Holiday Schedule

Everything

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

As discussed last week, we are going to postpone our regular schedule for November and December. We will have one gathering in each month. A Thanksgiving meal in November and another gathering in December. We will post the dates and times in all the normal places.

Things to pray through during the break:

  • Rest and Healing for our family.
  • Both focus and clarity for the future.
  • How can we be one part of many regarding the Church?
  • What can our response be to what God is calling us into?

When faith ceases to pray, it ceases to live.
E.M. Bounds

Psalms 119:1-8

Liturgy and Devotion, Project Psalm 119

You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him. That’s right—you don’t go off on your own; you walk straight along the road he set. You, God, prescribed the right way to live; now you expect us to live it. Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; Then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel. I thank you for speaking straight from your heart; I learn the pattern of your righteous ways. I’m going to do what you tell me to do; don’t ever walk off and leave me.

(Psalms 119:1–8 MESSAGE)

Fill It Up!

A Church in Formation

I am frequently reminded that times do change. Refueling the car presents an opportunity for one such reminder. Back in the 1960s when a few other Abel House members and I were learning to drive, the service station experience was quite different from service station experiences today.

Now, most of us notice first a Low Fuel warning indicator on the car’s display. If we ignore it, we hear a warning chime or other digital sound, repeated frequently. By the third or fourth repeat, we are more than ready to find a service station to fuel the car and silence the noise.

At the service station pump, we have jobs to do: Find the charge card, get out of the car and set up the financial transaction using the card, remove the cap from the fuel intake and insert the pump nozzle, dispense the fuel into the car and return the nozzle to the pump, replace the fuel cap and return to the car. Or we might take a few minutes to grab the squeegee and clean the windshield. That’s it.

But refueling was quite different in the olden days. For one thing, in the South Carolina Low Country, we did not call them “service stations”; we called them “filling stations.” Filling stations filled more than gas tanks. And the attendant at the station did the filling.

With no warning lights or chimes, some of us learned to be conscientious about watching the gasoline gauge, but others knew the car was low on fuel when the engine first coughed. Whichever fuel-check method we used, if the weather were cold when we finally drove up to the pump, we rolled the driver’s-side window down to watch the station attendant walk out to the car. If it were warm, we sat in the un-air-conditioned heat and waited with left elbow hanging out that window as he (always a “he”) came.

In Texaco, Esso, and Gulf advertisements of the time, he walked out of the station office dressed in neat slacks, usually khakis; a buttoned-up, long-sleeved, sharply pressed shirt; a tie—even sometimes a bowtie; brown dress shoes; and a crisp, brimmed cap, sometimes with the station’s symbol pinned above the brim.

In real life, the attendant, yanking a dirty rag from the hip pocket of greasy work pants or bibbed overalls and wiping his hands off as he walked out of the service bay, tossed his cigarette to the side and either ambled or hurried, depending on the job he was leaving, toward the car window. If he knew the driver or any family member, pleasantries were exchanged. But most often, he simply tilted his head and took the order: “Fill it up with ethyl.” “Ethyl” was also known as “high test” and both were names for leaded gasoline.

But he did not just refuel the car. He set the pump lever to fill automatically, and then, grease rag in one hand, he popped the hood with the other and leaned under to reach in and come up with the oil stick. He squinted closely at it, wiped it clean with the rag, jiggled it back into the oil reservoir, pulled it out again, squinted more closely at it, and then, saying “It’s a quart low,” walked to the driver’s side window to show the stick to the driver who, knowing what was coming, was thinking, “Oh, no. Not again.” After he had replaced the oil-level stick and jammed the aluminum-colored spout into the oil can and turned it up to gurgle into the oil filler tube, the attendant checked the transmission fluid level for an “automatic” automobile, and, finally, the radiator.

The radiator-check ritual varied as little from visit to visit as did the oil-check ritual. Placing the grease rag over the radiator cap, he carefully twisted the cap off, avoiding any steam released when it opened. He peered into the radiator, walked over to the red, slender water hose next to the gas pump, grabbed it at the greasy spot near the nozzle to haul it over to the radiator, and then filled the radiator to the top.

Next, the attendant performed the tires ritual. Contrary to what may be assumed, he did not kick the tires. Rather, he took a greasy gauge out of a pocket and used it to measure tire pressure in each tire. Low pressure in any tire meant another trip to the service island, this time for the other red slender hose, the one that dispensed air into the leaking tire.

By then, the gasoline pump had probably stopped, so he removed the nozzle and replaced it and the fuel cap, but his job was not over. He then stuffed the grease rag back into his back pants pocket and, using paper towels, washed and polished the windshield. Quickly adding up the tab in his head (with gas at about 30¢ a gallon and water and air free), he stated the price, collected the cash, and made the change—sometimes from a belt coin changer that dispensed pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters when he thumbed down the little plungers on top and sometimes from his pants pocket.

As we drove away, that attendant knew the car from his inspection and from all the other inspections he had made of it in the past. To just filling the car with gasoline, he had added labor and time that resulted in a sense of relief and grace for the driver and passengers.

Remembering the old days and the old ways of a service station visit made me think of the Abel House meeting on September 02. As usual, we gathered in late afternoon light at Robert and Lindsay’s house, carrying our covered dishes and looking forward to an evening of friendly conversation, good food, Bible study, and prayer. And, sure enough, the evening started out as usual with grace around the table and a delicious meal.

But as we gathered in our group, each in his or her accustomed place, the program changed a bit from the customary. That’s one thing I like about Abel House and other regular events at Northland: When events call for us to deviate from the programmed path, we deviate.

Robert started with our Abel House prayer board displayed on the television. He led our way through each of the prayer categories: Prayers Offered for Us, by Us; Prayers Offered for Others, by Us; Prayers for the Long Haul; Praises Offered to God; and Prayers Answered. Then, he led us through the “cards” in each category presented: prayer requests for ourselves, prayer requests for others, prayers partly answered or answered, and praise to God.

As we reviewed the cards, we heard the story behind each. Oftentimes, the person who had posted the card was there in the room and able to explain the situation or report changes, including answers received. The topics we covered leaned toward the problems we face because so often when we think of prayer, we think of what we want God to fix in our lives; we think of God as the attendant there to refill us. In that vein, we became aware of those dying and people around them who need comfort, of illnesses and other health considerations both physical and mental, of concerns with family dynamics faced by all of us who know the pleasures and woes of being in a family. But we also discovered that a possible cancer diagnosis was thankfully not, that a family member seems to have found the right doctor and a path to better mental health, that a housing crisis is slowly being solved, and that help had been offered to relieve a transportation emergency.

Rather than expecting only God to hear them, we listened to the stories behind the cards, and we offered our own personal experiences in affirmation, understanding, joy, grief, or support.

We reached for, cupped, and held in our hands and hearts the concern, pain, joy, or situation. The process was slow, personal, warm, helpful, kind, sympathetic, and loving. We were there as a family, sharing ourselves, our problems, our failures, our hopes, our successes, our humanity that admitted needing others to walk with us.

We followed the inventory of prayer concerns with the addition of new concerns and prayer. We had made each other aware, and then we placed everything once again in God’s hands because we can do nothing without Him before turning to our Bible study in Jeremiah.

We all left that evening having seen the warning signs, kicked the tires, checked conditions, and come out knowing ourselves and our Abel House family better than we did when we arrived. Through the checkup of our relationships with people and with God, we had found the world to be a safer place and one far less aggravating—just as did the driver who pulled into the service station of old. We had been refilled and refreshed by the Holy Spirit and the attendant Christian servants who had surrounded us in love and prayer.

The Fish That Didn’t Get Away

Everything

Late Wednesday night, Don, my husband, found a waiting text message upon our return from Abel House. Tired and concerned about the lateness of the hour but filled with delicious food and the usual bonhomie following our time of conversation, prayer, and Bible study, he was a bit unsure about responding right then to the texted request: “Hey! Are u up for a quick chat? Good news to share!”

Then, he noted that the sender is someone he loves and for whom we both had been praying for a long time. If she were still awake, the time felt right. He clicked on the number.

She sounded different even as her conversation started with a job report—good news, promotion earned, management position achieved, more money, more responsibility, more opportunity—finally, a career! Don had always known her potential and listened with pleasure to her evident pride and joy in her accomplishment and to her sincere thanks for all his supportive love, prayer, guidance, advice, care, and concern that she had not only failed to acknowledge for many years but sometimes actually rejected.

As he warmly congratulated her, she shyly and awkwardly added more good news—the real reason for her text message: She who had once been in a close relationship with the Lord but like so many young people had drifted away with her independence from her family, with her job trials, with her friends who did not share her childhood church experiences now has answered His call to return to her relationship with Him!

Her testimony followed Don’s stunned, jubilant questions. During the job transition, she met another Christian young lady who shares her faith easily. They began eating lunch, talking and praying together. Then, she met a young divorced dad, a Christian, different from the many young men she has known and with whom she has had relationship opportunities. She described her relationship with him as “respectful”—several times—and mentioned that they pray together. A truly beautiful woman in her mid-thirties and never married, she seems to have found “the one.” And, after yet another long search, she has also settled upon a New Testament church home that offers many chances for service to the Lord.

She revealed that within the prayer times with both new Christian friends and her church, she had rekindled her relationship with Christ and realized that the Holy Spirit was still working in her life. She searched and saw His hand in numerous recent events: in His answers to prayers she had spoken and prayers she had not dared to speak, in His reminders of what she had been taught as a child in a Christian home, in His provision of her newfound confidence and peace, in His reminder that those who had always loved her and been there in the past are still with her just as He is.

That indeed is good news!

Her testimony reminded me of the many discussions I have known in both our home and Bible study in answer to the questions How is it that God through His Holy Spirit enters into our hearts and draws us to Him? and What is the role of relationships in our discoveries of His love and presence?

Clearly, Christ never left this young woman’s life, but her focus had shifted for a while from her relationship with Him to relationships that drew her away from Him. His response was to break those old alliances and send her new colleagues, a church home, and a possible soul mate to draw that focus back to Him.

Don reminded her that her relationship with Christ will have the hills and valleys that delight and annoy everyone in every relationship, including the fresh ones God has recently provided to her. He pointed out that we and others are always available as members of her Christian faith to rejoice with her on the hills or slog with her through the valleys until she is uplifted again. If she reaches for Him and others, they will be there.

I was reminded of my own first call from the Lord. I learned about Jesus through a children’s song when I was only three. I remember. In a Presbyterian Sunday School class in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, way back in 1949, we sang “I Will Make You Fishers of Men” by Harry D. Clarke. I can still sing the song but almost no one else remembers singing it when they were little. The lyrics of the first verse are “’I will make you fishers of men . . . If you follow Me,’” of the second, “Hear Christ calling, ‘Come unto Me . . . I will give you rest,’” and of the third, “’I will give you rest . . . I will give you rest.’”

Because we were so young, we performed the song with appropriate hand gestures, throwing out our fishing line with each sung line through the first verse, then sweeping the bountiful catch toward us through the second, and folding our hands at our cheeks to rest through the third. I never will forget it because it sustains me to this day.

Once again, Christ has cast out His line for a fish who was adrift, swept her into His embrace, and brought her to rest again in His love and the support of Christian relationships.

Legacy

Everything

Right now, as I write this post, my grandfather’s very long life is slowly waning. His name is Ed McGuire, and he has been a pillar of faith in my life. When I was wayward and feasting with the swine, he was on his knees for my life. When I was in need of encouragement he reminded me that I can be anything that I put my mind to. When I was afraid of my inadequacies, he was the gentle reminder that my life is not my own. The most paramount realization that I have had about my grandfather happened around six years ago. We had taken a trip to Sioux Falls to have a family reunion, and most of our family was gathered in many different homes and hotels around the city. Robert and I were traveling with three of our children so my grandparents insisted on us staying in their home, which was my mother’s childhood home.

ed

A beautiful thing happened the first morning I awoke in my mother’s childhood home. I realized as I stumbled to the kitchen around 6:15 that my grandfather had been up and out of the house and was just returning home to fix breakfast for us. As he put the coffee on I absentmindedly asked where he had been that morning. His answer has impacted my life more than any other conversation I have ever had. He explained that at their church there is always someone praying every hour of the day. That morning he had been praying as he does every morning, from four to six o’clock. He then unrolled what looked like a mini scroll with hundreds of names on it. He explained that he barely had enough time to get through each name on his list, and how he wished that he had just one more hour to pray for his loved ones.

On that list I saw my name and many names later were my children’s names, and my ex followed by Robert’s name. My grandfather saw that I recognized both names, and he apologetically and humbly explained that once he adds a name he does not remove it. He later apologized to Robert for having George (my ex) before him in his prayer list. He explained that he is aware of the struggles with addiction that George faces and expressed that he feels that George needs prayers more than we realize, even though he had abandoned his family. I found his prayer time as a whole to be utterly enchanting. To be so devoted to prayer, to carry a name and pray with such love that would span decades and relationships. What an amazing gift he had been silently giving to us all. What a treasure it was that my grandfather, whom many in my family call a stoic man, was sharing such heart and passion and beauty with me.

Changing Through Prayer

A Church in Formation

I know no place I would rather be on a rainy Wednesday evening than at Abel House. I find friends there, definitely snug, gathered around Robert’s father’s table with the rain’s sound lost beneath chatter, its fresh smell overcome by the aromas of peaches and cinnamon, pasta and fried chicken, pea soup and beans in vinegary broth, and chocolate. As the chatter gives way to prayer, I relax into communion with God and the others through thanksgiving and a shared meal.

Although we have always prayed at Bible study and Abel House gatherings, Robert has recently combined our prayer life and another facet of our Abel House mission—our life of service to each other. Formerly, when prayer requests were solicited, we seemed reticent to make them, perhaps because we were already praying privately for those we judged to be in need of prayer or perhaps because we thought the prayer for unspoken requests adequately covered all situations. Only rarely did we request prayers of gratitude for God’s splendid gifts. And though it was valuable time spent gaining knowledge of each other, we did spend more of the prayer time explaining the background of the requests than we did in actual prayer to answer them.

Then, one recent Wednesday evening, Robert distributed to each of us an index card, a bold, felt-tipped marker, and instructions to write a prayer request for ourselves personally and individually. Having made assignments to students to start writing what they were thinking hundreds if not thousands of times only to see them spend several minutes just doodling or finding other ways to avoid beginning, I was surprised to see almost all those in the room start immediately to write a thanksgiving, perhaps for what God had already done in their lives, or a supplication, perhaps for God’s intervention, continued love, grace, or help.

We wrote and then sat there with poised markers for the next instructions: Write a prayer request for someone else close to you—not for the sister-in-law of someone at work who has cancer (though that is a prayer that should be prayed) but for someone whose well-being or joy is important to you. Again, markers penned heartfelt pleas—just as they do when the prison ministers distribute prayer cards for requests at the various correctional facilities in Central Florida. We do all need prayer for ourselves and for those we love, no matter where we are at the time of petition. The cards we covered with requests, some signed and others not, were placed into a 4Rivers paper bag, shaken to stir, and then presented for retrieval.

Two weeks later, we again accepted our index cards and, this time, filled out one prayer request—for ourselves individually only. I guess the request could again be for someone else because the answer to that request would also be for us, but from what I saw, most of us made an immediate-to-mind decision, perhaps because our prayers during the last fortnight had created a change in us as Christians.

No, I do not know that my prayers transformed the life of the gentleman for whom I had prayed all that time, over and over again. I do not know that his wife has had the benefit he requested I petition for her. I, therefore, continue to keep him and her in my frequent prayers.

What I do know is that before the Abel House prayer initiative, I had rarely, if ever, prayed the same specific prayer many times a day for two full weeks in my whole life. Perhaps thinking that God gets it once I have voiced it, I had usually voiced a prayer once. I had mostly prayed for guidance with a problem, the nature of which could and did change not just weekly but, sometimes, hourly. I may have had a putting-out-fires kind of prayer life or a scatter-shot one in which I sent either a quick entreaty or thanksgiving and moved on.

Yes, I did also frequently thank God for whatever was before me—the beauty of the sunset, the joy on a little red-haired sweetie’s face, the bounty of whatever graced my life at the time—but I did not thank God several times a day for one particular moment, person, object that had passed and was no longer straightway before me, for the continuing joy the memory brought me.

For my prayer-request-card friend, I did that. I thanked God for him, for his wife, and for their having found each other. I thanked God for his request and the knowledge and love it evidenced for God and God’s grace. I thanked God for his relationship with his wife and his desire to make himself more worthy of it and her. And I petitioned as requested on his behalf—the pointed, clear, focused petitions he had so boldly declared to be his desire. Repeatedly.

And in the doing of that, in the praying, I changed in my relationships with God and with that Abel House prayer-request friend and with my husband and with myself.

My relationship with God changed because I became more aware of His presence in my life and of His work in the lives of those around me. I became more willing to join with Him in the work I had prayed for Him to do for my prayer-request friend.

My relationship with my prayer-request friend changed because I came to recognize his anguish, his fear, his trust in God, his love for his wife, his gentleness. I came to appreciate him more as a Christian and a husband to his wife. I became concerned for his well-being and more willing to serve him and with him in our Abel House community.

My relationship with my husband changed (though he may not have realized it) when I looked for God’s response in the gentleman’s life but found it in mine! I became aware that He had answered the man’s prayer in my own life by bringing new awareness to me of what is happening in my marriage, by making me ask if it were possible that my husband has those thoughts for me, by revealing answers to my marriage relationship questions, and by revealing possible “husband ideas” of marriage and how insecure a seemingly assured husband can be. I became more willing to serve with him in the couple role we play together.

My relationship with myself changed because my focus changed. I began to look more at the overall picture than at brief moments, single objects, one-time events. I became more patient and more grateful for the whole inclusive of all the details. I, too, recalled my own prayer request—not knowing who had drawn it—and searched my writings for evidence of God’s grace.

But God is not finished with changing me by Robert’s prayer initiatives. This week, I drew again the prayer request of a gentleman who seeks to overcome anguish visible only to him. I am adding my prayers for him to my prayers for the other gentleman. Clearly, I have not learned all the Lord has to teach me about serving Him through my help to and with others with whom He has surrounded me.

Prayer is uniting me with my Abel House family. It is providing me an opportunity to serve them and God. It is revealing them to me. It is changing my life as a Christian. It is uncovering my personal life to me. And it is leading me to be more thankful for what can seem to be negatives, such as the admission that we need help, such as the rain that accompanies us as we move inside to renew our relationships with God and each other in prayer and in Abel House.