Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thinking about Answered Prayer on MLK Day

So much seems to be going on all the time that I have had trouble blogging twice a week. Today Gerald took Katherine to have some teeth pulled, and so I ran by her house to see if I could help afterward as I had gone to Sam’s Warehouse to buy some Greek yogurt for her and stuff for the Angel Bags our church is doing this month. I couldn’t resist taking her one of the pots of bright yellow tulips there. I figured she could use the encouragement that spring will come. So do I. By the time I left her house, it was 8 o’clock when I carried in a boxed supper from the DQ for Gerald.

Kim Barger suggested that I post the devotional I gave last night at our women’s class meeting. The middle part was excerpts from the prayer journal my sister gave me, and I read directly from the journal some of the answers to prayers that our congregation prayed for people we all knew back in 2004 and 2006. I thought they might bring back memories to others just as they did to me when I re-read them recently. So I can’t really post those. Then I closed by reading briefly from the last speech Dr. Martin Luther King gave before he was assassinated the next day when he had the honor of going to glory on Good Friday. So here is the first part of the devotional:

Remembering that last year I talked about unanswered prayers in my devotion here at Carmen’s house, I quickly decided a few weeks ago that this year I would talk about answered prayers. Last year I quoted from the prayer journal my sister gave me that there is not such thing as unanswered prayer: “God always answers our prayers, but He may say ‘No.’ Some things are outside the will of God…” Last year I talked considerably that God does not always answer yes or no immediately but often says, “Wait.”

Although I originally thought the topic of answered prayer would be an easy topic, I found it difficult to know what to say tonight. Just Saturday I thought about today’s holiday being in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, and I thought maybe my devotion should be on his ministry.

I realized I really need to do considerable more study on prayer than I have had time to do. And I always remember a long ago sermon, where a pastor warned that often we do more talking about praying than actual praying. As I thought about prayer, I ended up wondering exactly why and how we are to pray. Jesus knows everything we need before we ask. Jesus made it clear in his sermon on the mount--my favorite sermon of all time--that we are not to pray publicly for the purpose of impressing others. He advises us to go into a room and shut the door. He advises us not to just babble like pagans as if by much repeating we can force God to do our will. Yet he also told us that the persistent widow who kept asking is an example of what produces results when we pray. In this sermon, he gave us the model prayer that like his sermon was not long in length but powerful in educating us on proper prayer. Let us say it now in unison together: Our father …

I think it is terribly important that we pray as Jesus did in the model prayer that God’s will be done. So it goes without saying almost, that we as Christians should not want things outside God’s will or to pray in that way. We have all sometimes had a no answer, which turns out to be a beautiful thing in our lives and we understand the no. Other times a no confuses us and we have to assume it will work for the kingdom of God to come in some secret way that we cannot understand but that we must accept on faith is a beautiful thing. And so I continue to struggle as I pray that my daughter might walk again, but I watch her body deteriorate and her struggle in life become harder and harder. Somehow I have to reconcile these two realities with faith.

When I first starting thinking about answered prayers, I realized that God blessed Gerald and me early in our marriage with answered prayers probably to encourage us as young Christians to seek His will and know He would take care of us. Although Gerald was still a student at SIUC when we married, he had savings from his work in the Air Force, and I had a small savings account from my one year of teaching. He owned a car, and I owned an ironing board and iron, clothes left over from high school and college, and not much else. Gerald had a family friend that would allow us to go to St. Louis to a warehouse and choose furniture at that store owner’s discount, and so we started married life with a new bedroom suite that it still in use at our house today, a couch that wore out long ago but the chair recovered several times is in a classroom at Center, and a table and chairs that also wore out long ago. We acquired a new gas stove. a refrigerator, and wringer washer for our tiny four-room house with no bathroom or running water. Our rent was $10 a month.

I felt very rich with all this new furniture. This puzzles me as I look back on it because I was definitely one of the lucky ones who believed it was romantic to start life on a shoe string. I have been thinking a lot about this belief lately and am concerned that we may have let that concept of living on love for newlyweds to slip away from our young adults today. They deserve to know that a lack of material things need not destroy happiness and often a lack enhances happiness. Nevertheless, I simply followed Gerald’s direction that we should start life with new furniture.

He finished his degree and we ended up going to Urbana to get his masters, where he had a fellowship stipend to add to his G.I. bill. A professor showed us around the town to try and find an apartment we could afford. The four rooms in our rented rural home were all tiny rooms, but they held our furniture. As the professor took us to the listed vacancies, none of the one bedroom apartments, sometimes on the second floor, would hold our bedroom suite even though it was not hugely bulky and had a standard size mattress. Kathy‘s crib loaned from Gerald‘s mother was quite small.

