 hour delay, 3 hours flight, 2 hour layover, 3 hour flight. With the 1-year old on my lap. And THEN we got home.

And yet, apart from an all-three-of-us disappointment-meltdown when we missed our connection – the kids did not cry on this trip. They were happy, go-with-the-flow dream kids. They even did some sleeping! On the 16 hour flight, a number of the air hostesses complimented my kids on how well they were doing, and suggested jokingly “you should run seminars on traveling with kids!”. I was flattered and encouraged – but for what it’s worth – I also know that the smoothness of the trip did not happen because of my perfectly adjusted, never-whining kids. Ha! The trip went smoothly for two reasons: Firstly – because I had been stressing about it for months before and had asked every praying person I knew to pray for our trip. I fully believe God answered their prayers. But secondly – the trip went smoothly because I had been stressing about it for months before and had planned planned planned and planned some more.

I hope that by writing some of that planning planning planning down, perhaps some of you who may have to travel with littles in the future can save yourselves the months of stressing, and just do the smooth-travel part 🙂

So without further ado, here are some of the globe-trotting tips we put into practice:

littleboy-airport“Let’s pretend“:
In the weeks before the trip, the 3-year old and I played “let’s go on an airplane” trip. We pretended to stand in a long line, we played hopping games to pass the time, we pretended to go through security (climb under a table after removing your backpack), we carried our own backpacks, we got “on board” (the couch) and buckled our pretend buckles. We listened for the “ping” of the fasten seatbelts sign. We talked about how long a trip it would be and we practiced getting out her bear and blanket and taking naps. And waking up. and taking more naps. And having a snack. and taking more naps. (Lather rinse repeat). This may not sound like a fun game for us grownups, but believe me – my preschooler was ALL OVER IT.

“A big kid gets their own suitcase“:
I let my daugher pick out a $7 backpack with rolling wheels at Walmart (forgive me), which she called her “suitcase” for the trip. Together – we packed her bear and blanket, her headphones (more on that later), and her water bottle. She felt very grown-up, and she also had all her security items on her. The rolling backpack also turned out to be a total hit with the 15 month old, who rolled it around every departure lounge we stopped in!

“Mommy’s yummy take-off (and landing) snacks”:
My kids are too little to chew gum or know how to ‘pop’ their ears for pressure changes, so I packed little snacks specifically for take-off and landing so that they would chew/sip throughout the ascent and descent. Think mini bags of goldfish, fruit snacks, raisins, animal crackers etc. Little things with not too much sugar or salt. We had eight ascents and descents on our trip, so I tried to pack a variety. I also asked for a bottle of milk on the plane for my youngest to drink during take-off.

“Mommy’s amazing bag of tricks”
This was, for sure, the piece de resistance of my planning. I put together about 20 small, novel things in one gallon-sized ziploc bag. Each item was wrapped in tissue paper (unwrapping it is a novel activity in itself), and a few were produced on each leg of the trip. I wrote what the item was on the outside of the wrapping – my kids couldn’t read it anyway, and it helped me decide what ‘trick’ to dish out next. My bag of tricks included:
2 small dinosaurs for imaginative play
a little slinky
a truck
a travel sized aquadoodle – a brilliant toy for kids which uses a pen filled with WATER (no mess!) to draw!
a ‘slinky pop tube‘ – this $1-bin toy was definitely my best buy – it made fun sounds, fun shapes, could be used as a microphone or telephone system, a telescope etc…
sticker books
two small new reading books (on trucks and princesses respectively)
a new pack of crayons and coloring book
a mini etch-a-sketch
a cheap wind-up squirrel that spun on the tray table
a hand puppet (this was particularly helpful before take-off when we had about 45 mins to wait as people boarded around us. I sat on the floor under my daughter’s quilt (more about that later too) and played peek-a-boo with a polar bear puppet the whole time.
A squishy ball.
Party-favor sized bubbles (these were marvelous at the airport. I felt like the pied piper as I blew bubbles in the Atlanta airport departure lounge and had about 15 kids joining mine to chase and pop the bubbles)
a small tub of play-doh (in a small zip loc bag)
A $1 pack of “gel stickers” in the shape of airplanes. The kids had great fun sticking them on the airplane windows and “flying” them around.
An “I spy” book- fabulous for take-off and landing too!
There were a couple more things I can’t remember… but I promise, it all fit in a gallon-sized bag! I borrowed a few items, had a few items at home which I hid about a month before the time so they would be “new” again for the trip, and then bought a few. I did not spend more than $25…. dollar store items mostly.

Other nice-to-haves:
* I had one “emergency melt-down” little bag for my 3-year old – for the “extreme situation” when she could not handle the waiting anymore. It was a little silk purse and contained 5 shiny stickers, two chocolate coins, a ring for her finger, and a special ‘color-me-wonder’ painting book with dora-the-explorer. I pulled it out when we missed our flight and I had to stand in the re-booking line for an hour as my kids nearly lost it. Thanks to the emergency melt-down bag, there was no melt-down in that emergency 🙂
* we decided some time ago to invest in kids headphones: they are small and have volume control and fit over their ears (the airline ear buds don’t work for kids – they are too big to fit in their little ears). We use these headphones at home or in the car sometimes with our portable dvd player, and decided to take one pair on the plane. it was a great call – on the long haul of the flight, the 3-yr old could watch in-flight movies with comfortable headphones that she already knew how to control the volume on. I highly recommend it!

Hands-free kit:
What to check? What to carry-on? My rule of thumb was all about having free hands. So I chose NOT to take our car seats, but to borrow/rent at destination – because I didn’t have a free hand to deal with getting a car seat on and off the plane. I chose not to take a stroller for the same reason: I cannot push a stroller and handle our bags simultaneously. So all I took with me on the plane was:
– a back-pack style diaper bag containing 4 changes of clothes for the little, 2 for the big. For some reason, poop blow-outs are almost guaranteed when you fly – so go prepared. I bought compression bags at target and squished the clothes in there to save space.

– diapers, wipes, butt paste, tissues, kids ibuprofen, kids benadryl (I tried drugging them on the way there – it didn’t really work)

– 2 bottles for baby’s milk, assorted snacks, sippy cups.

-my Ergo baby carrier (so I could carry the baby in the front, with the backpack on the back)

-One carry-on suitcase with wheels which contained:

  •  a change of clothes for me,
  •  my amazing bag of tricks,
  • a small ziploc bag with a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and travel size moisturizer for me,
  • my camera, my cell phone, another small folder with itinerary, passports and pens,
  • and then the other half of the suitcase was filled with my daughter’s quilt. She sleeps with it every night, and it doubles as a tent/puppet show veil, comfort blanket, tug-o-war tool etc. we debated whether it was worth packing such a bulky item – but it was totally worth it.

– the preschooler’s toy rolling suitcase (which was her job to carry).

EVERYTHING else went in one large rolling suitcase which I put in checked baggage, and could attach to my small-carry on suitcase during layovers (so I only had one thing to pull instead of two).

Yep – so go ahead and picture it – tired woman with a backpack on back, a toddler on front, two suitcases being towed in one hand, a tired three-year old held by the other hand who in turn is dragging a bright pink rolling suitcase… RUNNING down the Atlanta concourse trying to make that plane…. and as tears ran down my cheeks my sweet kid was shouting “you can do it mommy! good running! we’ll make it!” Talk about overwhelming…

And yet we made it – and we did more than survive! We had fun 🙂 With a bit of preparation and a lot-of-prayer, this scared-and-usually-unprepared mama traveled 35,000kms with 2 kids 3 and under… with almost no tears. And friends, if I can do it – you SURELY can!

I hope your travels, even with little ones, will be smooth and tear-free this summer.

Resolution

Reflecting on last year brought a mixture of both joyful remembrance and sad regret. The regrets were mostly on the homefront: regret for the hours I spent “minding” my kids instead of raising them, “tolerating” my husband instead of loving him. Sins of omission, rather than commission.

While reading and reflecting I was greatly encouraged by an excerpt from a letter by Catherine Booth to her husband (the founders of the Salvation Army). This is my prayer for the year ahead.

“If you will seek home, love home, be happy at home, I will spend my energies in trying to make it a more than ordinary one;

it shall, if my ability can do it, be a spot sunny and bright, pure and calm, refined and tender, a fit school in which to train immortal spirits for a holy and glorious heaven, a fit resting-place for a spirit pressed and anxious about public duties;

but oh, I know it is easy to talk, I feel how liable I am to fall short,
but it is well to purpose right,
to aim high,
to hope much;

yes, we will make home to each other the brightest spot on earth, we will be tender, thoughtful, loving and forbearing, will we not? Yes, we will!”

I need a jacket

“Mommy: I cold! I need a jacket!”

My daughter has it hard-wired into her little brain that the cure for coolth (yes, it is a word) is a jacket. I can offer socks, sweaters, jerseys, scarves, woolly pants and more – but she declines all these. “No Mommy,” she says, “I need a JACKET!”

As with so many interactions with my daughter, it sheds some light on my interactions AS a daughter with God. I considered today how often I present a need to God: “I unhappy. I tired. I frustrated. I broke.” But then I also proffer the solution. “I need chocolate. I need a nap. I need a change in circumstance. I need a windfall.”

I wonder how often my parent looks down on me, sympathetic to the need, and offers better, tailor-made, higher-wisdom solutions to my presented needs: vertitable socks and sweaters to meet my felt needs – and yet I look at these and think “No! What I need is a jacket!” I think sometimes He does even more subtle things: he doesn’t just offer an alternate item to wear, sometimes I think he does the equivalent of ‘turning on the heat’ in the house; by which I mean he actually changes the climate so that need is met in a much more subtle way.

And yet still, so often, I feel that all I really, really need is a jacket.

It reminds me of something I learned from a godly, wonderful septuagenarian who faithfully came an hour early every Sunday night to make tea for the young college-student church plant I was part of in the 90’s. After setting out the tea, Uncle Arthur would join the prayer meeting. I will never forget one thing he prayed week after week. After long prayers in perfect grammar with a vast vocabulary and crafted cadences, he always ended his prayers thus: “Lord, answer not according to the poverty of our asking, but according to thy bountiful riches in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

There’s nothing quite like inadequacy

Today I started teaching a new series of Bible studies on prayer. I should add that I didn’t choose this topic! For weeks I had been looking forward to today with excitement (to see the 70+ women in the group all again), and also trepidation. I feel horribly under-qualified to teach on prayer: it has always been something that I have struggled with, felt guilty about, wanted to do better in but not felt able to. In thinking about it, I realized I feared that I would get up to teach and be exposed as a great fraud: someone who should know how to pray, but really… struggled a great deal.

So I spent my weeks doing the preparation, and this morning got up to confess to a room full of women and made my “big disclaimer”… about how I struggled with faith, focus and fervency in prayer. How my mind wanders. How I wonder what difference it makes. And I shared too though that I’m realizing more and more that this comes as no surprise to God. The more I read on prayer, the more I realize that God anticipates our weakness, and helps us in it. Prayer is not for those who are spiritually ‘strong’ and have it all together… it is for those who are weak, and know we need help.

How liberating for me (I’m so grateful for this) to be able to confess my inadequacy to a crowd, and have woman after woman come up to me and say “I thought I was the only one!!” Because there I was… thinking that I was the only one.