We were growing alarmed. What would we do with our new bedroom furniture? (No storage businesses in those days.) The idea of being penned up in those tiny apartments was giving me claustrophobia just walking through them. Finally, as a last resort, the professor told us about a listing of a big old house not far from campus. There we met Carl—I have forgotten his last name--who was just finishing his PHD in chemistry, and who had rented this house for his family to live in the three rooms on the first floor: a tiny kitchen but with a small walk-in pantry, a dining room area to be used as a bedroom that would hold our bed, dresser, and chest—all three, and a very large living room that provided space for whatever you wanted including plenty of space for a crib and for a toddler to play.

Carl and wife had bought cheap make-do furniture to sublet the three upstairs rooms to three quiet grad students, who shared the bathroom on that floor with the family below. Carl showed us his record books for their three years in Urbana, and how the rent, utilities, and other expenses when reduced by the $30 room rent from each upstairs renter plus $10 from the neighbor who rented half the outside garage ended up costing Carl and family only $90 a month--far cheaper than any of the tiny apartments we had looked at.

We had a yard and a garden out back to share with Gerald’s cousin Pat and her husband Bill Tweedy, who was studying for his PHD. We had a full basement for my washing machine and lines for winter drying, steps going to a third floor full attic for any storage we needed. The house was very old but had been a fine house in its day. (Someone told us a rich man had built it for his mistress.) We went through that year in what I considered pure luxury. Like Carl’s wife, I kept the shared bathroom clean and vacuumed the three men’s rooms once a week. We knew it was God’s will for us to take over that house from Carl because when he showed us his records, we observed that each month, he had tithed his small assistantship income to his church. God had taken care of Carl’s family, and now he wanted our family to have this comfortable place. We knew we were blessed by God answering our prayers for His assistance.

Gerald finished his course work in nine months and was almost through with his thesis. That summer he had the opportunity to start a training program right there in town while he completed his masters work. By then I was pregnant again, and I walked toddler Kathy all over town in a borrowed stroller from a dear church friend and prayed for a son if that were God’s will. We were also praying that we might rent a farm in the Mississippi River bottoms that might or might not be available.

Suddenly at the end of summer, the farm was offered to us, and Gerald needed to resign his job quickly. But the farm would not be available until January. What would we do? Where could we live? And on what?

Within one or two days, Gerald was offered a one-term appointment at Illinois Western at Macomb that would not only support us but allow us to save a bit. Summer term was over and the grad students were gone. We had to clear the house, so we quickly gave away or sold the upstairs furniture. We rented an apartment in Macomb, which was half of a sweet divorced woman’s home and shared it with her two year old and teenage son. I marvel now that she was willing to rent it to us for just three months, but as I thought about it, I realized that we might have been an answer to her prayers also. Bill Tweedy helped Gerald load our furniture on a rented truck. Gerald and I went to bed with little Kathy on a mattress on the floor.

In the middle of the night, she became sick with a very high fever. No one could sleep. Gerald called Bill and they took off for Macomb. Somehow I got a taxi to the train station to go down to Anna as planned to my parents’ home for the weekend. I found myself sitting on the train with one of Gerald’s favorite professors coming down from Chicago, who happened to be childless. My live-wire toddler was so sick that she was a perfect child and the professor kept bragging on how quiet, calm, and well behaved she was. I did not tell him any difference. I think I got a cab from Anna to Jonesboro. Mother was through her day’s work across the street at the school, and we raced to Cape Girardeau for Kathy’s former pediatrician to see her before closing hours. With an antibiotic for her tonsillitis, we were able to be in Macomb for Gerald to go to work on Monday.

I was young and conscientious and I did fall housecleaning on that apartment and cooked three meals a day for Gerald, who could come home for lunch. I took care of little Kathy and prepared her for Halloween since I expected to be in the hospital and did not want her scared by masks. We had our son Gerry in McDonough County hospital. Gerald’s teaching career and salary were over in early December, so we spent a few weeks at Gerald’s folks and my folks until we got into the cold cold house on the rented farm by Christmas. To avoid drafts, I put Gerry’s little cradle off the floor and on top of the couch by the nearby heating stove.

This was the cradle my great grandmother bought for 50 cents for my grandmother when my daddy was born after his mother had lost two baby girls. I like to think that Great Grandmother Louisa said a prayer back then for all the babies who might sleep in the cradle. And there have been many. I continued praying for the babies sleeping there in our lifetime. We studied Sunday in Deuteronomy that God promised to show love to a thousand generations to those who love Him and keep His commandments. I am not sure what generation our family is in right now, but I am grateful that God has answered prayers said long ago.

After reviewing some answered prayers in our congregation, I closed:

In closing, I want to quote from MLK’s speech--made in Memphis where 1300 sanitation workers were struggling for rightful treatment. This was the day before his assassination as it turned out, which happened on Good Friday, which I feel positive was no coincidence.

MLK taught us that if we pray believing, things can change. We can see the substance of things hoped for. And if we want to do God’s will, death is a victory--a victory that overcomes the world.

(If you want to read Dr. King’s speech, google “I’ve been to the mountaintop.”)

No comments: